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Forget their records. Presidential hopefuls will leverage the Senate to build their brand

David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

During a Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of William Barr as attorney general, Booker pointed out, "I'm the only United States senator that lives in an inner city, low-income community. I've had shootings in my neighborhood, a young man killed last year on my block with an assault weapon." Booker lives in Newark, N.J.

Gillibrand used a session of an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to talk about the history of Interstate 81 in Syracuse.

She called the highway an example of an interstate highway that "segregated marginalized communities and limited their economic opportunities."

SHOW YOU KNOW FOREIGN AFFAIRS

"We're here today to talk about the strategic challenges presented by Russia and China," Warren said as she prepared to quiz China expert Ely Ratner Jan. 29 at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Warren questioned him on whether the government shutdown would make the United States more or less competitive with China.

Ratner pointed out that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, had asked the same question.

But he answered anyway, explaining that there are economic costs that affect U.S. competitiveness with China.

BOND WITH THE BASE

Klobuchar told a Washington news conference last month she's on the side of working people, urging legislation to get back pay for federal contractors.

A plan by Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, would provide full back pay to lower wage workers and partial pay to others. Unlike federal workers, they are not due back pay lost during the 35-day partial federal government shutdown that ended Jan. 25.

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"This is actual people who are just doing their jobs that are indistinguishable often from the full-time employees in terms of the work that they do," Klobuchar said.

Harris has used Judiciary to make a push for civil rights as a cornerstone of her campaign. She grilled witnesses about Justice's civil rights efforts, and got Barr to agree that he would meet with civil rights groups within 120 days "to understand the ramifications of any policies."

AVOID CONTROVERSIAL VOTES

Such votes aren't the big problem of yore, since most congressional votes today involve partisan initiatives. Largely gone are the catch-all types of packages where a lawmaker might have to accept something unacceptable in return for what he wants.

Catch-all votes, though, could be coming. Chances are Congress will vote on a spending package as soon as next week, and this spring will start considering spending bills to fund the government after Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

There is a time-tested 21st-century way to avoid controversy: Stay away.

In 2016, the senators most absent from votes were presidential candidates Republicans Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham and Independent Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democrat. The missed votes clearly didn't hurt. Cruz, Rubio and Sanders were all re-elected once their White House bids failed. Graham is up in 2020.

(c)2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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