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Webb opens, closes vacant Senate session

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  • Democratic senators will hold short "pro forma" sessions over the holiday break
  • Sessions usually under one minute long
  • Move prevents President Bush from making recess appointments
  • Bush refused to withdraw one controversial nominee after Democratic offer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Senate was called to order for 11 seconds on Wednesday as the last political scuffle of the year between the White House and the Democratic-led Congress played out.

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Democratic senators will hold short "pro forma" sessions over the holiday break to prevent recess appointments.

Nearly all the senators left the Capitol for the Christmas holiday last week, but Democrats are keeping the Senate in session to block President Bush from making any recess appointments -- a constitutional mechanism that allows the president, during congressional recesses, to fill top government posts for up to one year without Senate confirmation.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, opened and then immediately gaveled the Senate session to a close. He spent 57 seconds in the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, announced December 19 that he would keep the Senate open with a series of "pro forma" sessions through mid-January.

Talks had just broken down with the White House on a deal that would have allowed the president to make dozens of those appointments if he agreed not to appoint one controversial official, Steven Bradbury, as the permanent head of the influential Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

Bush declined to accept the Democrats' offer, and Reid refused to approve Bradbury because of concerns about his involvement in crafting legal opinions for the administration on interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects.

Similar sessions were conducted over the Thanksgiving recess.

Webb also did the duty Friday, but he won't be the only senator tasked with presiding over the shortened sessions. Other Democrats -- including Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Chuck Schumer of New York -- will share the duty. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ted Barrett and Vandana Kilaru contributed to this report

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