President Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former senator Richard Lugar. Obama praised the Republican for his commitment to something called “bipartisan problem-solving.” (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Seemed only appropriate that President Obama put the Medal of Freedom on former senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) on Wednesday afternoon, lauding “his visionary work, the destruction of Cold War arsenals in the former Soviet Union.”

Obama said he would “always be thankful to Dick for taking me — a new, junior senator — under his wing” in their travels together to that region.

“Now, I should say,” Obama added, that “traveling with Dick, you get close to unexploded land mines, mortar shells, test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague.” Lugar’s legacy was “the thousands of missiles and bombers and submarines and warheads that no longer threaten us,” Obama said, and “our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman. And in a time of unrelenting partisanship, Dick Lugar’s decency, his commitment to bipartisan problem-solving, stand as a model of what public service ought to be.”

The award seemed especially fitting given, in seeking reelection last year, Lugar was trounced in the Republican primary by tea partyer Richard Mourdock, who criticized his “globe-trotting” ways and called him “Obama’s favorite Republican.” (It didn’t help that Lugar no longer maintained a home in Indiana.)

And Lugar’s loss enabled the Democrats, who long ago had pretty much given up trying to defeat the six-term GOP senator, to finally win that seat.

Here’s to the temps

How about a special Senate caucus for past and present seat warmers, those who are appointed to fill a resigned or deceased senator’s seat till the next election?

We could call it the Senate Seat Warmers Caucus, or SSWC.

There have been more appointed senators than you might think. The Senate historian’s office counts 192 appointees in the past 100 years.

Of those, 72 did not run for the office, 57 ran but were defeated, and 63 were subsequently elected. (One, Maine’s George Mitchell, later became majority leader.)

There have been 23 such appointees in the past two decades, and all of them are still alive.

Even so, the SSWC members could easily fit in the old Senate chamber for monthly meetings to reminisce about how easy it was to do their actual jobs when they didn’t have to raise money incessantly.

And even though they got to the chamber by dint of appointment rather than election — and some served only a few months — it’s not as though none of them did anything of note while they were there.

For example, Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), who briefly replaced Ted Kennedy, delivered the 60th vote for Obamacare on Christmas Eve 2009.

Six-month senator William “Mo” Cowan, another Massachusetts Democrat, who replaced John Kerry, at least left a memorable quote: “When Mo Cowan comes to the Senate, interesting things happen.”

And Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who replaced Joe Biden, was a key author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill to curb chicanery by banks and investment companies.

Other recent appointed-but-never-elected senators include Jeffrey Chiesa (R-N.J.), who went back to his old law firm last week after five months of fun replacing Frank Lautenberg; Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who replaced Barack Obama for a couple of years; Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.), who served for three months after Robert Byrd’s death; and George LeMieux (R-Fla.), who served for 16 months after Mel Martinez decided in 2009 that he didn’t want the job anymore.

A second membership category could include appointed senators who won recent elections to full terms. That group would include Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Other current senators who started as appointees are Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), appointed to replace Jim DeMint, and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), appointed in December 2012 after the death of Daniel Inouye, are expected to run for those seats. Win or lose, they’d be welcome additions to the caucus.

And remember, even if you served just a couple of months over the holidays, like Dean Barkley (I-Minn.) back in 2002, you still enjoy the right to forever be called “Senator,” join the gym, have Senate floor privileges, eat in the Senate dining room, attend the weekly policy luncheons, and always be “The Honorable” on invitations and such.

With Emily Heil

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