In one of the subterranean hallways that honeycomb the Capitol building, Delaware’s junior senator, Edward “Ted” Kaufman, runs into first-term Senator Jon Tester of Montana. The garrulous, brush cut Montanan throws a beefy arm around the suddenly diminutive Kaufman and shouts effusively, “This is the nicest guy in the Senate.”
Given that both men have been on the job for only a few months, Tester’s remark offers an important insight as to how Delaware’s new Senate delegation may be one of the strongest one-two punches of any state, large or small, in the country.
Kaufman is no seat-warmer, either. In less than six months on the job, he has introduced or sponsored some 75 bills, amendments and resolutions.
“I came here already knowing my way around,” Kaufman says. He sits just outside the Senate chamber, awaiting a quorum call. “I have a lot of institutional knowledge of how things get done from my years as Joe Biden’s chief of staff.”
Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, who accompanied Kaufman on a recent trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, agrees that Kaufman probably understands how the Senate operates “better than any other senator does.
“He’s a real gentleman, and smart, too,” he says. “No one uses him. His personal skills and experience are the sources of his strength. He’s a great asset to the [Democratic] caucus and the Senate.”
It was those skills and experience that had eventually led former Governor Ruth Ann Minner to move from asking for Kaufman’s advice on a replacement for Joe Biden to offering the position to Kaufman himself.
“I knew this appointment was for a short term and would need someone who wouldn’t have to spend all that time learning his or her way around,” Minner says. “That put Ted at the top of the list, given his years as Joe’s chief of staff, plus his knowledge of state people. I couldn’t have found anyone stronger.”
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No better example of the value of Kaufman’s institutional knowledge and experience can be found than in the recent passage of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which is aimed at strengthening the tools and resources federal prosecutors can use to combat financial fraud. Kaufman introduced the legislation on the floor, along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Beyond the import of the legislation itself, it was introduced successfully by a freshman senator—a freshman senator, who by virtue of already announcing he would not seek re-election in 2010, had made himself a lame duck.
“I don’t believe any one senator has introduced and passed legislation in his or her first year,” says Delaware’s now senior Senator Tom Carper. “Ted helped make the legislation a lot less partisan than it might otherwise have been.”
Kaufman himself dismisses the “lame duck” label. “Ninety percent of what senators do they’d do even if they were elected for life. It’s a day-to-day thing. If you need a senator’s help for something you’re trying to get done, you ask for it, regardless of his situation. The next day you’re onto something else and looking for help elsewhere.”
Kaufman adds that by not running for re-election, he does not have to spend the precious two years of his term campaigning or fundraising. “I don’t have to figure a political angle for my vote.”
Kaufman has detected a return to a more personable and civil atmosphere that had characterized what had all but become a bygone era in Senate proceedings. “It’s still quite partisan, but the battle now is more about ideas than personalities,” Kaufman says.
A senator from the other side of the aisle, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, agrees a more civil feeling has returned, and he credits Kaufman for being part of it.
“An absence of personal conflict is a sign of stability, and Ted is a very stable person,” Isakson says. “Everything he does helps temper the atmosphere.”
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When the Senate is in session, Kaufman generally spends Tuesdays through Thursdays in Washington, D.C., where he and wife Lynne have taken an apartment. Unless there’s a scheduled vote, he will spend Mondays and Fridays in Delaware meeting with constituents and attending weekend events in the state. His 40 or so member staff (the vast majority are holdovers from Biden’s staff) hold weekly meetings in Washington and Delaware to coordinate the senator’s schedule. A neatly printed schedule of Kaufman’s day is produced and distributed early in the morning, but that schedule is often revised before the morning is out. On this particular day, the revision is dramatic.
The previous evening, senators learned they would receive a bill of impeachment from the House of Representatives for a federal judge convicted of a felony. A quorum call was set for 10 a.m. the next day, when a committee of senators would be named as judges for the impeachment trial. It marked only the fourth time such a committee had been formed for impeachment proceedings, and Kaufman was one of the 12 members to be named. It is yet another example of the impact and influence Kaufman brings to the Senate. (The impeachment proceedings ended the following day, when the judge, Samuel B. Kent, resigned.)
Interjection of the impeachment procedure turned the balance of Kaufman’s schedule into a bit of a cut-and-paste scramble. He made an abbreviated stop at a Judiciary Committee nominating hearing to spend a few minutes with his fellow professor from Duke University School of Law, Chris Schroeder, who was nominated as an assistant attorney general. Then Kaufman made an even more abbreviated pop-in to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee roundtable on “Iran at the Crossroads.” Kaufman arranged to meet privately with one of the panelists the next day, before he was off to his scheduled hour of presiding over the senate floor.
“The great thing about being a senator is your access to information and the volumes that are available from experts in the field,” Kaufman says after leaving the roundtable. “And they always return your calls.”
That Kaufman serves on both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, as had his famous predecessor, is yet another reflection of his experience and reputation in the Senate. It also didn’t hurt that his predecessor is vice president of the United States.
“I asked the [Senate] leadership for those assignments based on my past experience as a staffer,” Kaufman says. “And then Vice President Biden put in a call for me.”
Kaufman is quick to say that having a former boss in the executive branch of government offers no special advantage to a legislator. “It’s more of a personal, familiarity thing between us,” he says.
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After lunch, there was an early start to a Foreign Relations Committee nominating hearing that included testimony from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was nominated to be ambassador to Ireland. Kaufman’s questions centered on how Rooney could improve direct investment to Ireland in the areas of information technology, banking and pharmaceuticals—industries important to the continued prosperity of Delaware. Then it was off to a meeting with a group of 20 Delaware teachers who are part of Delaware’s Democracy Project. Kaufman asked his staff to reschedule a floor speech so that he could make the meeting on time. “I hate being late,” he says.
He addressed the teachers with opening remarks that affirm the importance of their work in passing the legacy of democracy to the next generation. He then threw the meeting open to questions. Kaufman deftly addressed foreign policy issues, asserting that in Iraq, “at least we know where we’re going now,” and that in Afghanistan, “we now have a plan, but are awaiting its execution.” When he talked about Pakistan, however, there were no rosy elements to the assessment. “Pakistan is a mess.”
Among the teachers, Kaufman answered the question that had been on the minds of many Delawareans since he was appointed. “I have no intention of running for re-election,” he has said emphatically. And after completing his term in 2010? “I have planned my whole life. I’m done with planning. I’ll just wait and see what happens next.”
In the meantime, Kaufman will remain a senator on a mission. At a rescheduled floor speech that evening, Kaufman addressed an empty chamber (not uncommon for floor speeches) on the problems facing financial markets. He criticized the Securities and Exchange Commission for dragging its feet on reforms other financial regulators around the world have already addressed to prevent another global financial meltdown. The theme built on one that had earlier been presented by his Republican colleague, Isakson, again evidence of Kaufman’s desire to work both sides of the aisle to get things done.
He also wants to change the sometimes negative reputation of federal workers.
“The worth of federal employees is not understood by the public,” he says. “I hope to spotlight at least 70 or more of these dedicated public servants during the balance of my term in hopes of changing that public perception to a positive one.”
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There’s an oft-repeated metaphor that is apocryphally linked to an exchange between Washington and Jefferson, in which Washington compared the U.S. Senate to “the saucer that cools the tea,” suggesting that its deliberative nature cooled the heated passions and populist activism of the House of Representatives. Kaufman’s peripatetic pace would suggest he arrived on the scene with a very hot cup, but no saucer.
Carper notes that with Biden as the vice president, Kaufman’s two decades of experience in the Senate, and Mike Castle serving as a dean of the House of Representatives, Delaware has assembled a powerful team that is riding hard for the state. “I’m the one that’s the pup, here,” Carper says.
He and his colleagues are learning to drink their tea hot—and quickly.