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Who's the best member of Congress ever?

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D) became the longest serving member of Congress ever today -- marking 51 years in the chamber.

That astonishing record got us to thinking about the long history of those who have served in the House and the Senate and who -- among the thousands and thousands who have paced the floor -- is the single best legislator of all time?

There are a handful of those regularly mentioned in that conversations -- Sens. Lyndon Johnson (Texas), Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and Henry Clay (Ky.), Rep. Sam Rayburn (Texas) -- but we want to hear the opinions of Fixistas too.

Post a video response below or offer your nomination -- and why -- in the comments section. The best video nomination will get its own post later this week.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 18, 2009; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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I wouldn't consider Henry Clay "as the greatest" since his acts simply delayed addressing the defintive issue of the day. It created a sense in Congress they could avoid the issue by keeping the Senate on a relative par in strength so neither pro-slavery or anati-slavery forces could do much other than bicker about the peculiar institution.

Posted by: BK7750 | November 25, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Lyman Trumball of Illinois who served as a primary author of the 13th Amendment, 14th Amendment and Civil Rights Acts of 1866.

Also Lot Morrill who authored the Land Grant Act that provided a method to create colleges across the countrry. The Second Land Grant Act did likewise for creation of black colleges.

Posted by: BK7750 | November 25, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

two members i was privileged to know, Rep Millicent Fenwick and Senator William Proxmire, both pushed colleagues to do better, thus weren't so popular and they were both so cheap when they shared a cab, they fought to see who would pay. Delight.

Posted by: rufkd | November 23, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Bob Dole without a doubt!!

He even stepped down from his majority Senate seat to run for President! A true American hero.

Dying in the Senate is no sign of excellence. It is only self-centered ignorance - retire already!

Posted by: jjcrocket2 | November 23, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

(Future) Rep. Marion Barry. I was all in favor of DC statehood until I realized that Barry would figure out a way to worm his way into office, should the District become enfranchised. But it would be fun to watch.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | November 23, 2009 7:33 AM | Report abuse

There are a variety of factors that must be considered when deciding who was indeed the best legislator.

While men such as Richard Russell, Sam Rayburn, and Robert Byrd have all been added to the mix for their length of service and vast accomplishments, their inherent racism and opposition to Civil Rights legislation will forever tarnish their records. If it is true effectiveness as a legislator that matters, then such names as Henry Cabot Lodge and William Borah should be considered, though their individual contributions to the Treaty of Versailles would hardly be considered admirable. The Great Triumvirate of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun should also be considered, though history will remember them more for their oratorical wonders than for their legislative achievements. Thus, when one combines legislative accomplishment, commitment, volume of achievement, leadership ability, and contemporary relevance, one cannot escape the legislative juggernaut that was Lyndon Johnson.

Serving in Congress for a total of 24 years (12 in the House, 12 in the Senate), Johnson made Congress productive like no one before or since. While not without his own misdeeds-the name Leland Olds comes to mind- one would be hard-pressed to find a more tenacious, feared, and ultimately effective legislator than Lyndon Johnson.

Posted by: theatre_maniak | November 20, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

The winner, going away, is Jim Trafficant.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Posted by: toddterps62 | November 19, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Margaret Chase Smith. In Feb 1964 Howard W. Smith (Dixiecrat - VA) added "sex" to the list of things that would eventually be covered by the 64 Civil Rights Act. He added it as a bill-killer; out of spite. (At time, only WI and HI prohibited sex discrimination.) When the bill got to the Senate, Dirksen (D-IL) wanted to remove the Howard Smith's amendment, Chase argued to leave it in -- and persuaded the Republican conference to go along with her.

Posted by: melissataurus | November 19, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

"Although I really like Russ Feingold, my personal hero was Gaylord Nelson, who did so much for the environent. Bill Proxmire is a good choice, as is Fighting Bob LaFollette. Guess what state I live in? We've been blessed. "
And continue to count your blessings with the Dynamic Duo of Kohl and Feingold!

Posted by: leapin | November 19, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Don't overlook Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of only two senators to vote against going to Vietnam, and who lost he election to Bob Packwood because he spoke out against the Vietnam War.....unlike the Republican majority w/regard to the debacle in Iraq

Posted by: steviemac | November 19, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Although I really like Russ Feingold, my personal hero was Gaylord Nelson, who did so much for the environent. Bill Proxmire is a good choice, as is Fighting Bob LaFollette. Guess what state I live in? We've been blessed.

Posted by: bulldog6 | November 19, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Like early readers, one almost have to divide the question up into time periods. Henry Clay has to top the list for pre-Civil War period for working out the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Time period between 1865-1945 would be Representative Sam Rayburn of Texas. With his help, Rep. Rayburn was instrumental in development of the atomic bomb which helped end World War II. In the post-WWII era it has to be Senator Edward Kennedy. Like many said after his death, Senator Kennedy's hand was in much of our nation's legislation in the last 40 years. Honorable mention: Senator Daniel Webster, George Norris, William Borah, Lyndon Johnson, and Newt Gingrich.

Posted by: rogden71 | November 19, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

John Randolph of Virginia, who said, "Mr. Speaker, I have disciovered the philosopher's stone. It is this, Sir: Pay as you go! Pay as you go!"

Too bad no one listened.

Also like JOQ for his stand on slavery.

Posted by: tartanmarine | November 19, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

This is akin to picking the best turd out of the pile.

Posted by: leapin | November 19, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Republican. But, for the time he spent in the US Senate I'd have to say the former US Senator Dean Barkley of Minn. would have to be among the most effective US Senators ever. Making a deal to create the US Homeland Security Dept. while delivering on key issues for his state & the nation. His tenure in the US Senate was short lived, only 62 days, and he was a key player in negotiating major accomplishments.

Over a career, I'd have to say Ted Kennedy is tough to beat out. He did so much for Mass. & pushed for his agenda for this nation. Kennedy will always be remembered as one of the most influential US Senators in American history.

Posted by: reason5 | November 19, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse


Thomas Hart Benton - for his stance against Calhoun's call to allow slavery in the new territories.

George Norris - for his stamina in confronting the Speaker and leading the effort to remove the speaker's abuse of power.

Lucius Lamar - for dedicating his life to the service of U.S. citizens in Congress, the Cabinet, and as a Supreme Court Justice.

Posted by: LieToMe | November 19, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Dan Moynihan - I forgot about him - he was personnaly responsible for making an otherwise smooth career most difficult in the 80s. HR 1706, his idea, forced small independent contractors into employee status unless they met "independent contractor qualifications". THat meant if companies contracted with an independent, and they failed to pay taxes, the company would be liable. So, we were forced to go through a 3rd party, who absorbed 50% of our rate just to isolate the hiring company from liability. Bottom line - democrats are the enemy of small business - and they are in bed with large corporations. I lived it - no need to argue the point. Good riddance to ol Dan - just another disgusting liberal.

Posted by: rknapp0205 | November 19, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

There are so many to choose from that you have to break it into categories.

Antebellum Era: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton

Post-Civil War Era: Thomas Brackett Reed, Lyman Trumbull

Early 20th Century: Robert LaFollette Sr., George Norris

Mid-20th Century: Robert Wagner, Arthur Vandenberg, Sam Rayburn

Late 20th Century - the Present: Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lyndon Johnson, Mo Udall

Posted by: fable104 | November 19, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. deserves an honorable mention even with the corruption scandle that led to his downfall. He stood up to the Dixicrats and when it came to legislating he was a pro. He hold the record number for the most number of bills in a session.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | November 19, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Speaking from my own experience - grew up in New Mexico and have lived in Virginia, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio (currently), I'm putting in a vote for Senator Pete Domenici. First elected in 1972 and served through January 2009. I worked hard on his early campaigns and actually served on his staff in 77-78 as he was gearing up for his first reelection campaign. Sadly, towards the end of his career, I probably couldn't have voted for him because my views had changed rather dramatically. But I will always respect him. He served quietly, utterly focused on the needs of his state, running outstanding constituent services, and tending to his committee duties with integrity and utter competence. Also, when I worked for him in the 70s, he had a home in suburban Maryland and an apartment in Albuquerque. When he left office in 2009 he had... a home in suburban Maryland and an apartment in Albuquerque. Not that I'm one of those who think all politicians are crooked, but he did his job well and did not line his pockets in any way. That makes him, in my experience, the best Senator or Congressman.

Posted by: jothomp | November 19, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Some good suggestions have already been offered, and some really horrible ones like Henry Waxman. IMO John Quincy Adams stands head and shoulders above all the others, principled and effective when most of his colleagues were neither.

Posted by: JBaustian | November 19, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Too many greats, but in the era 1776-1850 clearly Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams rank at the top.

The period 1850 to 1950 top tier members George Norris, Robert LaFollette, Sr. and two Republicans; Arthur H. Vandenberg who kept the GOP focused on the world and Edmund Ross of Kansas that prevented the radicals of post Civil War era from destroying the Presidency.

Finally since 1950, unfortuneatly only two names really stand out; Edward M. Kennedy and Everett McKinley Dirksen. I'd consider adding Lydon Baines Johnson, but most of his success was after his Senate career.

Great question by the way, thanks!!

Posted by: dwatson1 | November 19, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I would nominate Ron Paul. The lone 1 no vote on a lot of what's bankrupted our government.

Posted by: SouthernAWF | November 19, 2009 12:36 AM | Report abuse

The senator who stood for all the right things: "Fighting Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin.

Posted by: jgold2 | November 18, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

oooops ...

Are you cross?
Are you gathering moss?
While you wait for the boss

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

We miss you so tell us please
Are you sad?
Are you cross?
While you wait for the boss
To sneeze?

Is Lyndon recalling when he was VP, say
"I'll do until you as they did unto me"
Do you dream about staging a coup?
Hubert what happened to you.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

@ralphbackhome - You remind me of a great Tom Lehrer song. Whatever Became of Hubert.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

CONTINENTIAL CONGRESS 2009 - The Next Step For A Free People



All times CENTRAL (U.S.), See Full Agenda,(webcast of proceedings continues throughout the day)

8:00 AM Speaker: Red Beckman -- Judicial Violations and Rights of Grand Juries, Trial & Common Law Juries
1:30 PM Miscellaneous violations of the Constitution: Health Care, Jury Nullification, etc.

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM --*ALL DAY*, Delegates deliberate detailed plan of (peaceful) "CIVIC ACTIONS" for all Americans to take, en masse, to resist the state and federal Governments in order to secure Redress and hold these governments accountable to the Constitution.

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM --*ALL DAY*, Delegates deliberate detailed plan of (peaceful) "CIVIC ACTIONS" for all Americans to take, en masse, to resist the state and federal Governments in order to secure Redress and hold these governments accountable to the Constitution.

8:00 AM - NOON -- Final debate and adoption of the "ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION" (Containing the Continental Congress's formal "REMEDIAL INSTRUCTIONS" to both state and federal officials giving Notice and Demand to cure their violations and abuse, under threat and pain of the American People implementing their stated plan of widespread "CIVIC ACTIONS" to secure Redress and restore Constitutional Order)

2:00 PM -- Formal signing of the "ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION"

6:00 PM -- Closing Ceremony (webcast live)

Posted by: AJAX2 | November 18, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

LBJ was no slouch in the Senate, come to think of it.

Posted by: nodebris | November 18, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Rayburn, LBJ, and Mansfield in my lifetime.

LaFollette Sr., Clay, Morrill, JQ Adams, before my time.

Other good ones: Mo Udall, Pete Wilson, Jake Pickle, DP Moynihan, George Mitchell, Howard Baker, John Warner, Nancy Kassebaum, Bill Proxmire, Bob Dole, Claude Pepper, Joe Biden, McC, Teddy, JW Fulbright, Lloyd Bentsen, Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe, John Danforth, Rudman, Nunn, Boren.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | November 18, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

A lot of the choices above are insane, crazy ones. It is clear the best Senators list would include Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Robert La Follette, Sr., George Norris, Robert Wagner, Hubert Humphrey, and Ted Kennedy. The best Congressmen include Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, Sam Rayburn, and Thomas "Tip" O'Neill.

Posted by: POLITHIST | November 18, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Robert Byrd is the oldest and the best member of Congress.

In 2003 he spoke out against the invasion of Iraq when most of the members of his party played it safe.

And in 2009 he spoke out against the plan to turn Afghanistan into a full blown war with the occupation of large areas of Afghanistan by American troops.

Posted by: bsallamack | November 18, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

The best congressmen are the ones that make the tough decisions, that forego personal interest and benefit for the good of the country.


to "personal interest" I would add "party interest," and, unfortunately, "other countries' interest."

On all three criteria Sen. Lieberman rates at the absolute bottom.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Legislation. His staff has to perform most of his actions, do most of his reading and writing in a Team Effort.


Uh, so? Nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

How about Edmund Ross? What?--don't remember who he was? This is what JFK said in "Profiles of Courage":

"In a lonely grave, forgotten and unknown, lies 'the man who saved the president,' and who as a result may well have preserved for ourselves and our posterity constitutional government in the United States--the man who performed in 1868 what one historian has called 'the most heroic act in American history...'--but a United States Senator whose name no one recalls."

The best congressmen are the ones that make the tough decisions, that forego personal interest and benefit for the good of the country. It has been a rare chance to have seen it, and it hasn't occurred genuinely for some time. With Ross, there can be no doubt he did so for America's benefit, was reviled at the time for it, but without his vote to save the presidency the country never would have been able to reconcile after the Civil War.

Posted by: ragingbull913 | November 18, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

@Gold and Tanzanite:
Legislation. His staff has to perform most of his actions, do most of his reading and writing in a Team Effort.

Oh. Like 77-year-old John Glenn going into Space was "research."

Posted by: BrianX9 | November 18, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Just to stir the pot a least a few honorable mentions...

Sen. Paul Douglas (D-IL)
Sen. John Sparkman (D-AL)
Rep. John Randolph (Roanoke, VA)
Rep. Sam Rayburn
Sen. Robert Hayne
Sen. Carter Glass
Sen. Harry Byrd

Posted by: iculus | November 18, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Since the discussion of the bottom has arisen:

VA had Bill Scott
TX had Phil Graham
NC had Jesse "White hands" Helms
IN had Dan Quayle, but
GA had or has Cynthia McKinney and Saxby Chambliss (of course, Cynthia came from the most psychotic voting region in the US -- at one time, Bob Barr, Cynthia, Newt Gingrich and John Lewis were serving in adjacent districts. We need a LOT of work on education!)

Posted by: fr3dmars | November 18, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

John Quincy Adams - as Congressman not President obviously.

Posted by: therev1 | November 18, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

@BrianX9: it's legislation, not athletics.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

indubitably Robert Byrd held a seat in the Senate the longest.
But in what sense is having a man in his condition cling to the trappings of power, how is that to be considered "service ?"

Posted by: BrianX9 | November 18, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Dunno much about Henry Clay's achievements in office but if the poll was about oratory he would definitely be in one of the highest slots.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Congressman John Jenrette was a creative legislator.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | November 18, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Senator then Congressman Claude Pepper of Florida -- the very definition of integrity and dedication.

His voice in the current debate on health care is sorely missed.

Posted by: burkef1 | November 18, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Senator Byrd is a former KKK member and a racist of the first order, lets not forget filibustering desegregation.


Why don't you rent a nuclear-powered hydraulic speculum and take a stab at getting your head out of your a§§.

Byrd repudiated his racist past and has not since uttered a single damning word.

On the other hand your twitching corpse of a party is a welcoming home for racists and bigots of all kinds. Now, in 2009, not bleedin' decades ago.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | November 18, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm astonished!

Not one mention of Hubert Humphrey?

Posted by: ralphbackhome | November 18, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we can split it. A compelling case can be made for Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Some of the comments here make it clear why it can be difficult to find a Republican. When you think government is the problem and you're in the government, that makes you the problem. A bit of cognitive dissonance there.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Senator Byrd is a former KKK member and a racist of the first order, lets not forget filibustering desegregation. That he is still allowed anywhere near the senate goes more too the thoughts of West Virginians then greatness. As far as greatest Senators of the past 50 years, I would put John Warner on that list, as someone who never brought shame to the office and even when you disagreed with him you had to respect him. I would say Henry Clay all time.

Posted by: beamerao | November 18, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Gotta be Henry Clay -- holding a fractious country together through masterful compromises over 30 years is an amazing achievement and I don't think anyone else comes close.

It might be worth further dividing the question for a later Fix debate and ask who was better at particular things, such as best speaker (Daniel Webster vs., say, Barbara Jordan -- reading their speeches side by side is good fun).

Posted by: WilsonHSgrad | November 18, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I vote for Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a dedicated constitutional scholar and a true American hero. Byrd did not support the Iraq war but he follows the constitutation and actually refers to it on the senate floor when he speaks, just take a listen sometime. Senator Byrd is good for America; however, I hope he will be his own man again without following the Obama team no matter where they try to lead this country. One thing, I do not know why he did not insist on Obama being vetted closer when he was running for pres. Ann

Posted by: iriscaclassic | November 18, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

My first thought was automatically Henry Clay, but then I saw Barry Goldwater. Ah yes, good old AuH20.

It's a doggone shame that we had to go back 50 years to find a very good politician, and 150 years back to find an outstanding politician. Certainly nobody in the last 30 years has been any good.

Posted by: mssnatchquatch | November 18, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Mo Udall of Arizona (House 1961-1991). I had the privilege of being on his staff in the mid-70s. He was a brilliant legislator, brilliant speaker, and brilliant writer. He was an eminent liberal leader in House reform and environmental issues, and had an unmatched ability to reach across the aisle to find common ground with Republican colleagues like Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes and John McCain. He was repeatedly voted the most respected member of the House in US News polls. When he retired for health reasons in 1991, Congress created a federal scholarship foundation in his honor -- the only time that has ever been done to honor a member of the House.

Posted by: wizardnix | November 18, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Concur with those saying Clay was the best legislator of all time ("Of all time!" said Kanye). However, if we're looking at the modern era, and if we're ignoring Ted Kennedy due to his name always coming up on this list, I would also say Waxman based on a definition of "best" that includes just the legislative record.

However, if we're talking "best" as in "most *interesting*" legislator ever (again, excluding Clay - boy raised the bar), and again excluding Kennedy for being so astoundingly famous, I'd have to go with Joe Biden. His legislative record is not as strong as Kennedy's or Waxman's, but it is substantial; his name has been hitched to some of the more interesting stories and events in modern Senate history; he has an incredibly compelling personal story. And the things that come out of his mouth have, and have always had, an equal chance of being either completely bizarre or completely amazing (either in a witty sense and cutting one). If I had to watch a biopic about any member of Congress, I would choose Clay, Kennedy, and then Biden.

Posted by: dkp01 | November 18, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Senator Bernie Sanders. Selfless. Tireless. Articulate. On the side of ordinary Americans. Always fighting for the underdog. How many senators and representatives have become nothing more than corporate stooges? Wall Street. Health Insurers. Don't own Bernie.

Posted by: rogw | November 18, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Ted Kaufman!

Posted by: Section506 | November 18, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Robert Byrd was the voice in the wilderness in 2002, speaking out alone against the Iraq war. That required courage and conviction. He earned my eternal respect that day. He is a great man.

Posted by: jt15 | November 18, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Just as LeRoy Jethro Gibbs is the best federal agent ever.

Someone's got to set the bar very high, right?


Did this covert federal-local "program" help drive the Ft. Hood shooter over the edge? OR RE: "GESTAPO USA," "GOV'T TORTURES ME WITH SILENT MICROWAVE WEAPONS, SAYS OUSTED S.A. PREZ"

Posted by: scrivener50 | November 18, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Henry Clay gets my vote. Principaled, effective, a diplomat, and internationally respected and reknown.

LBJ, Ted Kennedy, Sen. Byrd were far too partisan and ideological figures to earn this title, irrespective of their effectiveness.

Clay represented moral clarity and was greatly responsible for forming the America we know today. He was well respected and truly had the good of the country at heart, not just shoveling money back to his home district or pet projects. His legacy is lasting and stands as a statesman, not just a political figure

Posted by: Pythagoris | November 18, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I like George Mitchell for this. Quite possibly the last majority Leader to understand the need to work across the aisle. But also capable of playing tough with the rules. One of the few in recent history who embodies "Statesman"

Posted by: wdrudman | November 18, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Sen Robert Wagner of New York for sponsoring The National Labor Relations Act, the last piece of pro-union legislation at the federal level.

Posted by: bbarry2 | November 18, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

The late Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA). Tsongas was an expert legislator, deal-maker, and brilliant man who was well-liked and respected by members of both parties. If not for some problems with his campaign, and his obvious health issues, he may well have been President one day.

His name must appear among the greats.

Posted by: gilbert6 | November 18, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Its really difficult to say given that the scope and influence of the Congress isn't always the same in different periods of American history.
Sen. Daniel Webster could easily be placed on this list. Considered one of the greatest of his time, and when the Senate arguably held more influence than even the presidency.

Posted by: cmwilliams_3 | November 18, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I know! I hadn't realized who Proxmire replaced until I looked on Wikipedia. As they say, "World without End, Amen." But here's what Wikipedia had to say about Fightin' Bob LaFollette:

"A 1982 survey of historians (^ David L. Porter, "America's Ten Greatest Senators." The Rating Game in American Politics: An Interdisciplinary Approach. New York: Irvington, 1987) that asked them to rank the "ten greatest Senators in the nation's history" based on "accomplishments in office" and "long range impact on American history," placed La Follette first, tied with Henry Clay."

And he wasn't even in the Senate very long.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | November 18, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I'll concur with the Clay commenter, but in terms of the modern political landscape (post-Watergate) I've got to go Henry Waxman.

Passing influential legislation - Hatch-Waxman, Ryan White CARE Act, modernization of Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts and, in this current Congress alone, cap and trade, health care and food safety

Also, see the tobacco exec photo, baseball steroids hearing photo, helping to expose a major industry (tobacco) and rock all of professional sports (Mitchell report, etc).

He was also a voice against the Bush administration long before it was popular. His questioning - starting with the Mission: Accomplished banner bit as I recall - was influential in exposing a lot of the abuses and shenanigans from 03-09. The reports put out by the Gov't Reform Committee were thorough and, in many cases, damning.

Waxman's also a shrewd politician with campaign contributions helping elect a Democratic majority and helping him jump the seniority queue on sub-committee and committee chairmanships.

Finally, all of it is done behind the scenes. He's not a name outside of Washington because he doesn't need to be, he's already the best inside the beltway.

Posted by: olsonchr | November 18, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Hard to argue with any of the list provided by the Fix, but I'd add Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-IL), and as others have pointed out, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan (D-NY).

Posted by: Coloradem1 | November 18, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Good for you, enpitcher. And blert: if Baldwin is from a "reliably liberal House district" then she should be a "reliable liberal vote." That's what she was elected to do. I'm not even from Wisconsin and she gets my vote. Imagine, an elected official actually doing the work of the people who voted!

Posted by: pad6 | November 18, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse


Well, then how about the guy Proxmire replaced?

Posted by: mnteng | November 18, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Dear Chris- I think the BEST member of Congress EVER is still serving and that person is... HENRY WAXMAN. Henry has been as a Representative the most consistent, focused, deliberative,savvy,intelligent, best-staffed and right on all the issues of our time and those going forward.

Yes, I like him too.

Mitch Kaplan

Posted by: mkaplan1220 | November 18, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

It has to be Teddy Kennedy who has improved the lives of so many people. He will be and is already, sorely missed.

Posted by: lindagjones | November 18, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Historically, its not even close. The answer is Henry Clay. Clay was elected Speaker of the House as a freshman is often regarded as the most powerful speaker in history. When he went to the Senate, he was part of the famed triumvirate with Webster and Calhoun. When the Senate decided to name its five most influential members in the 1950s, a panel led by JFK named Clay one of the five best ever. No one has excelled in both houses of Congress as Clay did.

Further, twice he used his remarkable legislative skills to forge compromises that averted civil war. That the collapse of sectional peace came shortly after his death is no coincidence.

Finally, in his spare time Clay founded the Whig Party and kept alive, through his "American System," the concept of a strong and vigorous national government. Lincoln was a big Clay disciple. For trivia buffs, it was Clay who came up with the quintessential American phrase "the self-made man."

It speaks to our unhealthy fixation on the presidency that Clay's nemesis, Andrew Jackson, is enjoying such a popular revival with books by Meacham and others when Clay was right about more things than Jackson and had an equal or greater impact on the nation from his place in Congress, yet he is largely a forgotten figure.

Posted by: scott_farris | November 18, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I would choose these three as the best: Representative John Q. Adams, a courageous opponent of the slave power when doing so was generally unpopular in the north, Senator Charles Sumner, a uncompromising opponent of slavery, supporter of civil rights for African-Americans and Senator George Norris, one of the great progressives in our history.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | November 18, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

If you include the Continental Congress, I'd say John Adams. We might well not have a country without his influence during the second Continental Congress.

Posted by: elephantguy | November 18, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

TIP ONEIL, knew everyone from the doorman to the postal clerks name, got along wiht folks on the other side of the isle, served american and never made a penny from the office while in office. great decent man. even if you did not like his politics. so missed in todays world.

Posted by: teamsimple | November 18, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Com'on. I know you smiled when you read Proxmire's name.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | November 18, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Sen. William Scott from VA was absolutely A-1, especially from the intelligence viewpoint. He was so smart he put his fellow senators to shame. Too bad he couldn't be cloned - but Dan Quayle was a pretty good imitation.

Posted by: nonstopjoe | November 18, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

How about William Proxmire?

Posted by: margaretmeyers | November 18, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Posted by: markdmiller2 | November 18, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

If we go on best Legislator, you would want to choose someone who had the most influence on legislation during their tenure. In that case I would go with Ted Kennedy although you could make a very strong case for Jesse Helms as well since he basically was the voice of the Republican senate for about 40 years.

Posted by: AndyR3 | November 18, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Jesse Helms

Posted by: krm0517 | November 18, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Besides Clay, Rayburn, LBJ, and Teddy, I'd add Everett Dirksen. Also, James Madison was a pretty powerful Rep before he became POTUS.

Where's ceflynline when you need a Congressional history "Fix"?

Posted by: mnteng | November 18, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

No question. Phil Burton (1963-83).

Posted by: gbaum37 | November 18, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Among fairly recent members, for pure decency and a highly uncommon, non-partisan sense of stewardship, I have always ranked Sen. John Warner highly as well.

Posted by: nodebris | November 18, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have to rank way up there.

Posted by: nodebris | November 18, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

1. Daniel P. Moynihan
2. Teddy Kennedy

Posted by: kawilson69 | November 18, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Whoever produced the lowest ratio of bills introduced to years served.

Posted by: FoamingSolvent | November 18, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Tammy Baldwin as the best member of Congress ever??? Wow...sorry while I laugh, and this is from someone who lives in the Madison area, too.

Baldwin is a fairly do-nothing member of Congress. She doesn't initiate legislation; she doesn't bring much money back to her district; she doesn't maintain much of a high profile or influence many other votes. Baldwin is a reliable liberal vote in a reliably liberal House district, and that is about all. Keep in mind that this is a representative who, a few years ago, was rated by an independent group as one of least influential people in all of Congress. She mostly pleases her liberal fan base because she rarely faces controversial votes in which she departs from the liberal line or in which the liberal camp is divided (the bailout and stimulus bills, which Baldwin supported, might offer exceptions to this), but that's not saying much coming from Madison, which is an island of group-think, don't-rock-the-boat liberalism.

Sheesh, even just working with the current Wisconsin representation in D.C., Baldwin ranks fairly low on the list. Russ Feingold is much more influential and high-profile in the Senate, and Paul Ryan commands a lot more power even in the minority party than Baldwin does in the majority.

And if we look historically, Wisconsin has some towering figures like Robert LaFollette and Joseph McCarthy. Unlike these people, who have places in history books, I doubt that Baldwin will earn even a footnote fifty years from now.

Posted by: blert | November 18, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

With over 70% of the US population having no confidence in the US Congress for several decades, it matter hell of beans as to who best or worst. The simple facts are these SOBs all in their for self interests, self righteousness, second best to child molesters are all the same.

These bas**** responsible for the economic terror that besiege this country, the ideological divide, polarization and the fast track destruction of this country from within, deserve all to be tarred, feathered, hung up on lamp post rather then lauded for service to the country.

This legislative Branch of the Government along with the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch are all responsible for total dysfunction, inefficiency, and fiasco that this great country has been experiencing for too long.

Posted by: winemaster2 | November 18, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Senator Claude Pepper of Florida.
I believe that he retained his integrity and pursued policies that were USA above Party.

Posted by: lufrank1 | November 18, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

asking that is akin to who is the greatest public enemy #1. however, davey crokett would win hands down

Posted by: pofinpa | November 18, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. Were you listening to C-SPAN at 9 today, Chris? I gave up after an early caller nominated the as yet unelected Rand Paul.

In this century, it's hard to beat Kennedy. I'm not sure about the Republican choice. Perhaps Bob Dole.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I vote for Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin. She has been a strong progressive leader who has fought for our state and our district 100% of the time. Maybe she is not a member of the good old boy's club but she has stood strong for us here in the Madison-area.

Posted by: enpitcher | November 18, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm just more curious as to who the most telegenic of us is.

Posted by: DDAWD | November 18, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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