It was a historic morning in the Senate Thursday, when the Dalai Lama gave the Senate’s opening prayer in place of Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black.
Attendance, however, left something to be desired. A good number of staffers were gathered on the floor and in the galleries, but the chamber was by no means packed. Perhaps a dozen senators were present when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., brought the Senate into session and yielded to the Dalai Lama for the morning prayer.
“We make our world. Speak or act with a pure mind, and happiness will follow you,” he said. “This is my favorite prayer. Daily I pray this.”
Following the opening prayer, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., requested that the Senate recess in order for senators to meet with the Dalai Lama. Full story
Updated 4:15 p.m. | In a major departure from procedure during Wednesday’s climactic vote on suspending the federal debt limit, the Senate kept some senators’ votes secret while the nearly hourlong tally was under way — a move that has drawn sharp criticism from Capitol Hill reporters.
The stakes for Wednesday’s vote were as high as they come, with the full faith and credit of the United States, the political future of Republican leaders and another government shutdown showdown on the line.
On an average day, any C-SPAN viewer would know how senators voted in real time because votes are read aloud. (See our post on the six senators who appear to have changed their votes.)
But on Wednesday, the clerks did not name names. Instead of announcing the rolling vote tally as the vote went along on the critical motion to limit debate on the debt limit measure, senators were allowed to cast their votes in relative secrecy. Overlooked at the time, it has since caught the attention of numerous reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid traded floor speeches on Wednesday, accusing the other of partisanship while calling for an end to obstructionism.
The Kentucky Republican criticized the “nuclear option” invoked by the Nevada Democrat in November, but he emphasized he was not trying to “point the finger of blame.”
“My purpose is to suggest that the Senate can do better than it has been and that we must be if we’re to remain as a great nation,” McConnell said. “This is a behavioral problem. It doesn’t require a rules change. We just need to act differently with each other.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid out their best arguments for and against the “nuclear option” to end filibusters of most judicial and executive branch nominees on Thursday.
Watch Roll Call’s best moments from Senate floor debate this week:
As of Wednesday evening, no opponents of the measure had spoken on the floor. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., became the first member to do so Thursday morning. Coats expressed concern about protections for religious institutions that are opposed to same-sex relationships.
The debate surrounding the government shutdown has been white hot in the Senate over the past few weeks, leading some lawmakers to complain about a lack of decorum.
Indeed, twice over the past two days, senators reminded their colleagues of Senate rules.
“I think we’ve all here in the Senate kind of lost the aura of Robert Byrd, who was such a stickler for Senate procedure,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday morning on the Senate floor. “I think we’ve all let things get away from us a little bit. The Senate is a very special place with very particular rules.”
Longstanding Senate precedents tied to the Senate’s original rules require senators to speak through the presiding officer, as noted in “Riddick’s Senate Procedure.”
“Senators in debate should address each other through the Chair and in the third person,” the book of precedents explains.
Additionally, Senate Rule 19 states: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
“The latest plan came from the junior senator from Texas [and it] is to cherry pick parts of the government he likes,” Reid said. He added that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., “is following Cruz’s idea specifically. Sen. Cruz is now joint speaker. He lectures the House on occasion, as he does people over here.
Reid’s reference quickly drew criticism, particularly because Cruz was not on the floor at the time to defend himself. Full story
Sen. Chris Coons is following in the footsteps of two predecessors, including the current vice president, taking up the cause of Amtrak.
The Delaware Democrat has filed an amendment to the Transportation-HUD spending bill to boost Amtrak funding by $113 million, bringing the total for the account up to $1.565 billion. The amendment doesn’t include an offsetting cut to another part of the bill, likely causing an issue for the top-line spending level.
Senators have just begun to process amendments to the $54 billion fiscal 2014 appropriations measure.
In announcing his plan Wednesday, Coons quoted from remarks made earlier this year by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., at the funeral of New Jersey Democrat Frank R. Lautenberg.
“If it wasn’t for Frank, Amtrak wouldn’t be what it is today,” Coons quoted Biden as having said.
Senate Democrats frustrated by Republican objections to forming a House-Senate conference committee on the budget have made a cartoon anthropomorphizing their long-suffering budget resolution.
It’s sort of the “How a Budget Resolution Doesn’t Become A Law” version of “How a Bill Becomes a Law.”
In the animated video “I’m Just a Budget,” the said budget resolution sings a song about why he hasn’t been able to go to Congress 100 days after the Senate passed him.
It features Senate floor cameos from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, offering their pleas for “regular order,” followed by quick clips of Sens. Randy Paul, R-Ky., Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., saying “I object” to unanimous consent agreements to send the resolution to a conference with the House.
Niels Lesniewski has covered the Senate for CQ Roll Call since January 2010, and more recently as a staff writer and resident procedure guru for Roll Call. Niels holds degrees in both government and theater but sometimes can't tell the difference between the two. @nielslesniewski
Humberto Sanchez covers the Senate for Roll Call. Prior to joining, he covered the budget and appropriations process for Congress Daily and now NJ Daily for three years.@hsanchez128