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Senate Republicans’ Hasty Departure Rankles Whitehouse

A frustrated Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) accused Republicans of violating long-standing Senate traditions by bolting town en masse before he could make a unanimous consent request regarding two judicial nominations Thursday night.

Hours after the Senate conducted its last vote, Whitehouse came to the chamber floor to ask for a unanimous consent agreement to keep the district court nomination of John McConnell from being returned to the White House. McConnell, a trial attorney, is nominated for a district court slot in Whitehouse’s home state.

But with no Republicans on the floor, Whitehouse held off on his request regarding McConnell and another judicial nominee, citing the Senate’s long-standing tradition that the majority party does no business without a member of the minority party present.

“I know there’s nobody from the minority party on the floor right now, so I’m not going to ask that unanimous consent and take advantage of the lack of any [Republican] presence on the floor, but I would ask that someone come to the floor,” Whitehouse said.

After an extended quorum call, an upset Whitehouse returned to the floor and bitterly complained.

“Well, I’m in an interesting predicament here,” he said. “I am informed that there is no one from the minority party in town … and therefore there is no one around to respond to my request for a unanimous consent. I will confess that I’m inclined to take advantage of this moment by propounding the unanimous consent, which I would obviously win.”

But he went on to say that he would not take advantage. “It is frustrating to be in this position of holding myself back out of respect for the traditions and courtesies of the Senate when I feel that, at the moment, I’m on the losing end of a violation of the courtesies and traditions of the Senate,” he said.

It is unlikely Republicans would have agreed to Whitehouse’s request.

McConnell is a major Democratic campaign donor who gave $50,000 to President Barack Obama’s inaugural committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Whitehouse defended the nomination at a confirmation hearing last month, complimenting McConnell for “legal expertise, strong character and a proper understanding of the judicial role.”

Republicans, however, have dismissed McConnell’s nomination as little more than a return on his investment in Democratic campaigns.

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