“When you move over to the Senate, House Members immediately develop a jaundiced view of you,” he said. “I understood that because I was in the House for 19 years, and I wanted to change that when I was in the Senate.”
While he enjoyed the esteem and tradition of being a Senator, Lott said serving in the House was “more fun” because his colleagues were younger and socialized together more often. More than that, Lott said he was frustrated that no one else seemed to be paying the House any attention.
“I would get upset when the House would pass bills and the Senate would go on its merry way,” he said.
In all, there will be 23 former House Republicans in the Senate next year. While that number is the same as this year — and lower than previous years — Republican aides and Members point out that the incoming class brings a wealth of expertise that will be useful in the Senate, including newly sworn-in Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), an appropriator in the House and founder of the moderate Tuesday Group who won a special Senate election, and Sen.-elect Rob Portman (Ohio), who served 12 years in the House before becoming President George W. Bush’s trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. Others include Sens.-elect John Boozman (Ark.), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).
Senators and their staff have traditionally looked at the House as a mishmash of brash rabble-rousers, while House Members and those who work for them cast their Senate counterparts as the slow-moving undertakers that allow good legislation to die.
“The relationship between the House and the Senate are pretty rough because of the differences in the way the two bodies operate,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who spent almost two decades as a Member of the House.
Senators who cut their teeth in the House also said they have a better understanding of the legislative process. But those that do keep up with their former House colleagues also have a better read on what bills could be headed their way.
Sen. Richard Burr, who was elected in 2004 in a class of seven former House Republicans, still has lunch with his old colleagues every Tuesday. The North Carolina Republican and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who joined the Senate in 2002 after four terms in the House, dine with Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) regularly as part of an effort to stay close to their legislative roots. Those gatherings, which Burr stressed are more social and less strategic, could take on new meaning next year.
“It certainly becomes more relevant now with Republicans controlling the House to know what they’re working with, what the blueprint is, to make sure it dovetails with what we want to do,” he said.
One former GOP leadership aide said that while there is not a formal plan to deploy the new Senators to work with the House, “McConnell is strategic and he’s going to utilize everything at his disposal ... Senate Republicans are going to want to bring the freshmen [former] House Members into the mix.”