AUDIE CORNISH, host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill, and I intend to tell my colleagues and the nation exactly why.
CORNISH: And for the next eight and a half hours, that's just what he did -Vermont's independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who took to the Senate floor for a symbolic filibuster speech against the compromise bill extending the Bush tax cuts.
Now, while Sanders performed his oratorical marathon, a familiar face took up the tax-cut deal at a familiar place, just up Pennsylvania Avenue.
President BILL CLINTON: The agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans.
CORNISH: Former President Bill Clinton, at the side of President Barack Obama in a surprise appearance before reporters at the White house.
And joining us, as he does most Saturdays, is James Fallows of the Atlantic.
Hello there, Jim.
Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Audie. Nice to talk to you.
CORNISH: So, a busy day for the C-SPAN crowd on Friday. Senator Sanders crashed the online video servers at the Senate. It was a top trending topic on Twitter, with the hash tag Fillibernie. We hear about filibusters all the time. So Jim, why did this one get so much attention?
Mr. FALLOWS: I think this was interesting, and it was a kind of C-SPAN equivalent of the O.J. car chase in the sense that it was something, you know, you hear about for a long time, but you don't actually see. We know that as a concept, the filibuster has become omnipresent over the last 10 years or so. The idea is that almost any significant piece of legislation, or nomination, will be filibustered. And the threat of needing to get 60 votes to get anything through is something we just take for granted.
But as an actual phenomenon, a real filibuster has not occurred for a long time. Probably the last famous one was more than 40 years ago, when there was a filibuster against the nomination of Abe Fortas to be chief justice of the Supreme Court.
And so to have somebody who was, in fact, not doing a technically real filibuster - because Senator Sanders knew there's going to be a vote next week on this bill - but who's willing to go up there and just talk for a very long time, it was something that - again, it was a real incarnation of something that doesn't really exist that often in politics.
CORNISH: And speaking of talking for a very long time: Over at the White House press briefing room, former President Bill Clinton came out with President Obama, and the former president was really happy to talk to the reporters. I mean, he ended up talking so long that Mr. Obama ducked out to catch dinner with the first lady.
Mr. FALLOWS: There was a staff reception that he was late for, and he finally left. And I think that - I hate to direct listeners to any other medium, but when the show is over, they should go to YouTube or to the White House site and look at the clip of this press conference - because it was remarkable, both in substance and in sort of personal theater.
The somewhat stoic and tense relationship between the two presidents as they were standing there - the serving President Obama being sort of clench-jawed and silent as Bill Clinton was advocating the tax bill.
And then the second that President Obama left the room, you could just see this transformation come over Bill Clinton. He stood more squarely at the podium. He lit up. He just addressed all the reporters there. And for the next, you know, 20 or 30 minutes, he was back in his old medium. And it was like seeing Michael Jordan or Joe DiMaggio back in their old sporting grounds, if the effect of time, you know, did not affect their athletic performance. So it was something worth seeing.
CORNISH: And lastly, Jim, I want to wrap up a story we've talked about a lot over the last couple of weeks, over at the Department of Defense, because the Democrats, their effort failed to end the don't ask, don't tell policy yet again.
Mr. FALLOWS: Here's the only point I'd add to what's been an extensive discussion. Whatever your view on the merits of this case, the reality now is because it didn't come to an up-or-down vote in the Senate, likely the courts are going to resolve this issue over the next year or two. And that is usually a worse way for a democracy to resolve contentious issues - than the legislature because nobody feels it's quite as legitimate as a vote by elected representatives. So that is going to be the ironic and unfortunate consequence of avoiding a direct vote in the Senate this week.
CORNISH: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.
Jim, thanks so much.
Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Audie. My pleasure.
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