Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh: 'Too Much Brain-Dead Partisanship' in Congress

Indiana senator denies plans for 2012 run, does not comment on 2016 ambitions.

February 16, 2010, 7:00 AM

Feb. 16, 2010— -- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, whose retirement announcement Monday stunned the political world, today assailed partisanship in Congress and said he could achieve much more in the private sector than as a senator.

"There's just too much brain-dead partisanship, tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage rather than focusing on the greater good, and also just strident ideology," the Democratic senator said on "Good Morning America" today.

"The extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept compromises from time to time to make some progress because some progress for the American people is better than nothing, and all too often recently, we've been getting nothing," he said.

Bayh, 54, said compromise is badly needed in Congress, and that the American people need to jump in and vote out those lawmakers who are focused solely on politics and partisanship.

"The people who are just rigidly ideological, unwilling to accept practical solutions somewhere in the middle, vote them out, and then change the rules so that the sensible people who remain can actually get the job done," Bayh said. "The president I know is desperately trying to accomplish this. Congress needs to listen and the American people need to help with this process."

The reason behind his decision not to seek a third Senate term, Bayh said, is he beleived he "could get more done" in the private sector, "real accomplishments in a real way, perhaps in a smaller stage but something meaningful."

The former two-term Indiana governor ruled out any notion of running for president in 2012, saying he supports President Obama and is confident he will get re-elected.

There is "no truth whatsoever" in that speculation, Bayh said, when asked about a Huffington Post story today that said he might be eyeing the White House. Bayh, however, would not comment on a possible 2016 run, saying that it is further down the road than he can see.

Bayh added that a third party is unlikely to emerge, as some have speculated, and that Congress can make progress in a two-party system but that it needed major reform. For his part, he still insisted he could achieve more in the private sector.

"I am looking forward to helping as a private citizen, my country and my state," Bayh said. "The politics, that'll ultimately take care of itself."

Bayh is not the only one disenchanted with Congress. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who is one of 10 other senators who have announced their retirement this year, told ABC News that while he believes bipartisanship is still alive in the Senate, he and several other colleagues share Bayh's frustration.

"You've got all these people shouting on the left and shouting on the right," Gregg said.

"I think there's a lot of factors that go into the decision not to run for re-election," he said. "We just thought it was time to try something else. But there is also the issue whether of if you stayed are you really going to get as much done as you want to do, and the answer is probably no. I mean if we are going to be honest about it, we are just not making the type of progress down the road on the big issues."

Sen. Evan Bayh Leaving Politics, for Now

Bayh's retirement is a major blow to Democrats and blows a sizable hole in their 2010 lineup. He is the fifth sitting Democratic senator to announce he will not run. Republicans have long eyed Indiana as a prime pickup opportunity and Bayh's retirement has intensified chatter about the GOP's chances to take over the Senate this year.

Because Bayh's announcement took the party by surprise, today Democratic leaders are working hard to ensure there are no more retirements and no more surprise news.

One of Indiana's most popular figures -- Bayh was elected twice as governor and twice as senator -- he seemed to have everything going for him -- $13 million in his campaign bank account and a double-digit lead in the polls over his Republican opponent.

Bayh has stressed that his decision wasn't motivated by political worry, but because he was tired of the partisan bickering and gridlock on important bills in the Senate.

"There are better ways to serve my fellow citizens," Bayh said at a news conference Monday, accompanied by his wife and two sons. "I love working for the people of Indiana. I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress."

His view may be a stark reflection of how Americans in general perceive the current Congress. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week, 71 percent of Americans said they disapproved of Congress, the highest rate since 1994 when the GOP swept to power in a midterm rout of the Democrats.

While Bayh's decision caught many Democrats by surprise, party leaders had feared his retirement months ago, prompting them to set up a one-on-one meeting with President Obama Oct. 13 at the White House.

Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder said Democrats have to get their act together.

"I think the problem that we have is that some people have been whistling by their graveyard, as if nothing is going on. Well, everything is fine,'" Wilder, who served as Virginia's governor from 1990-1994, said on ABC News' "Top Line" Monday.

Overall, there are more Republicans retiring than Democrats in Congress, but the Democratic seats are clearly more vulnerable. The GOP now has a shot at winning Democratic seats in nine and perhaps even 10 states. That would be enough to give the Republicans control of the U.S. Senate, something unthinkable just a month ago.

ABC News' David Chalian and Rick Klein contributed to this report.

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