Senators Laugh And Joke During Secret Santa Exchange

In the Senate, partisan bickering was put on hold for a brief time as senators held a holiday gift exchange Tuesday night. The idea for the Senate Secret Santa gift exchange, which is in its third year, came from Minnesota Democrat Al Franken.

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The Senate is expected to vote today on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and it's likely to pass. In the current toxic political environment, bipartisan is often a dirty word. But as NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith reports, the fussing was put on hold - at least, briefly - last night for a gift exchange.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The idea for the Senate Secret Santa gift exchange came from Minnesota Democrat Al Franken.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: Well, why not?

KEITH: Who happens to be Jewish.

FRANKEN: You know, there's been a lot of controversy about the ethnicity of Santa lately, and he may - maybe, you know, he's Jewish. You know, he could be Jewish.

KEITH: Maybe we shouldn't go there. Growing up, Franken's elementary school did a Secret Santa exchange, and he figured it would be a good way to get his Senate colleagues together. Now in its third year, the gift exchange has grown and become a bit of a holiday tradition. Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy gave South Carolina Republican Tim Scott a set of presidential Pez dispensers.

SEN. TIM SCOTT: I'm sure that he thinks that this is the way to sweeten the pot and improve the relationships; to get across the aisle, and this is an important part of that equation. I'm excited about the fact that he thought so much of me to get me this Pez.

KEITH: Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, played Santa to Arkansas Republican John Boozman, and Baucus says he got him...

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Lots of Bozeman, Mont., related products.

KEITH: How did that go over?

BAUCUS: He laughed, he joked. He loved it.

KEITH: West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin gave Florida Republican Marco Rubio coal.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: A coal figurine of a donkey and a - elephant.

KEITH: West Virginia is coal country. Texas Republican Ted Cruz got some fancy meat sticks.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Buffalo jerky with cranberries and pepper blend.

KEITH: Cruz described himself as an avid carnivore and seemed happy with the gift.

CRUZ: Oh, I think it is always helpful for people to treat each other with civility and good cheer, and we could use a whole lot more of that in Washington.

KEITH: There was a $15 maximum on the gifts, and Sen. Franken says he came in well below that with his gift to Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly.

FRANKEN: It was a handmade thing. It actually cost nothing. (Laughter) No, that's not true...

KEITH: He drew a map of the United States, noting important moments in Donnelly's life. So there was the cost of the paper.

FRANKEN: And then whatever the Sharpie cost, but I can amortize that over other maps.

KEITH: Other gifts included maple syrup, a Batman Christmas ornament and single malt whiskey.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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