Post Politics Hour

Sen. Evan Bayh, a centrist Democrat from Indiana, announced he won't seek a third term on Monday, giving Republicans a chance to pick up a Senate seat. "I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress," Bayh said.
Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe takes your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.


Ed O'Keefe: Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Post Politics Hour, I'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, author of The Federal Eye blog. I've spent most of the past week tracking the government's operating status around Washington after two blizzards, so I'm happy to entertain your queries on that issue, the man of the week, Evan Bayh and all other things politics. Now to your questions...


Florissant Valley, MO: Hey, Ed. G'morning. Is Evan Bayh just a weird duck, or does his resignation reflect a real dissatisfaction with the way Congress is currently operating. Our fine former Senator, Jack Danforth here in MO, tired of the job after I think 2 terms. Wen two bright and conscientious guys find such public service a burden, maybe something's wrong with the system. Of course, it's nothing new: Boss Reed bowed out around 1912 with the same complaint. Thanks for your insights.

Ed O'Keefe: I think it's perfectly normal for lawmakers to suddenly decide that they're tired of the bump and grind of the legislative lifestyle: You put your career on the line every 2, 4 or 6 years, stay separated from your family, be forced to raise millions of dollars for your reelection effort and have every bit of your voting record picked apart, then get back to me and tell me what you think. It can't be easy.

In this case, it does seem that he tired of the system -- he's been in public life for more than 20 years and seems eager to do something else. And remember: He's been passed over for vice president twice, so his path to the ultimate prize, the presidency, may be impossible if not much more difficult to reach in the future.


No Hoosier GOP Slam Dunk: In an Interview yesterday, Dan Parker (head of Indiana's Democrat Party) said one positive result of Bayh's late withdrawal for Democrats is a weak Republican primary field since Rep. Mike Pence decided not to run. Also State law allows the Democrat party to select a replacement candidate if no other person qualifies with enough signatures by Friday (which seems unlikely), which gives the party until June to choose. The leading Republican primary candidate is former senator Dan Coats who since 1999 has lived and voted in Virginia, insulted Hoosiers by saying he wanted to retire in NC("don't tell the good people of Indiana ...."), and has terrible lobbyist baggage including representing Bank of America for bailout funds, Yemen interest and companies doing business in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez. So this Senate seat isn't a slam dunk for Republicans.

Ed O'Keefe: Agreed -- most political observers say Democrats have a chance if they can come up with a good recruit. But the Cook Political Report, among others, has labeled this a "Lean Republican" race -- so if anything it's going to be competitive.

The question is -- to what extent will the national Democratic machine and it's associated groups put time, money and manpower into this race? Or will they focus their attention elsewhere on other more important holds, like Illinois, New York, Delaware, Arkansas, Washington State, Nevada and California?


Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Ed. Thanks for taking a break from shoveling to answer questions. This excerpt from a Tea Party story from the NY Times: "And in Indiana, Richard Behney, a Republican Senate candidate, told Tea Party supporters what he would do if the 2010 elections did not produce results to his liking: "I'm cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I'm serious about that, and I bet you are, too." The question, where do you see all this Tea Party anger headed? Do you think it will fizzle into history should the economy turn around?

Ed O'Keefe: Maybe if the economy turns around, but when's that going to happen? Tea Party members have made it clear -- they're a movement, not an organized party. They want to effect change from the bottom up. Some may do it through the Republican Party, others will elect to do it other ways.

But they're a force who will have to be paid attention to throughout this election cycle, if not beyond.

And shoveling? What shoveling? That's the beauty of living in an apartment building with a fantastic, hard working grounds crew!


Helena MT: Interesting that Senator Bayh did not have the courage to actually call out the 7 people who voted against his bipartisan commission. Is it because he didn't know the names or the party or is he just that gutless to actually name names?

Ed O'Keefe: I think Helena that mentioning it at all -- directly or indirectly -- keeps that issue in the news and reminds people of Washington's current political climate.


Evan Bayh-bye: Ed, Bayh's decision to quit is being viewed as some sort of moral stand, yet I found this passage from a New York Times report rather telling:

"He did not inform Mr. Obama or other top party leaders of the timing of his decision, one associate said, so they would not make further efforts to talk him out of it; the office of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, first learned of the decision from news accounts.

Until now, every indication was that Mr. Bayh was proceeding with the race this fall. He had collected the necessary petitions to be placed on the ballot and they were due to be filed at noon on Tuesday. Democrats had coordinated an extended campaign to release damaging political information about the Republican who had emerged as Mr. Bayh's main threat, Daniel R. Coats, a former senator.

Mr. Bayh had already hired some campaign workers, and his campaign account had more than $13 million on hand....

Democrats say that since no party candidate is likely to raise enough signatures to qualify for the ballot by the deadline on Friday, the state party will be allowed to select its Senate candidate. But Republicans are challenging that interpretation and said they were exploring their legal options to deny Democrats a candidate if no one meets the filing deadline."

So he supposedly left because, "For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should," but he went through the process of preparing a re-election campaign, including hiring people, didn't tell the two most important people in the party he was going to do it and may have left his party without the chance to run a viable candidate to replace him.

I may be missing the moral stance in all of this.

Ed O'Keefe: It's certainly questionable that he didn't give most Democrats more of an advanced warning, but at the same time is consistent with the independent spirit of the Senate's 100 separate members.

And Bayh has stepped out today that he harbors no third party of 2012 presidential aspirations. Does he want to run in the future? Perhaps, we'll see.


Philadelphia, PA: Did you know that there are more republicans retiring and leaving open seats than there are democrats? I just wanted to mention this b/c from the news reports one would think that there are only dems retiring and leaving open seats.

Ed O'Keefe: True, but remember that most of the Congressional Republicans retiring are leaving safely Republican districts or states. Democrats now have to defend seats where enough independents and Republican votes could tip the scales against Democrats and don't have solid recruits to replace those retiring.

That and a few more Democrats could still retire: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (R-Ark.) might still bow out, for example.


Could I have a moment of silence?: I grew up in Indiana and Bayh's 1988 election was the first time I was aware of and inerested in politics. (I was 7 - weird, I know.) This ranks somewhere between Reggie Miller's retirement and Bob Knight's firing in the semi-traumatic, end-of-an-era moments in my life to date.

What's a fugitive Hoosier to do?

Ed O'Keefe: Good question! If you rank Bayh up there with Bobby Knight and Reggie Miller I suppose all you have left is Peyton Manning, right?


bluffton, sc: Could Evan Bayh's decision have been influenced by the mood of the electorate? His wife earns millions as a professional director for many businesses involved with health care and their sons go to St. Alban's. How can legislators relate to their constituents when they've been living a much different life?

Ed O'Keefe: Republicans have said they were planning to make his wife's corporate board experience an issue. Probably not THE reason he decided to step down, but it would have been used against him for sure, especially in the current economic environment.


Jersey Shore: I just think its a damn shame that Senator Bayh's hair couldn't get him a VP slot, and now it seems it can't even keep him in the Senate. At the rate we're going, with the lack of comity and so forth, in a couple years a great head of hair will no longer seem to be sufficient qualification for a Senate seat.

And then where will we be?

Ed O'Keefe: Hahaha -- This raises a good question: Beyond Evan Bayh who has the best hair in the Senate?


Arlington, VA: What impact does Bayh leaving have on the rest of the Dems this year? Will they be more or less aggressive in pushing through specific legislation?

Ed O'Keefe: I think we've seen a slightly more aggressive White House at least in recent days. My colleague Mike Shear wrote about this on Monday -- that the White House is sharpening its communications strategy in an effort to push back against Republican criticisms.

Will that aggressiveness rub off on the rest of the Democratic Party? We'll see. Members have a historic tendency to duck and cover at the first sign of bad news.


Laurel: I suspect Congress is never going to be much fun for several decades into the future, because for the next generation they'll have to figure out what to cut and not what to spend.

Ed O'Keefe: That's a good point. The same could be said of running for governor of most states these days -- with tight budgets more cuts and spending freezes may be necessary.


Funniest thing Ed's ever written:: "Republicans have said they were planning to make his wife's corporate board experience an issue."

What?! Who was? Republicans (!) were going to make hay with a candidate's ties to corporate America? Say it ain't so!

Ed O'Keefe: Haha -- believe it.


Dem Leadership: While I don't think Reid and Pelosi are necessarily responsible for the rancor directed at them by the GOP, I do think that they have shown that they are not up to the challenge of responding in a meaningful way. Is there any movement among the rank and file Dems in Congress to challenge either of them for their positions? Or, is it possible that the Dems see them as being effective and the best people for the leadership spots?

Ed O'Keefe: I've heard no rumblings, but one has to got to believe at least one of them will be up for replacement if they lose their majority status in November.

Of course, Reid could lose his job if he loses his Senate seat.

It's very difficult for any member to publicly gripe about their leadership: Hit them too hard and the leaders can make life difficult for you and your district and priorities. But I imagine we'll see some leadership changes after November on both sides.


Jersey Shore: John Kerry, of course, has the best remaining hair. Kerry's hair, had he been elected, could have redirected Katrina. The Kerry-Edwards ticket was the Mantle/Marris of political hair. I still can't believe they lost to Bush (who no slouch in the hair department, don't get me wrong) and some bald guy.

In retrospect, the 2004 presidential may be the end of hair based qualifications for federal office.

A moment of silence, if you will.

Ed O'Keefe: ........

Moment of silence now complete, keep submitting your nominations for Best Senate Hair.

I was a big fan of Elizabeth Dole's mane, personally.


Not a Fan of Political Dynasties: Actually, I don't think Evan Bayh could have been elected anywhere if he weren't the son of Birch Bayh. He went into politics and benefitted from being Birch's son, using the contacts from his daddy to get where he was. But he didn't have his daddy's integrity and had no of who he was politically. Good riddance to him - we have too many of these kinds of politicians in Washington now.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, it says something that the last two Democratic presidential candidates had him on their VP short lists. We may never know of his electability beyond Indiana at this point. But note that several reporters have said he has more of an executive streak in him than a legislative one.

For example, just over heard in the newsroom:

"Maybe he'll be governor again," said David Broder, a big fan of the nation's governors.


Pittsburgh: Am I alone in being rather off-put by Michael Steele's apparent glee over Evan Bayh's retirement announcement, as though the Republicans had scared Bayh off (when in fact Bayh was doing very well in polls and fundraising)? How likely do you think it that Steele's elation/arrogance will return to bite the GOP on the backside in November?

Ed O'Keefe: Steele hasn't done himself many favors with the Republican rank and file. Any party boss would have issue a similar statement regardless of the retiring guy's political and fundraising prowess: It's what they're hired to do -- gin up the base and make it seem that your party is the only one with relevant ideas.


Santa Cruz: Hi Ed. After reading both Bayh's comments and some of the interviews with voters in Massachusetts, I'm coming to the conclusion that what a lot of politicians and voters are upset about is more the inability to get anything done in Congress, not so much what gets done. And obviously nothing will get done after this year's election either, regardless of how many seats switch in the Senate, because the 60 vote rule will still be in place, and neither party will have 60. What do you think of the idea that the only thing that could save the Democrats would be the radical step of doing away with cloture, and showing they CAN govern? Of course they won't do that, because now they're afraid of a Republican takeover, and they think they'll need the cloture rules to block anything the Republicans want to do. Any way out of this?

Ed O'Keefe: It's difficult to see what person or issue or tactic will break the logjam at this point. But, as you point out, Reid and Democratic leadership have ruled out doing away with the filibuster.

This year so far it is more about the lack of progress as opposed to getting something done. So let's imagine how things might change if Congress passed some version of a health care reform package? Sure, some would be very upset, some would say it didn't go far enough while others would say it went too far, but at least Washington will have demonstrated it did something. I'm not advocating for or against a bill, I'm just saying that the dynamics might be different if something actually passed.


Blacksburg, Va.: One thing that bothers me about "political analysis" today is when I was a peer of yours from WashPo on cable news talking about how Sens. Patty Murry (D-Wash.) and Russ Feingold (D.-Wisc.) might have harder re-election if they get a strong Republican opponent. My first thought was "How was that any different from last week? This really political analysis but a RNC fundraising letter."

Do you really think an independent voter in Oshkosh or Spokane really cares if Evan Bayh retires?

Ed O'Keefe: No, they don't. But big picture it highlights some big problems for the Democratic Party's ability to hold on to seats.

You're right -- it shouldn't matter to Oscar in Oshkosh or Sam in Spokane, but it does matter to the Democratic Party's future, which is the focus of a lot of political reporting.


Iowa: I'm reading David Plouffe's book about the Obama campaign, The Audacity to Win, and had just finished the section on how Biden was selected over Bayh and Kaine for VP. They were impressed with Bayh and thought he was a "safe" choice, but Biden offered more of a contrast with Obama, given his working class roots and foreign policy experience. Since Bayh went on to be one of the Senate Democrats who provided the least support for Obama's legislative program, do you think being passed over for the VP slot played any role in his subsequent behavior?

Ed O'Keefe: It certainly might have yes, if only because it ended his more immediate, or easiest path to a presidential campaign.


Arlington, VA: "Of course, Reid could lose his job if he loses his Senate seat."

Ed, what did you mean by this?

Ed O'Keefe: He'd be out of the Senate if he loses his Senate reelection campaign. Thus, he'd lose his job.


Evanston, Ill.: When is the trial of Rod Blagojevich suppose to happen again?

Ed O'Keefe: June 3, 2010, according to the Associated Press.


Williamsburg, VA: In the Fix this morning, Chris listed several possible Democratic candidates for Bayh's seat. Yet one name was absent--Tim Roemer, former Congressman. Wouldn't he be a natural for the seat?

Ed O'Keefe: I think he would be, yes. The problem is he just moved to India -- not be confused with Indiana -- to serve as ambassador. Pulling him back would make political sense, but might cause some diplomatic headaches.

Still -- he's a moderate, former congressman, served on the 9/11 Commission, known to be a practicing Catholic -- seems like the ultimate package. But will he do it? We'll see.


re: Bayh: I'm really disappointed in Bayh (and I've liked him, though I think he's kind of bland) but can understand that someone might just not have the fight in him. If he tries to run for President in '16, though, I will be the first in line to point out that he essentially said, "wow, governing in this political climate is really tough, so I'm going to quit and try to come back when things are easier."

Ed O'Keefe: But he wouldn't be the first to do that!


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today. Thanks for a great round of questions. Please check my blog, The Federal Eye for the latest government news and talk to you soon!


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