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“No Boys Allowed”: How The Senate’s Women Maintain Bipartisanship And Civility

When Olympia Snowe announced she was leaving the Senate, her Republican colleagues were hopping mad. Her reasons—that the place had become a dysfunctional partisan hell—only elevated their anger. How dare she depart at a time when they might win a Republican majority in the Senate if they kept her seat?

How me, me, me, and male. Now let’s switch to Snowe’s female colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, who were sad to see her go. Snowe will leave a gaping hole in Washington, in their lives, and in the women’s supper club, a group of bipartisan Senators who meet monthly at one another’s houses or in the Strom Thurmond Room in the Capitol. (No, the irony is not lost on them that he was the avatar of the members who would rather pinch a woman than listen to her.)

The club is not a secret, but it is “no boys allowed” and less about conquering new territory than about finding a heightened quality of life as they seek to heighten their constituents’ quality of life. It wasn’t organized as a caucus around a subject, but to restore some of the natural camaraderie that existed before so many members left their families behind and spent every free moment of their nights and weekends fundraising.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski started the dinner group shortly after she arrived. “The other ladies call me Coach Barb. When a new woman is elected to the Senate—Republican or Democrat—I bring her in for my Senate Power Workshop and guide her on how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.”

And for a meal. Sen. Mary Landrieu lives just a few blocks from the office and serves New Orleans food with pecan pie for dessert. What the off-campus get-togethers do is foster handling the inevitable conflicts that arise. “I’m never going to agree with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on oil drilling,” says Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a tough prosecutor in a soft covering as former attorney general of Minnesota. “But when we went on family vacation to Alaska, Lisa had us over to her house.”

The stories about cross-border friendships in the Capitol are as old as the spittoons that still dot the place—but the emphasis is on old. There was a day when Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had breakfast weekly with Republican Sen. George Aiken and when Tip O’Neill had an after-hours whisky with Richard Nixon. Now the only bipartisan friendships you hear about are between the women (there is a House counterpart to the Senate’s supper club), and both places are better for it. It is hard to picture Sen. Mitch McConnell taking freshman Sen. Mike Bennet under his wing, as Snowe did for Klobuchar, or tossing back a beer (or Kentucky bourbon) with Sen. Tom Harkin.

You can watch hours of lawmaking on C-SPAN and never see one female senator attack another. Nor do they do so behind closed doors. It’s not because women are “nicer” or the “weaker sex” that they don’t undermine, gobsmack, or betray one another even as they have reached the pinnacle of power where it is the coin of the realm. They simply got to know one another and, as a result, says Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, “resolve conflicts the way friends do.”

The list of issues the women work together on is a mile long and goes from children’s health to national security. But women can light on an issue men might think frivolous but, in fact, is anything but. One of the most liberal Democrats joined with the fiscally conservative Snowe after a few infamously long flight delays made the news. “Our constituents were getting stuck on aircraft hour after hour, stuck on the tarmac, with no food, kids screaming, nightmare scenarios, nine, 10 hours on the runway,” recalled Sen. Barbara Boxer, who, with Snowe, put together the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act. When a commuter plane went down in Buffalo, N.Y., the two got a new law passed that mandated sleep rules for pilots of small aircraft. They sent a joint letter to President Obama in 2009 to nominate a woman to replace retiring Justice David Souter, which he did in nominating now Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The complaint you always hear is that there just isn’t enough time for lawmakers to get to know their colleagues to create the civility that is in such short supply. Yet, a second X chromosome doesn’t give women another couple hours in the day. Women just carve out time for what they know is important.

It goes beyond dinner. When Hillary Clinton was a senator, she hosted the group’s baby shower for Hutchison. Klobuchar is in charge of games for the upcoming shower for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who will now be separated from the other Maine twin with Snowe’s retirement. When Sen. Claire McCaskill collaborated on Second City’s “A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics,” at the Woolly Mammoth theater in D.C., a dozen of the group found time to attend the opening.

If only the men could pick up on some of this, Congress might get above a 10 percent favorability rating in Americans’ eyes. The incivility that is driving Snowe out isn’t just atmospherics. It’s crippling the body. A dinner or two might help.

 

By: Margaret Carlson, The Daily Beast, March 4, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The White-Knight Syndrome”: Why Republicans Need To Get Over The Idea Of Jeb Bush In 2012

The former Florida governor has made perfectly clear that he has no plans to belatedly jump into the presidential race, despite the clamor from those who are still underwhelmed by Mitt Romney’s candidacy. But let’s set aside his reluctance and imagine what would happen if he did.

First, the elephant in the room: A third member of the Bush family serving in the White House within 20 years? Really? Once the focus moved from virtual Jeb to flesh-and-blood Jeb, the media would go wild speculating whether the country has had enough of the Bush clan.

Jeb’s last name is both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a curse. It’s been just over three years since George W. Bush walked out of the White House at a low ebb of popularity. Fairly or unfairly, his eight-year term is associated with the Iraq quagmire, Katrina, big spending, big deficits, an education law no one seems to like, and a Wall Street collapse that led to the much-reviled TARP bailout. The other Republican candidates almost never mention his name, as if he’d been airbrushed from party history.

Jeb Bush has considerable gifts—he was, in fact, widely considered the better politician in the family—and racked up his share of accomplishments in Florida. Which, of course, is a crucial swing state. If his name was Jeb Jones, he would indeed be a formidable contender—and probably would have run in 2012 rather than staying on the sidelines.

But beyond being one of Poppy’s boys, the actual Jeb Bush would have another problem as a candidate. The party has marched inexorably to the right in a way that leaves him decidedly out of step. Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Bush told a gathering in Dallas, as reported by Fox News:

“I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective.”

When a Republican says he “used to be a conservative,” he means he doesn’t much like the party’s rightward lurch. Are angry primary voters who have given Rick Santorum a series of victories (and a near-miss in Mitt Romney’s home state of Michigan) going to flock to a candidate who talks like that?

Then there is Bush’s somewhat moderate approach to immigration. Jeb is fluent in Spanish and married to a Mexican-born woman; that would seem an ideal profile for a party that badly needs to attract Hispanics. But Jeb opposed Arizona’s harsh law cracking down on those here illegally and similar efforts in other states.

As he said in January, “Hispanic voters hear these debates and see the ramifications of the Alabama law and other things like that and get turned off. It’s not a good thing—I know this will sound a little crazy—but I happen to believe that if swing voters decide elections and swing voters in swing states are the most important voters in the presidential race, and if you send a signal that turns them off, that’s a bad thing.”

Is a 2012 Republican candidate even allowed to say that anymore? Remember how Newt Gingrich caused an uproar by saying he wouldn’t deport illegal immigrants who had been part of their community for 25 years?

As governor, Jeb opposed oil drilling off Florida’s pristine coastlines, and even though he’s modified that stance, the record puts him at odds with the “drill, baby, drill” party.

And what about Jeb’s role in delivering Florida for his bro during that fiercely contested recount? The Democrats, and the press, will waste no time resurrecting that contentious subject.

Still, the white-knight syndrome is deeply embedded in the Republican psyche. Andy Card, who was chief of staff in his brother’s White House, calls Jeb the “perfect” candidate. There’s even a Facebook page, “Jeb Bush 2012—Keep Hope Alive.” (Was stealing a Jesse Jackson slogan the best they could do?).

But the thing about white knights is that they lose their armor the moment they charge into battle. The same would happen with Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels, two other GOP “grownups” often mentioned as potential saviors, despite the inconvenient fact that they both weighed running and took a pass.

And don’t forget the practical obstacles. Filing deadlines have passed for all but a handful of large states, such as California and New Jersey. And for all the empty talk about a brokered convention, a sizable number of delegates elected on behalf of Romney and Santorum would have to jump ship.

Jeb could have shut down the chatter by endorsing Romney in the Florida primary, but he kept his powder dry. That hardly amounts to a secret plan to run himself.

Bush probably calculated that memories of his brother’s administration will have faded enough to make 2016 a better year for him. Eight years was, after all, the length of time it took for Bill Clinton to make voters a tad nostalgic for George H.W. Bush, opening the door for his son to recapture the White House for the family. Jeb will be 62 when the next New Hampshire primary rolls around. He’s got time.

Every time the 2012 question comes up, Bush says he has no intention of running. It’s time for the fantasists to take him at his word.

 

By: Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast, March 2, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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