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The Senate Compels Attendance to End a Filibuster

February 24, 1988

Photo of Senator Robert Packwood

On February 23, 1988, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd decided the time had come to end a filibuster on Senate campaign finance reform. A year earlier, in the first session of the 100th Congress, determined Republican opposition had produced seven failed cloture votes. Seeking to introduce a record-breaking eighth cloture motion for one bill, Senator Byrd announced, "There is no point of having an easy gentlemen's filibuster back in the cloakrooms. Let's have it right here on the Senate floor where the American people can see it." The Senate would stay in continuous session "until something breaks." Most of the Senate's 55 Democrats supported the legislation, but a head count revealed only 48 members available to answer a live quorum call. The leader moved to instruct the sergeant at arms to arrest the absentees

The Republicans conducted a hasty strategy session in their cloakroom and then scattered. Senate Sergeant at Arms Henry Guigni, a former vice squad policeman, led a "posse of six Capitol police officers" in a post-midnight search of members' hideaway offices and Senate office building suites. As Oregon senator Robert Packwood recalled years later, "They found me through no fault of my own by going into my reception room and asking the cleaning lady if she had seen Senator Packwood. And she said, ‘Oh, he's down in his office'." The New York Times reported that the senator thwarted their entry by wedging a heavy chair against one door. He hastily bolted another, but the police had a pass key. Pushing it open, they met minor resistance. "It was their mass against my mass," the apprehended senator noted.

At 1:17 a.m. the police and the senator approached the Chamber's entrance. By prearrangement, Senator Packwood collapsed into the arms of the officers who then transported him feet-first into the Chamber. On his feet again, he announced, "I did not come fully voluntarily."

Later, Senator Packwood held a news conference with Sergeant at Arms Guigni. The symbolic scuffle had aggravated an existing wound on his right hand. Raising a theatrically bandaged hand to an explosion of clicking cameras, he commended the sergeant at arms. "If ever there was a gentleman, who didn't want to do his duty, it was Henry."

The eighth cloture vote finally came after the Senate had been in continuous round-the-clock session for 53 hours. Its failure killed campaign finance reform for the remainder of the session. Asked if he would write to President Ronald Reagan for a pardon, Senator Packwood joked, "I thought I'd write to President Ford."