WASHINGTON — Senators were prepared for a long day and night of voting, but on Friday the chamber stalled out on the very first vote of an anticipated vote-a-rama and the single question dragged on to become the longest Senate vote in modern history.
The Senate began voting at 11:03 a.m. Eastern time Friday on an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The previous record of 10 hours and 8 minutes fell at 9:12 p.m.
The holdup wasn’t Sanders’ amendment itself, although the proposal had already stoked controversy and a hotly contested ruling from the parliamentarian. Democrats had already dropped the minimum wage provision due to the ruling that it wouldn’t comply with budget reconciliation rules. The Budget panel’s ranking Republican, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, raised a point of order, creating a 60-vote hurdle for Sanders’ amendment.
Instead, the extended open vote signaled a behind-the-scenes scramble to secure votes for future amendments expected during the marathon vote-a-rama process, specifically over renewing unemployment benefits.
With the Senate split 50-50 between parties, Democrats were pressed to corral moderates and progressives within their ranks, with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III the key vote on an unemployment insurance proposal.
But more than six hours into the vote, Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin hadn’t seen the key player being courted by both sides.
“I haven’t talked to him in two hours so I don’t know,” he said of Manchin.
As the vote dragged on, senators returned to their offices, ate lunch and then dinner. Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Ohio’s Rob Portman, author of the GOP unemployment proposal, huddled in Thune’s office just off the Senate floor, with Manchin on the phone.
Manchin also talked to Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and President Joe Biden during the stoppage. Manchin eventually struck a deal with his Democratic colleagues, breaking the impasse, but not in time to avert the record-setting vote duration.
The seemingly endless vote provided ample time for Republicans to organize, announce and present a press conference, all while the question remained open on the floor.