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Senate sets new record for longest vote

Senators began voting at 5:02 a.m. Friday

Senators began voting at dawn and have made history as the longest Senate vote in modern history. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senators began voting at dawn and have made history as the longest Senate vote in modern history. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Friday’s prolonged roll call vote to limit debate on a Tom Udall amendment that would bar U.S. attacks on Iran without Congressional authorization made history as the longest Senate vote in modern history.

The vote opened at 5:02 a.m., to allow Senators with early morning flights to vote and then leave town for the Independence Day recess. It is being held open to accommodate the Democratic Senators who were in Miami this week for presidential primary debates. The vote was held  open for a total of 10 hours and 8 minutes, gaveling closed at 3:10 p.m. New Jersey’s Cory Booker was the first of the 2020 candidates to return, casting a yea vote just after 7 a.m.

The Udall amendment would prohibit President Donald Trump from attacking Iran without authorization except in response to an attack on America or its armed forces. Under an agreement reached Thursday, the measure needed 60 votes to be adopted.

The vote went on so long that the Republican caucus ran out of members to preside over the chamber, leading Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to take the gavel around 11 a.m. Other Democrats said they were scheduled to preside later in the day. 

“I haven’t presided since we had a majority, so they’re basically going to just get somebody in the chair to keep the place open while folks come back to vote,” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine told CQ Roll Call. 

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Early birds this morning included yea votes from Democrats Richard J. Durbin, Jeff Merkley, Jon Tester and Gary Peters and nays from Republicans Martha McSally, James Lankford and Dan Sullivan.

The sunrise crowd was mostly in good spirits, some with suitcases in tow to head straight to the airport.

“I just love being up at this time in the morning,” said Thom Tillis with a note of sarcasm on his way into the Capitol around 5:40 a.m.

The North Carolina Republican said he would be heading straight home after voting to celebrate his 32nd wedding anniversary.

One Capitol Police officer stationed outside the Senate chamber commented that he hadn’t been awake so early, let alone at work so early, since he was in the military.

The Senate subways were up and running early to accommodate the vote. They usually don’t start shuttling people until 7:30 am. Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz was briefly trapped in one of the train cars.

“I see you’ve dressed up for us, Joe,” quipped Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse — wearing a suit and tie — to West Virginian Joe Manchin who wore jeans and a bright green polo shirt to vote before 5:30 a.m.

Manchin’s “casual Friday” look was topped a few hours later by South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham who voted from the cloakroom in shorts and a T-shirt, not daring to enter the chamber in his weekend-wear.

Official statistics aren’t kept on vote duration in the Senate, but CQ Roll Call archives show that on December 21, 2018, a vote on a motion to proceed to a House-passed funding bill to prevent a government shutdown lasted 5 hours and 18 minutes. The vote ended with Vice President Mike Pence casting his 13th tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

That vote began at 12:31 p.m. and gaveled to a close at 5:49 p.m.

Before that, a February 2009 vote on that year’s stimulus act conference report was held open for about 5 hours and 15 minutes to accommodate senators with two different scheduling conflicts.

In that case, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. — a Modern Orthodox Jew — voted before the Sabbath began at sundown. But Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown was out of town attending his mother’s memorial service and had to fly back to Washington.

The Senate Historical Office notes that any discussion of the longest votes should be applied to modern Senate practice, since vote time limitation had been less stringent in the past. The Historical Office noted a 1955 vote that ran for several hours because Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey had a delayed flight. Lyndon B. Johnson, the majority leader at the time, kept the vote open until Humphrey’s return.

Of course, Humphrey would later serve as vice president under Johnson.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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