Empty subway cars trundle from the Capitol to the office buildings with a whoosh straight out of a Star Wars movie. Footfalls reverberate loudly off the white-stone walls in the Russell Building. Gilded elevators bong and open their doors — no need for the usual Senate two-step because there’s no one inside.
While the Senate was open for business this weekend, all the activity attending a normal legislative session was largely absent.
It was so quiet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had time to squeeze in a regular doctor’s appointment with a physician in the Capitol.
An aide said that some reporters thought Reid was secretly heading to House Speaker John Boehner’s office, or perhaps to meet with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But this was just a regular checkup — and nothing’s the matter with Reid, the aide said.
For McConnell, the sluggish schedule afforded him a chance to get back to Kentucky, where he faces stout political opposition on the right from businessman Matt Bevin, and the left from Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. That he wasn’t in the Capitol also suggests the level of disagreement between chambers and the difficulty of a deal.
“He is meeting with constituents, but remains in contact with his members and is available if a vote is called at any time this weekend,” said spokesman Michael Brumas in an email.
Many of the senators in the Capitol were junior Democratic members, tapped to preside over the Senate. For example, Freshman Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, rushed onto the subway from Dirksen, prepared to give a floor speech, then preside over the chamber.
But there were Republicans, too. Sen Mike Lee of Utah sparred over the shutdown from the well of the Senate with his Democratic colleagues, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine offered a proposal she thought could serve as a political escape hatch for both sides, repealing the medical device tax (for Republicans) and offering agencies flexibility in applying sequestration cuts (for Democrats).
There were no votes Saturday, but there was partisan rhetoric from the floor. Clearly exasperated at how dug in her colleagues are, yet still optimistic about breaking the impasse, Collins suggested sheathing the rhetorical daggers.
“I think the more people who are willing to put ideas out there — and if not mine, someone else’s — the better,” Collins said.
The Senate returns at 2 p.m. Monday, with votes on judicial nominees later in the evening. The Senate might also take up the House-passed mini-continuing resolution providing for back-pay for federal workers, aides say.
But Democrats and Republicans will also pick up the fight over the shutdown where they left off — dug in as ever.
“This isn’t a date to the prom,” Reid said recently, explaining why Democrats won’t offer Republicans a face-saving provision. “This is our country.”
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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are threatening to block the spending bill—and prevent the Senate from leaving town—"because it would not extend benefits for retired coal miners for a year or pay for their pension plans. The current version of the bill would extend health benefits for four months. ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday afternoon moved to end debate on the continuing resolution to fund the government through April 28. But unless Senate Democrats relent, that vote cannot be held until Saturday at 1 a.m. at the earliest, one hour after the current funding measure expires."
The South Korean parliament voted on Friday morning to impeach President Park Geun-hye over charges of corruption, claiming she allowed undue influence to a close confidante of hers. Ms. Park is now suspended as president for 180 days. South Korea's Constitutional Court will hear the case and decide whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment.
Participants in the women's march on Washington the day after inauguration won't have access to the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service has "filed documents securing large swaths of the national mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial for the inauguration festivities. None of these spots will be open for protesters."
President Obama on Thursday announced a pay raise for civilian federal employees of 2.1 percent come January 2017. He had said multiple times this year that salaries would go up 1.6 percent, so the Thursday announcement came as a surprise. The change was likely made to match the 2.1 percent increase in salary that members of the military will receive.
The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.