Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), known both as a deal-maker and a conservative, said he felt there was a looming “rebellion” from rank-and-file GOP Senators waiting to govern.
“This hopefully will be a wake-up call for the Senate,” Graham said of Snowe’s retirement. “There’s a rank-and-file rebellion brewing here ... a lot of us are getting tired of just sitting around looking at each other.”
He continued, “It’s not so much about the ideology that holds us back, you can be ideological. [Democratic Sen. Edward] Kennedy was ideological. You could get things done. [Republican Sen.] Jesse Helms was ideological. He was able to get things done. What’s wrong is that we can’t find common ground on the issues that require it, and I think these super PACs are going to make it harder, not easier.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) voluntarily gave up his GOP leadership post in January because he, too, felt the chamber’s partisanship is too limiting. Rather than retire, Alexander said he hopes to foment change as a rank-and-file Member.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who retired last cycle and is now involved with the centrist group No Labels, said in an interview Wednesday that, during his time in the Senate, it became clear the chamber was becoming more polarized and that outside groups with ample resources were partially responsible.
“In the House, it was the gerrymander that really polarized the institution. In the Senate, it’s the large sums of money from groups with an agenda,” Bayh said.
Republican Senators who were asked Wednesday if Snowe might have felt unwelcome in the Conference because of her moderate politics answered “no.” Instead, they focused on general legislative dysfunction, from a president running against a do-nothing Congress to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) regularly opting for a closed amendment process.
“I’m one of those people,” one GOP Senator said, when asked if the Conference has become inhospitable to deal-makers and bipartisanship. “It’s not so much a problem in the caucus as it is getting things done in the overall Senate. The entire system’s not working.”
Sen. Susan Collins said the Senate’s moderates “are increasingly vilified by both the far left and the far right.”
“We used to be applauded for bringing people together to actually solve problems. Now we tend to be criticized by both sides,” the Maine Republican said. “But that’s not unique to the Republican caucus. Believe me, talking to my friends in the Democratic caucus, they hear the same kinds of criticism.”
But there’s reason to believe Snowe’s troubles were as much with the GOP as they were with the institution.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), speaking to party activists at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., made headlines when he said he’d rather a Republican Conference made up of “30 who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything.” It takes at least 41 votes to mount a filibuster.
“Let me make myself even clearer,” DeMint added in his remarks at CPAC. “I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters,” referring to the Pennsylvania Senator who switched from Republican to Democrat in 2009.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.