The Senate's New Era of Collegiality?
Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens (R) and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) strolled by the famed Ohio Clock just outside the Senate chamber in deep conversation this morning. Then -- with the requisite flashing of camera bulbs -- came Illinois Sen. (and soon to be presidential candidate?) -- Barack Obama (D), chatting with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat) and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R).
The procession marked the conclusion of a closed caucus of the entire Senate, an attempt to foster bipartisanship on the first day of the 110th Congress. The special session was called by incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who both quickly declared it a sign of things to come.
Reid said the session gave senators a chance to "express their hopes and desires for a better America." McConnell cited past bipartisan congressional triumphs like Social Security reform and welfare reform as evidence that the two parties can and will work together. "We would like to tackle the big issues," said McConnell.
But on those big issues -- most notably the war in Iraq -- neither Reid nor McConnell offered any clear bipartisan way forward. Reid said simply, "Iraq is where it is. The country is where it is." Aha.
Reid also deflected a question about how the Senate would organize itself given that South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson (D) still lies in a Washington hospital following major surgery to correct a genetic abnormality in the blood vessels of his brain. With Johnson out of pocket, Democrats hold a 50-49 vote advantage. If he was to pass away or resign his seat, the Republican governor of South Dakota would be charged with choosing a temporary replacement -- a move that could throw control of Congress into chaos.
Reid was determined to stay positive in his remarks this morning, noting that the first bill introduced in the Senate will be an ethics and lobbying reform package he cosponsored with McConnell. Reid also held out hope that the two sides might find a way to cosponsor legislation on increasing the minimum wage.
"We are not going to divert out attention from what needs to be accomplished for our country," Reid said. "The proof is in the pudding."
See the next page for the full transcript of the Reid-McConnell press availability.
Transcript of Reid-McConnell remarks from Thursday morning:
REID: Now, I know that you're not accustomed, members of the press, to people getting along, working together. But Senator McConnell and I believe this is a new day in Washington, that our efforts are going to be to work in a bipartisan basis, in an open fashion, to solve the problems of the American people.
We've just had a wonderful meeting, non-legislative in nature, but one where people had the opportunity to express their hopes and desires for a better America.
MCCONNELL: I think Harry's got it right. This opportunity we had in the Old Senate Chamber was a chance for many of our members to express some of their quiet frustrations, that we get past the level of partisanship that we've witnessed in recent years and develop stronger personal relationships, as well as work across party aisles -- and I -- across the party aisle.
I think it's important to remember that some of the most significant achievements over the last 25 years have been during periods of divided government. I think, for example, of Ronald Reagan-Tip O'Neill Social Security solution in 1983. I think of the welfare reform when President Clinton was in the White House and Republicans were in the majority here in the House and Senate.
I think we ought to raise the crossbar and do important things for the next generation. And we can do that on a bipartisan basis. And I think that's the broad view among all senators, that they'd like for us to tackle the big issues.
QUESTION: Senators, how are you going to (inaudible) in a practical way?
REID: I believe that the proof is in the pudding. I think this first work period is extremely important.
But I think it speaks volumes that the first legislation that's going to be placed on the floor is something that's long overdue and absolutely necessary, is sponsored by the Democratic leader and the Republican leader. I think that's a very good first start.
REID: We look to our next piece of legislation following this ethics lobbying reform, which will be minimum wage. And Senator McConnell and I are working to see if we can offer something together on that issue.
So we have goals that we're going to achieve and expectations we hope to meet.
QUESTION: Senator, when is there going to be in organizing resolution? And also, will Republicans insist that (inaudible) ratio of senators changes in their favor (inaudible)
REID: We are going to organize, as we always do at the beginning of the Congress. If issues rise at a later time, the Senate -- we'll work out whatever differences may develop at a later time.
QUESTION: Senator Reid (inaudible) Iraq. It's not like new legislation that will divide you. What about Iraq? And the president is going to deliver his plan as early as Tuesday (inaudible) it is this surge that's being reported, are you able to get on board...
REID: Iraq is where it is. The country is where it is. Iraq is an issue that we all need to work on, and we will work on that. And we will work on that to the best of our ability in a bipartisan manner.
But we're not going to divert our attention from what needs to be accomplished for this country. There are a lot of things that need to be accomplished. And we're going to work on those, in spite of Iraq.
One more question?
(Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire)
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