If you turned on a television last week it was hard to miss Georgia’s senior U.S. senator, making the national media rounds typically reserved for his more prominent or bombastic colleagues.
Congress’ first week back from the election was consumed by two issues that were in Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ policy wheelhouse, and the nation’s talking heads were dying for his wisdom.
First, he is a key figure in issues around the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts due in January. Chambliss was not among the congressional heavyweights negotiating at the White House on Friday, but he has been working with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and others for nearly two years on how to bridge the tricky divides between the parties on taxes, entitlements and spending. ABC’s “This Week” program had him on a week ago to discuss it.
But the conversation quickly shifted into the turmoil surrounding the U.S. intelligence community. CIA Director David Petraeus abruptly resigned amid a sex scandal that seemed to gain a new wrinkle every hour last week, and as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chambliss was positioned to offer his insight.
The scandal took place amid the backdrop of the hearings on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. The Intelligence Committee heard from four administration officials Thursday afternoon and then Petraeus on Friday morning. In between, Chambliss was on Fox News twice and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” If you missed him, you can catch him again this morning on “Fox News Sunday.”
On Thursday Chambliss told Bill O’Reilly that part of the goal in vigorously pursuing answers on Benghazi is “showing the American people that, by golly, we care about those four Americans. You don’t see that coming out of the White House.”
That kind of rhetoric does not go unnoticed among Chambliss’ constituents. “He’s been praised very strongly for taking the lead on the Benghazi situation,” said Atlanta tea party activist Debbie Dooley.
This is important because many Georgia conservatives are uneasy with the first part of Chambliss’ national profile, concerned that he would back a dreaded tax hike as part of a big debt deal.
That’s why perhaps the biggest piece of Chambliss-related news this week did not involve him at all: Roswell U.S. Rep. Tom Price lost his race to move up in the House Republican leadership. Price, an ambitious congressman entering his fifth term with a $1 million-plus campaign bank account, will be left without a leadership post in the next Congress and could use his free time to mount a primary challenge against Chambliss. The prospect has the Georgia GOP buzzing, particularly given Chambliss’ shaky hold on the Republican base.
Georgia GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart compared Chambliss to his counterpart, Sen. Johnny Isakson, who spends many a Saturday morning at a local Chamber of Commerce or Republican breakfast.
“Saxby’s not one to attend a lot of breakfasts, and you’ve got to connect with your base because they’re your free labor and they are the ones who are making noise,” Everhart said.
For now, Chambliss appears more focused on the national crises under his purview, but the political undercurrents are not going away.