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Does POTUS Hear the Banging?

The Senate's eerily empty pro forma sessions this week and next have raised an age old question, with a twist: If a gavel bangs in the Senate and no one is around to hear it, does it still bang?

Yes, if you look at it from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's perspective. That gavel -- banged once to open the Senate, twice to close it, and all within 30 seconds, as was the case Tuesday -- is a boisterous defense against a potential sneak attack by President Bush on the Senate's constitutional powers.

The sole intent of the pro forma session is to stop Bush from filling federal vacancies with recess appointments, which he can do if Congress is in -- you got it! -- recess.

When Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) strolled into the Senate chamber Tuesday at 9 a.m., turned on the lights (ok, a clerk did that for him), sat down in the presiding chair, looked out over a sea of empty desks, the Vietnam veteran -- armed with nothing but a gavel -- had but one mission: to pre-empt an enemy attack on the Senate.

Webb almost cracked a smile at the absurdity of it as he banged the gavel, declared, "The Senate stands in recess until Nov. 23rd, '07 at 10 a.m.," and then gave another bang to close the joint until the next chosen senator, Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), gets a tour with the gavel the morning after Thanksgiving.

Asked how he got chosen for duty, Webb, ever mindful of his local and freshman status, told us, "I'm from Virginia, I'm in town, and I'm very, very junior." Plus, he said, "I'd much rather be doing this than allow the president to skirt the confirmation process in the Senate. This is an exercise in protecting the Constitution and our constitutional process."

In two of the most notable occasions on which the Senate let down its guard, Bush was able to sneak through the appointments of "Swift Boat" Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium.

And then there was Julie Myers, who Bush appointed behind the Senate's back to become the nation's top immigration official. She's not the most popular recess appointee on the block: she's still taking heat for awarding the "best original costume" prize at the agency's Halloween party to an employee wearing a prisoner outfit with darkened face make-up and fake dreadlocks.)

So the Democrats will continue taking turns keeping watch over the Senate and gaveling it into and out of session every couple of days day this week and next. Following Dorgan this Friday, next week's "watchman" is Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) who will preside over lickity-split sessions on both Tuesday and Thursday.

And yes, Democrats are pretty sure Bush can feel the bang even if he can't hear it.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  November 20, 2007; 10:51 AM ET
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