Wounded Dodd guided Wall St reform to victory
For Senator Christopher Dodd, approval of the Wall Street reform bill that he co-wrote closes out two turbulent years of remarkable legislative success -- an accomplishment often eclipsed by a career-ending political crisis.
The senior Connecticut Democrat will retire in several months after 30 years in national politics. Facing weak poll numbers and a wave of voter disenchantment with incumbents, Dodd decided months ago not to seek reelection.
Despite steering to passage both healthcare reform and the biggest bank regulation overhaul in decades, Dodd has faced some of the lowest approval ratings of his career in his home state.
Hurt by a failed run for the presidency and a string of personal controversies, he told Reuters that, at one point last year, he felt like he had fallen off a runaway horse with one foot stuck in the stirrup.
"You can't get up and you can't get off; you just hope the horse has enough sense to stop. You're getting dragged through the desert. I couldn't believe it," he said in an interview.
"Every time I turned around, it was just, What fate has befallen me here? I'm getting whacked around the head. ... It's all just circumstance."
Dodd, 66, said he has not decided what he will do next.
Asked if there might be a role for him in the Obama administration, which he has assisted immensely, Dodd suggested it wouldn't be his top choice.
"I wouldn't say no absolutely to the president, obviously. But I think it's time to move on. ... I'm not going to lobby. ... There are plenty of things to do without having to do that."
Colleagues said Dodd will be missed, in part because the jovial centrist is a consensus builder -- a rare quality in today's deeply fractured Senate.
"There is an unbelievable string of accomplishment and legislation," said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a fellow Democrat who was Dodd's first campaign manager and his former chief of staff. "No one has done more to affect social legislation than Chris Dodd, except maybe for his good friend, Ted Kennedy."
The Senate's approval of the Dodd-Frank bill, also named for Dodd's co-author, Democratic Representative Barney Frank, will be a book-end to Dodd's long legislative career. The bill will curb risky trading by banks and create a new government watchdog to protect consumers, with the aim of preventing a recurrence of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
But as far-reaching as the bill is, like the healthcare reform legislation it had little impact on voters' recent negative view of Dodd, said Doug Schwartz, director of Quinnipiac University's political polling unit in Connecticut.
"I just don't think people are aware of ... Dodd's role in shaping legislation. They know about President Obama and what he's trying to do, but I don't think they're really aware of who the Senate and House players are," Schwartz said.
Dodd's approval ratings started sliding, for the first time in his career, about two years ago after a failed run for the presidency, according to the Quinnipiac polls.
His approval fell further after it emerged that he took out two mortgage loans in 2003 with troubled lender Countrywide Financial Corp. under a VIP program that critics said represented a sweetheart deal. Dodd said he did nothing improper. A Senate ethics panel cleared him of any wrongdoing.
He also took criticism over his role in legislation that allowed big bonuses to go to executives of insurer AIG, which received billions in a government bailout. Dodd said he never intended for the bonuses to happen, but the episode damaged his political standing.
As of mid-June, only 36 percent of Connecticut voters approved of the job he was doing, polls showed.
"His low ratings are entirely a function" of the Countrywide and AIG controversies, said Howard Reiter, political science professor at the University of Connecticut.
"He also was slow to react to the charges, giving every impression of having something to hide. It was a remarkably tone-deaf performance for a guy who was known for one of the most deft antennae in politics," Reiter said.
But although voters have failed to embrace Dodd recently, his b role in legislation is likely to be recognized over time.
"Dodd's three-decade career as a senator is marked by major accomplishments. As the economy rebounds and voters become less testy, I'm sure the retrospective on his career will improve," said Ken Dautrich, a University of Connecticut public policy professor.
In addition to his lead role on financial reform, Dodd steered healthcare reform to passage earlier this year, after taking over the project after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.
Dodd also helped pass a historic nuclear agreement with India, a bill reforming the credit card industry, a mental health bill, and the Bush administration's bank bailout.
His accomplishments came as his personal life was marked by struggles. Dodd underwent surgery last year for prostate cancer. In addition, he and his wife are raising two young children.
"It's been a remarkable 20 months," he told Reuters during an interview in his office amid pictures of sailboats and Connecticut street scenes.
"I survived prostate cancer. ... I lost my sister in July 6 of last year. Teddy I lost in August. ... So there's been just a lot happening."
He said he wants to be known for his impact on social policy and cited his authorship of legislation giving Americans the right to take time off from work for the birth of a child, as well as for his financial regulation accomplishments.
"I'd like to think of the legacy as both five or six landmark pieces of legislation ... and then also demonstrating that you can make the Senate work. ... It's labor intensive and it's personal, but you can make it work," he said.
[Source: By Kevin Drawbaugh, Reuters, Washington, 16Jul10]
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