Senate plays politics in shaken Washington

With Congress on recess, both the House and Senate are meeting every few days in pro-forma sessions, a procedural device designed to keep the chambers technically in session and prevent Obama from acting on his own.

The Senate had been scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, but the earthquake forced the Capitol to be evacuated. But since 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, Democratic Senator Chris Coons gavelled open the session from behind a folding table, according to the press pool report.

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 gavelled 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.

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