Why the Senate Held a Rare Silent Vote Over the Debt Limit

Feb 13, 2014 5:26pm

When the Senate held a drama-filled procedural vote on raising the debt limit this week, there was one element missing from what should have been a typical roll call vote — the calling of the ayes and nays.

In nearly every roll call vote held on the Senate floor, the clerk reads who voted in the negative and in the affirmative before the final vote is called.

But on Wednesday, with the Senate engaged in arm twisting, senators switching votes, and the full faith and credit of the United States on the line, the Senate floor broke from normal procedure and went silent.  The clerk never publicly announced how each senator voted, leaving viewers watching on CSPAN and observers not in the room in the dark about just how close the debt limit vote was.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, explained in a statement today that Senate Republicans made the request for the votes not to be called in order to convince their colleagues to switch their votes to advance the bill.

“After the vote began, it was quickly clear that Republican leaders were struggling to deliver enough votes to clear the 60-vote hurdle upon which they had insisted instead of a simple majority, and a potentially catastrophic default suddenly seemed possible,” Jentleson said. “At Senate Republicans’ request, the clerk did not call the names during the vote to make it easier for Republican leaders to convince their members to switch their votes.”

At the request of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the procedural vote required a 60 vote threshold be met, forcing some Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to take a politically risky vote that will certainly be used in campaign ads against them this year. Not announcing the votes on the Senate floor afforded McConnell and other Republican senators the opportunity to convince their colleagues to switch votes to ensure the 60 vote threshold was met.  But it also took away a real-time assessment for reporters and viewers of where the vote stood.

Jentleson said the Senate GOP’s request was “consistent with Senate rules.”

“Senator Reid believed that protecting the full faith and credit of the United States and avoiding a default that could have disastrous consequences for anyone with a bank account were the most important objectives. For this reason and as a courtesy to his Republican colleagues, he consented to Republicans’ request,” Jentleson said.

While it went largely unnoticed at the time, reporters later argued that the decision to withhold the reading of the votes abandoned transparency.

 

 

“The Radio-Television Correspondents Association believes that the press and public deserve an explanation of what appears to be a breach of decades of protocol when votes were not publicly announced in real time during Wednesday’s critical vote in the Senate on the debt limit. In the spirit of transparency, we have requested more information on who directed the Senate Clerk to not read the votes aloud, and why that decision was made,” said Frank Thorp V, chairman of the Radio-Television Correspondents Association Executive Committee.

 

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