Goodwin joins Senate caucus of short-termers
July 21, 2010
WASHINGTON (AP) – West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin replaced the Senate’s oldest member as its youngest Tuesday, becoming part of a small caucus of freshman seat-warmers with little seniority but outsized power in the closely divided chamber.
Goodwin, 36, will serve for four months in the Senate seat of Robert C. Byrd, who died this month at 92. So important was Goodwin’s vote to majority Democrats that they deployed him as a filibuster-buster 15 minutes after he took the oath of office.
An extension of unemployment insurance advanced as a result. Majority Leader Harry Reid threw a news conference to introduce Goodwin and to thank him for voting as Byrd would have. He let Goodwin answer a question about the bill’s impact on the deficit – then cut him off, “since he’s number 100 in seniority,” Reid said with a grin.
Such is the lot of this class of temporary senators, the most junior in the seniority-driven chamber but also the warm bodies and votes each side needs this election year when 60 votes are required to advance almost any legislation.
“You’re either a senator or you’re not,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senior West Virginia Democrat.
Any one senator can potentially hold up Senate business. But junior senators with the future in mind don’t often play hardball.
Goodwin joins an ambitious group whose short stays in the Senate could give them experience to tout someday during bids for full, six-year terms.
Goodwin and Sen. George Le Mieux, R-Fla., the Senate’s youngest members, will leave the Senate after the November elections because their patrons and former bosses, Govs. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Charlie Crist of Florida, are running for the seats.
Goodwin has not said whether he might someday run for Rockefeller’s seat. But LeMieux, 41, is said to be considering challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012.
The 2008 presidential election cost the Senate several members now replaced by appointees. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., is serving the rest of President Barack Obama’s term; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is serving out Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is serving Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s. Bennet and Gillibrand are seeking election this year to hold onto their seats.
Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., is serving in Vice President Joe Biden’s seat but like Goodwin, will leave after a special election in November.
These and a dozen other “lame duck” Senate veterans who are retiring or were defeated in primaries are considerably less accountable than their colleagues – in theory. But senators tend not to vote differently whether they are up for reelection or not, experts say. Many have the future in mind – as senators elected to full terms, lobbyists, university presidents and more – and want to leave on good terms.
The short-timers don’t always vote as their leaders wish.
Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican who won the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Edward Kennedy for four decades, so thrilled Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he declared he would always think of Brown as the GOP’s 41st seat, enough to block legislation by filibuster.
But Brown ended up being one of three Republicans last week to help pass the stiffest restrictions on banks and Wall Street since the Great Depression. He was heavily courted by Reid and McConnell, giving him significant say in whether the bill passed or failed just six months after winning Kennedy’s seat.
For the next four months, Goodwin restores the Democrats’ 59-41 majority. His Senate tenure will mostly be about the stewardship of West Virginia under Rockefeller’s wing – and negotiating with Senate leaders all but certain to come calling on the few agenda items left in the waning legislative year. Next up: a small business jobs bill and paying for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A climate bill looms, as well.
That, and one other matter: His wife, Rochelle, is due to give birth to the couple’s second child over the August recess.