Reporter’s Notebook: Senators Set to Leave Town Without Energy Bill Action

BY Linda Scott  August 3, 2010 at 7:00 PM EDT

A crowded hallway packed with Capitol Hill reporters waited for the final interaction with Senate Democratic and Republican leaders that winds down the summer session of Congress.

Called “the stake-out at the historic Ohio Clock,” it’s the last chance for members of the press corps to ask questions of both parties on myriad issues. Each party has a luncheon, in separate rooms, of course; discuss their separate agendas and messages to the voters. Then they come out and meet the press. Reporters acquire great skills of standing in hallways and chasing members of Congress with recorders, notepads and hand-held cameras just to get a quote about the story of the day.

Bottom line: no energy bill, no food safety, no child nutrition, no mention of settlements for black farmers. The list goes on: no education funding, no immigration bill.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, was hounded when he emerged from the luncheon. He hasn’t announced how he’ll vote on the Elena Kagan nomination to the Supreme Court set for later this week. He’s one of the few who hasn’t told us and we still don’t know.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., after reiterating what he sees as the remarkable qualifications of Kagan took on the properties of a bee in a beehive when reporters tried to pin him down on his position on repealing the 14th Amendment, an idea that was recently elevated to center stage by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Graham’s amendment would eliminate birthright citizenship and punish children of illegal immigrants who were born on U.S. soil.

“I haven’t had one senator to talk to me about this. . . I’ve only heard press reports, ” Leahy said. “I’ve been here a long time and have witnessed hundreds of attempts at changing the Constitution. You know how many times that’s happened? None,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sauntered up and asked reporters playfully, “Want to announce your August plans? I know you guys don’t want us to leave.” There was nervous laughter, but mostly no response. Then he waxed poetic about Democrats raising Americans’ taxes in the middle of a recession, spending, debt, immigration law and Washington takeovers. McConnell did embrace the idea of holding hearings on the suggested repeal of the 14th Amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for his part, tried to control the subject by announcing one topic and appearing with only senators focused on energy legislation. He lamented, once again, about not being able to get 60 votes and how the Republicans refuse to work with them. Reid pulled the bill. His energy minions — Barbara Boxer, Bob Menedez, Jeff Bingaman and John Kerry — took turns at the microphones praising the efforts, they say, Reid made to work with Republicans.

“Everyone knows it should not be this hard,” said Kerry about getting bipartisan agreement on comprehensive energy legislation.

Bottom line: no energy bill, no food safety, no child nutrition, no mention of settlements for black farmers. The list goes on: no education funding, no immigration bill. And both parties, mercifully for the press corps, leave Washington to campaign in an effort to keep their jobs.