Reform Debate Polishes Dodd’s Image
Sen. Chris Dodd is trying to rewrite his political epitaph.
The Connecticut Democrat is hoping to come back from a political tailspin in 2008 and 2009, when he was dogged by ethics allegations and cast aside by Senate Democrats who felt he abandoned them for his presidential aspirations when the mortgage crisis hit — and who later fretted that he would cost them a Senate seat this fall.
Yet since announcing in January that he would not seek re-election, the Banking chairman has purposefully moved ahead on health care and financial services reform, trying to win over colleagues and restore his reputation on and off Capitol Hill.
Sen. Claire McCaskill said Dodd has done a good job of bringing the debate on the financial services bill to what appears to be a swift close.
“It’s like herding cats,” the Missouri Democrat said of Dodd’s work as the go-between for Democrats and Republicans on the financial services bill. “I think he gets pretty high marks for trying to find consensus.”
Dodd has also won over liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders said Dodd played a “strong and positive role” in getting his amendment to require a one-time audit of the Federal Reserve passed.
Dodd’s political triage has come full circle. Once seen as too cozy with Wall Street, he is now crusading against the industry that contributed millions of dollars to his campaign coffers throughout his long career.
Still, for the political resurrection to be complete, Dodd must pass the most sweeping financial services legislation since the Great Depression.
A Dodd spokesman declined to comment for this article.
While Dodd has negotiated for more than a year with Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), he is still searching for 60 votes in the Senate.
Dodd noted his frustration Tuesday with Senate Republicans on moving forward with several agreed-upon changes in a manager’s amendment that were presented to the GOP on Saturday.
Dodd said he was “losing a little faith” that Republicans are sincere in their desire to pass regulatory reform.
Notwithstanding the manager’s amendment, Shelby said there are still several substantive areas that needed to be addressed, including consumer protection and pre-emption, before Dodd would get his vote.
“We’ve worked together on this,” Shelby said. “Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree.”
No matter the end result, former Dodd aides who have become financial services lobbyists say that Dodd has regained his footing and place in history.
“This is the real Chris Dodd, not the caricature of him that some created over the last couple of years” said Rich Tarplin, a former aide who is now a lobbyist at Tarplin Strategies.
Dodd’s former principal staffer on the Banking Committee, Andrew Lowenthal, agrees.
“It may be his finest hour in some time,” Lowenthal said of the bank reform bill. “Not just because of his command of the substance or the ability to manage what may be a bill that dwarfs health care in complexity, but also the process he’s engaged on the floor.”
Throughout his career, Dodd has racked up a series of major legislative wins, including a credit card bill, a tobacco bill and a housing bill that helps prevent foreclosures and increases the availability of credit for consumers and businesses.
Unlike the partisan bickering that overwhelmed the health care debate and George W. Bush’s tax cuts or the USA PATRIOT Act, during this debate Dodd has adeptly maneuvered the dialogue away from Democratic and Republican partisan bickering to attempting to quickly bring the bill to a close.
“He’s certainly put Republicans in a box,” one Republican financial services lobbyist said. “Republicans are on TV talking about doing good stuff when they lost on every compromise.”
Dodd’s legislative prowess and ability to work with Republicans and Democrats has also opened post-Senate employment doors that may have been closed only six months ago.
In particular, lobbyists and Senate aides point to an Obama administration appointment, including replacing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as a possibility.
Dodd has carried a big load for the Obama administration on both health care and financial services reform, bringing Republicans on board and walking the left wing of the Democratic Party back on certain proposals.
Without those feathers in his cap, Dodd’s confirmation process for a future position with the administration could have been bruising, with foes homing in on the ethics allegations swirling about a favorable mortgage loan he received, his wife serving on the board of health care companies and his purchase of a home in Ireland.
One veteran Senate Democratic aide said that Dodd’s confirmation process for a Cabinet or ambassador slot would likely be easier now.
“Dodd’s situation is out [of bounds], which makes it an easier time coming through this place,” the aide said.
Dodd’s credentials and deal-making credibility would also make for an easy transition to K Street.
Dodd would have the pick of going into a firm or starting his own operation, similar to former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who formed the successful Breaux Lott Leadership Group after leaving Congress.
Yet people close to Dodd say he may go back to his two loves: foreign policy and children’s and family issues. Dodd formed the Senate Children’s Caucus and authored the Family Medical Leave Act, which for the first time required large employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave to care for sick family members. Whatever Dodd decides to do, the end game over banking reform will help him tremendously.
“He is in fact going out reminding people of why he was the guy that people paid attention to,” Lowenthal said, “why he was Chris Dodd and not the chairman of the obscurity caucus.”