In politics, “slow walk” is a term used to describe an effort to prevent legislation or a political process from moving forward by intentionally slowing it down to a crawl. Another similar term is “obstructionism.”
The origin of the term “slow walk” itself is believed to be from equestrianism, where horses would drag their feet instead of using their normal gait.
Journalist Ruth walker gives some insight into its political use in a 2017 Christian Science Monitor article, calling slow walking a “new(ish) term of art for resistance that moves at a stately pace, adding: “Winter isn’t always the best time of year to get regular exercise. But I keep seeing references to an activity apparently as well suited to the corridors of power in Washington as to the snow-slushy streets of Boston: the slow walk.”
While the term’s widespread use in politics is fairly recent, the actual act of “slowing down” legislation or other political actions has a long history in the halls of Congress.
In 1988, noted linguist William Safire interpreted the use the term “slow walk” in politics as possibly having Southern origins, more specifically from the early 1970s in Tennessee. In his column, he quotes a famed Tennessee Senator:“’People slow-walk things, you know, especially if you’ve got a cutoff date,’ said Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, complaining to reporters last summer about the obfuscation he had faced from the White House in his investigation of campaign finance. He repeated the verb more emphatically as his hearings drew to a close: ‘We have been slow-walked and deferred and had objections every step of the way.’’”
Safire adds a quote from Southerner Bill Clinton: ”I had a four-year term; they still only confirmed 35 judges — slow walk and everything. It’s like pulling teeth.”
By 2012, the term was more widely used, as noted in Time Magazine: “House Speaker John Boehner has accused President Obama of “slow-walking” fiscal cliff negotiations, employing a metaphor used by generations of politicians before him.”
Some examples of more recent usage refer to Hillary Clinton’s announcement of a 2016 presidential run, the delicate negotiations with China over trade, and the passage of gun legislation in state governments.
In 2019, the hold on aid to Ukraine that led to Donald Trump’s eventual impeachment was even referred to as “slow walked” in this Politico article, a prescient reference only about a month before the controversy came to light.
Indeed, the eventual impeachment of Trump itself was even referred to as “slow-walked” in this 2019 Washington Post article.