Ranking Senate partisans

Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are the easiest senators to work with, while Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) are the most partisan members of the upper chamber, according to a survey conducted by The Hill.

The Hill asked all 99 seated senators which member of the opposing party they most enjoyed partnering with on legislation. The senators were also quizzed (on a not-for-attribution basis) about their least favorite.

The answers reveal a Senate with surprising alliances, close friendships and some personal resentments.

After Kennedy, the most bipartisan Democrats are Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa).

Following Collins on the GOP side are Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and John McCain (Ariz.).

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did not make the top five despite voting for President Obama’s economic stimulus package. Collins and Snowe were the only other Republicans in Congress to back that bill.

Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) regularly buck their party, but neither cracked the top five.

Obama has vowed to change the tone of Congress, urging members of both parties to put “childish” politics aside. The president’s call for bipartisanship has generated mixed results, with partisanship flaring during the recent budget debates in the House and Senate.

Working across the aisle sometimes depends on ideology, but not in every case. For example, New York Democrat Charles Schumer will, at times, join forces with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham. And staunch conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said he misses working with Obama in the Senate.

Kennedy’s affability was cited by some of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans, including Hatch, Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.).

“I’d love to co-sponsor every piece of legislation with Ted Kennedy,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “When Ted says he’s going to do something, he’s committed to it.”

Democrats hailed the two centrist senators from Maine.

“They are Republicans who want to get something done,” said Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
“She’s reasonable, principled and doesn’t get scared off by peer pressure,” Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said of Collins.

Discussing Snowe, Landrieu said, “She’s strong in her opinions and she’s not easily swayed, but she is sway-able, which makes her open-minded.” Landrieu and Snowe are the top members of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Leahy attracted widespread criticism from GOP senators. Vice President Cheney famously told Leahy “to go f—- yourself” in 2004.

Aside from Leahy, the other Democratic senators deemed the hardest to work with are Schumer, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Dodd (Conn.).

“They’re guys that like to wield their positions,” said one GOP senator.

Dodd was the only senator who made both the bipartisan and partisan lists. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the fifth most partisan Democrat, according to the survey.

Democrats singled out Bunning, David Vitter (La.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and DeMint as the most difficult. One Democratic senator called them “a bunch of 4-year-olds.”

Several Democrats said Bunning in particular is so irascible that they don’t even try to speak to the Hall of Fame pitcher unless it’s about baseball.

“Jim just makes it difficult,” said one Democrat. “Sometimes you have a sense of where your bipartisan outreach maybe won’t be successful, so you tend to not even engage.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander is the fifth most partisan GOP member, according to The Hill’s survey. However, several Democrats praised the Tennessee lawmaker as a cooperative legislative partner.

Many senators said working well with a member of the opposing party often depends on reasons outside their control — committee assignments that pair a chairman with a ranking member, for example, or the fact that a home-state colleague may be from the other side of the aisle.

But many also pointed to personality.

“There are some members of the Senate that you may disagree with 90 percent of the time, but they’re looking for that 10 percent and so are you,” said Graham. “Part of it is attitude. Some senators have a better attitude about finding that 10 or 20 percent than others.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who was elected in 2006, said, “It’s partly about, ‘Who wants to work together?’ instead of ‘Who’s likely to agree with you on issues?’ That’s why some are easier than others.”

Brown revealed he keeps track of all the Republicans with whom he works: “I keep a notebook that I don’t share with anybody, and I mark in there who I’ve worked with. I have a goal of working with almost every Republican on a major issue.”

The chamber’s two leaders named each other as their across-the-aisle favorite. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he works best with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — “because I have to” — and McConnell said much the same of Reid. Kansas Republican Pat Roberts said Reid was a favorite of his when both men led the Ethics Committee. Durbin named several centrist Republicans but said he is trying to work with more members of the GOP.

“At the end of the day, if I give a great Democratic speech and end up with 58 votes, I don’t win,” Durbin said. “So I try to find some way to leave the door open for Republicans to join me.”

Even staunch opponents say they can work together. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has struck up a relationship with Leahy, for example, and Cornyn’s predecessor, John Ensign (Nev.), named Schumer as one of his favorites last year — despite the fact that both men led their parties’ respective senatorial campaign committees.

“There’s an old saying about the Senate: ‘There’s no permanent friends, just permanent issues,’ ” Ensign said. “You have to work across the aisle if you’re ever going to get anything done.”

Among the surprise findings from the poll: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has struck up a friendship with Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). Burris, meanwhile, is a fan of Hatch’s wardrobe.
Conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) misses the late liberal Sen. Paul Wellstone (Minn.) — “one of the funniest guys I’ve worked with.”

He added, “He was just passionate. We’d call each other names for a little while and then we’d go work with each other … He was once upset at some ranking that had just come out that said he was the second most liberal senator here. He said, ‘You did this to me! I was the most liberal one here, and because I’ve been working with you I’m now in second place.’ ”

Click here to read the Republicans' responses and here for Democrats' responses.


Who’s the easiest senator to work with across the aisle? Who’s the toughest? The Hill asked all 99 seated senators about their colleagues’ bipartisanship, and the following names — arranged by frequency, from top to bottom — were cited the most.


1. Edward Kennedy (Mass.)
2. Tom Carper (Del.)
3. Chris Dodd (Conn.)
4. (tied) Evan Bayh (Ind.)
4. (tied) Tom Harkin (Iowa)

1. Susan Collins (Maine)
2. Olympia Snowe (Maine)
3. Orrin Hatch (Utah)
4. (tied) Richard Lugar (Ind.)
4. (tied) John McCain (Ariz.)


1. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
2. Charles Schumer (N.Y.)
3. Chris Dodd (Conn.)
4. Dick Durbin (Ill.)
5. John Kerry (Mass.)

1. Jim Bunning (Ky.)
2. David Vitter (La.)
3. Tom Coburn (Okla.)
4. Jim DeMint (S.C.)
5. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)