Today I waited in line for about an hour until I got to a counter where the nice woman took my phone. Then I waited in another line which led to another line to an elevator to a line in a long hallway. A stranger said, “Great, now we’re stuck in a hallway for who knows how long without our communication devices.” We were in the nation’s capital in the nation’s capitol, waiting to enter the Senate gallery.
Up and down the hallway you could see fingers twitching and a look of concern on the faces of my fellow Senate visitors. No phones and time to kill. Eyes widened and people scratched their heads, made calculations, and began to reflect on their life’s purpose with a newfound analog clarity. Soon the line moved again and we were led in silent groups into the Senate gallery.
I was given a seat in the front row, up behind the front of the chamber, where the Vice President and others would sit, so I could not quite see down there directly, but I was near the sound and video man (for C-Span?) and could watch his monitor to see if there was anyone up there under me. Otherwise, the entire Senate chamber was empty except for an older man in the back, behind the last desk on the Democrats side (to my right). He wore a dark suit, with his light skin, and chewed gum without much motion. There was a younger guy off to the left in the back, Republican side, sitting in a chair. No senators were present.
There were several sections of us up there in the gallery: four rows deep, about 6-9 in a row, depending. I’d guess around 150 visitors. We sat in silence, looking down on the empty wooden desks. It was like someone had said, here’s how you get tickets to the Senate gallery, so we had marched into our senators’ offices not far from the Capitol, and gone through the metal detector and tracked down their office and walked in and said something like Amy did: “We’re constituents of Senator Harris. We’re also big fans.” Then the interns gave us passes to the gallery. We took those to the Capitol, dumped our water bottle in the plants, went through that metal detector, climbed the steps and got in line for the gallery. One line led to another and so on until we found ourselves sitting here with 149 others, looking down on an empty Senate, thinking, now what?
Just around when all hope was fading, a door opened and in walked Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer. He walked in and sat down at his desk. I felt a momentary lift of hope. Are you kidding me? That’s Chuck Schumer, the man charged with leading the Democratic resistance. If nothing else, you’ve got to give him credit for some pretty solid Democratic legislative unity and resistance of late.
A moment later, a different door opened and in walked Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. As he walked down the aisle, Schumer rose and headed towards him. Are you kidding me, the leaders of the two parties headed for each other on the Senate floor?! Would they exchange choice words? Take a swipe at each other and have to be dragged apart? Instead, they stood face to face and McConnell put his arm on Schumer’s shoulder and they laughed. Nothing breaks up the good old boys club, not even health care.
They chatted for a while, down there in the dollhouse, while 150 of us peered in through the open roof. What could they be talking about and why had they waited until they were on the Senate floor? Eventually they sat down and McConnell went to work, quickly boring everyone in the room with some technical statements about appointing a few people including a federal circuit judge. There would be a call for Ayes, which was just him and Nays, which was silence (Schumer just looked up and smiled like they’d already worked this all out). Then McConnell high-tailed it out of there.
Next, Schumer got up and began to grandstand a bit to the even emptier room. He told the wooden desks and empty seats about the danger of a president interfering with an independent counsel’s investigation. He talked about this threat of Trump’s to withhold subsidies and let health care “implode.” He pointed out in specifics how this would affect the American public and gave the example of a 20% spike in premiums for the good people of North Carolina. He called it a “Trump tax.” He called for a bipartisan solution. He was well spoken and articulate. (Side note: a quick search on Wikipedia reveals Schumer received a perfect 1600 on his SATs and served 18 years in the House before his 19 years in the Senate).
Then he beat it too.
I stuck around long enough to see the senator from Florida, Nelson, get up and speak about the recent election in Venezuela and what a sham it was. I listened a bit, then beat it out of there myself.
Pretty amazing though to see the Senate in action, even (especially?!) if it was just three senators with 97 missing. Was I a bit moved?