Baucus Retirement Shakes Up 2014 Senate Map for Democrats
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., speaks about health care reform in 2009. Photo by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Sometimes a retirement is more than a retirement.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Tuesday he would not seek a seventh term in 2014, setting off a political chain reaction that will reverberate from official Washington to Big Sky Country.
"I often rely on Scripture," Baucus, 71, told his hometown paper the Billings Gazette. "Ecclesiastes says there is a time and place for everything." He said that after 40 years in Washington and following the death of his mother in 2011, it was time for a new perspective.
"I just don't want to die with my boots on," he said. "I'm a Montanan. I'm coming home to Montana. It's my home."
Baucus said he plans to use his remaining time in the Senate to focus on key policy matters, including an overhaul of the tax code, which he has been working on with Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I'm not turning out to pasture because there is important work left to do, and I intend to spend the year and a half getting it done," Baucus said in a statement. "Our country and our state face enormous challenges - rising debt, a dysfunctional tax code, threats to our outdoor heritage, and the need for more good-paying jobs."
The Washington Post's Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery have more on how the move gives Baucus the freedom to pursue sweeping legislative changes, starting with the tax code:
The announcement could mark the beginning of one of the most consequential periods in Baucus's long public career, because he pledged to devote the rest of his time in Washington to pursuing a comprehensive rewrite of the federal tax code, a long-shot effort that many see as key to breaking the fiscal gridlock that has paralyzed Washington in recent years.
That paralysis of taxes and spending has been a central feature of Obama's presidency, and Baucus said that when the president called him Tuesday about his retirement, Baucus quickly turned the discussion to tax reform. "They're going to get tired of me," Baucus said in an interview, adding that White House officials are still searching for a strategy for ending the stalemate.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues, said his decision not to seek reelection frees him from the demands of a campaign and will also allow him to focus on new trade agreements and implementation of the Obama health-care initiative, which he played a major role in drafting.
Next in line to take the committee gavel is Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, whose own brand of bipartisanship is "not without its detractors," writes Roll Call's Meredith Shiner. He especially irritated Democrats during the health care debate and proposing changes to Medicare last year.
On the Hill, Baucus is known for a brash style, but also is viewed as someone pivotal to shepherding major legislation.
And as the thinking goes in Washington, a senator planning to leave town sometimes feels liberated to revise his or her voting record. Gun control advocates were frustrated with Baucus last week, when he opposed expanding background checks for most gun purchases, and have suggested they are hopeful he might change his mind.
Many assumed the reason Baucus voted against the background check measure was for political cover in his re-election bid, but that theory no longer seems to apply. That could make him a tougher sell for proponents of new gun legislation, although Baucus did support the original assault weapons ban passed in 1994.
The Atlantic's David Graham writes that the Democratic primary to replace Baucus "will be a fascinating litmus test for the liberal coalition after the failure of gun control."
For an examination of the political consequences, Gwen Ifill talked with Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report on Tuesday's Newshour.
Rothenberg swiftly moved the race to a tossup and told Gwen that Baucus' decision changes the math in the 2014 battle for control of the Senate. Democrats are defending 21 seats and already have a handful of vulnerable incumbents to protect. Said Rothenberg:
There are four seats right off the top that Republicans are very optimistic about, two open in South Dakota and West Virginia, and then the two Democratic senators from the South, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Getting beyond that four is the challenge. It's not to say the Republicans will win any or all of those, but they have a pretty good chance.
Not only does Baucus' decision make the math tougher for Senate Democrats, it also means the party will lose even more experience from its conference in 2015. The six declared retirements -- Baucus, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota -- have combined to serve 30 terms in office.
Walter said Baucus stepping aside means hanging on to that seat "might be easier" for Democrats than if he was seeking re-election, especially if former Gov. Brian Schweitzer listens to the entreaties that he run.
"He is the quintessential Montana Democrat," Walter said.
For gun control advocates, however, Schweitzer might not be any more receptive to their push than Baucus. The recently retired governor received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association when he ran for re-election in 2008 and earned an 'A' rating from the group.
Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad called Schweitzer "unpredictable and ambitious" and noted that he actually polls better than Baucus back home.
Watch the NewsHour segment here or below:
Police released on bond a man arrested on suspicion of sending letters laced with ricin to President Barack Obama and several senators after finding no evidence of the poison at his home. The New York Times reported the Mississippi man "said he had never even heard of ricin. 'I thought they said rice,' he said. 'I said I don't even eat rice.'"
The development in the ricin case came as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters another laced letter was found at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. (which turned out to be a false alarm). Talking Points Memo has more on the strange story, which involves an Elvis impersonator claiming he was framed because of a spat he's been having with a Mississippi martial arts instructor and political hopeful. The Clarion Ledger talks with the man who said he had nothing to do with it.
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FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver weighs in on the Senate's votes on the background check amendment, showing that states' rates of gun ownership was much more predictive of votes than opinion polls showing widespread favorability for background checks. The Post also examines public opinion on the issue.
The House Tea Party Caucus re-launches Thursday.
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Bob Edgar, the former Pennsylvania representative and executive director of the liberal group Common Cause, died suddenly at his home Tuesday morning.
The Columbia Journalism Review says it's difficult for reporters to make sense of North Carolina veering toward more conservative state-level laws.
Iowa Lieutenant Gov. Kim Reynolds won't make a bid to become the state's first female U.S. senator, the Des Moines Register reported. The Republicans have yet to settle on a candidate to seek the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
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Two North Carolina Democratic political strategists were stabbed in their home Monday, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
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Jeff Brown examines security concerns in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
As part of our ongoing immigration coverage, correspondent Kwame Holman talks with a former INS commissioner about expired visas. And Sarah McHaney updates the state of the evangelicals-for-immigration reform movement. Ray Suarez interviews an author who explored why faith leaders have gotten involved in the issue.
Travis Daub charts how Boston was ranked No. 10 on the list of cities getting funds for homeland security.
We look at the prison at Guantanamo Bay by the numbers.
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Katelyn Polantz and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
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