Contentious Moments on Senate Floor Today

The last few hours of Monday’s session in the Senate saw some contentious back and forth between Republican and Democratic members, especially the two respective leaders. After passage of the economic stimulus cloture motion, Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) took the floor of the Senate and began to criticize the fact that Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) told him he would not allow any votes to occur that evening or the next day.

The original plan was thought to include several votes on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) amendments before adjourning for the evening. The Senate could then finish off any remaining amendment votes on Tuesday and move to final passage of the FISA bill. That plan has now changed.

At issue today was the use of post-cloture time. In the Senate, once a cloture motion has passed, thirty hours are allotted for any remaining debate on the topic of the motion. Senators can easily agree to a unanimous consent agreement, however, and waive the use of such time in order to move to a different piece of legislation. This was the intention of the Democratic leaders. Republican members promised to object, however, due to several changes that the Democrats had made to their version of an economic stimulus bill which they had not been able to review yet. The Minority Leader said he had been anticipating a chance to review such changes last week. They also contended that several members still wished to give extended remarks on the topic.

Furious Democratic members, including the Majority Leader, began to raise their voices in opposition to this delay in action. Majority Leader Reid even had to strike from the record his use of the word “shallow” in reference to the Minority Leader and his efforts to delay further voting. The Minority Leader would later reference this action and state that he hoped the conversations could continue without violating any Senate decorum rules. Senator Kyl (R-AZ), the Minority Whip, and Senator Boxer (D-CA) would also later get into a bit of a shouting match later on in the evening over the same topic of post-cloture usage.

The story is seemingly not a big deal on its face; but Senators rarely raise their voices at one another in such a way, especially the leaders. Oh, and in case you forgot, there’s a moderately important election coming up. That begs the question: is bipartisanship already out the window only three weeks into the session or is it just another typical day in the life of the Senate?

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