Robert Novak

 It was a tough letter for a proud man to write, but Gray had no choice if he wanted to get past Durbin's veto. The letter, which was not given to me by Gray, said: "As I said to you, I did not sufficiently appreciate the way in which the words used ["Catholics need not apply"] evoked a very uncomfortable chapter in our history." He added that "I deeply regret" the mistake. Gray repeated, "At the risk of being repetitive, I want again to say how truly sorry I am for the discomfort the CFJ ad has caused you." Shortly thereafter, according to a Senate source, Durbin lifted his hold.

 Earlier that day, Durbin went on the Senate floor to attack Stevens for enabling oil company executives to lie to the Senate Commerce Committee by not putting them under oath. Stevens, renowned for his temper, went to the floor to demand Durbin's apology under Senate Rule 19, which prohibits senators from charging each other with "unworthy" behavior.

 The Senate parliamentarian ruled Durbin need not apologize because Stevens was not on the floor to object when the statement was made. In a somewhat gentler time, Durbin might have apologized to a 37-year veteran of the Senate who is two decades his elder (Stevens celebrated his 82nd birthday two days later, Nov. 18). But he did not apologize, because that is not the way things are done in Dick Durbin's Senate.

 Durbin has been forced to back down on at least one occasion, when he compared U.S. treatment of enemy combatants with history's worst genocidal regimes. But he did not become the Senate's second-ranking Democrat in eight years by avoiding personal attacks, either backstage or in public.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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