Tales from the Trail

Reform-minded Angus King says he’s had warm Senate welcome

Senator-elect Angus King came to Washington preaching bipartisanship and fearing that many of his new colleagues wouldn’t go near him, figuring he’s “a strange creature.”

But to King’s delight, a number of Democrats and Republicans stepped forward to say that they share his desire to end congressional gridlock.

“I was a little apprehensive coming down here,” King told Reuters TV on Thursday (video above), his third day in Washington after last week’s congressional and presidential elections.

“I was afraid they would say all say, ‘Forget it. We’re not going to talk to this strange creature from Maine who’s an independent,’” King said.

“But I have been pleasantly surprised. There’s been a lot of positive, I think genuinely warm words of – ‘Hey, let’s get together. Let’s talk. Let’s see if we can work on some of these problems together.’”

Helloooooo out there…. Senator asks if anyone paying attention to speech

Senators go to the Senate floor and make speeches about issues near and dear to their constituents all day long — but whether anyone is actually listening is another matter. USA-CONGRESS/

Making speeches on the Senate floor gets the words into the official record, but often they are made to a near-empty chamber so it is never quite clear whether the words are heard.

That can be frustrating for politicians used to getting plenty of attention.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski got fed up when she was speaking about the budget fight and how a government shutdown would hurt port and airport operations. As she talked, she saw the senator who was presiding over the chamber, another Democrat, apparently checking her BlackBerry.

Boehner confident on getting budget deal, but admits it won’t be easy

House Speaker John Boehner, facing somewhat of a revolt in Republican ranks, says “it is not going to be easy” to craft and win passage of a bipartisan deal to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year.

USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANSBut the top U.S. Republican said he remains confident that it will be done — somehow, some way.

“We never thought it was going to be easy,” Boehner said a day after the House passed a short-term funding bill that 54 of his 240 House Republican colleagues opposed.

Another one heads for the exit: Senator Ensign won’t seek reelection

UPDATES with Ensign announcement.

At this rate, the Senate will be overrun by freshmen in 2013.

USA-POLITICS/ENSIGNRepublican Senator John Ensign, once considered a potential presidential candidate in 2012, said he won’t seek reelection next year.

The decision comes nearly two years after he admitted to having an affair with a female staffer whose husband also worked for him.

“There are consequences to sin,” he said at a news conference in Las Vegas. Ensign said the campaign was likely to get especially “ugly” and he did not want to put his family through that.

Robert Pozen says not running for Senate – but perhaps could be convinced

Boston correspondent Ross Kerber interviewed mutual fund industry veteran Robert Pozen and they talked politics.

Pozen says he’s not running so far for the Senate seat from Massachusetts once held by the late Edward Kennedy. But he does appear to be positioning himself as a possible centrist candidate for Democrats mulling how to defeat Republican Senator Scott Brown in next year’s election. USA/

“I’m not running for Senate unless the Democratic Party asks me to, if they want someone who is socially liberal and fiscally disciplined,” Pozen told us in an interview at his office at MFS Investment Management, the Boston fund company where he is now Chairman Emeritus.

Budget-cutters take aim at nuclear modernization funds

In hardball negotiations over the START nuclear arms treaty last year, Senate Republicans wrested a commitment from the White House to redouble work to overhaul the nation’s nuclear infrastructure.

USA/President Barack Obama agreed to spend an additional $5 billion over 10 years on the effort, including some $650 million in the 2011 fiscal year.

The funds would be used to refurbish facilities and upgrade technology to provide safer and more secure devices, for example by making it impossible for them to be detonated if they are stolen by extremist groups. Obama and Senate Democrats even agreed that if it became necessary to cut discretionary spending in the future, the funding for nuclear modernization would be considered on the same basis as defense spending, making it harder to trim.

FBI releases files on ex-Senator Stevens, little on corruption case

The FBI released some of its expansive files on former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who died last year in a plane crash, offering tidbits about threats against him, accusations of corruption and some correspondence he had with the FBI.

FINANCIAL-BAILOUT/There was very little in the thousands of pages about the federal corruption investigation into Stevens beyond press clippings and court filings previously made public. The senator was initially convicted by a jury in October 2008 but the case was later dropped after a federal judge found that federal prosecutors withheld critical evidence from Stevens’ defense team.

Still, there were a few interesting tidbits, including details of contacts with foreign officials, several threats against him and also his work dating back to the 1950s when was a federal prosecutor in Alaska.

Webb’s retirement could loosen Democratic grip on U.S. Senate

Things just got a lot harder for Democrats.

First-term Senator James Webb announced on Wednesday he will not run for re-election in Virginia next year, making Republicans the early favorite to recapture the seat the Democrat narrowly won in 2006. MYANMAR-USA/

The decision by Webb, an author and a former secretary of the Navy, set off a celebration among Senate Republicans and a scramble to find a replacement among Democrats with no clear good options.

The name most frequently mentioned was former Governor Tim Kaine, head of the Democratic National Committee, who says he has no interest in the seat. Other possibilities among Democrats include former Congressman Tom Periello, who lost in November after one term, former Congressman Rick Boucher and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Is Rand Paul a U.S. Senate action hero?

RTR9KH6_Comp-150x150It didn’t take Rand Paul long to become Captain America of the U.S. Senate. He’s tough-minded, strong-willed and he’s ready to battle the most dangerous titans on the political landscape, like Social Security and Medicare.

In fact, the Republican Tea Party favorite from Kentucky tells MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that a courageous and comprehensive plan for fixing America’s public finances will soon be on the march. And if all goes as planned, much may be accomplished before the start of this year’s Major League Baseball season.

“Within two to three weeks, I’m going to propose a fix for Social Security,” says Rand, son of Ron, who has already far surpassed the fiscal aims of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill by proposing $500 billion in budget cuts.

Former Senator Allen trying for a comeback, but he’s got competition

Former Republican Senator George Allen is trying for a comeback for the Senate seat from Virginia that he narrowly lost to Democrat Jim Webb in 2006, following comments that critics said were racist.

USA ELECTIONS“Friends, it’s time for an American comeback,” Allen said in a video on his website. “Today, I’m announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate. You know me as someone willing to fight for the people of Virginia and I would like the responsibility to fight for you again.”

He promised a campaign for the 2012 election based on “foundational” principles that included reining in government spending and creating jobs.