WASHINGTON – Colorado’s senators are threatening to have their fellow senators arrested in the event they are absent during a possible government shutdown that looms at the end of the month.
If Congress does not approve a new spending bill by late April, which is possible because of some measures Republicans have included in the bill that have angered Democrats, the government would again shut down – as it did in 2013 over a spat over Obamacare and in 1995 and 1996 under the Clinton administration over the budget deficit.
Not only does Congress have to pass a spending bill, it must also pass an increase to the debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on debts owed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he was “very confident” that a shutdown would be avoided, despite the possibility that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and the defunding of Planned Parenthood might make Democrats scoff at the bill.
But Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) have a plan to make sure Congress keeps moving during a shutdown, however unlikely it is the plan ever materializes into an approved resolution.
Colorado senators’ resolution uses obscure Senate rules
The two on Tuesday introduced a resolution that would utilize the Senate’s complex rules to ensure all 100 senators were on The Hill to vote on items and finish a spending bill.
If the senators were absent, the resolution would allow the Senate Sergeant at Arms to compel the senators to appear in the Senate chambers, lest they be arrested and forced to appear.
Should the resolution be approved, it would require the Senate to convene at 8 a.m. on the day after a shutdown.
A quorum call would be made that would require 51 or more senators to be present on the floor. If at least 51 don’t show up, a roll call vote would be called for, which would request the absent senators to appear on the floor to vote.
The cycle would continue until at least 51 senators were present and would continue each hour through the end of the day to ensure senators are on the floor or in their nearby offices.
But if at least 51 senators don’t show and no quorum is reached, the sergeant at arms would be called on to figure out which senators weren’t present and where they were located under a motion to compel.
Should the motion to compel fail, the sergeant at arms would be directed to obtain warrants and arrest the missing senators.
“With this new Administration, we’ve seen even greater dysfunction in Washington. A shutdown is looming at the end of the month, and we cannot afford to be unprepared,” Bennet said. “Coloradans don’t shut their communities down because of a disagreement, and the Senate shouldn't be allowed to do so either. This resolution would encourage Congress to avoid such a crisis and work to keep the government open."
"Coloradans expect their elected officials to do their jobs and work together to avoid shutting down the federal government,” Gardner said. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation and prove we are a responsible governing body that will do whatever it takes to reopen the government in the event of a shutdown. I’m proud to work with Senator Bennet on this effort and show the country that, regardless of party, Coloradans will never quit working for the American people.”
Will it work? Is there a precedent?
While the resolution may seem like a stretch for some, it does have a precedent.
In 1988, Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Oregon, was “carried feet first into the Senate chamber by Capitol Police” after Sergeant at Arms Henry Giugni ordered the arrest of several Republican senators who did not show up to a motion to compel during a Republican filibuster, according to The Washington Post.
Democrats were hashing out their spending bill, which was being filibustered by Senate Republicans, who were forced to hold the floor by the Democrats.
Republicans had objected to Democrat attempts to limit campaign spending. The Senate Majority Leader at the time, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, told The Post he regretted getting Packwood arrested, then “congratulated Packwood ‘on the fine spirit with which he accepted the inevitable,’” according to The Post.
But Dr. Rob Preuhs, an associate professor of political science at Metropolitan State University in Denver, says that although Gardner and Bennet’s resolution could happen in theory, it’s unlikely other senators would approve it.
“The real question is whether the Senate would agree to the resolution, and that is unlikely. Sens. Bennet and Gardner represent a purple state, and this type of proposal is likely popular and with some political benefits for both,” Preuhs told Denver7. “However, solid red- and blue-state senators with constituencies that view compromise as a problem are likely to be rewarded for standing firm even if that means a shutdown.”
“It may be an interesting potential solution,” Preuhs said, “but one that is not likely to appeal to a majority of senators.”