Jerry Moran retreats to the back row of the Senate chamber and sticks out his thumb.
Other senators are mingling on the floor, huddled in groups or voting on the move, but the Kansas Republican stands stock-still until the clerk takes down his vote. It’s a “yes.”
What is he doing all the way near the back, right near the main doors? His desk is there, and Moran always votes from behind it. That is rare for the Senate.
“The more that United States senators do to bring order to the legislative process, the more dignity that we can bring to the United States Senate in today’s chaotic political world,” Moran said.
Dignity for him means upholding a Senate tradition that is technically a rule but rarely enforced.
While most senators vote from wherever they happen to be during a roll call — barely out of the cloakroom, mid-conversation in the center aisle — Moran makes a beeline for the mahogany desk that once belonged to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a fellow Kansan.
It’s decades old and barely wider than a school kid’s. Names of former occupants are scratched inside the shallow drawer. But Moran makes a point of getting there.
“I have a voice that carries. It’s an honor enough to be able to cast a vote in the United States Senate, and it’s important for people to hear what the vote is. I guess in that sense, it reduces the secrecy,” Moran said.
Other senators have taken note.
“I would say that the most common conversation has been, ‘Well, we all ought to do that’ and ‘This would go a lot faster,’ and I think there’s truth to that,” he said.
Moran started the habit a short time after he came to the Senate in 2011, thanks to his colleague, Lamar Alexander. When the Tennessee Republican mentioned the laxly enforced desk rule, Moran decided to be the senator who follows it.
“From my perspective, I like the decorum that that represents,” he said.
The desks aren’t particularly useful. It’s not like senators can bring laptops into the chamber. Besides some notes for a speech or a glass of water, they’re usually empty.
“Other than when I vote, that desk would have less involvement in my life,” Moran said.
People know to get out of Moran’s way when he’s headed to his desk. If he’s in a conversation, he excuses himself.
“There’s very few exceptions in which I’m not at my desk, and staff along the back wall make room for me. The pages, when I’m coming up the aisle, generally know not to open the door — I’m headed to my desk,” he said.
While the desks in the chamber all look pretty much the same from a distance, they have subtle differences. Some have infamous histories.
When Moran was first picking one as a freshman with no seniority, there weren’t many options to choose from. But the secretary for the majority at the time told him, “Senator, they’re all just fine. There’s only 100 of them.”
That has stayed with Moran.
“I think [that] is a good reminder that while there’s lots of challenges and difficulties that come … it’s still an honor to be one of a hundred,” he said.
Since then, he has taken Dole’s old desk. He may be in the back row, but if anything, his ritual has gotten easier.
“It also has become easier to vote from my desk in the absence of Luther Strange, who always seemed to end up standing in the well between me … trying to cast a vote,” Moran laughed.
Strange, who lost his appointed seat in Alabama last year, is 6 feet, 9 inches tall.