What Working on the Weekend in the Senate Is Really Like

<p>The Senate was in this weekend, but the halls were largely empty.</p>
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Oct. 6, 2013, 7:35 a.m.

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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