CAFTA….I see that CAFTA passed the House last night 217-215, squeaking to victory in a midnight vote that was held open for over an hour. Just another day at the office for Tom DeLay.

On a substantive level CAFTA seems like a mixed bag to me, probably a bit more good than bad, but in any case nothing to get too wildly upset about. But on a procedural level, I’m curious about something: what’s up with all the midnight votes on bills like this?

The obvious answer is that Republican leaders think it helps them pass their bills because opponents will drift off or go home or something. But that’s obviously not the case. 432 congressmen voted on CAFTA, virtually the entire chamber.

That being the case, why not just schedule the vote for normal business hours? What do they gain from the whole midnight schtick?

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias emails to explain that the midnight vote wasn’t aimed at getting the Democratic opposition to throw in the towel, it was aimed at giving Republican holdouts a convenient excuse to avoid voting:

There were two Republican non-voters, Charles Taylor and Jo Ann Davis. And the vote passed 217-215. The game isn’t to hope that serious opponents get tired and go home. Instead, it gives awkward Republicans an excuse for not casting “no” votes.

So Taylor and Davis get to tell their constituents that they opposed CAFTA but just, you know, missed the actual vote because it was held so late and they couldn’t stick around. Family commitments, you know.

That’s pretty impressive. DeLay did all this just to help out two ? two! ? Republicans who are in pretty safe seats anyway. No wonder his colleagues appreciate him so much.

UPDATE 2: Jesse Lee has more detail about Taylor. Apparently he’s now claiming that he really did vote against CAFTA but did so using a “deactivated voting card.” D’oh!