Congress

Senators make more news in halls than during debate, Levin laments

This frame grab from video provided by C-SPAN2 shows Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. giving his farewell address on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 12, 2014.
This frame grab from video provided by C-SPAN2 shows Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. giving his farewell address on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 12, 2014. AP

“We seem to make news more often these days by our responses in the corridors outside this chamber, to reporters questioning us about the latest breaking story or rumor, than we do by debating and legislating inside this chamber.”

That was part of the farewell message Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., offered his colleagues Friday as he said goodbye to the Senate after 36 years.

Levin was discussing how the increasingly polarized Senate is affected by forces outside the chamber itself.

“The viral nature of information and disinformation, and the expectation that public officials will be immediately responsive to every news flash, with but a few seconds to think through the implications or consequences or pros and cons, has led too often to less thoughtful discourse,” he said, “and that has helped drive rhetorical wedges between us that would not otherwise exist.”

It’s important to remember that “In the Senate, the majority cannot always have its way. The Senate is more than just the place where the hot tea is cooled in the deliberative saucer that President Washington famously spoke of.

“Protections for the minority make the Senate more than just a place to slow things down; those protections make it a place where we work things out,” Levin said. “It is those protections that force compromise that is essential to unifying and governing our country. Making progress in the Senate requires solutions that, while they may not provide anyone with everything they want, are broadly accepted as in the common interest.”

But when that compromise “is thwarted by ideological rigidity or by abuse of the rights that our rules afford us, the Senate can become paralyzed, unable to achieve the lofty task the Founders set before us.”

He urged the Senate to do away with the “nuclear option,” a 2013 rules change that did away with the 60-vote threshold needed to approve most executive and judicial branch nominees. Levin was one of three Democrats who opposed the move.

“I hope the Senate next year considers reversing that precedent, while simultaneously amending the rules so as to assure a president’s ability to fulfill his or her constitutional duties. Put simply, I believe the Senate should do the right thing in the right way,” he said.

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