Senators used a 'talking stick' during shutdown negotiations

Jen Kirby
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who moderated bipartisan negotiations in her office to break the government shutdown stalemate, describes the power of the centrists and her efforts to keep the talks civil, during a TV news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tue
J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Political pundits will debate the winners and losers of the three-day government shutdown, but a clear frontrunner for the unsung hero award has emerged: Sen. Susan Collins's "talking stick."

Republican and Democratic senators reportedly huddled in the office of the Maine Republican senator, who hosted negotiations to break the shutdown stalemate. Collins, in an attempt to keep things civil, borrowed from the kindergarten classroom playbook and came up with the strategy of using a "talking stick," reports CNN.

Only the senator in possession of the "talking stick" could speak, and his or her colleagues would have to listen until it was their turn with the "ceremonial Native American stick," as one senator described it to Politico. It was reportedly a gift from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

"I needed order," Collins told the New York Times.

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And that "talking stick" shtick seemed to be going pretty well — that is, until one senator reportedly flung it toward another, and nearly took out Collins's office decor. Politico reports:

At one point, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee forcefully tossed the stick toward Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia after Warner interrupted him, nearly shattering a glass elephant belonging to Collins, according to two people briefed on the throw.

The "talking stick" reportedly chipped the glass elephant after Warner missed Alexander's toss. "There were no injuries, there were a couple close calls, but everything worked out fine," a Republican senator told CNN.

Collins reportedly decided to switch to a ball after the dustup, presumably assuming it would be a little less destructive. The next day, "Senator Alexander showed up with a basketball because it'd be safer than a stick," an aide to Alexander told Vox.

Collins later hailed "the Common Sense Coalition" of 25 bipartisan lawmakers who helped broker the compromise to reopen the government. Whether the "talking stick" had anything to do with their success is just speculation. But one GOP lawmaker did tell CNN that it was "the most entertaining meeting I've ever been to."