Sen.-elect Scott Brown -- the truck-driving, “tea party"-backed Republican who scored an upset victory in Massachusetts -- visited Capitol Hill on Thursday and quickly picked up a nickname: 41.
That is the number of senators it takes to sustain a filibuster, the GOP’s delaying tactic of choice. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a canny insider, was delighted with the moniker: “This is a man who understands how the Senate operates. So henceforth, I will always think of him as 41.”
Brown, who is expected to be sworn in next week to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s seat, is an improbable savior for a party trying to return to its conservative roots, harness the populist anger of tea party activists and restore its tarnished political brand.
He is a traditional conservative on economic and foreign policy, but his positions on social issues are so moderate that some analysts predict he will be one of the Senate’s most liberal Republicans.
When the telegenic Brown made an awkward joke on election night -- touting his 19- and 20-year-old daughters as “available” -- it prompted conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck to criticize him for the off-color “meat market” moment. And the fact that a naked Brown appeared in the centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine as “America’s sexiest man” in 1982 does little to promote the party’s family values image.
None of that seemed to matter, however, when Brown met with Senate Republicans on Thursday. They gave a hero’s welcome to the man whose victory in a liberal bastion had bolstered their power to block Democratic initiatives, including the healthcare bill that was on the brink of passage.
“I can’t think of anyone who would be better received,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said after the GOP lawmakers’ lunch with Brown. “This is the first time we’re adding a Republican Senate seat since 2003.”
Brown, a state senator, is hardly a political novice. But he campaigned as an outsider, driving a pickup and portraying Democratic candidate Martha Coakley as a cog in the majority party’s political machine.
His profile as a conservative firebrand was burnished by his supporters in the so-called tea party, the grass-roots movement that has challenged the credentials of establishment Republicans such as Dede Scozzafava, who dropped out of a special congressional election in New York last year amid the criticism.
Yet an analysis of Brown’s record by Boris Schor of the University of Chicago’s public policy school found the senator-elect to be more liberal than Scozzafava. He has supported abortion rights and come out against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- an issue he has said should be up to states to decide. As a state legislator, he also supported Massachusetts’ groundbreaking legislation to provide universal healthcare.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she viewed Brown in the tradition of the Northeast’s moderate Republicans. “I welcomed him and told him I was delighted that it was the Northeast that came to the rescue,” she said.
Asked to describe his political stripe during the campaign, Brown said, “I am a Scott Brown Republican.”
McConnell said Brown had been smart to downplay the party label because he was campaigning in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.
Reporters, cameras, tourists and politicians swarmed Brown everywhere he went in the Capitol on Thursday. So many extra police were stationed around the Senate that it looked like a head of state was visiting.
His first stop was at the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. He also met with Massachusetts’ all-Democratic delegation, including Sen. John F. Kerry, who denied any suggestion that Brown’s swearing-in would be held up until after the Senate votes on healthcare.
“Nobody wants to delay this process,” Kerry said.
Throughout the day, Brown continued to embrace his image as a rookie everyman and, in his meeting with McConnell, deferred to his party leader.
“Obviously,” he said, “I have a lot to learn.”