It was a typical Monday night in the U.S. Senate: Returning to Washington from a weekend at home, senators would quickly enter the chamber to confirm judicial nominees and leave.
The vote, scheduled for 5 p.m., was delayed and several senators waited. By 5:44, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) walked out of the cloakroom and approached Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“Inouye just passed away,” Landrieu said.
“Oh, my God,” Klobuchar said, putting her hand to her heart.
Landrieu turned next to Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.): “Inouye has passed away.”
Moments later, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) entered through a side door, followed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chamber’s highest-ranking woman; Reid’s deputy, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat; and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who is now Senate president pro tempore, the third in line to the presidency and most senior senator in the land.
Reid walked to the back of the chamber and made his way down the aisle. Durbin took his seat and hushed colleagues who were oblivious to what was coming.
“Our friend Dan Inouye just died,” Reid said.
Senators froze in silence, except for Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who gasped and stood briefly, as if in prayer, before sitting down.
At least 25 senators were present for the announcement. After Reid broke the news, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his new deputy, Jon Cornyn (R-Tex.), rushed to the floor and sat down.
When Reid concluded, he turned to McConnell, who called Inouye a “true hero.” Some staffers wiped away tears.
By the time McConnell concluded, at least 37 senators were on hand. Reid ended his remarks as most senators do: “I note the absence of a quorum.”