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Posted at 7:08 p.m. on July 31, 2013
Wednesday’s prolonged roll call vote to limit debate on B. Todd Jones to become the permanent ATF director fell about 15 minutes short of the longest example in recent years.
While there are no official statistics on the subject, a February 2009 vote on that year’s stimulus act conference report was held open for about 5 hours and 15 minutes to accommodate senators with two different scheduling conflicts.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. — a Modern Orthodox Jew — voted before the Sabbath began at sundown, while Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown had to fly back to the Capitol after attending his mother’s memorial service. Such extended votes are a good reminder that the typical 15 minutes is merely the minimum time for a roll call vote.
The Senate Historical Office notes that any discussion of the longest votes should be applied to modern Senate practice, since vote time limitation had been less stringent in the past. The Historical Office noted a 1955 vote that ran for several hours because Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey had a delayed flight. Lyndon B. Johnson, the majority leader at the time, kept the vote open until Humphrey’s return.
Of course, Humphrey would later serve as vice president under Johnson.
Speaking of vice presidents, the current occupant of that office once caused a Senate vote that ran for more than an hour. In 2001, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was delayed in arriving for the confirmation vote of John Ashcroft to be attorney general because he was attending a funeral.
Senators began Wednesday’s procedural vote at 2:02 p.m., with most senators voting expeditiously. Within about a half hour, however, it became clear that Democrats were two votes short of 60. Supporters of Jones secured one of those votes following lengthy conversations in the chamber with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. After initially voting “no,” the Alaska Republican found herself surrounded by at least 10 senators and aides, clearly arguing opposite sides on the ATF nomination.
Murkowski eventually switched her vote to “yes,” but that wasn’t anywhere near the end of the vote.
Democrats also needed the vote of Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who was in her home state of North Dakota. Heitkamp thus joins a fairly impressive list of senators prompting prolonged votes.
She flew back to Washington for the vote, arriving on the Senate floor around 7 p.m. The vote was finally called a full 5 hours after it started.