Senate Judiciary Republicans on Thursday invoked a rarely used rule to try to run down the clock and prevent committee Democrats from voting to authorize subpoenas for right-wing power players Leonard Leo and Harlan Crow.
Committee Chair Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) staff, though, told TPM that the antics didn’t work, that the vote to authorize the subpoenas was valid and that Durbin is now free to issue the subpoenas.
Senate Democrats announced that they’d subpoena the pair weeks ago after reporting revealed the close relationships — often involving luxury trips and gifts — between the men and some of the right-wing Supreme Court justices.
The vote has been repeatedly delayed, both due to Republican tactics, including filing dozens of amendments, and because the lawmakers chose to leave early for the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Thursday, Republicans invoked the “two-hour rule,” which holds that a committee can’t meet after the Senate has been in session for over two hours. That started a stopwatch for Judiciary’s meeting, which would expire at noon.
“Democrats have never invoked the two-hour limit,” fumed Durbin (D-IL), adding that Thursday marked the second time Republicans had.
Republicans dominated the meeting, railing against a slate of judicial nominees as well as the subpoenas themselves.
Ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) promised retribution — as he’s been doing every time the committee meets on the topic — calling the subpoenas a “never-ending effort to delegitimize this court.”
He relitigated old Republican complaints, including the supposedly shabby treatment of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) criticisms of the justices. He also re-upped his promise to block enforcement of the subpoenas when Crow and Leo inevitably refuse to cooperate. Enforcing the subpoenas would require a full Senate vote, and be subject to the filibuster.
Finally, as the clock neared 12, Senate Republicans got up and walked out of the committee room. In their absence, the remaining Democrats voted to authorize the subpoenas.
“We believe we had quorum and were within the two hour rule,” Durbin communications director Emily Hampsten told TPM.
Departing Democrats seemed taken aback by the procedural shenanigans.
“I did not expect that they were doing that today,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters of the Republicans as he left the hearing room. “I came prepared to vote on dozens and dozens of amendments and have the debate, vote on the amendments. So that was a last minute decision — to me — by the ranking member to…shut down the proceedings.”
Republicans maintain that their tricks worked, and that the subpoena authorization vote didn’t count.
“Under the rules, the subpoena is not valid,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters as he got into an elevator.
Leo is already promising not to comply.
“Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have been destroying the Supreme Court; now they are destroying the Senate,” he said in a statement. “I will not cooperate with this unlawful campaign of political retribution.”