The Washington Post

Brief history of Senate majority-led overnighters

The Senate Democrats plan to stage Monday a through-the-night “talkathon” to educate insomniacs everywhere on the perils of climate change. But with little to no substantive legislation moving in Congress, the sleepless night is Democrats effort to bring media attention to an issue important to their base.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), left, holds a sign up as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), center, and Sen. James Inhofe (R- Okla.), right, walk into the Senate Chamber on Nov. 12, 2003 in Washington. The Senate was in session for an all-night debate on President Bush's blocked judicial nominations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), left, holds a sign up as Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and James Inhofe (R- Okla.) walk into the Senate chamber on Nov. 12, 2003. The Senate was in session for an all-night debate on President George W. Bush’s blocked judicial nominations. (Evan Vucci/ AP)

The last time the majority party in the Senate kept its members up all night just to make a point was 11 years ago, when Senate Republicans spoke on the floor for 53 hours and 36 minutes about, wait for it, Democrats holding up President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations.

For the majority party to stay in session round-the-clock with no actual legislation to debate is unusual, according to Senate historian Don Ritchie. More often, overnight sessions are initiated by the minority party to stall legislation or to finish a long series of back-to-back votes.

Senate Democrats did stay overnight in 2007 to debate for 31 hours and 9 minutes withdrawing troops from Iraq, but in that case there was a bill pending on the floor.

In 2003, Senate Republicans blustered all night furious that Democrats in the minority were filibustering Bush’s federal bench picks. At the time, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told The Washington Post, “I don’t believe the public pays attention until we stop doing other things and just do this — and other things don’t get done because of this.”

The Post story notes that “neither side expects the spectacle to change a single vote or resolve the bitter impasse.”

In Congress, some things never change. Little is expected to come from Monday night’s theater. And, as the 2003 picture above indicates, the all-nighter once again forces lawmakers to miss “The Bachelor.”

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Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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