Pulling an all-nighter

Greg Nash

The shutdown drama in the Senate has forced junior Democrats to be on call 24/7 for shifts as the chamber’s presiding officer.

At least 10 Democratic senators rotated through the presiding chair for two-hour shifts last week as Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzGrassroots battling establishment on trade at conventions Fixing the disastrous nomination process Attacking Trump for the few sensible things he says is bad strategy MORE (R-Texas) spoke through the night against President Obama’s healthcare law.

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Freshman Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySen. Murphy: Trump's stance on guns 'sinister' Kesha tells Philadelphia crowd: We can control who we give 'f---ing weapons to' Democrats: We can win on guns MORE (D-Conn.) was spotted walking down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol late Tuesday night, a Red Bull energy drink in hand, for his 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift.

Other than the timing, he said, “it was no different from any presiding shift I’ve ever had. I’m on the dais pretty regularly.”

“Sen. Cruz has a prerogative to speak for however long he wants, but I thought it was an epic waste of time.”

Democrats could be spending more late nights in the presiding chair as lawmakers battle over a government-funding bill and an increase in the debt ceiling.

A presiding officer is required to be on the dais whenever the Senate is in session to ensure that the chamber’s rules are followed. 

As president pro tempore, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyProtecting the right to counsel in immigration court Dems urge Obama to release info on Russian links to DNC hack Top senators want details on probe of DNC breach MORE (D-Vt.) is in charge of presiding, but it’s the junior Senate Democrats who spent most of the time in the chair as a way to give them experience in parliamentary procedure.

Normally, the shift offers a welcome break for senators. No electronic devices are allowed, and staffers are barred from approaching the dais, giving lawmakers an uninterrupted block of time to catch up on their reading and paperwork.

But occasionally the presiding officer is forced to play traffic cop.

That was the case Thursday, when Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerTrump starts considering Cabinet Trump's secret weapon is Ivanka Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (R-Tenn.) and Cruz quarreled over the timing of a vote on a government-funding bill.

Freshman Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinOvernight Healthcare: Major insurer expands ObamaCare presence | Charges dropped for Planned Parenthood videomakers FDA explores changes to blood donation for gay men Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (D-Wis.) was presiding as the two senators argued. She banged the gavel and admonished them: “Senators are reminded to address each other in the third person, not by their first and last names.”

In a rare move, Leahy himself took the chair to gavel Cruz’s speech to a close.

“I’m president pro tem. I decided there should be some grown-ups in the chamber,” he told The Hill of his decision to preside.

Baldwin was also there in early morning hours Wednesday — 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. — during Cruz’s 21-hour floor speech.

“I like to preside,” Baldwin said to reporters after Thursday’s session.

Members of both parties presided in the Senate until 1977, when an argument about the Voting Rights Act led to a permanent change in procedure.

Democrats held the majority at the time, and then-Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) sought recognition to speak. But Republican Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) was in the chair and ignored Mansfield, disregarding a Senate precedent of recognizing party floor leaders. 

The fight ended with a rule that a member of the majority party always preside.

Even though the duty falls to younger members, some senior lawmakers still take an hour or two on the dais during the week: Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownPortman secures another union endorsement over Democratic challenger in Ohio Sanders aide dismisses challenging Kaine VP spot Union group backs GOP Sen. Portman in Ohio race MORE (D-Ohio) and Chris CoonsChris CoonsSenators ask IRS to issue guidance to help startups Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Overnight Tech: First on The Hill – Key senators team up against robocalls | Social media giants back revenge porn bill | Facebook's diversity numbers MORE (D-Del.), who are no longer required to preside, take a shift each.

“I preside one hour a week by choice because my class isn’t required to, but I enjoy it,” Brown previously told The Hill.

Unlike Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE’s (R-Ky.) filibuster in September, where there was some scrambling to fill the presiding chair, senators got a heads-up on Tuesday afternoon that they could be in for a long night.

Freshman Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampFeds weigh minimum train crew sizes Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Emerging technology-based consensus may help clear the air MORE (D-N.D.), who had presided during Paul’s 13-hour filibuster, took two of the overnight shifts.

Schatz had the 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. time block and said he worked in a nap to prepare. Caffeine helped as well.

“You have to have the right amount of coffee so you can get back to bed at an OK time,” he said.

Baldwin didn’t have any caffeine during her Cruz shift, but she did work in a power nap to recover.

“I napped a little bit afterward. My first appointment wasn’t until 8 a.m., so a I had a few hours,” she said.

Jeremy Herb contributed.