Reporter’s Notebook: Daylight saving time bill passes in Senate with rare speed

'Americans want more sunshine and less depression,' said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash

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It has long been said you could make the sun rise in the west if you could get unanimous consent in the Senate.

But who knew you that you could make the sun come up an hour earlier on a permanent basis — if you could convince all 100 senators to agree.

That’s what happened recently when the Senate approved a bill without any senator objecting to ditch the custom of switching the clocks twice each year, springing forward and falling back.

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"Americans want more sunshine and less depression," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "Now the clock is ticking to get the job done, so we don't have to switch our clocks again."

Murray teamed with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others to write a bill to eliminate the biannual time switcho-chango. And the Senate stunned everyone when it approved the bill.

Perhaps not a minute too late.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., co-sponsored the bill to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., co-sponsored the bill to make Daylight Savings Time permanent. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Senate is a body which favors the minority. Unlike a majoritarian institution like the House, the Senate protects the rights of the minority party. Or, even the viewpoint of a small group of senators who hold a minority viewpoint on an issue, regardless of party. And, in some instances, the Senate simply protects the rights of a single senator, regardless of what the other 99 want to do.

That’s why obtaining "unanimous consent" is such an exquisite Senate prerogative.

The Senate can move political mountains, and, in this case, even the hands of time, if all 100 senators agree to something. But all it takes is a solitary senator to throw up a roadblock.

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There are three conventional ways to approve a bill in the Senate. The first is to take a good, old-fashioned roll call vote. This is where every senator comes into the chamber and either signals yea or nay. A clerk seated on the dais calls the name of all 100 senators and jots down how each senator votes on a long tally sheet. The clerk marks the votes in either the yes or no column. The clerk then announces how each senator voted out loud.

The votes are counted up at the end of the vote. The senator presiding over the vote reads the total out loud and the fate of the bill.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. ( Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Senate may also approve bills via "voice vote." This is where all senators, verbally, either shout "yea" or "nay" in the chamber. The presiding officer is supposed to award the victory — or defeat — to the loudest side. However, that discretion is left to "the opinion of the chair." Sometimes the quieter side prevails. The Senate doesn’t document how each senator voted when it takes a voice vote.

Finally, the Senate may approve a bill via unanimous consent. That’s where all 100 senators must agree to do something. Meet tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Hold a vote at 10:30 at night. Allow a senator to speak out of turn for one minute. You get the idea.

In fact, the Senate plows through much of its quotidian business under the aegis of unanimous consent. Like when the Senate should vote or meet. Or, whether to place a newspaper article or a speech into the Congressional Record. Otherwise, the Senate may be forced to vote on each and every question. The Senate would accomplish NOTHING. The most infinitesimal of mechanical, administrative tasks could consume hours.

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That’s why the Senate often leans on unanimous consent. It’s short and efficient. Practically a parliamentary wormhole. The Senate can move with lightning speed under unanimous consent. It’s a tool to accomplish the little stuff. And, sometimes, the big stuff.

It should be noted that even though there are three standard ways to conduct a vote in the Senate, none carry any more weight than the others. They’re all votes. They all count the same. Just different ways of getting to the same result.

But something strange happened when the Senate began a short debate on the bill make to daylight saving time the law of the land. Rubio called up the bill. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., presided over the Senate from the dais and instructed a clerk to read the title of the bill.

 And then Rubio made what’s known in the Senate as a "unanimous consent request."

 "Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the Rubio substitute amendment at the desk be considered and agreed to the bill as amended. Be considered, read a third time and passed and that the motion to reconsider be considered, made and laid upon the table," intoned Rubio.

 Like clockwork, Sinema briefly looked around the room.

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 "Is there objection?" queried Sinema. "Without objection, so ordered."

 In other words, the Senate consumed 12 seconds to save an hour.

 "Ooh. I love it," added Sinema. "Yes!"

The Senate passed the bill. But all it would have taken was a single objection by any senator to stymie the bill.

But it doesn’t matter. No one objected. It was just a wrinkle in time. The Senate voted to clean the clock of standard time, implementing daylight saving time on a permanent basis.

But here’s what was so strange about Rubio’s unanimous consent request.

Astute Senate observers will often see a group of senators, or even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, head to the floor. They will speechify about some issue, then some senator will make a unanimous consent request to pass a certain bill. Inevitably, another senator objects. Then, the senator who objected makes his or her own unanimous consent request in response. The other senator objects. The senators then yell back and forth for a few moments. The senators may even race to the press microphones or dash off a press release to complain about the other side objecting to their unanimous consent request.

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However, nothing happens. The Senate won't pass a given bill. The Senate blocks the unanimous consent request.

What you witnessed was Senate theater. The unanimous consent requests and objections were all worked out in advance, offstage. Everyone knew what was going to go down. They practically pantomimed the unanimous consent request and feigned shock when the other side objected.

If you watch the Senate at the end of the day or before the beginning of a long Senate recess, expect Schumer or another senator to come to the floor and rattle off multiple sets of unanimous consent requests. In a flash, without objection, the Senate then approves bills. Resolutions. Confirms administration nominees. Federal judges.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

But these unanimous consent requests aren’t Senate theater. This is the real thing.

When you witness the Senate approve a bunch of bills or confirm a batch of nominees via unanimous consent, the Senate has obtained sign-off from all 100 senators ahead of time. This was all pre-baked.

The Senate operates what it calls a "hotline." And when there’s an important unanimous consent request to come before the Senate, it goes on the hotline. If any senator has an objection, they don’t even have to head to the floor to object in person. They just inform Senate leaders that they would object if they were on the floor. And then Senate leaders know they don’t have unanimous consent. So, they never bring the issue at hand to the floor.

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What Rubio executed on the floor is what is referred to on Capitol Hill as a "live" unanimous consent request. In other words, the outcome wasn’t pre-determined. It had the potential for any senator to object and block the measure on the floor.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., opposed the bill and would have objected. But Wicker had a travel issue and couldn’t appear on the floor to object. For a "live" unanimous consent request, a senator must make their objection on the floor, in person. But if no one is there, the Senate passes the measure on the spot.

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Wicker wasn’t there. And the Senate passed the bill.

As they say, time waits for no one.

And in this case, not even U.S. senators.