Senators vanished from the U.S. Senate chamber on Thursday as clerks begin reading the upper chamber’s 628-page coronavirus relief bill, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who objected to waiving its reading as a way to delay the process, chatting and looking at his phone during parts of the reading.
Dozens of senators were present at the start of the reading, which was supported by a number of Senate Republicans who complain lawmakers have not had time to read the bill and that the bill is filled with excessive spending measures.
But those senators gradually filed out of the chamber within the first half hour of the reading, with Johnson remaining as the only senator in the chamber by the one-hour mark.
Johnson himself left the chamber at one point early in the reading, even after demanding Vice President Kamala Harris, who was presiding over the first part of the session, restore order when senators talked over the reading.
My understanding is that the objection to waiving the bill's reading is any senator's prerogative, and I assume that the original purpose of the reading was important, and that it came at a time before printers, copiers, large groups of staffers and personal electronics.
Question: Is there any actual statement of the original purpose of the reading aloud of a bill in the US Senate before voting, or was the need so obvious at the time that it didn't need to be stated? Were there originally rules requiring that anyone besides the individual(s) doing the reading to be present? Or to listen?