Monday, May 23, 2005

Live-Blogging the Senate

The Senate has now gaveled into session, beginning with a prayer by Rev. Penelope Swithinbank and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens (AK). Frist announces that debate will resume on the Owen nomination, with debate to continue "likely through the evening." He says the exact timing of tomorrow's cloture vote is still to be determined. There will be a procedural vote at 5:30 p.m. today to make sure all senators are back in Washington. Reid asked how long Frist thought the session would go today, and Frist replied that he wants to give all senators the opportunity to speak, and that it could be "a very very late night tonight" under time equally divided as it has been for the past few days.

[Update: Frist: "We have spent more floor time on the Priscilla Owen nomination than for all of the sitting Supreme Court justices combined." Maybe, just maybe, there's a reason for this? -- 11:40 a.m.]

[Update: Reid has corrected a statement by Frist, who said that the Owen nomination has never been voted on by the Senate. Reid notes that cloture for Owen has been voted on three times, and three times senators opted to keep debate going. Independent Judiciary says there have in fact been four failed cloture votes (1 May 2003, 8 May 2003, 28 July 2003, and 14 November 2003). Reid notes that the nuclear option will set a dangerous precedent for the future, allowing further end runs around the Senate rules from here on out. -- 11:49 a.m.]

[Update: Elizabeth Dole repeats the standard Frist & Co. talking points. -- 12:01 p.m.]

[Update: Republican Jim Bunning spoke just after noon, followed by a series of quorum calls and possibly another few majority speakers (I had to step away from the computer briefly). Senator Dianne Feinstein has now taken over for the Democrats, with no new lines of argument as far as I can tell. At this point speakers are basically recycling the stand-pat positions of their respective leaderships. -- 1:12 p.m.]

[Update: More of the same. -- 2:16 p.m.]

[Update: Some Republican senators are positively obsessed with Clinton-era statements from Democrats when they were bemoaning the holdups of Clinton judicial nominees by the Republican majority. Senator Bennett (UT) is going on and on about it at the moment, bringing up quote after quote from Democrats decrying Republican delaying tactics. I don't understand how they think this helps their case: both sides have delayed judges in the past, that's fairly obvious. Bringing up old quotes from Democrats does nothing more than prove the point that Hagel, McCain and others have been making, that both sides have dirty hands on this issue and have used every procedural trick in the book to hold up judicial nominees. -- 2:33 p.m.]

[Update: Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) up now - she began by also providing a correction to Frist's statement from this morning that Owen has never had a vote, saying "Priscilla Owen has been voted on by the Senate four times." -- 2:58 p.m.]

[Update: Senator Byrd just finished his speech. One of the Senate's best orators (no matter what else one may think of him). "Have we lost our ability to look toward the larger good?" "Let the Senate step away from this abyss ... stop, and draw back, and remember that we are all Americans before we permanently damage this institution, the Senate of the United States - and in doing so, permanently damage the Constitution." Byrd strongly urged senators to come together and forge a compromise that will allow the Senate to avoid the nuclear option. -- 3:38 p.m.]

[Update: Alan at The Yellow Line has posted this list, the "top ten things that are vastly more important than the filibuster". -- 3:44 p.m.]

[Update: Senator Biden's up now, speaking through approximately 4 p.m., when the Republicans will take over again. A strong statement, but not too much new and different. -- 3:51 p.m.]

[Update: Biden made the interesting but irrelevant [see comments on this below] argument that the Senate's 44 Democrats represent more people in absolute terms than the 55 Republicans, but now has moved on to plead with Republicans to not accept the rules change as pushed by Frist & Co. -- 3:58 p.m.]

[Update: It's going to be a long night if senators can't even be bothered to come to the floor during daylight hours. The Republicans have controlled the time since 4 p.m. but no senator came to the floor for the first seven minutes. Utah's Orrin Hatch has now entered the chamber to make a statement. -- 4:07 p.m.]

[Update: Senator Conrad Burns (MT) has followed Hatch to the floor. Republicans control the time until 4:45, then Dems until 5:30 when a procedural vote will call senators to the floor. After that I presume debate will go back to alternating between the parties each hour. -- 4:41 p.m.]

[Update: The ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Vermont's Pat Leahy, is speaking now, offering up quite a cogent argument against the nuclear option and its consequences. -- 5:07 p.m.]

[Update: The New York Times reports that President Bush again wandered into the nuclear option morass today during a news conference, saying "My job is to pick people who will interpret the Constitution, not use the bench from which to write laws. And I expect them to get an up or down vote, that's what I expect. And I think the American people expect that as well - people ought to have a fair hearing and they ought to get an up-or-down vote on the floor." He didn't add, but should have "And if Democrats want to use the rules of the Senate to their advantage, then we will do an end-run and change the rules so that they can't do that anymore." -- 5:10 p.m.]

[Update: New York's Hillary Clinton is offering an excellent defense of the Senate as a body designed to be protective of minority rights. -- 5:21 p.m.]

[Update: A call from the sergeant at arms to request the attendance of all senators was to have been made at 5:30 p.m., but Senator Frist has not yet arrived on the floor to make the request. -- 5:35 p.m.]

[Update: The vote has begun on the question of whether the sergeant at arms should request the attendance of absent senators. -- 5:38 p.m.]

[Update: I have begun a new live-blog thread here. -- 5:58 p.m.]


At 12:50 PM, Blogger EG said...

Frist: "We have spent more floor time on the Priscilla Owen nomination than for all of the sitting Supreme Court justices combined."

I cannot believe he would make a stupid statement like this. Is he implying Supreme Court Justices were rail-roaded through the Senate? It also implies that if the 'nuclear option' goes through, the other judges will get about as much debate as some of those 900-page bills that no one has 'time' to read.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Gerry said...

"Reid has corrected a statement by Frist, who said that the Owen nomination has never been voted on by the Senate."

Voting on cloture is not the same as voting on a nomination. Someone needs to correct Reid's correction.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Walter E. Wallis said...

Feinstein's passioned defense of minority rights struck a note for me - since Feinstein, Boxer and Pellosi have represented California in Washington, I have been totally unrepresented.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger EG said...

"Biden made the interesting but irrelevant argument that the Senate's 44 Democrats represent more people in absolute terms than the 55 Republicans ..."

I totally disagree. One of the talking points regarding the nuclear option is the vote of the majority.

Because of the makeup of the Senate, the majority of the Senators represent a minority of the U.S. citizens. This is a great comeback point for Democrats! Most voters do not understand the difference between the structure of the House and the Senate.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger JBD said...

eg - I agree with all you say, and withdraw my use of the word 'irrelevant' at least so far as the "majority rules" business goes.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

EG--No offense, but the "Democrats represent more people" argument is just a terrible argument. The constitution was specifically designed to give smaller states equal representation as large states in the senate. Are you saying that just because smaller states skew Republican, those states should lose their constitutional right to have an equal voice as the larger states (which skew Democrat)?

Not to mention that no Senator is elected by 100% of the vote in their state. If you want a more accurate example of the will of the people, proportionally speaking, the House is where you should look. And it too is Republican. And Bush won the popular vote. So, really, I'm not how the Democrats can pretend to be the "true" majority party.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Alan's point is that which I was (attempting to) make earlier. I think the Democrats have enough excellent arguments against the nuclear option without trotting out this particular talking point. What they ought to be saying more of is that the nuclear option isn't a mainstream Republican idea, but is being foisted on the GOP rank and file by the right wing and their water-carriers in the Senate.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger EG said...

Biden's argument is counterpoint to the Republican's 'we represent the majority' talking point. Republicans do represent the majority in the House but not in the Senate.

Biden's argument has little to do with the nuclear argument but the refrain of 'we are the majority and we represent the majority of voters'.

I must take back my disagreement with the term 'irrevelent' but note Biden's argument attacks one of the Republican's general talking points.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

eg--in general, both sides' talking points are pretty weak under scrutiny. This is a total mess. The Senate is actually making the House look like the more reasonable body. Heck, the House might even pass stem cell funding!


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