Monday, December 11, 2006

Arcane Senate Tradition

While Mitch McConnell may have gained the title of Republican Leader, it comes at a cost. He has lost the desk of Henry Clay:

Bunning Inherits Clay’s Desk as McConnell Moves
December 11, 2006
By Bree Hocking,
Roll Call Staff

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) promotion to the top Republican post in January will not be without its trade-offs.

He’ll be relinquishing his current Senate desk, once held by legendary 19th-century statesman and Sen. Henry Clay (Ky.), to move into the one traditionally used by the Republican leader.

The Clay Senate desk is one of three desks — the others being those once used by Sens. Daniel Webster (Mass.) and Jefferson Davis (Miss.) — that have been reserved by Senate resolutions for specific Members: the senior Senators from Kentucky, Mississippi and New Hampshire. (This is done even though Webster, a former New Hampshire Congressman, represented Massachusetts in the Senate.)

On Friday, however, McConnell and fellow Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) introduced a resolution, which the Senate quickly approved, allowing for the Clay desk to be reassigned to the junior Senator from Kentucky if the Bluegrass State’s senior Senator becomes party leader.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said he “would have been honored” to use the Clay desk for the remainder of his career but that the Republican leader’s desk was “equally steeped in tradition.” He said he had decided to “follow the custom” set by then-Republican leader Charles McNary (Ore.), who first began using the desk (located in the front center row) in 1937. It has been held by such prominent former leaders as Sens. Robert Taft (Ohio) and Everett Dirksen (Ill.).

McConnell authored the initial resolution in 1999 designating the Clay desk to the senior Senator from Kentucky (himself) and has occupied it since then.

Since the early 20th century, most Senators have signed their names in the desks they have used. The Clay desk bears his name, although the signature is not authentic.

During his time in Congress, Clay, who also served as Speaker, earned the moniker “The Great Compromiser” for his legislative acumen and for his ability to forge agreements between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions, said Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie. Ritchie said Clay, who served as de facto leader of the Whigs, “sat way in the back next to the door” so he could “put his hand over his mouth” and whisper to entering Senators “which way they should vote.”

Back to the top.

No comments: