Will The Senator Yield?

Watching some US Senate floor debate yesterday, I was reminded of one of my favorite things about it -- something I have had fun with in the past, but not nearly often enough: yielding for a rhetorical question.

When a Senator is speaking, another Senator may ask the speaker to yield for a question. What often happens is that a Senator on the same side in the debate -- typically the leadership representative, committee chair, or bill sponsor assigned to control debate for his or her party -- will use this parliamentary procedure to chime in with additional commentary or attack on the opposition.

By rule, this must be phrased, Jeopardy-like, in the form of a question to the interrupted Senator. Hence, some of the most entertaining rhetorical questions you've ever heard.

For example, yesterday afternoon Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was controlling debate for Democrats discussing her small business loan amendment. She asked Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell to yield for this question:

Would the Senator say again how we are going to explain that we did send billions to Wall Street with virtually no terms whatsoever, and now we have an opportunity to send money to small businesses on Main Street and we can't get a supermajority of Senators to do so? How are we going to explain this?

And later asked Senator Whitehouse to yield for this one:

Could the Senator from Rhode Island give us any more information as to what he is hearing in his State and why he thinks there are some Republican leaders who are adamantly opposed to this? It is mind-boggling to me.

That's pretty good rhetorical questioning. But here are some samples, excerpted from the Congressional Record, of how a real veteran does it -- Dick Durbin of Illinois, during yesterday morning's floor debate on the bill to extend unemployment benefits. Enjoy!


Is it not true that we tried three or four times to get the Republicans to go along in a bipartisan way to extend unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own so they could keep their families together while they are searching for work?

Isn't it true that historically we have done this without this kind of political rancor and argument?

I ask the Senator from Michigan what she is finding with these people who have been cut off from basic unemployment benefits because of the Republican filibuster.

I would ask the Senator from Michigan, who sees thousands of people who have been out of work for long periods of time, what she thinks about this Republican argument that unemployment checks make people lazy. 

I ask the Senator from Michigan: How do you reconcile this; that all of a sudden now this is all about a deficit, which the Republican Senators virtually ignored for 8 years while we reached the stage of today.

If we can't stand together as a Senate behind those families, I think we have lost something very basic. I know I had to put that in the form of a question, so I am going to hazard a guess: Does the Senator?

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