Maddow Asks: Why Are Senate Democrats 'Fleeing Like Rats From a Sinking Ship?'

April 25th, 2013 3:20 PM

Yesterday, Sen. Max Baucus announced that he is retiring in 2014, making the six-term Montana Democrat the sixth senator of his party to step down two years from now instead of running for re-election.

That statistic alarmed Rachel Maddow, the liberal host of a weeknight program on MSNBC, who asked anxiously on Tuesday: “Tell us if something is wrong there. What is the secret about this place that has you fleeing like rats from a sinking ship?”

Maddow began the segment by showing a full-page advertisement that ran in 17 newspapers across Montana targeting Baucus for voting against background checks for gun sales last week in the Senate.

The ad, which was produced by, read:

Senator Baucus, it was WRONG to vote “no” on stopping gun violence; 79 percent of Montana voters support background checks. Stand with us, not gun manufacturers.

Maddow noted that similar ads had been placed in newspapers in the states represented by other Democratic senators who also voted against the gun-control measure: North Dakota, home of Heidi Heltkamp; Alaska, which is represented by Mark Benich; and Arkansas, which is the home of Mark Pryor.

“The conventional wisdom has been that these Red State senators voted against background checks for political reasons,” the liberal host said: “They're running for re-election in conservative states; background checks were going to fail anyway; they didn't want the NRA coming after them for this vote, so they voted against it.”

However, “today we found out that Max Baucus is not running for re-election. He's up in 2014, but he is quitting instead of running again after six terms,” she stated, adding: “He's been in the Senate since I was 5.”

“But whatever you think of Sen. Baucus's legacy as a senator,” Maddow noted, “there is a bigger question here, which is 'why are they all quitting?'”

After the last election, the Democratic leadership in the Senate was to keep five members of the chamber from retiring: Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Tom Harkin of Iowa. Also Carl Levin, who is the leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Instead, “all of these five guys are retiring, and now Max Baucus,” she continued. “A total of eight senators have quit in this Congress already”-- including Republicans Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Maddow stated that with 25 senators voluntarily leaving office since 2009, “this appears to be the fastest pace of U.S. senators quitting that job in modern American history.”

Still, that turnover isn't all good news, she said.

Why is the U.S. Senate suddenly such an awful place to work? Why are they all quitting? We have been trying for months now to book any of the senators who have decided to quit from either side of the aisle. So far, none of them has said “Yes.”

Perhaps the liberal MSNBC host would understand the situation better if she read an article from fellow NBC reporter Jessica Taylor entitled “2014 Senate of Play: After Baucus Retirement, a Clearer Picture.”

Republicans need to net six seats for the majority, and while they have more opportunities and less defensive targets than Democrats (just 14 GOP seats are up compared to 21 for Democrats), that doesn't mean that path forward is a given.

Maddow's comparison might be more accurate than she realizes. With the odds against them, the Democrats in the chamber might just be bolting in 2014 rather than be stuck in the minority and have less influence regarding what goes on in the “upper chamber” of Congress.

As a result, if the GOP holds its current total of 45 members and captures all six of the seats occupied by the retiring Democrats, the Republicans would control both houses of Congress and make the final two “lame duck” years of President Obama's term difficult for him to enact any kind of extreme legislation as part of his liberal legacy.

Side note: It is somewhat amusing to see Maddow comparing Senate Democrats to "rats" considering all the fuss that lefties like her made in 2000 over that word when it appeared in a Republican ad.