WASHINGTON – A Senate debate over global warming legislation turned into late-night drama Wednesday marked by an eight-hour reading of the 492-page bill and a call for senators to return — some of them from their homes — to cast a procedural vote not long before midnight.
An angry Majority Leader Harry Reid demanded senators return to the Capitol for the late-night vote after Republicans blocked his attempt to limit amendments on the bill, arguing there were not enough senators in the chamber for Reid to proceed.
So Reid asked for a vote on whether the sergeant at arms should summon senators to the Capitol. The motion — in a vote lasting one hour, five minutes — was defeated 28-27, but now Reid has his quorum anyway to proceed.
Senators trudged to the Senate floor for the vote, some clearly taken by surprised by the late-night call. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in T-shirt and shorts, signaled his vote through an opening of a Senate chamber door.
Reid accused Republicans of "doing everything in their power to slow, stop and stall" the bill. He cited what he said was a GOP "strategy memo" obtained from a lobbyist that said Republicans were bent on "making political points" and not so much on amending the bill.
Reid filed a motion to end debate on the bill by Friday and proceed with a showdown vote.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky complained that the Democrats were keeping Republican senators from offering their amendments. He said Republicans were ready to debate the bill at length if allowed to do so.
The partisan squabbles, each side accusing the other of obstruction, brought action on the climate legislation to a halt earlier in the day after Republicans demanded a reading of the 492-page document because of a partisan dispute over judicial nominations.
Senate clerks began reading the bill shortly after 1 p.m. EDT and did not finish until 9:45 p.m.
The bill, the most ambitious legislation on global warming ever taken up in Congress, would cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent by mid-century from power plants, refineries, factories and transportation.
Its sponsors said the mandatory reductions are essential to put the United States in a leadership role in global attempts to head off dangerous climate change. But Republican critics said it would result in higher energy costs and economic turmoil.
After an agreement to bring the legislation up for action, Republicans turned down requests that a reading of the bill not be required. It is routine not to read a bill.
McConnell, R-Ky., said he directed the delaying action because the Democratic majority had failed to approve the appointment of three federal judges before Memorial Day as promised.
"We hate to hold up the climate bill," McConnell told reporters.
A Reid spokesman, Jim Manley, blamed Republicans for not getting two of the judicial nominations out of the Judiciary Committee and said a third judge, in fact, had been approved. Reid's pledge was based on "Republican cooperation" that he did not get, said Manley.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a lead co-sponsor of the climate bill, said the GOP was "just stalling this bill. ... All they want to do is kill this bill."
The climate bill's supporters include most Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Along with Boxer, the leading sponsors are Sens. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and John Warner, R-Va. It has been the subject of Senate floor debate since Monday, but senators have done little more than talk so far.