US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has staged a record-breaking, eight-hour speech, taking in Pope Francis and the Bible in a bid to try and force a vote on the Dreamers program.
Ms Pelosi's marathon filibuster eclipsed the previous record, held by Republican Champ Clark, who delivered a five-hour, 15-minute speech about tariff reform in 1909.
The office of the House historian confirmed it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on record.
Forgoing any breaks, Ms Pelosi spent much of the rare talkathon reading personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month.
The California Democrat quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis as Democrats took turns sitting behind her in support.
What is a Dreamer?
- A child of unauthorised immigrants to the US
- Many have gone to school in the US and identify as American
- Takes its name from an unpassed 2001 bill that would allow pathway to US citizenship
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was designed to provide relief from threat of deportation
- A two-year, renewable DACA authorisation allows for reprieve from deportation, work rights, drivers' licence and bank accounts
Her remarks seemed partly aimed at the liberal wing of her own party, which has been left seething after Senate Democrats cut a budget deal with Republicans that could quickly steal the momentum behind the effort to resolve the Dreamers' plight.
The wide-ranging budget accord says nothing about renewing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, called DACA, which temporarily shields Dreamers — hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country as children and living here illegally — from deportation.
President Donald Trump has moved to annul DACA.
Ms Pelosi said she would oppose the budget deal unless GOP leaders agreed to hold a House vote on helping the Dreamers.
But top Democrats said they weren't corralling rank-and-file representatives to oppose the budget pact, leading some of the party's immigration advocates to question the forcefulness of her opposition.
"I'm going to take everything she says at face value," said Democrat Luis Gutierrez. "And then hopefully tomorrow she will validate that trust by stopping us from voting for it. If she doesn't, then it was a nice speech."
The performance had no immediate impact on Republican leaders who have not agreed to a vote.
While she spoke on the House floor, immigration activists rallied in Washington and threatened political retribution against the congressional Democrats who abandoned the strategy of demanding that a budget deal be paired with an immigration deal.
Stumbling and sniffling by speech's end
Ms Pelosi started her remarks about 10:00am (local time) and yielded the floor at 6:11pm.
Under chamber rules, the speaker, majority leader and minority leader can speak for unlimited amounts of time.
By the end of the marathon, the clearest signs of weariness were an occasional quiver in her voice, a stumble over her words and a case of the sniffles.
What's does the Senate spending deal include?
- Increase in government spending by nearly $US300 billion ($383 billion) over two years
- Short-term funding measure through to March 23 to avert a government shut down
- Extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program
- Extension of the Government's debt ceiling to March 2019
- A disaster aid package of $US90 billion ($115 billion) for areas affected by events such as hurricanes
At one point she interrupted herself to read a note from the House historian alerting her that she delivered the longest continuous speech.
As Ms Pelosi wrapped, she received a standing ovation from the Democrats.
Clearly tired, she at times struggled for the words to express her thanks.
"Honour the House of Representative and give us a chance to have a vote on the floor," she said.
At issue is the fate of about 1.8 million immigrants brought to the country as children and living there illegally.
Many of the Dreamers could lose protection from deportation — granted by the Obama administration in 2014 and rescinded by Mr Trump last year — in the coming weeks.
No issue is more important to the Democratic Party's most passionate voters, who insist their party must reject any budget deal that doesn't protect the young immigrants — even if it means risking a second government shutdown this year.
The US Government will close non-essential operations on Thursday at midnight unless Congress passes a spending plan.
It is unclear whether the liberal outrage will sink the two-year, nearly $US400 billion budget deal, unveiled on Wednesday, that would provide Pentagon and domestic programs with huge spending increases.