‘No Next Year’ — Dodd Aims To Preserve Legacy With Financial Reform

Sen. Chris Dodd was looking at an ugly reelection fight despite a three-decade Senate career, but with January retirement looming and a potential big win on financial reform, he’s trying to leave the chamber on a high note.

“There is no next year for Chris Dodd,” a top financial industry lobbyist told me in an interview.

A Republican leadership aide told me that the GOP believes Dodd keeps pushing for bipartisanship to make what will be a career-defining bill as strong as possible. “It’s hard to have a good legacy bill when it passes by 60 votes,” the aide said. Sources close to Dodd said cementing such a legacy is one reason Dodd repeatedly went back to Republicans in hopes of getting the bill to the floor, a task that finally prevailed last night. It’s a long way before passage of the measure, but friends and colleagues told me they think Dodd’s quest is about more than good legislation.“This could be a great legacy piece,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told me in an interview.

Dodd (D-CT) inherited the Banking Committee chairmanship in 2007 when Democrats won control of Congress. But it wasn’t his primary issue, having focused on foreign relations and domestic workforce issues in his signature Family and Medical Leave Act. He hadn’t even been ranking member on the panel, and was instead second-in-line behind Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who retired. For most of 2009 Dodd focused on health care reform as he helped move a bill through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But in the background for more than a year he’s worked on this financial reform legislation – holding more than 50 hearings.

As he assumed the spotlight last night to start the debate, Dodd admitted it “may sound pretty old fashioned” for him to talk about bipartisanship. But Dodd, 65, sounded a wistful tone recalling when he first was in the Senate chamber as a young page. He’s been in the Senate 30 years.

“I have great great reverence for this institution and I want to see it work as our founders intended it to: where you have a great important debate, and this is one, that we work together as American citizens chosen by their respective states to represent them,” Dodd said on the Senate floor last night. “We’re all in this chamber together.”

Dodd certainly has plenty on his record to take home when he retires. The Family Medical Leave Act is among the most prominent legislation bearing his name. His office provided a 6-page list of measures he pushed to strengthen consumer protection and during the presidential campaign, he made a progressive push to champion civil rights by opposing warrantless wiretapping. He ran for president hoping that his experience as a “gray hair” just might appeal to voters at a time when a political newbie ended up captivating the nation.

But when the White House bid didn’t work out — and as some Connecticut voters were irritated he’d taken up residence in Iowa for November and December 2007 — Dodd’s standing back home sunk. As Dodd planned his reelection campaign President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden helped him raise money while Republicans prepped to try to unseat him, he battled cancer and his sister passed away. Those challenges and losing his best friend Sen. Ted Kennedy to cancer were a trifecta he couldn’t overcome.

A Dodd aide said his boss made the decision around Christmas time, realizing he wanted to finish health care and financial reform and then retire.

“He feels this is the right way to end a long career,” the aide told me.

Now that Dodd’s out, Democrats have a good chance at holding the seat with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal leading polls and a nasty Republican primary. Freed from burden of that reelection that wasn’t looking so hot, Dodd has a bit of a spring in his step walking around Capitol Hill. Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley called Dodd a “happy warrior” in a profile by Time’s Jay Newton-Small.

White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage told me that President Obama is “grateful for Senator Dodd’s tireless work on the financial reform bill and his leadership has been invaluable to this process.” She said it’s “because of his leadership” and bipartisan push there is a “strong bill” under consideration.

Watch Dodd on the Senate floor opening the debate last night:

And check out TPM’s slideshow of Dodd’s long career.