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And while Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he won’t organize the calendar around the foursome, his spokesman, Jim Manley, acknowledged it is one factor the Leader takes into consideration. But sometimes, Manley said, Reid has had to press ahead to make sure Senate business gets done, including when lawmakers voted to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general earlier this month.
On that vote, none of the five presidential contenders showed up.
Manley said “so far it hasn’t been a problem” that the four Democratic Senators have been on the trail. But he added: “Sen. Reid is confident that if he needs their votes, they’ll do everything they can to come back.”
While that may be, Republicans say the Senate’s fall schedule certainly has felt the effects of the front-loaded primaries. They point to votes held late in the day, or pushed back to give Senators time to travel to D.C.
Don Stewart, spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said it seems clear that the Democratic majority has had to rearrange the schedule to accommodate the candidates, and he anticipates more of the same heading into the end of the year.
Asked if it was becoming problematic, Stewart responded: “It’s not making things move any faster.”
Dodd, for his part, said there’s no particular science to determining which votes he must cast versus those he can forgo for the sake of his 2008 campaign. Indeed, all four Democrats viewed the Iraq spending bills — one of which set a goal for a withdrawal of troops — as critical votes.
“There’s no great formula for it,” Dodd said after Friday’s votes. “I try to make a calculation if it’s going to be a close vote or if there are things I really care about or that require some special attention.”
Democratic leadership sources suggested that no phone calls to the campaigns were necessary for Friday’s votes given the importance of casting votes related to war funding and the farm legislation. On the latter, influential Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is the chief sponsor — and his approval is key to any Democrat hoping to win over Iowa caucus- goers.
“There’s too much at stake right now,” reminded a senior Democratic aide.