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George Packer and Tom Udall on the Senate’s ’empty chamber’

We wonder if some of the first-time candidates running for Senate this year had visions of taking to the floor and delivering old-fashioned barn burners to their colleagues, making passionate, moving and persuasive speeches that ended in thunderous applause and praise from a grateful nation.

If so, some of those winners may be in for a disappointment.

Because when you’re watching C-SPAN — yes, we know some of you do — and you see a senator giving an emotional speech about some urgent matter, he or she is very likely speaking to an empty room. “Speechifying,” that is, just for the benefit of the TV camera.

If you had no idea that’s what they do, you’re not alone. Neither did the New Yorker’s George Packer, a longtime Senate watcher — and enthusiast — who earlier this year went to Washington to examine the institution he loves. He arrived just as the health care bill reconciliation debate was in full swing. And while the senators tried to reconcile the bill, George Packer tried to reconcile the Senate of his childhood with what he believes the Senate has become.

There are those who like the Senate the way it is — who really do prefer government by gridlock. But for those who share George Packer’s frustrations, we can tell you that there are remedies possible, even with a new, more divided senate. In addition to Packer, Need to Know’s Jon Meacham spoke with Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico about new rule changes he’ll be proposing in the next Senate.


An extended interview with George Packer about his New Yorker article, “The Empty Chamber”