During 18 years in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, has been in the minority party. She’s been in the majority party. She’s seen fierce debate on a host of issues.
But the anger and divisiveness she has witnessed this election year — inside the Senate and out — is new and disturbing, she said Friday in an interview with The Columbian’s editorial board.
That divisiveness flared in eastern Washington last Saturday when the organizer of a tea party rally in Clarkston drew applause from a crowd of 500 for saying Murray should be hanged. The comment was recorded by a Lewiston, Idaho, TV station.
“I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve seen anger come from a lot of places,” Murray said. “You can’t dismiss it.”
“What worries me about inflammatory language is, it drives us further apart.”
Murray placed much of the blame for voter frustration on the recession and stubborn high unemployment. It’s obvious, she said, that Americans are reeling from the economic downturn and insecure over the loss of jobs and retirement savings.
“Whenever people feel the ground shift, it’s a hard time to be in elected office,” she said. “People have only one place to express themselves,” and that’s with their elected officials, she said.
Washington’s senior senator, who is running for a fourth term this year, is a member of the Senate leadership. She chairs the subcommittee that writes the federal transportation budget.
Five Republicans, including state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, have launched campaigns to unseat her.
Murray professes to be too busy to worry about her own political future.
“I have to do my job. I have to do it well. I have to make people feel secure, and the politics will follow.”
But getting things done in the U.S. Senate is harder than ever before, Murray said. That’s because minority Republicans insist on invoking cloture — a parliamentary maneuver that requires 60 votes to end debate and bring a matter to a vote — on even the most routine matters, she said.
The tactic of blocking a bill from coming to a vote on the Senate floor is known as a filibuster.
With the election to the Senate of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, the Democratic caucus lost its filibuster-resistant 60-vote majority. That will make it even more difficult for Democrats to pass legislation.
“The filibuster has been used disrespectfully,” Murray said. In effect, she said, it is bringing important Senate business to a halt.
“The problem we have today in the Senate is time on the floor,” she said. “We can’t get our budget bills out, we can’t get our appropriations bills out.”
It wasn’t always this way, Murray said.
“We used to have unanimous consent” for approval of presidential appointments and other straightforward votes, she said. “But we have a couple of members who don’t want to approve anything by unanimous consent.”
Changing the filibuster rule requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate. That’s not going to happen, Murray said.
“I believe there is a group of senators who are trying to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, they are all Democrats,” she said.
But the Democratic and Republican majority leaders have it within their power to break the stalemate, she added.
“If Sen. (Harry) Reid and Sen. (Mitch) McConnell sat down and said, ‘We’re going to fix it,’ it would happen.”
- The Columbian