Thursday, June 5, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When Sen. Harry Reid rose to become the majority leader in 2007, many believed he had met his match in the Republicans’ new Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Shrewd parliamentarians both, they brought the prospect of each trying to outsmart the other on the Senate floor, promising good viewing.
Those skills were on display Wednesday when McConnell brought the Senate to a standstill.
Just as the chamber was about to begin a feisty debate on the most sweeping effort yet to address climate change, McConnell shut down the Senate by forcing full reading of the 491-page bill.
Rather than hearing a spirited battle over carbon emissions, gas prices and new fees for polluters, one lonely clerk after another read page after page of minutia to a nearly empty chamber.
Republican leaders say their stall tactic had little to do with climate change — they want to debate the global warming bill so they can knock it down. Instead, this was payback. They were protesting Reid’s failure to win Senate approval of three of Bush’s judicial nominees before Memorial Day.
Reid and McConnell had reached an agreement to move forward on the judges in a timely manner, and McConnell claims Reid isn’t keeping up his end of the deal.
McConnell said the daylong reading provides an opportunity “to give the majority time to contemplate and consider the importance of keeping your word in this body.”
It was a classic minority move — asserting parliamentary protocol to muck up the majority agenda.
And it must have looked a little like fall 2003, during a debate over judicial nominees, when Reid as minority leader seized the floor for nine hours to read from his book “Searchlight” in protest.
The public cannot be pleased.
Polls show Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change and are increasingly frustrated with Washington. Congressional approval ratings have slipped lower than those of President Bush.
Republicans risk being seen as obstructing action on an issue important to voters, though Sen. John Ensign, who heads party reelection efforts, sided with his party and was unworried about voter backlash.
Reid’s office countered that the Memorial Day deal on judges was brokered in good faith, but Republicans in committee failed to do their part to expedite the nominations. It added that the Senate approved more of Bush’s nominees last year than Republicans did in the previous three years they controlled the Senate.
“Devoid of ideas for addressing global warming ... Republicans have now resorted to changing the subject,” Reid’s spokesman said.
In his own statement, Reid said: “Republicans are yet again doing everything in their power to slow, stop and stall. These petty, partisan tactics waste the American people’s time, and ignoring the crisis of global warming endangers all of us.”
And so the day went on.
At various points, the bill’s lead author, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, asked to halt the reading “in order to debate global warming and get us to lower gas prices” or, later, to “save the planet.”
Each time, a Republican senator rose to object.
By early evening, with a few remaining tourists in the gallery watching the nearly empty floor, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chamber’s leading global warming skeptic, sat in waiting, prepared to object should Democrats ask for the hours-long reading to end.