“I think it may surprise some people, particularly my critics, to know that I’m not going to change my principles,” the Georgia Republican said. “I’m not going to change my philosophy. I’m going to continue to advocate for what the things that I think are in the best interest of the country, whether it’s the fiscal issue or any other issue.
The 69-year-old Chambliss spoke at the University of Georgia, his first public appearance since he announced Friday that he wouldn’t seek a re-election next year. He and Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, were on hand to talk about leadership and public service as part of the Terry Leadership Speaker Series, but they shifted their focus a bit in light of Chambliss’s recent announcement.
The two are original members of the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of senators working to solve the country’s debt problems, and their famous congeniality and mutual respect was on full display.
“I’ve spent more time with him over the last two years than I have with my wife,” Chambliss quipped, going on to laud Warner’s business sense.
Warner, in turn, said Chambliss is “the epitome of a Southern gentleman, courtly, calm, relaxed,” and said the two-term senator and former U.S. representative is “a true example of political courage” for teaming with Democrats in 2010 to tackle the deficit issue even though he drew criticism from some in his own party.
Despite their bipartisan efforts, they failed to come up with a grand compromise on fiscal issues.
Chambliss expressed frustration over partisan gridlock in Washington when he announced he wouldn’t seek a third term. And he said Monday he doesn’t see that changing in the near future. The tough, partisan debate over budget control and raising the debt ceiling in July and August 2011 “was an ugly process,” as was the fight over the fiscal cliff at the end of last year, Chambliss said.
“Y’all send us to Washington to make hard and tough decisions,” he said. “They are political in nature because everything in Washington is political, but this is our country, for gosh sakes, and here we were headed off this fiscal cliff that was a very predictable crisis and yet there was not the willingness to find that common ground, and that’s not what Saxby Chambliss is all about.”
Warner also expressed frustration with the political bickering in Washington. He hasn’t made any decisions yet about whether to seek re-election himself, he said. To keep the extreme wings of either party from taking over, people who are willing to work with the other side need to continue to step up, he said. He dismissed worries that that can make politician vulnerable.
“If you’re not making a few folks upset, you’re not doing your job,” Warner said.
As soon as Chambliss announced his decision, chatter began about who would replace him, and the list of potential contenders is long. Chambliss, who said he was never worried about his own re-election prospects, chuckled when asked if he would endorse anyone for the job before saying he wouldn’t get involved in the Republican primary.
He did, however, have a word of caution for those who covet his spot: “They need to follow me for a couple of weeks. It is not an easy life.”