WASHINGTON — About a day into the debate over legislation to combat global warming but before Republicans brought the discourse to a stop on Wednesday by insisting that the clerk read every word of the 492-page bill, Senator James M. Inhofe decided to get a few things off his chest.
Mr. Inhofe, who believes that fears of catastrophic climate change are hugely overblown, has insisted that there is no need to get into a scientific argument because there are enough other reasons to oppose the Senate bill, which would cap the production of heat-trapping gases and force polluters to buy permits to emit carbon dioxide.
Still, for a guy who said he did not want to talk about science, Mr. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, was the only senator to utter the phrase “anthropogenic gases.” He also wanted to talk about the recent cold winter in his home state and mention a few small points of disagreement with Al Gore and Mr. Gore’s co-recipients of the Nobel Prize, the roughly 2,000 scientists who are part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sponsored by the United Nations.
“We in the state of Oklahoma have had the worst cold spell during this last winter than we have in 30 years,” Mr. Inhofe said. “I find this to be true all over the country. You just can’t have it both ways.” (Most scientists say year-to-year weather changes are irrelevant to the clear, long-term warming trend.)
“One of the good things about this discussion and this debate is we are not going to be discussing the science,” Mr. Inhofe continued. Then, he unleashed an attack on the United Nations climate panel.
“We talked about 2,000 scientists,” he said. “We have a list of 30,000 scientists who said, ‘Yes, there can be a relationship between CO2 and a warming condition but it’s not major.’ ”
Next, he turned to Mr. Gore, the former vice president. “Al Gore has done his movie. Almost everything in his movie, in fact, everything has been refuted. Interestingly enough, the I.P.C.C. — on sea levels and other scare tactics used in that science fiction movie — it really has been totally refuted and refuted many times.”
Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, wanted to challenge Mr. Inhofe. “Will the senator yield?” Mr. Kerry asked.
“No I will not,” Mr. Inhofe replied.
Moments later, Mr. Kerry tried again. “Will the senator yield for a question?”
“No. I will not. Not now,” Mr. Inhofe declared, shifting his speech into the need for expanding nuclear power.
After being rebuffed a fourth time, Mr. Kerry was exasperated. “With all due respect,” he said, “we are here to have a debate. It is hard to have a debate when you are talking all by yourself.”
Even for the Senate, where members are well-known to prefer talking to listening, the amount of unilateral jabbering on the climate bill has been remarkable, with lawmakers both for and against it arguing repeatedly over how much time was allotted for them to speak.
It was also hard to keep track of who was on which side. The bill’s main sponsors are Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.
Typically, the floor debate is divided evenly between the two parties, but there has been constant confusion about whose time was being used.
At one point Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, was struggling to get his turn. “It’s my understanding that I have 15 minutes at 12:15 which I have been waiting for all morning,” he said.
A short argument followed — involving Mr. Specter, Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, Mrs. Boxer and Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee — over who should speak and for how long. As they bickered, Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, who was serving as the president pro tempore, made an announcement: “The time of the senator from Tennessee, three and a half minutes, has expired.”
Mr. Domenici was perplexed. “How did his time expire?” he asked.
“Through this conversation,” Mr. Tester explained.
To help give everybody time on center-stage, the senators on Tuesday proposed delaying the weekly party lunches by 10 minutes. The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said that was all right, but he also urged senators to be back in time for their official portrait.
“I hope people can come,” Mr. Reid said. “I know comparing it to global warming, it is not a very important issue. Staff has worked some six weeks to set up this place to take the picture at 2:15.”
The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has expressed glee that the Democrats chose to bring up the climate bill. Mr. McConnell, like many of the bill’s critics, said it would raise oil prices at a time when Americans were already furious at the high cost of gasoline.
And though it was Mr. McConnell who insisted that the entire bill be read aloud (as punishment, he said, for Mr. Reid’s breaking a deal on judicial nominees) the Republican leader also said he hoped for a lengthy, perhaps weeks-long, debate on the climate change measure to highlight its flaws.
In response to the required read-aloud, which ended before 10 p.m., Mr. Reid requested a late-night quorum call, summoning senators back to the Capitol as Washington was being hit by scattered thunderstorms.
Mrs. Boxer, the main Democratic proponent of the bill, accused the Republicans of stalling and refusing to address global warming in part to support big oil companies. She repeatedly invoked support from religious leaders and scientists.
“Here, as shown in this picture, is a beautiful creature, the polar bear,” she said in a speech on the Senate floor. “And people say, ‘Oh, is this all about saving the polar bear?’ It’s about saving us. It’s about saving our future. It’s about saving the life on planet Earth. And, yes, it is about saving God’s creatures.”
Republicans, however, accused Democrats of putting on political theater at a time when they know the bill has no chance of being approved let alone signed into law by President Bush.
“This bill is going down in flames, as it should,” Mr. Corker “And we’ll have a real debate about this next year.”