Okay, But You’ve Got Two Hours
Sick of Congressional hearings that deal with really complicated, sobering subjects and take hours and hours? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hears you.
Yesterday, Think Progress flagged that Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)- at the request of McConnell (R-Ky.)- pulled an obscure parliamentary maneuver out of his hat to end a hearing on torture after two hours. After abruptly halting testimony on what the FBI knew about coercive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, one might expect Senate Republicans to rest on their laurels. But today the exact same stunt was pulled on a hearing about Supreme Court decisions and their effect on workplace rights. An anonymous GOP Senator submitted a request to the Senate floor ending the hearing.
There’s a Senate rule that when the upper chamber is in session hearings can’t go on for longer than two hours without unanimous consent. Originally, the idea was to get lawmakers on the Senate floor as much as possible, when there were fewer states in the union and therefore fewer Senators. But as the Senate grew, the unanimous consent statute has become a formality. Until now.
Democrats are up in arms, with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the judiciary committee chairman, calling it a "disgrace to the Senate." Judiciary committee Democrats are pointing out that the hearings’ subject matter just might have played a role in ending the hearings.
While unusual, the maneuver is not unprecedented in the modern Senate. Leahy spokesman Erica Shabot said that it’s happened about twice in the last two years.
The parliamentary tactics are likely a blip on the screen. But there’s a chance they’re being test-driven for upcoming hearings featuring Bush administration figures past and present like Scott McClellan, David Addington, John Yoo, John Ashcroft, and possibly Karl Rove.