Lineups Set For Marathon

Historic Session Ready to Go

Posted November 11, 2003 at 6:53pm

Like baseball managers on the eve of a pennant-deciding game, Senate leaders Tuesday were shuffling and reshuffling their lineups for tonight’s historic nonstop debate on judicial nominations, the first such all-nighter in more than 11 years.

Final plans were being hammered out in terms of format for the debate, which Republicans are pushing full speed ahead on despite Democratic delay tactics the past several days that have halted any progress on must-pass appropriations bills.

With the cots expected to be wheeled into offices just off the floor sometime late this morning — and other reinforcements such as extra coffee and pizza for the pages arriving later — Senate Republicans planned to gather in Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office (R-Tenn.) at roughly 5:45 p.m. this evening and then march into the chamber in unison as a show of force.

If all goes according to plan — never something to be taken for granted in the Senate — the debate will kick off at precisely 6 p.m., with time evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats over the course of the entire debate. Republicans have slated their first several hours of the action to be led by a quartet of their two top leaders and two top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Frist, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is in line to chair the panel in the 109th Congress and the chamber’s senior moderate Republican.

The Democratic order was slightly less finalized than the GOP batting order, but the chamber’s top Democrats were expected to play key roles early, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said he would take “one of those late-night shifts.”

Both sides are setting up 24-hour communications rooms, with Democrats working out of a Daschle conference room and Republicans having use of the Mansfield Room.

In a play sure to please their conservative base, Republicans plan on holding press conferences or rallies every hour with a different set of Senators and outside interest groups in the Mansfield Room, beginning at 10 tonight and running until 9 a.m. Thursday.

The critical players in the debate will, no doubt, be the Senators taking up the floor time in the overnight hours, when few people will be watching on C-SPAN2 but when the time will be most rife for shenanigans on either side.

No one on either side has come up with a bigger bloc of volunteered critical time than Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the 40-year-old father of two who admits to living life on “their schedule” and goes to bed at 10 p.m.

Pryor is tentatively scheduled to hold the floor for Democrats from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., although some Democratic aides cautioned that they may try to provide some back-up help over that time slot.

“I figured I’m the new guy on the block,” Pryor said Tuesday, referring to his lowest-ranking seniority in the Democratic Caucus. “That’s a tough slot, but I’ll be OK.”

While Democrats are professing excitement about engaging in the debate, calling it another example of Frist’s “mismanagement” of the chamber when more important business goes waiting, the only thing Democrats need to do in the debate is make sure they have one Senator on the floor and awake.

The only way Republicans could force a vote on one of the three judicial nominees that will be technically under debate is to ask the chair for unanimous consent, something a Democrat will object to and block from moving to — unless he or she is asleep.

Senators working the night shift also need to be prepared to be sufficiently caffeinated before hitting the floor. Coffee and other drinks are not permitted on the floor.

“Just water and milk,” said Pryor, who usually gets his caffeine kick from Diet Coke.

Of course, Democrats have to make sure they aren’t too hydrated or caffeinated and require a restroom stop, because if they don’t have a backup Senator on hand any trip to the restroom could result in a GOP call for a “UC” to move to a vote on a judge. “It’s all about control,” Pryor quipped.

Republicans are taking no chances of having anyone fall asleep and plan a team approach to the all-night affair. The evening hours tonight will produce a series of quartets in charge of leading the debate over roughly two-hour increments.

By 11 p.m., GOP Senators are set to take the floor for one-hour spots, dividing the time with their Democratic opponent, which at that point will pit Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) against Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who will take two hours of time before handing off to Pryor at 1 am.

In addition to having to put someone in the president’s chair to run the chamber, Republicans plan to have a backup Senator lying in wait, so that while Kyl leads the GOP attack from 11 p.m to midnight, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) will likely be on the floor to help Kyl out.

Sessions is slated to take over at midnight, and while he’s leading the GOP portion of debate Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) will be his backup.

Without question, Republicans went with a strict system of seniority in doling out their time slots, giving the toughest times to their youngest guns. From 1 to 9 a.m., the GOP Senators holding the floor are freshmen elected in 2002, except for GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), who has been pushing the most aggressive tactics all year on the judicial blockade.

“The young guys, they feel we’ve got a lot of energy,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), speaking in the 3 a.m. slot.

A Brooklyn native, Coleman, 54, said it won’t be a tough night for him since he usually goes to bed around 1 a.m. and gets up at 6 a.m. “I still keep New York hours,” he said.

Santorum, 45, volunteered to be in the chair from 4 to 5 a.m., at which point he’ll lead the debate.

“That’s to ensure that no one — not on the East Coast or West Coast — will hear me speak,” he quipped.