Grahamstanding

As an institution, the U.S. Senate has a knack for creating a vernacular that captures the mood and movement within the body. Over the years, we’ve seen many terms introduced to the English language — from filibustering bills to “filling the tree” with amendments and “Borking” nominees. In this, the year of obstruction, where anything goes when ensuring nothing goes, a new Senatese term has emerged: Grahamstanding.

What is Grahamstanding? Grahamstanding is the art of Senate posturing. Successful Grahamstanders are senators who put themselves front and center on issues of great national import to grab the headlines until they abruptly disappear or withdraw when the right tells them to back off. The term is the namesake of the original Grahamstander, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).

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Sen. Graham is an honorable man. No question. But sometimes he gets so caught up in his games of legislative Twister that he no longer knows if his right hand should be on blue, on red, or somewhere in between.

Consider Graham’s Grahamstanding on the healthcare bill. He took a very high-profile role in castigating Democrats for the compromises forged in securing the 60 votes needed for passage. He dubbed the practice of compromise — the Senate’s oldest profession — as “sleazy politics.” Yet on the issue of climate and energy, Graham took center stage as the lead Republican negotiator and took part in closed-door meetings to help craft a bill that included huge giveaways to the oil, coal and nuclear industries — concessions Graham said would be necessary for bipartisan support. In the end, the bill won no Republican support, not even Graham’s, despite the Graham giveaways to industry.

On immigration, Graham is leading the charge to punish infants and children for being born in the United States. He wants to change the 14th Amendment to end the practice of bestowing automatic citizenship on children born in America. To me, that sounds like a lot of paperwork for new parents who will have to prove their citizenship in order to secure citizenship for their newborn children. But hey, that’s another tenet of Grahamstanding — lead on the issue, leave out the details.

The latest example of Grahamstanding comes to us from Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R). Though new to the U.S. Senate, Brown has been a quick study in how it works. Like Graham, Brown decried the backroom meetings in Washington while on the campaign trail. But then, as he surveyed the halls and backrooms of the Senate, Brown found his way into the meetings. The result? Goodies and goodies and giveaways for his special-interest pals in exchange for his vote.

Take Wall Street reform as an example. Brown deferred his vote until he secured special backroom deals for banks and insurance companies and Wall Street financiers. What kind of deals? Brown takes full credit for eliminating the industry-funded emergency bailout account ensuring that taxpayers, not his buddies on State Street and Wall Street, will pay for the next financial meltdown.

But Brown’s work didn’t end there. Last week he voted against the nomination of Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme Court. His resounding “no” vote came despite his use of glowing terms to introduce the nominee to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Back then, while Grahamstanding before the cameras, Brown said of Kagan: “As an attorney myself, I recognize an impressive legal resume when I see one.” Weeks later, while announcing his opposition, he said: “The reason is simple. I believe nominees to the Supreme Court should have previously served on the bench. Lacking that, I look for many years of practical courtroom experience to compensate for the absence of prior judicial experience. In Elena Kagan’s case, she is missing both.”

It is high irony that someone with Brown’s background would use the lack-of-experience argument against a nominee of Kagan’s qualifications. But that’s what you can expect when senators are Grahamstanding.