If this week felt a little long, that’s because it was. When the Senate gaveled out at 9:07 p.m. on Wednesday, it adjourned a session that began Monday at noon. That made it the third-longest legislative session in Senate history since 1915. In the world of arcane Senate procedure, that means the chamber never moved off the legislative business day of Monday, leaving Capitol Hill watchers with that tired, cranky feeling they never could quite shake.
The Senate debated for those 57 hours and 7 minutes several of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, including the senators’ colleague Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, and the contentious Education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, which ended with a history-making tiebreaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.
Both nominees were confirmed, but not without fireworks. Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren sparred with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday night as she was barred from further debate on the Sessions nomination — she had read a 1986 Coretta Scott King letter criticizing the Alabama Republican for a federal judgeship. Some of Warren’s Democratic colleagues, including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, proceeded to read the letter on the floor later in the legislative session.
Of the 10 longest sessions since 1915, the topics covered in the 2000s were consistently about presidential appointments. The fifth-longest session, in 2003, was over judicial nominations and the sixth-longest, in 2013, was over both executive and judicial nominations.
Only two sessions in modern history beat this year’s long day. The longest session took place during the civil rights debate of 1960. It lasted a record 125 hours and 16 minutes between Feb. 29 and March 5. It did include a 15-minute recess on March 2 but the Senate didn’t adjourn the business day. The round-the-clock session was accomplished with 18 Southern senators dividing into three teams to hold the floor, according to the CQ Roll Call archives. The civil rights legislation eventually passed and was signed on May 2 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who noted that it was a “historic step forward in the field of civil rights.”
In 1988, partisan divisions killed a campaign finance bill with two issues — whether there should be public financing of campaigns or limits on campaign spending. Drama ensued during the session when Oregon Republican Sen. Bob Packwood was arrested and carried, feet first, onto the chamber floor for a quorum call. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia held the bill’s eighth and final cloture vote later that week and couldn’t muster the 60 votes required.