In a dramatic development that took the political establishment by surprise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced today that all 27 senators facing reelection next year will follow the example of six of their colleagues who are retiring, and therefore will not seek another term.
"We've met with all 27 senators whose terms expire next year and advised them in the strongest terms that there is little or no chance that any of them can win reelection next year, given the anti-Washington mood sweeping the country," Reid and McConnell said in a joint statement.
"They have reluctantly agreed, and therefore, for the first time in the history of the Senate, every one of the 31 seats on the ballot, including 21 held by Democrats, ten by Republicans and two by Independents, will be up for grabs," they added. "It's a sad day for the Senate, but it had to be done."
The historic move means that a third of the Senate, representing more than 400 years of seniority, will depart at the end of the 112th Congress. It came shortly after two senior senators, Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, announced their retirement. Earlier, Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jim Webb of Virginia, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut also said they would not seek reelection in 2012.
"Let's face it, the handwriting was on the wall," said Kyl, 68, the second-ranking Senate Republican who was considered a shoo-in for a fourth term. "Everybody's disgusted with Washington and we can't get a damn thing done in the Senate anyway, so I figured why keep banging my head against the wall."
Bingaman, 67, the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who coasted to a fifth term in 2006 with 71 percent of the vote, said, "Nobody listens when I talk about the threat of global warming, so I might as well go back to Truth or Consequences and hang out a shingle."
Even though the Senate leaders said the 27 other senators up for reelection agreed to step aside, Senate sources said many were not happy to do so.
"They twisted our arms until they were practically breaking off," an angry Dianne Feinstein said. "They told us we had no chance of winning, but that's bullshit, if you'll pardon my French. Now I'll be remembered like George Murphy or S. I. Hayakawa," the four-term California Democrat and chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee declared.
Other senators were equally displeased. Six-term Republicans Dick Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah, who are facing stiff opposition from Tea Party activists, and Hawaii Democrat Daniel Akaka, who would have been running for a fifth term, bitterly criticized their leaders.
"Just because I worked closely with Ted Kennedy on healthcare reform, I've been singled out as a Mormon apostate," said Hatch, while Lugar, co-sponsor of a nuclear disarmament initiative with former Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, said, "I feel like the guy who was made to squeal like a pig in the movie "Deliverance." Akaka, the oldest of the group at 86, said "Kanapapiki!", which is Hawaiian for "son of a bitch."
Other, younger senators were equally unhappy with their leadership. Freshman Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, considered one of the Senate's rising stars, compared herself to Finnish-America miners on northern Minnesota's Iron Range who were forced to work in unsafe conditions. "Vittu tätä paskaa," (untranslatable), she said.
Freshman Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee said, "My state is known as the Volunteer State but I sure as hell didn't volunteer for this," while New York Democrat Kirsten Gillebrand, appointed to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 and elected in 2010 to the remainder of her term with 63 percent of the vote, said, "This proves the Senate is nothing but an old boy's club."
Two-term Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, a former astronaut, said, "I'd like to send Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell on a one-way trip to outer space."
House Speaker John Boehner, asked if the Senate's unprecedented move could force the House to take similar action, said, "I don't think so, but if it comes to that, so be it."