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Congress’ Top Partisan Fighters

Republicans viewed Wright like Democrats viewed Gingrich, observers say: He set an agenda, pushed it through and had little tolerance for Members who tried to stand in his way. In a December 1988 Washington Post article, then-Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), the new House Minority Whip, said of the Republican frustrations: “Jim Wright has made our minority status more painful; he has reminded us why we should be dissatisfied.”

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.),
Served 1962-present

The always-ambitious Kennedy has carved out a role as one of the most liberal Members of the Senate, and in doing so, has become the Senator that Republicans love to attack. His name is regularly wielded by pundits and 30-second issue ads whenever conservatives want to scare voters about the Democratic Party. But Kennedy is no slouch in defending and advancing his party’s interests.

While it’s true that Kennedy has often worked across the aisle when legislating — notably with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on pharmaceutical issues and with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) in President Bush’s education bill, the No Child Left Behind Act — he has also been the Democrats top defender and chief attack dog for most of his 40-year tenure.

He led Senate Democratic efforts to block the judicial nominations of Robert Bork in 1987, and during the House impeachment debate, Kennedy was one of Clinton’s key supporters.

More recently, Kennedy took on the job of top surrogate for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, his fellow Massachusetts Senator. Kennedy tried to boost Kerry’s standing by taking on the Bush administration over charges of failed foreign policies and accusations that the White House had increased the risk of nuclear terrorism.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.),
Served 1973-2003

Helms, arguably one of the most controversial Senators in history, was known as “Senator No.” He made his mark for pushing traditionally Republican red-meat reforms on abortion, AIDS funding and flag burning.

“No American politician is more controversial — beloved in some quarters and hated in some others, than Jesse Helms,” the 1992 Almanac says.

Helms became a GOP powerhouse on the Foreign Relations Committee and was one of the first Senators to use the confirmation process to block appointments, including the 1997 appointment by President Clinton of Gov. William Weld (R-Mass.) as ambassador to Mexico.

The North Carolina Senator is also credited with helping create the national perception that Republicans are strong on defense and Democrats are weak. Despite Democrats’ best efforts to reverse that perception, it has dogged the party to this day.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio),
Served 1974 and 1976-1995

In the eyes of both Democrats and Republicans, Metzenbaum remains one of the “most effective liberals” in Congressional history.

The Ohio Democrat was known for his confrontational style, and was one of the original Senate obstructionists. He worked to publicly expose Members’ hidden provisions and tax breaks in legislation, and would often threaten to filibuster bills to try to kill them.

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