WASHINGTON — Tim Kaine is a man of many titles: former governor of Virginia, former mayor of Richmond, Va., and former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
But as a freshman in the U.S. Senate, Kaine has earned the title of “Mr. Monday and Friday,” because it’s on those days you’ll find him sitting, gavel in hand, in a big brown chair presiding over the Senate.
“The senators who might be traveling, they like to almost always put me in to preside the first thing Monday when the week opens up and then at the end of the week if they need somebody to preside on Saturday,” Kaine said. “I’m a Virginian and I’m a freshman, so that means that’s my job.”
They are called “Mister Speaker” or “Madam Speaker” or “Mister President” or “Madam President,” though they aren’t House Speaker John Boehner or the president of the Senate. Presiding is viewed as an honor or a hazinglike rite of passage, as evidenced by the number of freshman and junior senators who drew the late shift during Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 21-hour, 19-minute speech two weeks ago.
But wielding the gavel isn’t for everyone. Many Congress members have little patience for the minutiae and machinations of legislating, with its cloture votes, motions to commit, quorum calls and seemingly endless parade of one-minute speeches.
More often than not, legislation is stalled and the Senate spends considerable time in quorum calls — quiet periods when there is no visible floor action while senators work out their disagreements in the background.
Quorum calls can last for minutes or hours, leaving the presiding officer to his or her devices to overcome the dull lull.
“I always had a book,” said former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
On the House side of the Capitol, presiding officers are recruited and selected by the speaker’s office.
Boehner has a corps of nearly 30 House Republicans who are capable of handling legislative floor activity. That bench shrinks if bills are particularly tricky, and to about a dozen if especially politically contentious legislation hits the floor.
That go-to team includes Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
“This is the U.S. House of Representatives. Anybody who has the privilege of presiding and hearing different people debate on different things, that in and of itself is a plus,” Hastings said. “I’ve always been one that likes presiding, back to my high school … so it sort of comes naturally to me.”