Sen. Mark Udall (left) and his cousin Sen. Tom Udall look at family photos as they talk about their familys legacy and their efforts to foster changes in the Senate.
A dusty half-mile trail separated the houses where cousins Mark and Tom Udall grew up in Tucson, Ariz. As boys, they traversed the distance by bike or by pony.
Now, the men have offices two floors apart in the Hart Senate Office Building, and the Democratic Senators from Colorado and New Mexico, respectively, can reach each other easily on foot.
Three years into their first terms, each is finding his own path in the Senate, where the terrain can be as rocky as the Arizona desert. On the way, they have set themselves apart — from their Democratic caucus, from the long shadows cast by their famous fathers and even from one another.
“They have both already developed a reputation for reaching out across the aisle,” says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who considered Mark’s late father, Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall (D-Ariz.), a mentor. “They are good fits for their states, which are pretty independent.”
Tom, 62, made waves this month in the notoriously slow-to-change chamber when he championed the overhaul of one of the institution’s signature mechanisms, the filibuster. Although his colleagues voted down his plan to weaken the filibuster’s bill-killing powers, it sparked debate and put him at odds with Democratic leaders.
Mark, 60, lately has also displayed an independent streak. He was behind the bipartisan seating arrangements during the State of the Union address. And he was the first Democrat last week to support a GOP-backed balanced budget amendment.
Those recent moves have raised the profiles of the Udall cousins, but their newly prominent, contrarian roles are an outgrowth of their quirky Western personas.
“Over here, you have two great Americans,” Mark says on a recent afternoon, motioning to a framed photo displayed in Tom’s Senate office. It is a black-and-white snapshot of his father and Tom’s father, Stew Udall (D-Ariz.), the late former Congressman and secretary of the Interior. “And here,” he says, picking up another picture, “you’ve got two bums.”
This frame reveals Mark and Tom on a long-ago mountain-climbing trip. Neither is certain of the year it was taken, but their beards and sideburns put it sometime in the 1970s. Both men smile at the memory. But neither needs a photo to remind them of their shared history or their family legacy.
To ask about their own roles in the Senate is to hear about Mo and Stew and the Udall tradition. Both trace their interest in politics to their fathers and credit them with their focus on environmental issues.
Leaders from military and veterans service organizations joined Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Kelly Ayotte , R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at a press conference to urge the Senate to replace a provision in the budget proposal that cuts retirement benefits for veterans. Wicker, Ayotee, and Graham earlier called for a bipartisan solution to replace the $6.3 billion in cuts to military retiree benefits.
Each year since 1990, CQ Roll Call has reviewed the financial disclosures of all 541 senators, representatives and delegates to determine the 50 richest members of Congress. This year's report, derived from forms covering the calendar year 2012, shows it took a net worth of $6.67 million to crack the exclusive club.