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 CruzTrump defends several unsubstantiated claims in interview Budowsky: Trump’s war against truth Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing MORE (R-Texas) spoke through the night against President Obama’s healthcare law.
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 LeahyLive coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Dems land few punches on Gorsuch Live coverage: Day two of Supreme Court nominee hearing 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 CorkerRand Paul roils the Senate with NATO blockade Lawmakers want Trump commitment to help Iraq post-ISIS Trump needs a united front to win overseas MORE (R-Tenn.) and Cruz quarreled over the timing of a vote on a government-funding bill.
Freshman Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinRNC drops six-figure ad buy for Supreme Court, healthcare fight Red-state Dems in Supreme Court pressure cooker Senate advances Coats as national intel chief 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 BrownRNC drops six-figure ad buy for Supreme Court, healthcare fight Overnight Finance: White House backs off stock market boasts as Dow, Nasdaq drop | Trump budget shifts costs to rural voters who elected him | Fight over CEO pay rule heats up Overnight Finance: Biz groups endorse Trump's Labor pick | New CBO score coming before health bill vote | Lawmakers push back on public broadcasting cuts MORE (D-Ohio) and Chris CoonsChris CoonsGorsuch sails on day one, but real test is Tuesday Live coverage: Supreme Court nominee hearings begin Senate Dems introduce bill to rescind Trump border wall, immigration order 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 PaulHealthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth GOP rep: Trump could be 'one-term president' if healthcare bill passes Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief urges Congress to approve budget boost | Senate fight over NATO addition 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 HeitkampRNC drops six-figure ad buy for Supreme Court, healthcare fight Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate Five things to watch for in Supreme Court showdown 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.