There are currently 45 Republican members of the United States Senate, and as might be expected, each and every one exhibit their own quirks and personalities. Some, like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, have attempted to make a big splash as junior members of the chamber -- either through filibustering on the Senate floor, shutting the federal government down over Obamacare, or grilling Obama administration officials with pointed and at times controversial lines of questioning. Others, like veteran Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, use their seniority on key committees to lambast the Obama White House on defense and national security issues. And then there are senators like Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, who tries to walk the thin-red line between the hawkish, traditionalist G.O.P. establishment and the libertarian streak that has risen in influence within the party structure.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on how one looks at it), Americans won't be seeing these familiar faces over the next month and a half pushing legislation on the floor or frowning in committee hearings behind that big mahogany-looking wall. The pack is out of session for the next seven weeks campaigning for another term. So perhaps this is a good time to get a little reflective and sentimental before campaign season really heats up in October.
Who are my favorite Republican senators?
Full disclosure: I'm a registered Republican from New York (which basically means my vote in meaningless during presidential elections), and have been a moderate member of the party since I was fresh out of high school. Yet like many Americans I know, I cross over to the other party if I personally believe that a better candidate is being presented. You can call it ambivalence about being a Republican or you could call it pragmatic centrism.
With that in mind, here is my list:
Bob Corker: Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has only been a member of the higher chamber for seven years (he was elected in an ugly race against Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr. in the 2006 midterms), but it only took him one term to catapult to the top teir of the Republican Party. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are often labeled by the mainstream media as the Republican foreign policy experts, but it's Corker that is often in the weeds of the legislative process. From his perch as the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has followed in the footsteps of former committee chairman Richard Lugar: that is, someone who knows his stuff, understands the legislative process to a tee, and works in a bipartisan manner with the majority. He can be especially tough (some would say unfair) when Obama administration officials are slated to testify in front of his committee -- Secretary of State John Kerry found this out during a September 17 appearance--but his questions and criticisms are often based on reasonable concerns over policy rather than partisan nonsense.
The Tennessean also seems to grasp the seriousness of his position as the top Republican on an important national security committee. Often working in smooth tandem with Chairman Robert Menendez (D - NJ), Corker has pushed through comprehensive, bipartisan bills as diverse as the authorization for the use of military force against the Assad regime to a new package of sanctions on Russia for its invasion and break-up of Ukraine. Indeed, if it wasn't for Corker's lobbying (again, working with Chairman Menendez), is it very unlikely that House Speaker John Boehner would have invited Ukrainian President Petro Porenshenko to the United States to address a Joint Session of Congress.
John McCain: He's in his mid-70s, but he acts and operates with a youthful energy that is refreshing in a Senate that is sometimes categorized as an unproductive and dormant debating society. The veteran senator from Arizona is the most hawkish of the Republican hawks in the U.S. Congress today, and an outspoken advocate of intense and aggressive U.S. engagement around the world. Oftentimes, that engagement includes calls for the deployment of U.S. military power, whether in Syria, in Iraq, in the Asia-Pacific, or in Eastern Europe. The man issues press releases on national security topics nearly every day, and oftentimes, they take straight aim at President Obama and his administration with sharp-edged, undiplomatic words like "shameful" failure," and phrases like "a sad testament of the administration's leadership." His activity on the Sunday morning talk shows and cable-news is a reflection of his energetic demeanor in the Senate.
And, of course, it's always entertaining to see McCain get into what are sometimes uncomfortable tussles with people he disagrees with, whether it was Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearings last year or Jay Carney on live television. But this is exactly why I like him so much: he doesn't just go after Democrats, but his fellow Republicans as well. Just ask former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
There is another side to McCain, however: a lawmaker who takes the subject of war and peace with the utmost seriousness. Early this year, McCain teamed up with Sen. Tim Kaine (D - VA) to file the "War Powers Consultation Act of 2014," a bill that would repeal the 1973 War Powers Act and replace it with a more thorough and streamlined process. The legislation clears up questions about congressional notification and enhances the power of the Congress before, during, and after the initiation of "significant armed conflict." It's ironic that McCain -- once referred to as "the maverick" with a strong independent streak -- is once again going against the grain of his employer, particularly at a time when Congress would much rather skip town rather than debate a new war authorization against ISIL.
Rand Paul: The doctor-turned-politician is a man of principle instead of political expediency, a character that I believe is crucial for a legislator (he's had some trouble as of late on the foreign policy front, however). Paul is at his strongest when the subjects being discussed are Article I of the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties. The junior senator from Kentucky isn't a constitutional law professor like President Barack Obama, but he would fool you on that point when he speaks on the floor about the necessity of constraining the power of the executive branch.
A lot of Republican foreign policy hawks, like Sen. Marco Rubio or former Vice President Dick Cheney, consider him to be naive on foreign policy -- often branding him as an isolationist politician that would have been perfect for the 1920s and 1930s. Others, like neoconservative Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, seem to be despise his worldview and his way of thinking. But in many ways, that's why he's attractive: he's a fresh face that is forcing the Republican Party to take another look at conventional ideas and positions.
Oh, yea... and he was kind enough to handwrite a nice note to me on one of my earlier posts.
Am I missing anyone on this list? Who are your favorite Republican senators? And if you don't have any, what would a Republican need to do to change your mind?