When Senate Republicans Went AWOL

Wisconsin Democrats are hardly the first legislators to ever seek to stop legislative action by denying a quorum.  Texas Democrats did it in 2003 to prevent Republicans from pushing through a redistrciting plan.  But Republicans have done it as well.  In 1988, Senate Republicans, tired of filibustering through the night, left the Senate floor so there would be no quorum to conduct business. As Time reported at the time, the Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) was not amused, and called upon the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest his wayward Senate colleagues.

The police raiders struck after midnight. Armed but in plain clothes, they knocked on the locked door. No response. Their leader inserted a passkey and pushed. On the inside, the fugitive braced a shoulder against the door and shoved back. But the lawmen burst in, reinjuring the suspect’s broken finger. Reluctantly he allowed them to lead him into an elevator, then went limp. They lifted him up, carried him feet first through massive doors — and onto the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The bizarre arrest of Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon by the Senate’s sergeant at arms and five Capitol police officers last week showed how emotional the presumably genteel senior body has grown over a furiously partisan election-year issue: a Democratic plan to reform campaign financing. Packwood’s offense was to flee a quorum call. The raiders also came across Connecticut Republican Lowell Weicker, who was waiting out the call in his office. But, cowed by Weicker’s bulk (6 ft. 6 in., 235 lbs.), they backed off when he stoutly insisted on remaining on his couch.

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