In what could be described as a rare, if orchestrated, airing of grievances among senators, most of the U.S. Senate sat and listened as some more senior members implored both parties to come together to reopen the federal government and increase the federal debt limit.
“It is time for us, members of this august body, to stand before the American people,” Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said after he took the rare step of summoning all senators to the floor. The exchange began around the same time that President Obama started addressing reporters at the White House.
Several senators started leaving moments after the live quorum call began, including Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who were followed later by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and others.
But Reid pressed ahead, telling his GOP colleagues that “Democrats stand before you unified asking the speaker to reopen the government – the whole government – and not in some piecemeal fashion that further demonstrates to the world that we are unable to find real solutions. Open the whole government so we can get back to work.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has maintained a low profile in recent days, spoke next, reminding Democrats that they will need to negotiate with Republicans in the House to break the impasse.
Demonstrating the consistent differences between the two parties, Republicans objected when Reid attempted to permit three Democratic senators to speak consecutively without yielding to waiting Republicans. Reid later agreed to allow the parties to alternate between members of both parties.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted that the partial government shutdown has forced Arizona charities to truck food and supplies into the far reaches of the Grand Canyon to reach workers stranded within the park. McCain – and Reid before him – also noted that the families of slain U.S. military service members were having death benefits withheld because of the impasse.
But McCain also focused his ire on Republicans who have pushed to repeal or at least delay portions of the Affordable Care Act.
“To somehow think that we were going to repeal Obamacare, which would have required 67 Republican votes [in the Senate], was a false premise,” McCain said.
But moments later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was recognized and once again raised concerns with the new health-care law.
“I hope we come together, resolve this, fund our vital priorities and at the same time respond to the millions of people who are hurting because of Obamacare, who are losing their jobs, who are pushed into part-time work, who are facing skyrocketing insurance premiums and who are losing their health insurance,” he said.
The discourse between senators eventually ended, with the two sides no closer to a final agreement.