A scandalous photo wended its way through Washington last week, documenting a furtive-looking meeting at a dark Capitol Hill bar in Washington.
In the photograph, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mark Warner of Virginia, one Republican and one Democrat, are engaged in close conversation. Possibly, theirs was yet another bipartisan discussion of D.C.’s terrible fiscal condition. They’ve been beating that drum for the better part of two years – to little effect.
Perhaps Chambliss was chewing over his decision to throw in the towel. According to the time stamp, the photo at The Monocle was snapped on Wednesday, 48 hours before he pulled the plug on a 19-year career in Congress and a third term in the U.S. Senate.
The sight of a Republican and Democrat engaged in civil discourse has become so rare that the moment — like two threatened pandas in a zoo — was worth capturing. In itself, that’s proof that Washington has become an incredibly sick place. A hothouse of suspicion, back-biting and cable news posturing. Or a playground for people willing to kick the economy and your 401(k) thither and yon. Take your pick.
According to the 69-year-old Chambliss, pure frustration, and the prospect of wasting eight more years in trench warfare, prompted him to announce he’d be leaving Washington when his term ends. “The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon,” Georgia’s senior senator said in a statement.
Chambliss had long conceded that he would have primary opposition next year. Tea partyists, angered by his dalliances with Democrats and his talk of the need for increased federal revenue, had been urging the likes of U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens and Tom Price of Roswell into the contest.
Chambliss had banked $1.4 million for 2014, but had declared he would put off any major fund-raising until next month. He’s never been known as a stellar fund-raiser, but his friends said that money wasn’t an issue. Apparently, Wall Street is pleased when you spend two years lobbying for fiscal reform designed to keep the economy afloat – and out of the reach of those counseling the sack cloth and ashes of austerity.
Deep pockets were ready to fund multi-million dollar Super PACs in Chambliss’ defense, we’re told.
The irony of Chambliss falling victim to a rabidly partisan and dysfunctional Congress, of course, is that his successful 2002 campaign against Democratic incumbent Max Cleland was considered – at the time – a new level of hyper-partisanship. It included a TV ad that featured photos of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, while attacking Cleland, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, on security issues in the aftermath of 9/11.
But in 2007, Chambliss – a consistent champion of Georgia agriculture – ran afoul of his own GOP base when he (and compadre Johnny Isakson) participated in early negotiations on immigration reform. At that year’s state Republican convention, Chambliss argued in favor of an adequate guest workers program, and was showered with boos.
Chambliss backed away from that fight. But he refused to do the same when it came to searching for a grand bargain to address a $16 trillion federal deficit with Virginia’s Warner. Over Thanksgiving, Chambliss took on anti-tax guru Grover Norquist. Only last week, the senator chided would-be challenger Broun.
“Not only do I understand our debt and deficit problem, I have gotten off the sidelines to try and find a solution. Those who vote ‘no’ on everything obviously don’t care about solving the country’s problems,” Chambliss said.
Contacted on Friday, Cleland declined comment.
But other Democrats weren’t shy about praising Chambliss’ two terms and his battle for the middle ground. “I congratulate Senator Saxby Chambliss on his service to the people of the great state of Georgia,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – even as he ducked the question of whether he would join the stampede for Chambliss’ seat.
The Twitter post from state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of the former president:
“I wish #Saxby the best, but his retirement is sad for the country. We need folks working together to solve the debt crisis….”
Washington’s dysfunction and the need for Republicans to redefine themselves are closely linked. On the night before Chambliss decided that a life of sipping whisky on back porches wouldn’t be so bad, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told GOP leaders gathered in Charlotte, N.C., “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has spent the last two weeks shopping a new Republican approach to immigration reform.
Georgia’s 2014 race for U.S. Senate will feature an army eager to please the Republican party’s tea party wing. But one unexpected name quickly surfaced on Friday – that of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who during his eight years as governor often warned grassroots Republicans against volatile language and extreme positioning. Long before Chambliss, Perdue also tangled with Norquist and other anti-tax forces.
“The governor is really concerned about the current course of the country,” said a close adviser, who added that Perdue intends to think more about making the race next week.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider