WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) was seized by Senate police in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and carried into the Senate to answer a quorum call, but he was in good humor after the incident, joking: "I rather enjoyed it. I instructed four of my staff to get a sedan chair."
Other Republicans, however, bridled at the arrest, which took place as Democratic and Republican lawmakers staged a lengthy fight over legislation that would limit spending on congressional elections. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said the action made the chamber look like "a banana republic."
The incident--during which Packwood was carried feet-first into the Senate chamber by three plainclothes officers--highlighted the unusual intensity of the fight over the bill. Although Senate rules allow the sergeant-at-arms to compel absent members to attend sessions, it was the first time the procedure had been used since a 1942 filibuster over civil rights.
Vote Planned Friday
Senate leaders plan to vote Friday in an attempt to end Republican stalling tactics, but their strategists concede that campaign finance reform is probably dead for the rest of the year. Supporters of the bill vowed Wednesday to try to make it an election issue in the fall.
The arrest incident occurred after Senate aides began bringing cots into the cloakrooms behind the chamber late Tuesday night. Republicans walked out in an attempt to deprive the Senate of a quorum and shut down the chamber for the night. Democrats responded by voting, 45 to 3, on a motion by Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to order the Senate police to search out missing members and compel them to attend.
Armed with arrest warrants for all 46 Republicans, the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, Henry Giugni, and his men began to search the corridors of the Capitol and the Senate office buildings. After checking several empty offices, they spotted Sen. Steve Symms (R-Ida.) but he fled down a hallway and escaped arrest. Then a cleaning woman tipped them that Packwood was in his office, and Giugni--a burly former Hawaii vice officer--opened the door with a passkey.
Packwood tried to shove the door closed, but Giugni and two of his assistants pushed it open. The senator, who hurt his left arm in an accident two weeks ago and has been wearing a cast since then, tried to use his left hand to keep the door shut, bruising his knuckles in the process.
"It was their mass against my mass," Packwood said. "Except for the honor of it, I'd rather walk."
Later in the day, an X-ray showed no serious injury. Packwood proudly displayed his cast and gauze-wrapped left hand to reporters as he described the arrest.
At a news conference attended by Giugni, Packwood said: "This man deserves accolades, not criticisms."
Democratic senators, however, were not so forgiving.
Byrd served notice that he had run out of patience. "Senators are supposed to be grown-ups, not kids. They're supposed to come to the Senate floor to vote," Byrd told reporters, calling the incident a "sideshow" designed to divert attention from the substantive issues.
Republican attempts to kill the campaign financing bill--which would restrict election spending, provide limited public funds for congressional campaigns and cut back contributions by political action committees--began last spring.
But until this week, Democratic leaders had allowed the Republicans to conduct a "gentlemanly filibuster," debating the bill for a few hours every few weeks, then setting it aside.
On Tuesday, Byrd said he would put the Republicans to the test of an old-fashioned, non-stop, talk-all-night filibuster. "There is no point in having an easy, gentlemanly filibuster back in the cloakrooms," he said. "Let's have it right out here on the Senate floor where the American people can see it."
Supporters of the bill say it is needed to reduce the power of special-interest money in congressional elections. Opponents say that spending limits would entrench incumbents because challengers generally need to spend more money to become well enough known to beat a sitting lawmaker.