Despite Vow to Change Senate Rules, Bennet Talks Bipartisanship

July 16, 2013
Bennet endorsed an informal deal reached Tuesday to avert a controversial change in Senate rules

Bennet backed an informal deal to avert a controversial change in Senate rules

WASHINGTON — Sen. Michael Bennet endorsed an informal deal senators reached Tuesday that averts a change to the internal rules of the U.S. Senate and a protracted partisan battle that was likely to ensue.

“I think it’s a good outcome. The question is whether partisanship can be put aside and people can work together. My hope is that this compromise and the Senate immigration bill can be the start of something,” the Colorado Democrat said in an interview with two reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier Tuesday, Bennet cast an “aye” vote to break a filibuster attempt on the nomination of Richard Cordray, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Seventeen Republicans joined all 54 senators who caucus with the Democrats to override debate on Cordray’s bid. Tuesday evening, the Senate approved the nomination.

Both Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) were among the 98 senators who met in a rare, closed-door meeting at the Old Senate Chamber Monday night.

Senators indicated that the mood inside the dark semicircular amphitheater was serious but lively; the chamber, in use from 1810 to 1859, was the site at which senators forged agreements such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that saved the Union decades before the Civil War.

“It was more of a frank discussion. (But) there were no charges going back and forth. There was no staff and … no media, which helped,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in an interview.  Sen. Mark Udall, his cousin, declined to comment and hurried away from a reporter who asked if he had spoke at the session.

According to one senator present Monday night, Democrats had objected to what they said was an unprecedented attempt to filibuster a President’s cabinet-level employees.

“Do you know that no president has had his nominees to the cabinet filibustered?” They always get an up-or-down vote,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday in an interview.

As late as Monday, Bennet was considered to be a “yes” vote for altering decades-old internal rules of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had vowed to invoke the so-called “nuclear” or “constitutional” option on cabinet- and agency-level nominees if Republicans did not drop their opposition to a vote on seven Obama administration nominees.

Reid needed the votes of only 51 senators to change the rules, and all but one or two of the 54 senators who caucus with the Democrats pledged to support Reid.

Bennet, who allowed reporters to ask a limited number of questions Tuesday afternoon, did not comment on the consequences of invoking the nuclear option on executive-branch nominees.

He and Udall voted for an October 2011 change to Senate rules that prevents filibusters on amendments offered after the chamber has moved to final passage on a bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was unwilling to discuss the impact of the rules change if it had gone through. “There’s no sense in rehashing that,” he said in an interview.

Both Republican and Democratic senators suggested that invoking the nuclear option on executive-branch nominees would have had inflamed relations between the two parties and made the Senate more of a majoritarian body.

“I think it would have been substantial,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in an interview. “Nuclear would have been the right description,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added.

Bennet’s endorsement of the informal Senate compromise and his apparent willingness to alter the rules of the upper chamber permanently was the latest example of the junior senator seeking to straddle the line between bipartisan and partisanship.

An examination of the senator’s press releases reveals that he has used the word “bipartisan” 19 times in the first six-and-a-half months of the year. The word came up more often than “immigration” and “energy” but fewer times than  “Colorado” and “Udall.” The words “Democrat” and “Republican” have not appeared in any of Bennet’s press releases this year.

Bennet has joined informal bipartisan working groups of senators. He was a member of a “Gang of 14″ senators seeking to find a compromise on the budget last year and is a member of a “Gang of Eight” senators on an immigration overhaul this year.

Yet Bennet’s bipartisan streak coexists with a partisan one. Since December, he has been the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the arm of the party that seeks to elect Democratic candidates to the Senate and defeat Republicans.

Over the weekend, Bennet helped organize an annual retreat of top Democratic donors and a dozen senators at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

“I saw him Friday night and Saturday night,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in an interview. “He was in charge of the whole thing,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) added.

A featured speaker at the event was Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State who hopes to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014. McConnell had been a central player in the week-long saga over the nuclear option.

The outcome of the informal deal allows five of the seven nominees to the executive branch to go forward without a filibuster. Two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board were withdrawn and expected to be replaced by two new candidates.

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