Tag Archives: US Senate

Worst of the worst

The Hill newspaper has listed its Top 10 worst candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

It’s an impressive gathering covering both political parties.


I have two clear favorites. They’re both Democrats.

* The worst of the bunch has to be Bruce Braley, the Iowa congressman who ran to succeed fellow Democrat Tom Harkin. His foe was Republican Joni Ernst, the hog-castrating tea party golden gal. Braley should have won the seat in a walk. Then he stepped in it big time, by calling Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley “just a farmer from Iowa.”

Whoops! You don’t say “just a farmer” in a state full of farmers. I’ve been to Iowa a couple of times and I’ll tell you I’ve never seen so much corn in my entire life.

Really bad form, congressman.

* Alison Lundergan Grimes finished a close second. She should have won in Kentucky against incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell, who isn’t your garden-variety retail politician. He’s stiff, unfriendly and quite wedded to the Washington, D.C., power structure — the one that has broken down and created so much of the anger and angst among voters. So what did Grimes do to win a spot on this list? She refused on several occasions to say whether she voted for President Obama.

The refusal was as clumsy as it gets. She tripped over her own tongue in trying to explain it all away, giving out an air of phoniness. She seemed to be terribly lacking in authenticity.

That’s my short list. The rest of them noted by The Hill all had their moments of “glory.”

Bring on the next set of winners and losers in 2016. First, let us catch our breath.

A single vote causes confusion

Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to be the next U.S. senator from Kentucky.

She’s taking on a heavyweight, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

Grimes has much to commend her for the job. However, there’s a strangely awkward reticence that is getting in the way. She declines to say whether she voted for President Obama in 2012.


This is a strange distraction. Come on, Ms. Grimes. What’s the story? Did you or did you not support the president, a member of your very own Democratic Party?

Politics creates such a fickle environment. Little things like this become big things in a heartbeat.

In a way, I understand Grimes’s reticence. Our votes, after all, are supposed to be done in secret. We cast our ballots with no obligation to tell anyone how we vote. Where I come from, that’s a sure sign of liberty. Voters become “liberated” by their votes, giving them more than ample justification to speak their minds on policy issues and the people who carry them out.

However, Grimes is running for a public office. That means her life essentially is an open book. The public is entitled to know to what level they endorse another public figure’s public policy stances.

Thus, her vote becomes grist for comment. It also becomes a target for inquiring minds.

Her reluctance might have something to do with the president’s low standing among Kentuckians. His approval rating is about 30 percent. Grimes has told at least two newspaper editorial boards — in Louisville and Lexington — that she’s a “Clinton Democrat.” She has declined on several occasions to say whether she voted for the president.

This kind of clumsiness angers her base, which she’ll need if she intends to defeat McConnell on Nov. 4.

It’s such a petty matter in the grand scheme. It has become a bigger matter than it deserves to be.

One more reason to detest Ted Cruz

That settles it: Ted Cruz is my least favorite of the 100 men and women who serve in the U.S. Senate.

Why the additional scorn? Well, the freshman Republican from Texas said this about the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to review state laws banning same-sex marriage:

“This is judicial activism at its worst.”

OK, he said some other stuff too in criticizing the high court. He accused the justices of “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution.”


Judicial activism, eh?

I think I can come up with at least one greater example of judicial activism perpetrated on this nation by the Roberts Court, one of the more so-called “conservative” courts in the nation’s history. Let’s try the Citizens United case.

Remember that one, Ted? That’s the case that determined that corporations are people, too — to borrow Mitt Romney’s (in)famous phrase during the 2012 presidential campaign. The court decided to let corporations spend all the money they wanted on political campaigns, just like regular folks. It determined that multi-zillion-dollar business interests have as much say in determining who gets elected as poor schleps like me who might want to write a $20 check to the candidate of my choice.

So, if you’re a candidate who then gets elected, who are you going to listen to more intently: the mega corporation or the individual contributor?

That, Sen. Cruz, is how I would define judicial activism.

This label often is used by conservatives to rip apart liberal judicial rulings. These critics, such as Cruz, ignore at their peril their own brand of judicial activism.

The Roberts Court showed it can be as activist as, say, the Warren Court was in the 1950s.

Cruz surely knows this.

A dear friend of mine who visited my wife and me this past weekend served in government and journalism for more than 40 years. He said of Cruz, who he described as “smart as they come”:

“Intelligence is inherited. Wisdom must be earned.”

Former candidate might hold Senate key

If the Democrats hold the U.S. Senate — and that remains a huge if — they likely may owe their rescue to a Democrat who wasn’t even on the ballot.

No, I’m not talking about President Barack Obama.

The rescuer might be a fellow named Chad Taylor, a former Democratic candidate for the Senate from, of all places, Kansas.


Yes, that Kansas, one of the most deeply red states — behind Texas and Utah, perhaps — in the country.

Taylor dropped out of the Senate race against incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. He left the campaign to a third candidate named Greg Orman, who’s running as an independent but who appears ready to caucus with Senate Democrats if he’s elected.

Orman is holding a double-digit lead over Roberts at the moment and with less than a month to go before Election Day, it’s beginning to look rather grim for the veteran Republican lawmaker.

The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls shows Republicans with a potential seven-pickup in the Senate; they need six to win control of the place. So, Orman’s possible victory isn’t the only race that could keep the Senate in Democratic hands.

Iowa needs to stay Democratic. North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagen is holding a slim lead over her challenger. And former President Clinton has returned to his home state of Arkansas to campaign on behalf of his pal Mark Pryor, who’s trying to keep the seat in Democratic control.

If it boils down, though, to a single race — the one Kansas — Democrats might have to send former candidate Chad Taylor the biggest bouquet of flowers they can find to say “thanks” for bowing out.

McCain might run again … for the Senate

John McCain confounds me .

The Arizona Republican is at once an admirable man, a genuine war hero, an annoying gadfly, a petulant loser and a real-life expert on foreign policy.

The senator, who’s 78, says he might run for a sixth term in 2016 but observers say he’s going to get a serious tea party challenge if he suits up for another senatorial campaign. He got a stout challenge in 2010, but thrashed former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth by 25 percentage points.


I think he ought to run at least once more if he’s up to it.

McCain’s biography is well-known. He was a Navy aviator, shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War and held captive for more than five years. He suffered terrible torture at the hands of his captors.

His career in public office has been marked by amazing ups and downs.

McCain has run twice for president, nominated by the GOP in 2008, when he lost to Barack Obama.

He’s been a friend of the “liberal” media, which has ticked off conservatives to no end. He’s no liberal, however. He’s voted consistently with the right wing of his party throughout his lengthy career.

Yet … when he carps about President Obama’s decisions he sounds like a sore loser.

Still, he maintains friendships with colleagues on the other side, particularly those with whom he shares combat experience. He has defended the character of his friends John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, both of whom now serve in the president’s Cabinet.

Indeed, my favorite McCain moment might be the time he scolded Senate newcomer Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when Cruz questioned Hagel’s patriotism when Hagel was being examined by the Senate to be defense secretary.

McCain is one of those senators I’d like to meet one day. It won’t happen. If I had the chance I’d likely ask him: Senator, do you confound and confuse some of us intentionally, or is that just a byproduct of a complex personality?

Towering U.S. Senate titan dies

Howard Baker didn’t fill a room with his physical stature. He wasn’t a tall or burly man. He was short and perhaps one could call him of slight physique.

The Republican senator from Tennessee was a giant nonetheless. Baker died today at age 88.

With his death, the ranks of senators who know the fine art of legislating have grown a bit thinner.


Baker uttered perhaps the most memorable line not made by President Nixon during the Watergate hearings of 1973-74.

Baker served as vice chairman of the Senate select committee looking into the Watergate scandal. His presence on the panel was meant to preserve a bipartisan atmosphere at the hearings and meant to convey to the world that the Senate intended to conduct this investigation with dignity and decorum.

He then posed this question of a witness: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

As we all would learn in due course that President Nixon knew plenty about the cover-up of the break-in at the Watergate office complex in June 1972.

Baker was among those senators of his time would could work across the aisle comfortably. He reached out to Democrats while working closely with his fellow Republicans. He understood the fine art of compromise and that one need not sacrifice principle if he or she intended to get something approved by Senate.

Sen. Baker served in the “world greatest deliberative body” with high honor and distinction.

Another of the Senate’s great statesmen has left us.

Hillary not 'formidable'?

George Will said over the weekend that Hillary Rodham Clinton could be a damaged presidential candidate if she runs in 2016.

He said she is “not formidable.”

Interesting, don’t you think?


Will took note of what he said was the “last time” a major party had a coronation for its presidential nominee. He mentioned Adlai Stevenson’s nomination in 1956. The Democrat then went on to suffer his second consecutive landslide loss to Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who himself was “crowned” by his own party in 1952.

My own memory provides another example of a political coronation. In 1964, the country was reeling from the death of President Kennedy. The man who succeeded him, Lyndon Johnson, began pushing through much of JFK’s unfinished legislative agenda, including the Civil Rights Act.

Democrats were in no mood to fight over that nomination, so they crowned LBJ as their nominee and he then went on to trample GOP nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater in a historic landslide.

It is highly unlikely that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency in two years in such a fashion. It will be competitive, hard-fought and — I hope — edifying for voters.

However, to say the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is “not formidable” is to suggest George Will has been listening too intently to Republican hacks who keep looking for scandals where none exists.

Senate Loudmouth Caucus about to expand

I’ve taken great pleasure the past several months savaging the boorish behavior of rookie U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

His “crime” has been an inability to keep his trap shut while learning the ropes of the institution to which he was just elected in November 2012. He jumped right into the thick of the fray — and right in front of every TV camera in sight — to tell the world what he thinks about everything under the sun.

I’m sick of the sound of his voice — and he’s only been a senator for nine months.

Cruz is a member of what we ought to call the Loudmouth Caucus in the Senate.

His ranks are likely to expand early next month. The beauty of the Loudmouth Caucus is that it’s a bipartisan organization. Anyone can join. Cruz is about to be joined, no doubt, by a Democratic colleague from New Jersey.

Ladies and gents, let’s welcome Sen. Cory Booker.

Booker is the mayor of Newark, N.J. He won a Democratic primary a few weeks ago and is set to be elected to the unexpired term of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Yes, Booker has a Republican opponent, but it doesn’t matter. Booker’s going to win the election. Then he’ll run for re-election to a full term later and he’s likely to be re-elected.

Why is this man’s pending entrance into the Senate worth noting? It’s because he’s going to battle Cruz tooth-and-nail for face time on every TV news camera one can find on Capitol Hill. I’d put money on that.

Booker is as uninhibited as Cruz. He loves the sound of his voice. He loves seeing his face on TV. He talks and talks and talks — and at times it’s nearly impossible to follow the man’s train of thought.

Booker has made a name for himself as Newark mayor by doing some unconventional things, such as rescuing a resident from a burning building. He’s also picked up a shovel and cleaned out storm drains. He’s a working mayor, or so he would have us believe.

Booker is likely to set out proving he’s a working senator, too — although I’m not sure we’re going to see him performing manual tasks the way he has done as mayor. He’s likely just to talk a lot about all the hard work he will do.

I’ll make this prediction: Booker will anger his Democratic colleagues as much as Cruz has angered his fellow Republican senators. Given the anger that permeates the capital these days across party lines, it’s a given Booker is going to have enemies on the other side — just as Ted Cruz did — the moment he takes the oath of office.

Get ready for a lot more noise coming from the World’s Oldest Deliberative Body.