WASHINGTON – The Senate chaplain started Monday's session with a call for civility, but apparently senators weren't listening as one ended up launching into a real-life filibuster that until now had only been threatened.
Chaplain Barry Black started the day asking God to "help the members of this body to sidestep the divisive power of contention," but within moments of the prayer, each side was hurling political hardballs at one another.
"I don't believe these attacks help the American people. People want results, not name calling," McConnell said.
Then, Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (search), D-Nev., seized the floor and made it clear that he had no intention of relinquishing it.
"I am going to be talking until 6 o'clock today, and if necessary talk longer than that," Reid said.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to interrupt, asking the whip to yield for a question, which he refused to do before setting out on a long and rambling speech complete with charts.
At times, Reid, 63, simply read from the table of contents of the appropriations bill being considered at the time. He also read a long list of American towns and even discussed his youth. He ended up speaking for more than 8 1/2 hours, leaning at times on his desk but remaining on his feet the entire time to avoid losing his right to speak.
Reid's move seeks to demonstrate the displeasure Democrats have over a Republican plan to force Democrats later this week to attend 30 hours of debate over judicial nominations in which they will not be allowed to speak.
Republicans said the goal of the 30-hour session, set to start Wednesday at 6:00 p.m., is to bring public attention to the fact that Democrats are blocking a handful of Bush nominees.
"The goal is to break these partisan filibusters, and give not necessarily approval of these nominees, but that up or down vote," said Frist.
Republicans were hoping the session would open up an opportunity for votes on Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen (search), California Supreme Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown (search) and California Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl (search). Owen has already been blocked several times by Democratic procedural delays.
Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (search), Mississippi judge Charles Pickering (search) and lawyer Miguel Estrada (search) have also been prevented by Democrats from appellate court seats. Estrada withdrew his nomination after Republicans failed to break the Democratic blockade seven times.
Reid's mini-marathon was a pre-emptive strike and a chance to give Republicans a little taste of their own medicine.
"What are we going to spend 30 hours on? Not on the national debt, not on the budget deficit, not on the unemployed, not on poor people, not on the uninsured, but on four judges who we've turned down," Reid said.
Monday may have represented an inauspicious start for the rest of the week, a situation summarized by McConnell to a Fox News cameraman.
"I get testy, it's already getting a little testy. People have been together for about as much as they can stand it this year. We have had all the togetherness we can take," he said.
It's not unusual to see such wrangling and maneuvering in the waning days of a legislative session. Congress is set to adjourn on Nov. 21, but lawmakers still have to complete nine of 13 annual spending bills for the new budget year that started Oct. 1. Republicans also wanted to complete Medicare and energy legislation, and are negotiating compromises over overtime pay, media ownership limits, veteran spending and other issues.
Reid's effective halt to Senate action prevented the legislative body from considering a $37 billion Commerce, Justice and State Department spending bill.
While it is likely to be included in an omnibus bill that GOP leaders hope to pass, the Senate has agreed to return to Washington on Monday and Tuesday, which is Veterans Day, to debate legislation now likely to be sacrificed by senators who say that it is more important to gain political advantage right before the start of the election year than actually to pass pending legislation.
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.