The Secret Senate Vote, No Longer Secret

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 14 2014 10:11 AM

The Secret Senate Vote, No Longer Secret

Two days after the Senate voted through a yearlong debt limit delay, the oddness and folly of the actual roll call continue to rankle reporters. The problem—and it was a fleeting problem—was that the usual, audible call of names did not happen. Harry Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson explained that "after the vote began, it was quickly clear that Republican leaders were struggling to deliver enough votes," so "at Senate Republicans’ request, the clerk did not call the names during the vote to make it easier for Republican leaders to convince their members to switch their votes."*

Who switched? Roll Call was watching, and the names are: Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain. Only Cornyn is on a ballot in 2014. All of them took one for the team, but only Flake, who voted no on the 2011 Budget Control Act (which started the three-step rise of the debt limit), was casting his first base-anger debt vote.

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Kate Hunter  has a relevant story about all this in Bloomberg. The framing is, by now, pretty standard: It casts Ted Cruz as a heavy who can't be controlled anymore. "In decades past," she writes, "leaders could rein in such behavior by threatening to take away coveted committee assignments, withdrawing financial support, or shunning lawmakers. None of those tactics are effective in a political era in which campaign cash flows freely from outside the party machinery and cable outlets offer many ways to grab attention and influence."

Doesn't all of this play exactly to Cruz's theory—the Tea Party's theory—of Washington? Cruz knew that five Republican colleagues, at least, would need to take a hard vote. But he also knew that they wanted the bill to pass. Why shouldn't they take that vote? True, Cruz had no plan to avoid running into the debt limit if the bill failed on Wednesday. But who looks worse today? Him, or the people who asked the vote-keeper to keep vewwy, vewwy quiet so they could switch their votes?

*This wouldn't have quite worked in the House, where real-time votes are displayed on a projection above the press gallery.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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