Terence Samuel

Terence Samuel is a Prospect senior correspondent and the author of The Upper House: A Journey behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate, published in May by Palgrave Macmillan. Follow him on Twitter.

Recent Articles

Just Say “No”

The list of important legislation that will die from inattention or political suffocation at the end of the 108th Congress is long and distinguished one: energy legislation, welfare reform, highway funding, asbestos compensation, medical-malpractice liability, a tax overhaul for corporations that do business overseas and that are now subject to sanctions by the European Union. Part of the choke hold is a natural outflow of the legislative slowdown that comes with any election year. But another huge factor is the standoff in the Senate, where minority Democrats have come to understand the power of “no.” Exercising the only real leverage the party has in Washington, Senate Democrats are making it difficult, and impossible when they can, for the Republican majority to work its will and that of the White House. The result is that much of the much-touted collegiality and courtesy of the Senate is working it way up the endangered-species list. Republicans have a name for these Democratic...

Specter Sport

I am so far into northwestern Pennsylvania that if I sneeze, the “bless you's” are going to come across Lake Erie from Cleveland. I'm in the basement Assembly Hall of the Meadville Medical Center watching Republican Senator Arlen Specter explain, or defend, his peculiar brand of politics. It is an odd mix of ambivalence, defiance, expedience, and pragmatism. He is what in polite company is described as a moderate. And that is, in large part, why he is in trouble. Specter, who has spent 24 years in the Senate, is targeted for extinction -- not by some vast Democratic machine, but by a segment of the GOP that believes he has not been sufficiently adherent to the Party's orthodoxy on taxes, spending, guns, and abortion. He's now in a nasty primary fight, the toughest he has ever had, against right-wing Rep. Pat Toomey, who says the 74-year-old incumbent is among those “who never bought into the idea of the Republican Party.” How nasty is it? Toomey says Specter is a liberal: “Being a...

Ted the Knife

Ted Kennedy's Iraq-is-George-W.-Bush's-Vietnam speech dominated the news for three days. It's a telling indication of how valuable the senior senator from Massachusetts is going to be for his junior's campaign for president. The ability to grab headlines for days at a time may be more valuable than a $10 million “527” contribution at this stage of the game. And from Kennedy's point of view, the speech worked so well (despite the harsh countercriticism) that he plans on making another one in a month. “It's only a glimmer in his eye right now,” says one top aide. “But the strategy is to keep questioning the credibility of this administration.” The Kennedy people swear they're not coordinating with the Kerry camp, but it's so hard to tell the staffs apart that it hardly matters. In this year of his discontent with Bush, Kennedy is going to be a lead horse for the Kerry bandwagon. The zeal with which Kennedy has come to Kerry's aid has caused chuckles among those who've observed the less-...

Bedside Mannered

Bill Frist is majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and there are no references in the job description to "beanbag." So when Frist went after Richard Clarke last week, the only surprise was that for all the tough talk, the attack seemed so oddly dispassionate. The problem, of course, is that an attack on Clarke is best delivered by a shrewd partisan fighter, which the majority leader is not. But that's the trade-off the administration made when it banished Trent Lott from the job in favor of the more palatable Frist. With the administration under siege, Frist went to the Senate floor and suggested that Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar, might be subject to criminal prosecution for perjury. Frist's speech was a clear signal that the beanbag was over. It's possible that Bush and Co. had decided that the Clarke episode was not just a brush blaze but a raging fire in the engine room. They needed all hands on deck. However, many wondered whether Frist was carrying water for the White...

House Hold

Nancy Pelosi did not get to be Democratic leader just by smiling pretty and raising money, so it should surprise no one that she might crack you over the head if you cross her. Though she has threatened, this has not happened -- so far. But maybe all that is about to change. Pelosi is signaling that she intends to punish, or at least not reward, those House Democrats who don't toe the line on important votes. This is causing a bit of a stink among some who worry about their own level of loyalty. But this, like any effort at disciplining Democrats, ought to be a true spectacle, because we are, after all, talking about Democrats. "Democratic Party discipline used to be an oxymoron, but no longer," quipped a Democratic aide. This is the party of Will Rogers ("I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat") and Zell Miller, the Georgia senator who recently declared the Democrats dead and has been dancing on their grave ever since. This week Miller announced that he...

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