The Senate on Thursday made an unprecedented change to its rules Thursday night following an extraordinary floor exchange that saw leaders and rank-and-file members spar first over consideration of President Obama’s jobs package, then over a series of non-related amendments and finally over the operating procedure of the chamber itself.
The floor debate – which stretched on for more than an hour and a half in an uncharacteristically full chamber – came as dozens of congressional reporters, aides and lawmakers of both parties were gathering in the Senate Press Gallery on the third floor of the Capitol to bid goodbye to two longtime observers of Capitol Hill: Carl Hulse of the New York Times and Bart Jansen of USA Today.
As the Thursday evening farewell gathering marked the end of an era for many on Capitol Hill, so, too, did the Senate’s unanticipated floor proceedings, which came about as the chamber was considering a bill that would have allowed the U.S. to apply greater pressure on China to allow its currency to appreciate.
“The Senate must have the ability to move forward on legislation that has broad bipartisan support,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement late Thursday explaining his move to change the chamber’s long-observed rules. “A small minority of senators cannot be allowed to bring bipartisan legislation, like a bill to end China’s job-killing, underhanded currency manipulation, to a grinding halt when 14 million Americans are out of work.”
And Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss), who acknowledged that he has not often during his four years in the Senate “come down onto the floor and spout out hot air,” spoke out several times Thursday night.
“What we have done tonight is change the rules of the Senate on a messaging bill, on a matter that the majority leader had the votes on,” Wicker said. “That is why I’m so disturbed about the overreaction and heavy-handedness of this move.”