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Sen. Chris Coons Savors His New Role

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Chris Coons may be best-known for beating tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell in 2010, but he is working hard to make a name for himself in the Senate.

“All four of these guys really frankly had a hard time with the transition, with feeling like ‘we used to do stuff every day, now we just talk and talk and talk,’” Coons said. “And I have really struggled with that at times, particularly because of the partisanship and the endless filibusters.”

Carper, Delaware’s senior Senator, has helped the junior Senator acclimate to the Senate. 

“He’s usually the smartest guy in the room,” Carper said. “But he is also a very humble person. ... He sees his job to serve, not to be served. Some people have that switched the other way around.”

Carper also said he told Coons, regarding the slow pace, that “one of the things I’ve learned around here is that sometimes making progress is stopping bad things from happening.” 

Coons was surprised to have made the friends he has — particularly with Republicans — given the partisanship that permeates most of the chamber’s legislative work. “Individually, the Senators I have been able to invest in getting to know personally are bright, they are patriotic, they are hardworking, they are decent people, and if you can get past some of the team A [versus] team B fighting on the floor, there are opportunities to work together,” Coons said.

Coons has grown close to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

“I am the chair, but I call him my co-chair,” Coons said. “He’s a great guy. ... Personally, he’s one of the most engaging, positive people I have ever met. Someone I hope to be friends with long after we both leave this place.”

Isakson said that Coons is “a relationship guy. He likes to build coalitions and find common ground. I have some of the same propensities.”

Coons has also found Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to be a willing explorer of common ground. Blunt co-chairs the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus with Coons, who started the group.

“Sen. Blunt made the time to stop by [for a] a conversation with faith leaders that I hosted from 3:00 to 4:00 and I think, in part, he did that because he and I are co-chairs of the law enforcement caucus,” Coons said of a Wednesday meeting in his office.

“We have had a number of good conversations about different issues across a number of months,” Coons said. “It’s surprising how just a small gesture like that, an opening move, can lead to a friendship.”

Blunt said of Coons, “We don’t agree on everything, but we do agree that we have to figure out what we can agree on.”

Coons sees the caucus and relationship-building as investments that could pay legislative dividends down the road.

Another surprise for Coons was getting to know budget-hawk conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Coons said he congratulated Coburn for standing up to anti-tax pundit Grover Norquist. Norquist is famous for urging Republicans to sign an anti-tax pledge. On one of the Sunday talk shows a few months ago, Coburn said the pledge should not stand in the way of what he believes is the right way forward for cutting the deficit.

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