WASHINGTON – Maybe the cots helped break the standoff.
Capitol custodians noisily wheeled a half-dozen cots in the north door of the building just as the Senate was being gaveled into session for a planned all-night debate on the rights of the minority to filibuster judicial nominations.
Tourists turned to the racket created by bed wheels running over the uneven floor tiles, and some took pictures. The custodians weren't sure where to go, some gruffly telling onlookers to move before heading down the wrong hallway.
They finally reversed course and steered down the ornate and historic Brumidi corridor toward a small elevator.
The beds — which could allow senators to rest and then return to the floor — had been stored until needed in an office of Democratic leader Harry Reid (search), a police officer said. A Republican aide announced their side had also brought in cots for the night.
But that was before the standoff was averted by bipartisan compromise.
Turns out the cots weren't needed. A small group of lawmakers forced a deal on the senators leading the standoff, Republican Bill Frist (search) of Tennessee and Reid of Nevada.
Then the leaders enountered each other in the well of the Senate. The few exhausted members still on the Senate floor perked up to watch the body language.
What they saw: A few words, some nodding, a reassuring touch to the elbow from one leader to the other, and then it happened: a handshake between Senate leaders who an hour before had brought the institution to the brink of historic change that neither wanted — until the deal pulled them back.
"I feel so good," Reid said from his desk in the front row. "This will be the first night in at least six weeks that I will sleep peacefully."
Across the aisle at his own desk, Frist did not react to Reid's statement. When his rival was done speaking, the doctor from Tennessee turned his head toward Reid. Then he stepped into the aisle.
The men didn't touch at first. They began chatting, with Reid still behind his podium and Frist's arms crossed, a rolled up document held in one hand.
They nodded. Reid leaned in and touched Frist on the left elbow. They shook hands, then turned and headed up the aisle for the rear doors. Flashbulbs twinkled from the hallway beyond as they left the chamber, together.
Hobbled by the judicial standoff like a turtle with a limp, the Senate may now get back to its traditional deliberative speed.
In one outgrowth of the filibuster fight, Democrats had invoked a seldom-used rule that forces committees to stop working two hours after the Senate convenes.
That rule led Sen. Jon Kyl (search), R-Ariz., to cut short a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on the alternative minimum tax. Stopping one witness in the middle of his testimony, Kyl banged the gavel and officially adjourned the hearing. Then he invited senators and the tax experts to stay and visit about tax issues.
"Microphones are not cut off and so we can continue to talk but in strictly an informal manner," he said.