Conservative Republicans Ruining the Comity of the Senate, Chides NYT's Steinhauer

Jennifer Steinhauer, who covers Congress for the New York Times, reported on the loss of Senate decorum thanks to conservative Republicans, "In Hidebound Senate, Decorum Becomes Less Traditional." She opened with Sen. John McCain's "rendezvous with rudeness" by criticizing of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, during Hagel's hearings before Congress last week.

The willingness of Republicans to skewer one of their own became increasingly apparent on Friday as more and more members of the party peeled away from Mr. Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, saying they would not vote to confirm him after Mr. Hagel melted like chocolate on a dashboard under combative questioning from Republicans.

Steinhauer seemed to want Congress to made laws based on appeals to symbol and sympathy rather than substantive argument.

But Senate Republicans, in particular, who have added more conservative members to their ranks in the last two years, and who fear the constant and imminent threat of primary challengers from the right, have loosened their grip of late on the bonds that distinguish the Senate from any other legislative body.

In December, Bob Dole, the former majority leader, went to the Senate floor in a wheelchair to advocate for a disability treaty, and many of his Republican colleagues, including some who had praised the measure previously, waited for him to be wheeled away before turning the measure down. That would have been almost unthinkable in the past.

“Part of the shift in the Republican Party,” said Don Ritchie, the Senate historian, “means that old-time senators like Dole who were to the right of their party when they came here are to the left of their party now because the party has shifted so much beneath them. This all reflects that a bit.”

There were other moments as well. Earlier in the week, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, took to talk radio to refer to a Republican colleague, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, as “amazingly naïve” for his proposals to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Mr. Rubio did not choose to respond or question the judgment of Mr. Vitter, whose phone number once appeared in a client list of a Washington madam.


But many Senate Republicans now are newly elected, deeply conservative members who have less regard for the old rules of comity and respect for elders.

“The Republicans in the Senate have moved decidedly to the right,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who recently said he would not seek re-election. “A lot of them are kind of fearful of what the Tea Party might do to them.”

Steinhauer concluded with Democrats apologizing on behalf of their (Republican) colleagues.

Mr. Hagel’s hearing, his perceived subpar performance notwithstanding, still set some members on edge. Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, used introductory remarks seemingly to make that point. “In my six years on this committee,” she said, “the defense of this country is a bipartisan effort.”

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, told Mr. Hagel he felt the need to “apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today.”