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Quake can't keep Senate away from its 20-second session

August 23, 2011 |  5:02 pm

CapitolThe Senate met briefly Tuesday in a basement near Union Station, an unusual off-campus session that served as a reminder that even an earthquake can’t stop the stately chamber from its business.

With Congress on recess, both the House and Senate are meeting every few days in pro-forma sessions, a procedural device to prevent President Obama from making recess appointments. Such sessions are quick –- gavel in, gavel out -- with usually one lawmaker on hand to perform the duties.

The Senate had been scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, but the earthquake forced the Capitol to be evacuated. No worry. Because the Senate can meet in virtually any federal building, it set up shop in the basement of the nearby Postal Square Building at Union Station, aides said. There, with the seal of the Senate pinned to a curtain, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) gaveled open the session from behind a folding table, according to the press pool report.

PHOTOS: Earthquake hits the East Coast

Clerks, aides and others took their assembled places -– with the Senate recording studio cameras capturing it all for posterity. The parliamentarian had to borrow a jacket to conform with the Senate dress code.

"This is considered the Senate floor," Rick Edwards, a member of the sergeant at arms staff, told the room beforehand, according to the pool report. "We would ask that everyone respect the floor the same as if we were in the Capitol."

Coons delivered the day’s business and gaveled the session closed. In 20 seconds, it was over.

Aides could not remember the last time the Senate met off-campus for such a session. But since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the pool report said, Senate staff has kept a “fly-away kit” for emergencies.

RELATED:  

Earthquake damages National Cathedral

Quake may be strongest in central Virginia history

5.9 earthquake hits Virginia, jolts New York and Carolinas

-- Lisa Mascaro in Washington

Photo: Police secure the streets outside the Capitol after the earthquake. Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images

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