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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin
Section One
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'I enjoy the Senate,' U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin told SGN by phone from her DC office. 'I'm back in the majority, and that means I'm able to help set the agenda.'

Baldwin, the Senate's only open Lesbian, has represented Wisconsin there for almost a year and a half. Before that, she served in the House from 1999 through 2013, only four of those years with a Democratic majority.

'[The Senate] is smaller, so you get to know your colleagues,' she added, 'and you can look for common ground and persuade people to move.'

Among the colleagues Baldwin has gotten to know well is Washington state's Patty Murray. The two have worked together on budget issues and are now co-authors of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.

'Senator Murray led the DSCC [Democratic Senate Campaign Committee] in 2012 [when Baldwin won her Senate seat, defeating popular former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson]. She encouraged me to run and she kept tabs on my campaign,' Baldwin recalls.

'When I arrived in the Senate I sought a seat on the Budget Committee, where Patty is the Chair and we worked to get a budget resolution through the Senate.

'[Senator Murray] was determined the Senate would pass a budget. Then she led our conference committee to get a compromise with [Republican Congressman] Paul Ryan. I was pleased to be able to make a mark on the budget as a first-term Senator.'

Baldwin says she has also gotten to know many Republican women senators, some of whom served with her in the U.S. House.

'The women in the Senate are particularly close,' she said. 'We try to meet on a monthly basis. As things approach gridlock, that gives us the opportunity to look for a path forward. During the government shutdown, it was the women who provided a way out.'

In answer to a question, Baldwin challenged the perception that the Senate is too mired in process to get legislation passed.

'The Senate is the place where things are happening!' she exclaimed. 'In sharp contrast to the House.'

'We were successful in passing ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act]. A Trans-inclusive ENDA. That was a milestone. We passed an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act.

'It's tough, it takes a long time. In the Senate debate takes days, not hours. But it's very satisfying when we get it done.

'And remember - anything we do in the Senate has to be bipartisan because we need 60 votes,' Baldwin added, referring to the Senate rule that requires 60 Senators to consent to bring a bill to the floor for debate.

'Now to get the House to act - I still believe the votes are there. I was one of the vote-counters on LGBT issues when I was in the House. If [Speaker] Boehner brought it to the floor, there would be enough votes to pass ENDA.

'He won't, because he follows what's called the 'Hastert Rule' - he'll only bring something up if a majority of the Republican caucus supports it - rather than being a true bipartisan leader. That's a big obstacle.'

Baldwin says she will be 'squarely focused on the economy' during the rest of her Senate term. Among the measures she wants to pass is federal minimum wage legislation.

'We tried to get to full debate on the $10.10 minimum wage, increasing over two years, and tied to inflation,' she explained. 'But the Republicans blocked us.

'I'm vowing to continue to bring this back until we get the votes to pass it. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office says it's the best strategy for lifting people out of poverty. I feel excited about getting something done.'

As for the Democratic Party's immediate prospects of retaining control of the Senate after upcoming elections, Baldwin acknowledged that the elections would be 'challenging,' but added that 'I hope I return in the majority because of the progress we'd be able to make.'

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