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 CruzThe 'Overton Window' and how Trump won the nomination with it Judge rejects attempt to stop internet oversight transfer Tech groups file court brief opposing internet transition suit MORE (R-Texas) spoke through the night against President Obama’s healthcare law.

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Freshman Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySenators press State Department on 'plan B' in Syria Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress 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 LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild 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 CorkerSyrian carnage likely to outlast Obama Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Dem leaders defend overriding 9/11 bill veto MORE (R-Tenn.) and Cruz quarreled over the timing of a vote on a government-funding bill.

Freshman Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Dem senator: Dean's speculation about Trump cocaine use not 'useful' EpiPen investigation shows need for greater pricing transparency, other reforms 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 BrownOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal MORE (D-Ohio) and Chris CoonsChris CoonsElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare 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 PaulHow low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? Lawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears 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 HeitkampElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Wells Fargo board to decide on executive clawbacks 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.