What Happened in the Senate Last Night?

"Senate" was a trending topic on Twitter last night in Washington, D.C. Here's why:

In brief (well, Senate-style brief), Senate rules prohibit non-germane (unrelated) amendments on the Senate floor after cloture has been invoked on a bill. In other words, unless all senators consent, senators can only offer germane amendments once debate has been limited on a bill. McConnell and Reid appear to have been negotiating an agreement that would have allowed Republicans to offer seven non-germane amendments post-cloture. But then a GOP senator moved to suspend the rules (which requires a two-thirds vote) so that he could offer non-germane amendments, including at least one related to the president's jobs bill. Frustrated with the Republicans' tactics, Reid raised a point of order that the Republican motion was dilatory. Under Senate rules, dilatory motions are not in order once cloture has been invoked. The parliamentarian advised the presiding officer to rule that the motion was in order, the presiding officer did just that, and a vote ensued on whether or not to sustain or overrule the chair's ruling. Appeals of the chair require only a majority vote to pass, and Reid mustered all the Democrats save Ben Nelson to vote to overturn the chair. In practice, this means that the Senate tonight set a new precedent, by which I mean a new interpretation of the Senate cloture rule: Under cloture, a motion to suspend the rules to offer a non-germane amendment may now be declared dilatory.

Still confused? Read Sarah Binder's full explanation of the significance of this procedural change over at political science and economy blog The Monkey Cage.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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