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Civility in Senate is nonexistent

By John Nowacki
web posted June 4, 2001

With Senator Jim Jeffords having more or less handed control of the Senate to the Democrats -- despite the fact that he's actually an Independent -- the macabre Strom Thurmond death watch has become much less significant. Still, it's worth noting that some Democrats in the Senate have been willing to shrug off concerns about the most senior of Senators' health when it suits their own ends.

Just before Jeffords turned his coat, the Senate was in a late-night session debating the Bush tax cut. Every vote was important, and at 11:30, the 98 year-old Senator was still there to cast his.

Democrat Senator Joseph Biden noticed that Thurmond wasn't holding up too well. "He didn't look well, in my view," Biden said later, adding that Thurmond wasn't asking for help. Biden told Thurmond to go home, and offered to pair with him if he did - meaning that while Biden would remain on the floor, he wouldn't cast a vote.

Biden: A man with class
Biden: A man with class

Biden approached Senators Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, the Minority Leader and Assistant Majority Leader, for their approval. He also talked with Senator Hillary Clinton, who was also on the floor. According to newspaper reports, two expressed concern about the effect missing these votes would have on Biden's re-election campaign next year. The other supposedly used a tone one doesn't often hear when junior Senators address senior Senators.

Daschle told Biden to see if Senator Robert Byrd was interested -- he wasn't -- and Thurmond ended up staying there until the Senate adjourned for the night a little while later.

The Senate, Senator Rick Santorum said after the incident, "is just like any other organization. You have people who have a good heart and look beyond the political . . . And then you've got some who view it only for power and for politics."

There has been a lot of talk about restoring civility to Washington, especially since that's something that President Bush takes so seriously. But actions still speak louder than words, and it's clear that some of those who now control the Senate have their own definition of "civility;" one different from what most people understand it to mean. If this is how they mean to run the Senate, just imagine how courteous they will be when the health of an ailing colleague is not involved.

Civility? That's just for the soundbites.

John Nowacki is deputy director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law and Democracy.

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