WASHINGTON — Two senators have thought twice about Sen. Michael Bennet’s new job as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a partisan organization whose goal seems to be at cross-purposes with the Colorado Democrat’s work with a bipartisan group of senators whose stated goal is to fix the federal government’s fiscal woes.
“Isn’t it going to be awkward? Sure. But is it going to be any more awkward than [being] a member of the Senate? I’m not sure,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a member of the “Gang of Eight,” said in an interview Thursday at the Capitol.
“Certainly, it’s unusual. I don’t know if there’s a precedent for it,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), said as he walked into the Senate Democrats’ weekly Thursday luncheon.
Bennet, 48, said he had accepted the position as chairman of the DSCC last week.
“This will not be an easy job, but I feel strongly that families and small businesses in my state have a lot riding on our success,” Bennet said in a statment. His job is to raise money for Democratic senatorial candidates for the 2014 election cycle and help the party hold on to its majority in the upper chamber, a task that will be made more difficult given that Democrats have 20 seats to defend and Republicans only 13.
Bennet’s announcement was made a little more than four months after he said he had joined the so-called Gang of Six, an informal group of senators whose ranks have since expanded to eight, to reach a deal that would prevent an automatic, across-the-board round of federal tax increases and spending cuts to federal programs Jan. 2.
Former Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said while he expected Bennet to succeed in his new position, he called it a “nakedly partisan job. Its sole job is to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans.”
Republican senators admitted that the position is partisan, but passed on criticizing Bennet for accepting the job. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah saw no problem with Bennet’s new perch at the DSCC. “He has every right to take it…Every senator has the right to keep and express his own views,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Bennet “will help the party and help the nation.”
Bennet’s won a coveted slot on the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. His new position is expected to have another benefit as well: increased access to a wider pool of Democratic donors and activists, whose support will come in handy if he runs for re-election in 2016.
Yet one Republican member of the so-called Gang of Eight cast doubt on the group’s ability to forge a compromise on the budget standoff, suggesting its work will be undone by partisanship at least in part.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahama shrugged his shoulders when asked if Bennet’s new job had undercut the group’s work. “It has not been a factor,” he said.
Pressed if it might be a factor, Coburn said “we’re not getting a whole lot done.”