Image: Bayh
AJ Mast  /  AP
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., talks with his family following a news conference announcing he will not seek re-election in Indianapolis on Monday.
updated 4/14/2010 10:09:22 AM ET 2010-04-14T14:09:22

This Andean vacation spot has great cellular coverage, which is lucky, because Wednesday, when Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., returned the call I’d placed to him two days earlier, I could hear him loud and clear.

Bayh’s office knew I was traveling, but it’s obvious that he wanted his side of the story told, and so the senator reached out to an old friend in Argentina.

Here’s the gist of his media beef: He thinks the big, mean, lefty blogosphere is unfairly painting him as a bad guy.

Contrary to the current “chatter” on Capitol Hill and beyond, Bayh said his decision to retire from the Senate did not blindside — or at least should not have blindsided — the Democratic leadership or President Barack Obama.

He insisted that, for some time, he had been expressing doubts behind very closed doors to the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“I shared my doubts and concerns with Harry a year ago,” Bayh told me. “And the president and I have been talking about this for months,” he added.

“I might have made the decision earlier had the president not asked me to reconsider. Which I did. As for the exact timing — well, it’s hard to make a decision until there’s a deadline, and I didn’t face one until just the other day.”

“It was hard,” continued Bayh, “It’s like cutting off your arm. I’ve been in the Senate for a long time, and my dad was, too.”

I should say here what I have said elsewhere — the senator and his family have been friends with the Fineman clan since the early 90s.

Bayh is clearly upset at the way his departure, and the mechanics of it, are being portrayed.

In particular, he’s got a problem with two of the tales being told. First, that he was out to get the party and the president. And second, that according to an anonymous quote making the rounds, he “hates” the netroots sites that crusaded against the war in Iraq and for Obama.

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“I didn’t say that and I don’t hate them. I’m not a guy who hates,” contended Bayh.

The bloggers, he said, will like his blistering criticism of filibuster abuses — and they will like more of what he says in coming months about ways to reform a broken political system.

2010 primaries to watch“You should assume that this is not the last chapter in my career in public service,” he said.

Bayh also insisted that his relationship with the president was solid — an assertion I can’t help but doubt.

Obama, after all, crushed Bayh by passing him over for vice president at the last minute in favor of Joe Biden.

“We’ve talked a lot over the last many months,” he said. “I really think that he considers me one of the good guys.”

Bayh keeps stressing that his chief reason for leaving was the infuriating immobility of the Senate.

“I’m just an executive at heart,” said Bayh, a former two-term governor of Indiana. “It’s just that, right now, I have no idea what I am going to do. My wife told me she’d really like to know.”

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Video: Senator Bayh explains why

  1. Closed captioning of: Senator Bayh explains why

    >> thank you both very much.

    >>> democratic senator evan bayh surprising decision to quit the senate because of partisan gridlock. only the latest growing debt crisis looming ahead. senator bay joyngs us from washington. let's talk about the crisis, some of the things you have been warn being, "the new york times" lead story today by jackie collins . talked about party gridlock in washington. fearing -- sparking a fear of a new debt crisis. willingness of the two parties to compromise. the ugliness of the two parties to compromise and control a national debt rising to dangerous heights. that's in sync with your own warnings and reacts you had since declaring you are not going to seek re-election.

    >> well, unfortunately, andrea, i think jackie had it just about right. we face major challenges in this nation that are going to shape not only our future but the kind of future our children will get from it. the deficit you mentioned, the chinese privately already saying that they think america will be a second rate power because of our financial indebtedness. our energy dependency, sending hundreds of billions of dollars every year to venezuela and chavez, persian gulf . and that's -- tremendous transfer. large nest history. the list can go on and on. economic competitive. what's our comparative advantage? how do we create good jobs in a global marketplace ? all these things. political system . lot of good team in it. well intended people. the system is now verging on dysfunctional and not delivering the kind of results that are necessary at this critical time. so regrettably i think she had it about right.

    >> let's talk about your own concerns and what you think you can do about it. some would argue you could do more to fix it in the senate than out of the senate . how do you come to this decision? how tough was this decision for you to leave the life of politics for now?

    >> it was very hard. it was almost like cutting off an arm because as you know, i have been involved in politics and public life literally my whole life. when i was a child through my father and now virtually my entire adult life has been spent serving the people of indiana. and our country. it was a very difficult decision for me to reach. i simply concluded that at this moment in time, will were other ways where i could get real accomplishments. perhaps a smaller stage but real tangible accomplishments, creating jobs, educating children, and promoting philanthropy and that sort of thing, continuing to give the speeches and that sort of thing in the united states congress . so you might ask me what i think needs to be done. there are a number of reforms that i think we need to institute in congress and we need to look at the filibuster and reform that. there are longer-term reforms involving the gerrymander of the house and the way political funds are raised which tends to be polarize the senate . and the house. right now, to your viewers, i would say, look at your representatives. there are a lot of good men and women there. but if some of them are being too extreme, not willing to forge sensible compromise, make a change. if they are being too partisan and a lot of that going on, insist that they change those ways or make a change. that's -- what we need. the kind of leadership that's -- forge principle compromise. structural reform and the right kind of people. that's what it takes.

    >> do you think the filibuster can be changed? could that happen now while you are still in the senate ?

    >> i think it can happen. i go back to my father's time. you recall the great civil rights debates. the filibuster was being used to frustrate some basic fundamental equities in this country. so the -- threshold was 67 votes in those days. they reduced it to 60. now it is being routinely used to frustrate even low-level presidential appointees. perhaps the threshold should be lowered once again.

    >> would you propose steps? would you lead an effort in the senate to change the filibuster rule?

    >> tom harkin , some others talked about this. i think that it is something we need to do. perhaps looking at changes the threshold down to 55. perhaps saying things like administration appointees other than the various highest ones should not be subject to the filibuster because -- it just brought the process to -- a halt. and that -- public is suffering. the -- the minority needs to have a right. i think that's important. but the public has a right to see its business done. and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. i think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.

    >> you are a long -- your longtime colleague dodd was on " morning joe " today. asked about your view and the growing view that this gridlock situation that it can't be fixed. this was his response about partisanship.

    >> there's nothing wrong with partisanship. we have to get over the notion that there is something evil about partisanship. this country was founded on partisanship. it is not -- it is the lack of civility and inability to compromise.

    >> is there anything wrong with partisanship?

    >> not as long as it is constructive, andrea. i'm a democrat and a proud democrat. it is part of my dna. but it doesn't keep me from working with republicans and independents to try to get the public's business done. what we have now is this -- constant reenforcing cycle of endless recrimination where the outs want to get in. once they are in, the former ins want to get back in. take this debt commission that we had. a bipartisan proposal. the president endorsed it. democrats, republicans endorsed it. at the end of the day it didn't pass. 53 votes. filibustered against. again, didn't pass because of seven members of the other party who had co-sponsored the bill.

    >> tomorrow the president is going to name his own debt commission. it won't have the mandate the congressional version would have. presidential commission under two stalwarts. bowles, former chief of staff for bill clinton and alan simpson . we will be talking to tomorrow here. can this commission accomplish what needs to be done without a congressional mandate?

    >> it is not as strong as if it had been passed into law. that's why this was such an important moment to get that legislation enacted. it is better than nothing. and senator simpson and mr. bowles, they are good men of conscience. this will be a real gut check moment for the opposition party . there has been some talk that, you know, they won't participate. that would be deeply irresponsible. they need to bring democrats and republicans together under these two gentlemen's leadership, come up with tough, realistic proposals to get this deficit down. debt under control. and put it before congress. and let's have an up or down vote. senate leader harry reid is for this. he said he will bring to it the senate for a vote. that's the right thing to do. it is a statesman like step on his part. the speaker pledged through the vice president to bring it for a vote in the house. let's put the members on record before the american people . are you willing to make the tough decisions to turn this around? or not? so the legislation would have been better. this is better than nothing. it involves men and women of good faith and i'm sure the president will appoint others like that. and let's see what they come up with. then let's put the politicians to the test.

    >> all right. evan bayh , put to the test. more tests to come. the very much,


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