Senators vanished from the U.S. Senate chamber on Thursday as clerks begin reading the upper chamber’s 628-page coronavirus relief bill, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who objected to waiving its reading as a way to delay the process, chatting and looking at his phone during parts of the reading.
Dozens of senators were present at the start of the reading, which was supported by a number of Senate Republicans who complain lawmakers have not had time to read the bill and that the bill is filled with excessive spending measures.
But those senators gradually filed out of the chamber within the first half hour of the reading, with Johnson remaining as the only senator in the chamber by the one-hour mark.
Johnson himself left the chamber at one point early in the reading, even after demanding Vice President Kamala Harris, who was presiding over the first part of the session, restore order when senators talked over the reading.
Several key senators stopped to talk with each other: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) engaged in a lengthy dialogue, joined by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), while Manchin, Portman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) all talked with Johnson.
While in the chamber, Johnson alternated between his phone, chatting with lawmakers and listening to the bill reading, which he said on Wednesday would “highlight that this is not relief and that it’s a Democratic boondoggle.”
77%. That’s the share of voters who said they support the relief plan in a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday, including 59% of Republicans.
“Good thing we have time during a national emergency to do this,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a colleague, joking to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) “I want to stay to hear the reading. I may have missed something,” before leaving the chamber.
What To Watch For
NBC News reporter Frank Thorp noted that clerks read the first 40 pages of the bill in an hour. At that rate, it would take just under 16 hours to finish, likely delaying votes on amendments to the bill by a day.