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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).

Sens. McConnell and Reid
The two Senate leaders -- Democrat Harry Reid, right, and Republican Mitch McConnell -- pledged a new era of bipartisanship in the Capitol. (Getty Images)

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?

Thank you.


(Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire)

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 4, 2007; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: The 110th Congress: Bill Clinton Stops By


no, but the troops are DOA. how about the old maxim of committing troops piecemeal and watch them lose the battle.
how many more will be needed in 2008 to bail them out?

Posted by: curtiz, falls church, va | January 10, 2007 9:13 PM | Report abuse


It is not hypocrisy and you are sadly mistaken on what constitutes as states rights. If a Constitutional Amendment against same sex marriages gets through congress (which it did not) and 2/3 of the states ratify it then that Amendment is law regardless of what an individual state wants or says. This is why states can not arbitrarily pass slavery laws and why Jim Crow laws were finally overturned. However, if a state so chooses they can pass their own pro or anti-same sex marriage laws regardless of what people from other states believe is right or just. If an amendment banning same sex marriages is ratified into law then states with same sex marriages laws would be ruled unconstitutionally and vis versa if an amendment permitting same sex marriages is ratified states with a ban on same sex marriages would be ruled unconstitutional when challenged in court.

Let me add, amending the constitution is a right of all states. If it were as you say, then many of the rights we have today would not be around since we could not amend the constitution (i.e., woman right to vote, etc). I think you fail to see the ignorance of your argument.

Posted by: SDR | January 5, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Isn't anyone here outraged about the concept of a private meeting of the entire Senate for something other than the discussion of state secrets?

I don't care about how palsy Reid and McConnell are. They can have lunch together every afternoon for all I care.

But if they believe that the People want their Senators to only say what they really think in private sessions, and continue to prevaricate in public, then they really don't understand the People.

Or, judging by the comments above, maybe they do.

Posted by: Sacandaga | January 5, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse


It isn't rhetoric to point out hypocrisy. When a state law is in their favor on an issue important to them, you're all about the importance of states right.

However, when it is something that you don't like then you want to trample on Federalism and override state's rights by amending the constitution. Spare me YOUR rhetoric.

Posted by: Jimbo | January 5, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Do the Republicans really want a Senate that they control only via Cheney's tiebreaker? Having all the accountability without any of the power sounds like a very bad deal. If I were a Republican Senator, I'd welcome the narrowly controlled Democratic Senate because even with a 51-49 majority, they can't really get that much done in terms of legislation. (Subpoenas are another matter.)

Also, if Gov. Rounds appoints a Republican to fill Johnson's seat, look for another Republican to switch parties and restore the original balance resulting from the 2006 elections.

One final point to remember: the math for Republicans in the Senate does not look good for 2008 OR 2010 because of all the seats they gained in 2002 and 2004. They might want to get a bit more content with life in the minority because in a few years, they will wish they were only down 51-49.

Posted by: Zzonkmiles | January 5, 2007 5:57 AM | Report abuse

Joe Voter has it correct. The voters voted for Sen. Johnson; not for the Democrat running for Senate.

When an appointed Senator is necessary there is no ethical problem in appointing somebody from a different party; as long as the appointee represents the state properly. There has been all sorts of different logic used by appointing Governors. They are all equally ethical if the appointee will represent the voters in that state properly.

Fortunately, it looks as if an appointed Senator will not be necessary.

The Idaho model posed by Josha looks reasonable to me. Now, how do you get 49 other states to agree to that?

Posted by: Nor'Easter | January 4, 2007 7:11 PM | Report abuse

"And on a side-note, where is the respect for states rights on the Republican side when issues such as certain states legalizing gay marriage come up and the Republican response is to try and push for a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage? Doesn't show a lot of respect for states rights there..."

Since when has SD or any other state told another state they could not legalize gay marriages? I fail to see the illogic of your argument. What typically happens is that a court system or local political official passes some type of same sex marriages and it is the people of that state that overturn the law (if it occurs). If the congress passes an amendment against same sex marriages and it is ratified by 2/3 of the states, it is the law of the land regardless of what an individual state wishes. If I follow your logic I could pass slavery laws regardless of the constitution. Please spare me your rhetoric.

Posted by: SDR | January 4, 2007 6:35 PM | Report abuse


I think that you're mistaken on who the voters of South Dakota elected. They elected Senator Johnson, who happens to be a Democrat. Anyone the governor might appoint, Democrat or Republican, is not the person elected. You have no data to back up the contention that if Johnson can't serve, that the electorate in South Dakota wants another Democrat. There may well be a Republican who has the exact same philosophy and positions as Johnson who would represent South Dakota in the way Johnson would.

Hopefully the Senator will quickly recover and this will be moot.

Posted by: Joe Voter | January 4, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

If it was me, and I was a Republican governor with future Senate political ambitions, I'd probably appoint a Democrat...but I'd appoint the most conservative, Zell Milleresque, Democrat I could find.

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Jimbo writes "Appointing someone other than a Democrat would be overturning the will of the people in South Dakota. If the resulting appointment then overturned the Democrats controlling the U.S. Senate, then it would also be overturning the will of the people of the country."

I agree that a lot of people in the US would be pissed off, but I don't think that the gov should be obliged to appoint someone from the same party. Personally, if I were the gov in question, and wanted to run for that seat, I'd probably follow the unofficial tradition of appointing the spouse to the empty seat. Though I think this has only been done by governors of the same party of the deceased member (I'm thinking of Bono & Carnahan).

Posted by: bsimon | January 4, 2007 5:08 PM | Report abuse

"Dr. Vivek Deshmukh, a neurosurgeon, said, "Senator Johnson continues to be responsive to both his family and physicians -- following commands, squeezing his wife's hand, and understanding speech," according to a statement on the senator's web site."

This makes him about 10 times more functional than Strom Thurmond was at the end of his career so let's take a break from all the speculation, shall we?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 4, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse


I'm not trying to argue that the governor of South Dakota, by law, doesn't have the right to appoint anyone he damn well chooses to that position. Heck, he could probably appoint his cat to that position if he really wanted to. It wouldn't make it right.

There's what's legal, and then there is what is RIGHT.

And I'll reiterate again: South Dakota people, the people of South Dakota, elected a Democrat to that seat. Appointing someone other than a Democrat would be overturning the will of the people in South Dakota. If the resulting appointment then overturned the Democrats controlling the U.S. Senate, then it would also be overturning the will of the people of the country.

Yes, it would be legal as written by law, but it certainly wouldn't be RIGHT, regardless of your own agenda. (SDR = South Dakota Republican?)

And on a side-note, where is the respect for states rights on the Republican side when issues such as certain states legalizing gay marriage come up and the Republican response is to try and push for a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage? Doesn't show a lot of respect for states rights there...

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse


I think you are missing the bigger picture, why should a state be told how to govern itself by others if it already has procedure law on its books. I do not know SD law but if the governor is the one who appoints a new Sen. why should he/she be told by people from ID or any other state who he/she can choose. Where is state's right?

Posted by: SDR | January 4, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Wow Joshua.

I can't remember the last time my own home state was mentioned in a positive light in such a way. :)

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I wish every state would just say that if a Senator dies or is unable to serve, a replacement can be appointed by the party, or do what Idaho does (the party of the Senator picks 3 candidates, then the Gov of the state picks one). Oh well.

Also, I am unenthused about a return to bipartisanship. The last time things got really bipartisan, it gave us the Iraq War.

Posted by: Josha | January 4, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

And just so it doesn't get missed a second time, I'll recopy what I actually said:

"amounts to a coup (bad word choice, but can't think of a better one at the moment)"

In other words, "coup" isn't the perfect description, but posting from work with limited time it was the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment.

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

SDR and bsimon:

With respect, I believe you are missing the big picture. We're not talking about just South Dakota here. We're talking about swinging control over the entire senate from Republican control to Democratic control. No, it isn't unreasonable to put a Republican senator in a red state like South Dakota.

However, the voters of South Dakota elected a DEMOCRAT to that senatorship. Furthermore, the voters of the ENTIRE NATION elected a DEMOCRATIC majority in the Senate.

I already said that the word "coup" was not a perfect one. But really, my own agenda notwithstanding, the Republican governor arbitrarily deciding to overrule the will of both the people of South Dakota, who elected a Democrat, and the people of the United States, who chose a Democrat controlled Senate, is factually accurate.

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

The tramscript of the remarks made by Reid and McConnell is great.

I hope that both of these leaders will remember the spirit of comity, hope and patriotism that clearly was abroad today for the rest of the term.

The American people need a united and cooperative leadership. There will be plenty of time for ego inflating and for seeking factional advantages, but let's hope the leadership and rank and file stay focussed on doing the people's business.

Robert Chapman
Lansing, NY

Posted by: robert chapman | January 4, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse


I do not wish any harm to Senator Johnson and I believe nothing will. However, to say that there is a coup if they select a R in SD is a little over the top. The state is very conservative and considered a strongly red state. Why would it be unreasonable if they picked a R to replace Sen. Johnson. It not like he won his seat overwhelmingly. Do not let your agenda govern how other states represent themselves in Congress. I personally think and hope nothing happens to Sen. Johnson.

Posted by: SDR | January 4, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Jackson: Sorry, was just answering the Question, not trying to remove the Gentleman from office.

Jimbo: It wouldn't be a Coup. However, I suspect that some state constitutions would get some attention regarding how the Senators get appointed in the future. And I personally see nothing wrong with state constitutions being rewritten to require special elections within some time period.

Posted by: Dan W | January 4, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Jimbo writes "The American electorate deliberately put Democrats in control over the Senate. If the Republican gov. overturns that you're going to have a lot of very, very angry Democrats."

Well, that may overstate the case a little bit. The people of South Dakota picked a Democratic Senator and a Republican governor. If Senator Johnson leaves the office prior to the closure of the term, the governor has to perform his duties as he best sees fit. Of course, he'll have to consider his own political future, as he allegedly wants to run for that seat himself in 2008. Here in MN, a Governor had himself appointed to a Senate seat that became open - a move that backfired.

Posted by: bsimon | January 4, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

The fire is that if a Republican is picked then you have what effectively amounts to a coup (bad word choice, but can't think of a better one at the moment) in the Senate. The American electorate deliberately put Democrats in control over the Senate. If the Republican gov. overturns that you're going to have a lot of very, very angry Democrats.

Posted by: Jimbo | January 4, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Looks like the R's in Congress (unlike today's R posters) know which way the wind is blowing - away from Bush and the do-nothing 109th.

"some of the most significant achievements over the last 25 years have been during periods of divided government."

That statement alone should be causing certain posters to break out in hives. The last straw of "but Senator Johnson..." just slipped out of your grasp. Go ahead and start preparing your two-faced, credit-taking statements for the good bills that Bush will now have to sign as an endorsement of Senate bipartisanship.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 4, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse


Not 'will.' 'Would.' Whether Tim Johnson will be able to return to his duties any time soon is clearly a big question. But he does not appear to be on death's door any longer. Even if he stays in a coma for the rest of his term he cannot be removed from office. Only death or voluntary resignation would allow the Governor to appoint a replacement.

Posted by: Jackson Landers | January 4, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Actually, if he picks a Rep, the Rs will hold a 50-48-2 which is actually a 50-50 tie as the 2 Indies vote with the D's. Thus the VP will actually have a job to do in the Senate casting the Tie Breaker.

Posted by: Dan W | January 4, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why, should something tragic befall Sen. Johnson of South Dakota, any action would create "chaos." If the the Republican Gov. picks a Republican, they will have a 51-49 advantage. If he picks a Democrat, the margin is preserved. If he does nothing, it stays 50-49. Where's the chaos? It makes for juicy writing and analysis, but hardly rises to the level of chaos or, my favorite overused political term, constitutional crisis.

Posted by: Where's the fire? | January 4, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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