BlackBerrys in Hand, Senators Thumb Their Noses at Ban

Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) just may have his sights set on the Senate.
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) just may have his sights set on the Senate. (Emmanuel Lozano - Azr-d)
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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, February 14, 2008

So much for the tradition of the Senate, at least when it comes to the legendary decorum that includes a ban on senators or staff using electronic devices on the chamber floor.

Any number of senators and staff can be seen using their BlackBerrys with reckless disregard for the rules that forbid their use. Openly flouting the rules yesterday, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) pulled out his BlackBerry while standing in the well of the chamber. He read and sent messages while talking to another senator and managing a bill on intelligence agency issues.

In the presiding officer's chair, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) read a briefing book during a vote but had his BlackBerry next to the binder, dutifully checking the device infamously known by Capitol Hill staff as a "CrackBerry." Menendez took the precaution of lowering his BlackBerry onto his lap so his colleagues couldn't see him typing.

Even senior staff openly use their BlackBerrys these days. Yesterday, the top Republican floor adviser, David Schiappa, used his to conduct quick research in response to a question from Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine).

In 1997, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), then newly elected, tried to win permission for laptops on the floor as a way for better communication with staff. "I actually think people would stay on the floor, debate more, if we could communicate with our staff," Enzi said yesterday, recalling how his effort to get the chamber to go high-tech was soundly defeated.

Eric Ueland, a lobbyist with the Duberstein Group who was a Senate GOP leadership aide for 17 years, recalled that unanimous consent requests used to be required to allow calculators in the chamber when the annual budget debate was held.

But earlier this decade, BlackBerrys were issued to all 100 senators, and soon their use became ubiquitous -- but not on the chamber floor. Just 2 1/2 years ago, BlackBerry use was still so frowned upon that the Senate sergeant-at-arms issued a sternly written memo reminding senators of a long-standing rule prohibiting individual use of electronic devices.

"These devices are not only disruptive to the legislative business on the Senate floor, but they cause interference with the chamber's audio system," wrote Bill Pickle, the chamber's top rules enforcer until 2006.

Not anymore, apparently.

Dueling Funny Men

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) were the resident comedians at last night's annual congressional dinner hosted by the Washington Press Club Foundation. Here are a few of their best lines, according to prepared remarks we received yesterday:

"Wow . . . big crowd . . . I haven't seen this many journalists in one place since Mitch[ McConnell] and I were in the cloakroom the other day watching streaming video of Britney Spears's driveway," said Cornyn, who is known for being slightly milder than milk toast.

"Senator Obama and I have a lot in common. We don't just share a home state. We also share exotic names that were given to us by our fathers. Barack, which in Swahili means Blessed, and Rahm, which, roughly translated from Hebrew, means: Go Screw Yourself," said the notoriously potty-mouthed Emanuel.

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