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Milbank: A hot-air debate for climate change

The filibuster has been used to delay many things over the years: civil rights, spending bills, presidential nominees and, most recently, Obamacare. But this may be the first time in history that a group of senators filibustered themselves.

About 30 Democratic senators — calling themselves the Senate Climate Action Task Force — kept the Senate open overnight Monday into Tuesday morning.

"We're not going to rest until Congress wakes up and acts on the most pressing issue of our time," declared Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the organizer of the sleepless senators.

Seeking action on global warming is a worthy endeavor, and the night owls deserve praise for the enthusiasm. But burning the midnight oil in this manner is peculiar. Usually, when a lawmaker talks all night, he's trying to stop the majority from passing something. But these guys are trying to persuade the majority — themselves — to pass something.

Joining the late-night guerrilla action was Harry Reid, D-Nev., who as the Senate majority leader is usually a target of filibusters, not a sponsor. If he and his colleagues really want action, they don't have to lose sleep. They could bring a climate-change bill to the floor.

The problem is that Reid doesn't have the votes in his caucus to pass such a measure. A year ago, the last time the Senate considered a fee on carbon emissions, 13 Democrats joined with all 45 Republicans in defeating it. Democrats facing difficult re-election fights this year were conspicuously absent from Monday night's lineup.

"I think if we went immediately to a vote we probably wouldn't be successful," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, an organizer of the all-nighter.

Reid, who kicked off the 13-hour talkathon at 6:30 p.m., didn't mention the problems among his fellow Democrats. He praised his colleagues for "standing up to the deniers" and "the oil-baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress."

Apparently, those allies were not intimidated by the Democrats' late-night show. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., crashed the party, needling his colleagues for more than half an hour. "All night long? That's going to be fun," said Inhofe, who calls global warming a "hoax" and frequently sights cold snaps as confirmation. "They'll have an audience of themselves, and I hope that they enjoy it."

The participants did seem to enjoy it. They had a Twitter hashtag, #Up4Climate, and gave energetic speeches long and short on the science of climate change. The Democrats were taking a page from the playbook of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who held an all-nighter on the Senate floor in the fall opposing Obamacare, and Kentucky's Rand Paul, who staged a talkathon last spring in opposition to President Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director.


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