“It‘s hard to work in the middle, which is what the Senate is supposed to do,” he said.
Perhaps the best measure of the fall of the Senate is the dearth of amendments being considered on the ground, which are mainly devoted to judicial confirmation votes. Senators were arguing over their bills. Now that senators are unwilling to take politically risky votes, even the few pieces of legislation that are produced are typically prepackaged in leadership suites and tabled with little opportunity for senators to propose or debate changes.
Never the Tennessean, Mr. Alexander compared it to “joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing”. But he said the problem was not with the rules; it is with the senators who reflexively prevent their colleagues from proposing amendments, thus closing the Senate. What is needed, he said, is behavioral change on the part of senators, who must learn to exercise the “restraint” necessary to allow debate and political courage to vote no when. ‘they oppose something – rather than outright stifling it.
But Mr. Udall had no idea that a behavioral adjustment was all that was needed.
“I don’t accept the assertion that the rules are correct, that we just need to change people or that we need people to change themselves or that we just need to have better leaders when the institution doesn’t ‘hasn’t worked for decades,’ said Mr Udall. “This system is broken, and I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”
He pushed for a radical top-to-bottom overhaul of a political system he considers corrupted by huge undisclosed donors and persuaded all of his fellow Democrats in the Senate to sign – no easy task. While he has no chance of advancing in a Republican-controlled Senate, the provisions on tightening campaign finance laws, ending gerrymandering, imposing restrictions on lobbying, and streamlining government Voter registration are the types of changes a Democrat-controlled Senate could pursue. Mr Udall said he believes bold changes are needed to lift Congress out of stasis and allow lawmakers to tackle the challenges facing the country.
“We can turn this ship around and make sure Republicans and Democrats can work together and do the things we need for the planet and the country,” Udall said.
Despite their differences, MM. Udall and Alexander respect each other after sitting together on the Rules Committee and voicing their differing views. Mr Udall recalled that Mr Alexander was the first Senator to invite him and his wife to dinner when he entered the Senate.
Now they will step back and let others try to save the Senate as they look out on the institution they revere, despite its obvious shortcomings.
“I’m coming home to eastern Tennessee and I’m going to turn the page,” Alexander said. “For about 50 years, I’ve had at least one of the best seats in the house.”