They may be admired or loathed but one thing staffers and colleagues who requested anonymity agree on is that this “gang of 10” — senators of both parties — are the hardest-working of the elected lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Whether it is jetting home on weekends, putting in long hours in Washington or on the campaign trail, or their political rise and survive, these 10, observers agree, have an excess of “elbow grease.”
Editor’s note: The entrants are listed alphabetically by state.
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1. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
— When U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions was blocked as George H.W. Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals, observers who wrote him off as "finished" didn't reckon with the prosecutor's ability to rebound. He got elected attorney general of Alabama, then won the seat of the Democratic senator who blocked him (Howell Heflin). These days, Sessions is his party's hardest charger in the Senate on illegal immigration and a top advisor to Donald Trump.
2. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
— Love him or loathe him, old and young hands on Capitol Hill almost universally regard McCain — now 80 and seeking a sixth term — as the “energizer bunny of Congress.” He maintains his usual regimen of returning home to Arizona every weekend and becoming a near-omnipresence on Sunday morning (and every morning) TV talk shows. Those who know him best, such as close friend and fellow Vietnam POW Orson Swindle, swear McCain reads a book a week and, in Swindle’s words, “John doesn’t sleep.”
3. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
— After a meteoric rise to the Senate in 2014 after one term in the House, this Harvard Law graduate and U.S. Army veteran of Iraq is already making a reputation for himself as a leading GOP spokesman for aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Cotton helped lead the Senate charge against the Obama administration’s Iran agreement and convinced all but one of his Republican colleagues to sign a letter reminding Tehran’s rulers the Senate would have last say on any agreement.
4. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)
— Self-styled "farm girl" and Army National Guard Col. Ernst captured imaginations with her 2014 commercials describing how she loved to "castrate pigs" and showing her on a Harley heading to target practice. Nominated to the Senate over four primary opponents and elected in the fall with 53 percent of the vote, Ernst now works hard on pro-life cause, remains an unapologetic climate change skeptic, and still finds time to handle the causes of her fellow "farm folks."
5. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
— He routinely leaves staffers and colleagues speechless as he explains complex issues related to healthcare in simple terms. A physician who co-founded a pro-bono clinic with his physician-wife, Cassidy last year crafted a market-based alternative to Obamacare that he trumpeted in whirlwind press conferences and TV appearances until the Supreme Court upheld the controversial plan.
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6. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)
— In 2014, the former Bush administration official and Lutheran college president came out of nowhere to beat three better-known and better funded opponents for nomination to the Senate. Considered an effective spokesman on government reform, Sasse is the first Nebraska senator in memory to commute weekly from what he hails as "the tall and beautiful grass at home."
7. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
— Booker’s capacity for long hours and hard work that is now becoming legend among his Senate colleagues and staffers first became evident when he was mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Whether it was being on the scene during a fire or making the case for school vouchers, Booker was working at it in a major way. When not in Washington, the freshman senator is usually on the stump for friend Hillary Clinton and is increasingly mentioned as a vice presidential candidate — or possibly a presidential contender in 2020.
8. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
— Like the Republican he unseated in 1998, Sen. Al D’Amato, Schumer is home every weekend dealing with neighborhood problems and holding town meetings. During the week, however, he pays extra attention to colleagues and to the press. One joke often heard on Capitol Hill is “the most dangerous place in Washington is between a camera and Chuck Schumer.” Schumer’s “elbow grease” yielded benefits this year, when he wrapped up enough votes to guarantee his election as Senate Democratic Leader when Harry Reid retires at the end of 2016.
9. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
— As much as Senate colleagues Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), the raspy-voiced Brown embraces and champions the complete left-of-center agenda. But in hailing from a state where Republicans hold every statewide office except his, Brown’s political survivor and stature is especially impressive. Whether the issue is same-sex marriage (he opposed a statewide measure to ban it) or the Iraq War (he fought it from the beginning), Brown outworks opponents and supporters alike, Hill-watchers agree. It is no surprise he is mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for either Sanders or Clinton.
10. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
— “The best place to catch Pat Toomey,” goes the joke on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, “is at Union Station [the Washington, D.C., train station] on Thursday or Monday.” There, the junior senator can be found heading back to Pennsylvania, where he is highly visible meeting constituents over the weekends. In Washington, he is considered a driven lawmaker who embraces small government issues as well as working with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W Va.) on a modest gun control measure (which never got out of the Senate and caused Toomey some discomfort on the right). He is considered one of the more vulnerable GOP senators facing the voters in ’16, but no one writes him off.
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