On Thursday, the chamber approved a $600 million border-security bill in 31 minutes, from opening gavel to final passage. While their colleagues were enjoying a summer recess, Sen. Chuck Schumer flew in from New York and Sen. Ben Cardin drove his Pontiac from Baltimore to represent the entire Senate in its cavernous chamber.
Mr. Schumer delivered the opening (and closing) speech, while Mr. Cardin sat in the presiding official’s chair. Mr. Schumer told his fellow Democrat that he hoped the border bill, which provides 1,500 additional border agents, would “clear the path” for talks on revamping the nation’s immigration rules.
“I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join in this important task,” he added, looking around at 99 empty seats.
The New York Democrat proposed passing the bill by “unanimous consent,” meaning it would become law as long as no one objected. Mr. Cardin asked the empty room if anyone did, and, not surprisingly, response came there none. Just like that, the bill was on its way to the president’s desk.
There wasn’t a coup in the nation’s capital Thursday. Republicans agreed to the bill last week, and it had passed both the Senate and House already before falling foul of an element of Congressional procedure enshrined in the Constitution. To avoid ruining vacations—and re-election campaigns—Republicans gave Messrs. Schumer and Cardin the OK to re-pass the bill themselves.
Critics in recent weeks, especially on the left, have denounced the Senate as dysfunctional and dismissed it as broken. In the halls of the House and in the media, detractors have complained about its endless proceedings and cumbersome rules, and about how it has pared the Obama administration’s legislative agenda (a surprising critique, perhaps, considering the passage of an economic stimulus package, health-care reform and a financial-regulation overhaul).
If Republicans were concerned about Mr. Schumer, a strong partisan and shrewd operator, having the Senate under his complete control, they professed otherwise. Technically, Mr. Schumer could have passed other major bills unilaterally—climate change legislation, for example—or named a string of post offices after himself in Texas.
“There is still trust in the Senate,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). Mr. McConnell was miles from Washington, addressing the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce in Campbellsville, Ky.
Messrs. Cardin and Schumer admitted they were intrigued by the notion of instantly enacting the entire Democratic agenda while Republicans were out of town. “I went over with Sen. Schumer whether we could get some of our judges done,” said Mr. Cardin. “No one could have objected. By the time they got back, they would be sworn into office.”
Agreed Mr. Schumer, with a grin: “We had a long list of things we were tempted to bring up and pass.”
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