Would Sen. Mark Begich have dared to assert himself so openly, when acting as Presiding Officer of the U.S. Senate, as did Sen. Al Franken today?
Updated - 9:00 a.m. Friday: And the answer is - YES:
WASHINGTON -- Normally when senators preside over the Senate, they do little but direct traffic, showing little partiality or emotion as they allow their colleagues to yammer on at length.
So when Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked Sen. Mark Begich. D-Alaska, for additional time to keep talking about health care Thursday afternoon, it wasn't the kind of request usually denied in the polite Senate, where long-windedness is generally tolerated.
But Begich's response was unusual: "In my capacity as the senator from Alaska, I object."
Flummoxed, Cornyn retreated for a moment, then tried again: "Is it the intent of the presiding officer to prevent any senator from speaking on the floor on this important bill? I'm looking around and I don't see any other senator waiting to speak," the Texas Republican said, gesturing to the empty chamber. "I simply would like an explanation of the chair's ruling."
Although Begich may have given Cornyn flashbacks of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and his grumpy alter ego, the Hulk, the testy exchange wasn't personal. Cornyn's spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said they quickly figured out it was "obviously procedural."
It turns out the freshman Democrat from Alaska was acting under orders of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, who said he had grown tired of what he deemed Republican delaying tactics.
Update Two (freeper notes in the comments that neither Sen. Franken nor Sen. Begich were "asserting" themselves, they were merely following instructions from leadership to speed up debate. I was unaware of the instructions when I initially posted this article.) Here's a YouTube (hat tip to akglow) of the Begich-Cornyn exchange from Friday: