DANA MILBANK: Sleepless senators' futile filibuster

Washington Post Writers Group Published:

WASHINGTON -- The filibuster has been used to delay many things over the years: civil rights, spending bills, presidential nominees and, most recently, Obamacare. But this may be the first time in history that a group of senators filibustered themselves.

About 30 Democratic senators -- calling themselves the Senate Climate Action Task Force -- kept the Senate open overnight Monday into Tuesday morning. "We're not going to rest until Congress wakes up and acts on the most pressing issue of our time," declared Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the organizer of the sleepless senators.

Seeking action on global warming is a worthy endeavor, and the night owls deserve praise for the enthusiasm. But burning the midnight oil in this manner is peculiar. Usually, when a lawmaker talks all night, he's trying to stop the majority from passing something. But these guys are trying to persuade the majority -- themselves -- to pass something.

Joining the late-night guerrilla action was Harry Reid, D-Nev., who as the Senate majority leader is usually a target of filibusters, not a sponsor. If he and his colleagues really want action, they don't have to lose sleep. They could bring a climate-change bill to the floor.

The problem is that Reid doesn't have the votes in his caucus to pass such a measure. A year ago, the last time the Senate considered a fee on carbon emissions, 13 Democrats joined with all 45 Republicans in defeating it. Democrats facing difficult re-election fights this year were conspicuously absent from Monday night's lineup.

"I think if we went immediately to a vote we probably wouldn't be successful," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, an organizer of the all-nighter.

Reid, who kicked off the 13-hour talkathon at 6:30 p.m., didn't mention the problems among his fellow Democrats. He praised his colleagues for "standing up to the deniers" and "the oil-baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress."

The participants did seem to enjoy it. They had a Twitter hashtag, #Up4Climate, and gave energetic speeches long and short on the science of climate change.

But the magic of the filibuster is that it's a test of human stamina: The speaker can't leave the floor, so the speech lasts as long as the bladder does. By using a tag-team approach, the Democrats weren't enduring anything but a lost hour or two of sleep.

Still, they figured their antics in the wee hours would display their dedication for all Americans to see, or at least insomniacs who watch C-SPAN2.

"We hope that by staying up all night to discuss climate change, tomorrow will signal a new dawn of climate-change action in Congress," said Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

That's a lofty sentiment, but there's no real prospect of the Senate, much less the Republican-controlled House, moving to limit carbon emissions in the next few years.

"Tonight is not about a specific legislative proposal," Whitehouse said. "It's about showing the environmental community ... that the Senate is starting to stir."

Starting to stir. But it won't awaken with so many Democrats hitting the snooze button.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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  • ~~so out of touch with the American people.  "We're not going to rest until Congress wakes up and acts on the most pressing issue of our time," declared Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the organizer of the sleepless senators." All polls have this issue either off the chart as non important or down around 12 or so. Of far more concern is the debt, defecit, obamacare outrage, jobs, economy, securing the southern border from illegal invasion, energy independence,...

    But the democrats need campaign money from the far left radical climate extreamists so this is how they appease those donors.