05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Senators Engage In Bipartisan Civil Disobedience, Refuse To Halt Hearing

Jim Webb and Lindsey Graham had an unorthodox answer to a Republican parliamentary maneuver that blocked committees from meeting on Wednesday: Bipartisan civil disobedience.

"We just decided that we would continue unless somebody told us to stop." said Webb, a veteran, former Secretary of the Navy and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, which was holding a hearing on military health systems.

Just before the hearing, his staff told him that there were rumors Republicans would object to continued hearings and that at 11, by rule, it would need to be halted. An unidentified Republican was planning to make use of an obscure rule that requires unanimous consent to conduct hearings any time after 2:00 p.m. or more than two hours after the Senate comes into session.

"Then at a quarter-till[-eleven] we got a text message saying we're supposed to stop at 11," Webb told HuffPost. "You can always talk."

Webb (D-Va.) consulted with the committee's top-ranking Republican, he said, as to whether the committee members should continue to exercise their First Amendment rights. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was willing to buck the exemption.

"Webb and Graham kinda went rogue," said Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a subcommittee member who dropped by the hearing after her own was shut down. "They said, Well, they were just gonna keep going. I think everybody would be afraid to say no to Jim Webb and Lindsey Graham."

McCaskill was chairing a separate committee hearing on a contract for training security forces in Afghanistan that was canceled. "At some point," said an envious McCaskill, "Graham left and came back saying the committee had permission to continue. I don't know who he called or how he got permission, but our cloakroom told me after the fact that while the hearing was going Lindsey had taken some steps to get permission for the hearing to go forward."

Webb spokeswoman Jessica Smith, and Webb himself, gave credit to Graham for not objecting to the hearing - though that makes for a low bar for bipartisan cooperation. "The fact that we carried on was testament to Senator Graham. An inspiring show of bipartisanship in an otherwise contentious, divisive week," said Smith.