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The Three Senate Ds: Leaving Vigor And Voices Behind

The Senate chamber holds a fascination as political theater, but three great Democratic players are taking their last bows. Their vigorous voices will be missed in the fight against President Trump. There’s nobody quite like this trifecta, all proudly from humble origins.

“Where’s the justice, Mr. President?” This question was often asked of the presiding senator by Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was once a boxer himself, and it showed up in his style. Never one for subtlety, his blunt political punches can be felt a mile away. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, dean of the Senate women, is formidable as a friend or foe — always with a touch of the Baltimore girl she was. She has reached 80; Reid and Boxer are in their 70s. They decided it was time not to run again.

Gone unnoticed amid election frenzy, their leaving feels as autumnal as the tree leaves outside the Capitol. Seems like yesterday when I was a rookie reporter, studying these characters.

In total, they’ve served 84 years in the Senate. Thinking it over, they changed it forever, especially the two trailblazing women. Reid was frank in a floor speech on how Boxer “mentored” him on women’s issues. Then he spoke in closing, “You are and will always be my sister.” Such open sentiments are rare.

Reid is also open about his contempt for Donald Trump, cutting him as a racist and a sexual predator as the 2016 campaign wore on. He worked hard to deliver Nevada for Hillary Clinton. After the election, he urged Trump, “Rise to the dignity of the office.” His successor as Democratic leader, Charles Schumer, is a silver-tongued New Yorker, likely to have a better art of dealing with Trump.

Reid’s antagonism toward his rival, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., went both ways: no love lost. They contained it on the floor, but in his new memoir, “The Long Game,” McConnell made plain his frustration with Reid, “bombastic” in front of cameras, saying his floor style was like a campaign studio. Usually, party leaders strive for decorum. Leaders Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., got along.

Actually, Reid’s Trumanesque way with words made a foil for the abstract president: “Professor Obama,” as McConnell calls him. Barack Obama erred early, thinking he could charm and work with House Republicans — even sly McConnell. Against Reid’s strenuous advice, he surrendered and extended the George W. Bush tax cuts for the well-off, close to Republican hearts. That may have marked Obama as naive in negotiations — he tried to be friends with his enemies. Reid, son of a miner in Searchlight, Nevada, never does that.

Oh, Barbara. Both Mikulski and Boxer are heroines in my book. They radiate intensity. Boxer ran for the Senate in 1992, Year of the Woman, after the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Thomas squeaked by, 52-48, in an unforgettable drama involving Anita Hill’s testimony that he sexually harassed her. America was unimpressed to see the Senate at work, under Senator Joe Biden’s sloppy gavel, to see a sea of ties voting. There were two women in the Senate.

Today there are 20. Every woman elected since owes a debt to Mikulski for bringing a bipartisan dinner group of Senate women together to get to know each another and discuss ropes and rules of the clubby Senate. Mikulski hosts the monthly dinner, building community. As a social worker, she organized opposition to a highway cutting through Baltimore’s downtown — and won. She told me, “Being a senator is like being a social worker with power.” And then she laughed. Her first run was for the city council.

A grocer’s daughter, Mikulski went to the same Catholic girls school as Nancy Pelosi. When she chaired the Appropriations Committee and Pelosi was House speaker, they were the most powerful women in Congress — and still are. Reid praised the Marylander’s floor oratory: no one better. Her words are heard across the aisle, and when she’s mad, you know it.

Same goes for Boxer, a Brooklyn native who shows resolve and fury at any injustice that crosses her. A champion of the environment, she crossed swords with Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., a climate change denier, yet they seem friendly. In a final stand, Boxer denounced the election results: “We have a system where the winner can lose.”

Time to hang up the gloves. But the fighter still remains, as the Simon and Garfunkel song says.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responds to Republican leadership during a news conference on Supreme Court nominations after party caucus luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Endorse This: Boxing Carly Fiorina

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Carly Fiorina is surging in Republican polls — but there’s somebody out there who has some experience at beating her: Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, who clobbered Fiorina by a 10-point margin back in 2010, after telling the voters about the then-Republican Senate candidate’s business record of presiding over massive job losses.

Now Boxer has quite a lot to say about Fiorina’s dishonest attacks on Planned Parenthood. In fact, she has a few blunt words to offer about Fiorina’s decision to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Hear what the long-serving Democrat who crushed Carly thinks about her chances this year…

Video via MSNBC.

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Pride And Prejudice, An Unlikely Senate Pair

WASHINGTON — You have delighted us long enough, Congress. That’s what Jane Austen would say. Perhaps it’s time you go home on your summer recess.

(Note to self and reader: this column will borrow a pinch of sugar and salt from Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s most sparkling novel. Just because there is a lot of pride — and many prejudices — in Congress.)

Oh, wait, the House just left town, rudely leaving the Senate holding the bag on the important highway transportation funding bill for all 50 states. The Senate actually worked out a massive bipartisan highway bill — that covers crumbling bridges, too.

The small miracle was that Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) worked together to make it happen. They are the most arch-conservative and the most liberal members of the 100 members in the Capitol chamber. It gives you a breath of hope, to see them defending and explaining the bill out on the floor — and giving credit and respect to each other. That’s the way the Senate is supposed to work. Boxer was elected in 1992 and Inhofe in 1994, so they are old hands.

The lively Californian and the rugged Oklahoman resemble young Elizabeth Bennet and high-class Mr. Darcy, the leading characters of Pride and Prejudice (roughly 200 years old) who are, at first glance, perfect opposites. He is pride, and she is prejudice. He will not even dance with her at first, conscious of his social station, but soon falls to her wit and beauty: “the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

Like Elizabeth, Boxer speaks her mind plainly. When she heard the House might defy custom and leave for summer early without voting on the Senate highway bill, she scolded the other chamber publicly: “Do your job!” Austen might have written the lines differently, but she might have appreciated the refreshing American candor.

I’m not saying she and Inhofe took walks around the verdure in the summer rain, but if they can bridge their differences, then anyone can. For starters, Inhofe denies the existence of global warming, and Boxer is an ardent environmentalist. In the end, the resulting bill did not please either of them, they declared, but that’s a sign of true compromise.

Let’s remember the interstate highway system was created under a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, also a general.

A great nation has to have at least a good infrastructure. Check with the builders of ancient Roman roads, bridges, and aqueducts on that. Soldiers and citizens alike moved around the Republic and then the Empire, farther than ever before. A highway bill is just fundamental to governing. As the granddaughter of Wisconsin’s chief highway engineer, I take it personally. My grandfather, a man of few words, saw no politics in the hundreds of roads he worked on through his career. In fact, he had no use for politics, but boy, did he love highways, catalogued with photos in the basement.

Here in Washington, the untold story is we have some glimmers of bipartisan civility in the Senate. The real trouble in getting things done may be the strife between the Republican Senate and the Republican House — in culture and manner. In a glaring moment, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said something that would make Austen faint. As reported in Politico, he called the Senate highway bill “a piece of s**t.”

Sorry, that’s not sporting. As Boxer said, she could not repeat it on the Senate floor because that would break the rules. Inhofe was more stoic, but neither was pleased when the House left without doing their homework on passage of a highway bill. A three-month extension or “patch” was passed by both houses.

Everything ends perfectly in Austen’s novel at Pemberley, Darcy’s gorgeous estate. Elizabeth dearly loves to laugh, and life will be sparkling, for sure. Not so much here under the dome. It’s a bit gloomy this summer. Inhofe and Boxer did their best.

At the Dumbarton House, which is a perfect period piece (1800), Pride and Prejudice was shown under the stars the other cinema night. Who knew she knew so much about politics.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com

Screenshot: Sens. Boxer and Inhofe, 2012. (via Jim Inhofe/YouTube)

Highway Funds In Jeopardy As House And Senate Differ On Way Forward

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A congressional standoff over how to renew an expiring highway-funding bill pushed the Senate into a rare and heated Sunday session, but the legislative path forward remains unclear, leaving federal transportation projects hanging in the balance.

Adding to the complication were votes Sunday on several unrelated amendments to the Senate highway bill. One to repeal the Affordable Care Act was rejected and another to resuscitate the Export-Import Bank advanced toward approval.

But the fate of the six-year, $337 billion Senate bill, which could face a final vote later this week, remained in doubt since it is starkly different from a stopgap House bill passed earlier this month, which would extend transportation funding for five months while a broader compromise is negotiated.

The stalemate over authorization for the nation’s highway program, which expires July 31, is not so much a traditional partisan divide, but rather a tussle between the House and Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, but they’ve taken different approaches to the problem.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned that billions of dollars in transportation projects and thousands of jobs across the nation are at risk if a compromise is not reached. Only days remain before House members leave for the summer recess, and money runs out at the end of the month.

“This country is hungering for robust transportation,” Foxx said Friday. “The problems of congestion that have gotten worse over the last several years — the potholes in the roads, the bridges that need to be repaired — I could go on and on.”

“I’ve just been to so many places around the country where traffic is getting worse,” he said. “People are beginning to draw the line, follow the bread crumbs back to Washington.”

Transportation funding problems have been building for years, partly because the 18-cents-a gallon federal gas tax has remained flat while vehicle fuel efficiency has increased, leading to repeated shortfalls in the highway account.

Congress has repeatedly patched the highway trust fund, but has been unable to agree on new revenue to cover the costs of repairing and upgrading the nation’s old infrastructure.

Senators have devised a far-reaching bill that would revamp transportation policy over the next six years, and provide funding for road, freight and public transit projects for half that time.

But the bipartisan Senate plan, championed by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the top Democrat on the committee, and Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman, would be paid for by revenue cobbled from various federal sources.

The House dismisses this approach, and approved its own stopgap bill that would replenish the highway fund through December — a temporary fix while a bipartisan group led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., works on a longer-term solution.

Ryan, with backing from a key Democrat, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, wants to overhaul the international tax code and use taxes generated on overseas corporate profits for the highway fund.

“The House has passed a responsible bill,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. House members have “a lot of concern” about the Senate legislation, he said.

The House’s approach, though, faces uncertain odds because the politics of rewriting tax policy is complicated. It is also one rejected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who prefers a broader review of the entire corporate tax code.

On Sunday, the consideration of the transportation bill was complicated further by McConnell’s decision to tack on an unrelated measure resurrecting the Export-Import Bank onto the legislation.

The leader had bucked his conservative flank led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and promised a vote on the 81-year-old bank, which provides financing for foreign buyers of U.S. exports but has been unable to make new loans since Congress allowed its authority to lapse last month.

Conservatives backed by powerful groups aligned with the billionaire Koch brothers oppose the Export-Import Bank as an example of corporate welfare, but it is supported by business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Barack Obama and most Democrats also back the bank.

On Sunday, senators agreed 67-26 to advance an amendment to reauthorize the bank through 2019, virutally ensuring the amendment would be the Senate transportation bill.

Tempers flared Sunday as McConnell and his top lieutenants tried to publicly tamp down a conservative rebellion over the bank, but Cruz doubled down on his earlier assertion that McConnell had essentially told “a lie” by allowing the vote.

In a speech Friday, Cruz, who is running for president, blasted McConnell for allowing the Ex-Im bank amendment but blocking other amendments that Cruz and others wanted to offer.

In particular, Cruz was prevented from offering amendments that would stop Obama’s immigration actions and halt the emerging nuclear deal with Iran unless Tehran frees U.S. hostages and recognizes Israel.

Cruz had publicly accused McConnell of telling “a lie” when McConnell denied earlier this year that he had agreed to give Ex-Im Bank supporters another chance to resuscitate the bank by attaching an amendment to must-pass legislation like the highway bill. Cruz said Sunday’s vote was proof of such a secret deal.

“Speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility,” Cruz said Sunday, quoting novelist George Orwell, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

The maneuver may not succeed in saving the bank since presumably now House and Senate leaders will need to negotiate some sort of compromise highway bill that may not include the Ex-Im Bank amendment.

Photo: Automobile traffic backs-up as it travels north from San Diego to Los Angeles along Interstate Highway 5 in California. REUTERS/Mike Blake