Parliamentarian Earns Her Pay

A comical scene played out this evening in the waning hours of the Senate session that left members scratching their heads over the contents of a bill that was moved by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, kicked off the confusion by objecting when the Majority Leader moved the bill.

Seeking a point of parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Sanders asked whether or not it was true that there was an amendment in the bill titled “The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.”

Mr. Sanders was forceful in his demand for an answer, and the presiding officer was at a loss for words while the Senate staff found what, in fact, the bill said.

“Yes, no, maybe?” asked Mr. Sanders impatiently.

“The language in question is in the House legislation,” came the eventual answer from the chair.

Mr. Sanders then asked that such language be removed by unanimous consent.

Amid uncertainty about whether or not such an action could be taken, the senior Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy(D), asked a few times whether or not the legislation would defund Planned Parenthood. Crosstalk reigned casually before Mr. Leahy could get an answer. The presiding officer informed him that such a question was not for the parliamentarian to answer.

Mr. McConnell then took an opening to ask in genuine bewilderment who held the floor. When he was told that it was himself, Mr. McConnell sought to clarify that he was amending the legislation with the Roberts Amendment that would replace in full the Planned Parenthood act.

Barbara Boxer, D-CA, asked whether or not the Senate could strike the language by unanimous consent, and learned from the parliamentarian talking through the presiding officer that that was not the case and that they can only amend.

At this point Mr. McConnell, looking lost, asked if the clerk would read the title of the bill, drawing a wry smile from the presiding officer.

The chamber erupted in laughter when John J. Merlino, the legislative clerk, recited the name of the bill the Senate had been working on all day, the National Sea Grants College Program Amendments Act of 2015.

Charles Schumer, D-NY asked one last time to ensure that the legislative action that Mr. McConnell was about to take would exclude entirely the words “Planned Parenthood” from the bill.

The presiding officer reported that it would, then moved on without taking anymore questions.

by Marlon J. Ettinger