Nine-second session in the Senate
Senate meets briefly to block Bush
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer Wed Dec 26,
3:53 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The House was quiet as a mouse the day
after Christmas. But across the Capitol, the Senate
was operating in an unusually efficient manner in its
ongoing power struggle with President Bush.
A nine-second session gaveled in and out by Sen. Jim
Webb, D-Va., prevented Bush from appointing as an
assistant attorney general a nominee roundly rejected
by majority Democrats. Without the pro forma session,
the Senate would be technically adjourned, allowing
the president to install officials without Senate
The business of blocking Bush's recess appointments
was serious. It represents an institutional standoff
between Congress and the president that could repeat
itself during Congress' vacations for the remainder of
In such situations, pro forma sessions also could give
Bush some political cover on popular legislation he
doesn't want to sign. When Congress is holding pro
forma sessions and is not formally adjourned, a bill
sent to a president automatically becomes law 10 days
after he receives it excluding Sundays unless he
That could be the fate of two bills Congress passed
last week. One growing out of the Virginia Tech
massacre makes it harder for people with mental
illness records to buy guns. The other makes it easier
for journalists and others to obtain government
documents through the Freedom of Information Act. The
FOIA bill, for example, would become law on New Year's
Eve if not vetoed before then, according to Senate
Judiciary Committee officials.
In practice, Wednesday's pro forma process was almost
"Good morning!" Webb, sporting a respectful tie and
jacket, called to the floor staff assembled just for
the occasion in an otherwise sleepy and chilly
Capitol. One clerk congratulated Webb on being 30
seconds early, thrice the amount of time it would take
to complete the Senate's work for the day.
Climbing to the president's chair, Webb took the gavel
and banged it.
"The Senate will come to order," he intoned, reading
from a two-line script to a floor empty of other
senators but witnessed from the gallery by one
reporter and about a half dozen staffers. "Under the
previous order, the Senate stands in recess until
Friday, December 28th, 2007 at 10 a.m."
His work done, Webb left. The floor staff reported to
those in the gallery overhead that the session had
lasted nine seconds.
"I didn't appoint myself ambassador to a tropical
nation," Webb, a former Navy secretary, novelist and
TV documentary maker, quipped afterward.
Before Congress left last week, Democrats scheduled 11
pro forma sessions to fill the void until the Senate
returns to regular session on Jan. 22. The purpose was
to stop Bush from using the constitutional power
presidents hold under the Constitution to bypass
Senate confirmation and unilaterally install his
nominees in office when Congress is adjourned.
Democrats wanted to block one such recess appointment
in particular: Steven Bradbury, acting chief of the
Justice Department's Office of Legislative Counsel.
Bush nominated Bradbury for the job and asked the
Senate to remove the "acting" in his title.
Democrats would have none of it, complaining Bradbury
had signed two secret memos in 2005 saying it was OK
for the CIA to use harsh interrogation techniques
some call it torture on terrorism detainees.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Bush
refused to rule out appointing Bradbury to the job if
the Senate formally adjourned. So, Reid decided to
keep the Senate in session with pro forma meetings
every two or three days.
The gun bill is H.R. 2640.
The Freedom of Information Act bill is S. 2488.