Pulling an all-nighter

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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas) spoke through the night against President Obama’s healthcare law.

Freshman Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an 'intellectual and moral garbage truck fire' Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster 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 Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Live coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill 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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount MORE (R-Tenn.) and Cruz quarreled over the timing of a vote on a government-funding bill.

Freshman Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Week ahead: Senate to wrap up defense bill 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 Campbell Brown'Hillbilly Elegy' author won't run for Senate Brown, Portman urge Trump administration to move quickly on a steel decision Dems call on DeVos to work with CFPB to protect student borrowers MORE (D-Ohio) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsRaising awareness about maternal health worldwide on National Bump Day Senate plans hearing for bills to protect Mueller Entering a new era of African investment 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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program 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 HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJustice Dept investigating Equifax stock sales: report Dem senator: Trump 'very serious' about infrastructure Trump steps up courtship of Dems 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.