Sens. Barbara Boxer and David Vitter rarely agree on much. But the California Democrat and Louisiana Republican have proved they can cross party lines and work together on transportation and water-infrastructure issues.
On Wednesday, however, in a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, there was awkwardness in the air, after the Senate Select Committee on Ethics dismissed a complaint filed last week by Vitter against Boxer.
Boxer leads both committees.
Vitter is the ranking member of EPW and sits next to Boxer during hearings. As most committee leaders do, they frequently lean over to talk to each other during testimony. But Wednesday, Boxer acknowledged Vitter's arrival, then focused her attention on the testimony from a large panel of transportation officials.
Vitter rocked uncomfortably back and forth in his chair.
He might have been thinking about the letter he received Tuesday night from John Sassman, the ethics panel's chief counsel. It said the committee could find no evidence that Boxer had conspired with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and their staffs to punish Vitter, in a very personal way, for blocking an energy bill in protest over President Barack Obama's health care law.
"Committee inquiry into the matter you have presented does not appear to be merited," Sassman wrote, "your complaint has been dismissed, and no further action will be taken."
Vitter had accused Boxer and Reid of violating Senate ethics rules, asked Boxer to recuse herself, and asked for her removal from the ethics committee if the charges proved true.
Now, with the current transportation bill expiring in a year and with a crisis looming in the states if Congress doesn't fix the long-broken highway trust fund, can the two patch it up?
If not, we're in for a bumpy ride.