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CBS Bemoans Retirement of Senate 'Moderates' Who are Actually Liberals

On Thursday's CBS This Morning, anchor Charlie Rose spotlighted the apparent "the disappearance of political moderates" in Congress in the context of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe's retirement. Correspondent Nancy Cordes gushingly asked Snowe, "Was it just getting too lonely to be a moderate Republican in the Senate?" CBS also listed several "moderate" senators who are actually liberals.

After Cordes gave her report on the Maine senator's retirement, Rose turned to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and introduced her as "one of the few moderates left on Capitol Hill." In reality, McCaskill is a solid liberal, given her low rating by the American Conservative Union and her high rating from the left-leaning Americans For Democratic Action.

Nancy Cordes, CBS News Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgThe CBS congressional correspondent noted at the beginning of her report that "Olympia Snowe is just the latest member to cite congressional paralysis as her reason for retirement. As politics has become more polarized, the ranks of centrists here have thinned, and the ones who are left are often less powerful." She then added that "with Congress tied in knots over even minor measures, Maine's Olympia Snowe has decided to take her talents elsewhere."

Cordes then played the clip of her "lonely" question to the outgoing Republican senator and the politician's answer. The correspondent continued by hinting that Senator John McCain was among Snowe's "fellow moderates have either moved to the right or retired. Moderate Democrat Evan Bayh cited gridlock when he left the Senate in 2010." Later, Cordes did acknowledge that "To some degree, the disappearance of the middle is a reflection of the electorate. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves moderate has dropped over the past 20 years."

However, according to the ACU's latest rating, McCain went from a 100 score in 2010 to an 80 score in 2011, a trend towards moderate. Bayh himself had 40 and 39 score in 2009 and 2010 respectively, the last two years of his second term in the Senate, but his lifetime score is just under 24. Another "moderate" listed by Cordes- outgoing Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman- has a ACU lifetime score of just under 16.

However, the former Indiana senator's relatively liberal lifetime score pales in comparison to the record of Senator McCaskill, supposedly "one of the few moderates left on Capitol Hill," according to Rose. In their 2011 rating, the Missouri Democrat earned the absolutely lowest score- a zero- from the ACU. Over her five years, she has a lifetime score of 14.60, further to the left than Bayh over his two terms.

Charlie Rose, CBS News Anchor; & Senator Claire McCaskill, (D), Missouri | NewsBusters.orgDuring the interview, the liberal senator claimed that "there's a lot of independent voters that want me to be stubbornly independent. They don't want me to say, yes, sir, to Harry Reid....I'm hoping that...independent voters in this country...begin to show some support for the people who are willing to say no to their party, and yes to the American people." However, McCaskill marched in lockstep with Senator Reid and the majority of Democrats on Thursday and voted to table the Blunt Amendment to protect religious and conscience rights in the U.S. So much for saying no to her party.

Blanche Lincoln, one of the former and current "moderate" Democrats in Congress listed on-screen by the morning show during Rose's interview of McCaskill, also had a relatively low lifetime score from the ACU - 20.51. Instead of giving more accurate political labels, CBS seems to be giving cover to a few congressional liberals who want to pass themselves off as moderates.

The full transcript of Nancy Cordes's report from Thursday's CBS This Morning, which aired nine minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour, and the first part of Charlie Rose's interview of Senator Claire McCaskill, which immediately followed:

CHARLIE ROSE: We turn now to politics and the disappearance of political moderates on Capitol Hill. The latest to leave is Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. She surprised nearly everyone by giving up her reelection campaign.
    
Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill this morning. Nancy?

[CBS News Graphic: "Political Paralysis: Snowe Blames Gridlock For Leaving Congress"]

NANCY CORDES: Charlie, good morning to you. Olympia Snowe is just the latest member to cite congressional paralysis as her reason for retirement. As politics has become more polarized, the ranks of centrists here have thinned, and the ones who are left are often less powerful.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R), MAINE: People would ask me, do you think things are going to change? And I wasn't sure that it would change.

CORDES (voice-over): With Congress tied in knots over even minor measures. (clip of debate on the floor of House of Representatives) Maine's Olympia Snowe has decided to take her talents elsewhere.

CORDES (on-camera): Was it just getting too lonely to be a moderate Republican in the Senate?

SNOWE: Well, there wasn't a lot of company, that's for sure.
                           
CORDES (voice-over): (clip of file footage of Senator John McCain) Most of her fellow moderates have either moved to the right or retired. Moderate Democrat Evan Bayh cited gridlock when he left the Senate in 2010.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (I), CONNECTICUT (from press conference): I feel Olympia's pain.

CORDES: Connecticut independent Senator Joe Lieberman is retiring at the end of this year.

LIEBERMAN: People are sort of pulled apart by this process.

CORDES: In the House of Representatives, 22 of 54 centrist Blue Dog Democrats were defeated in the last election.

To some degree, the disappearance of the middle is a reflection of the electorate. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves moderate has dropped over the past 20 years.

[CBS News Graphic: "Decline Of The Moderate: 1992 to 2011 [down] 43% to 35%"]

Former Reagan aide Jeff Bell says polarization can actually be helpful to a point.

JEFF BELL, FORMER REAGAN AIDE: It's ugly, it's messy, but I think there are times in history when it's better than the alternative, which is everybody getting along on behalf of something that isn't that good.

CORDES: After 33 years in Congress, Snowe says she hasn't really thought about what she'll do next.

CORDES (on-camera): Are you sure you made the right decision?

SNOWE: Decision? Well, I'll never know that. You know, I think it is the right one, but I'll miss it.

CORDES (live): And her Republican colleagues will miss her. Even if she bucked the party from time to time, Olympia Snowe was an odds-on favorite to win reelection in Maine in November, and Republicans will struggle to hold on to that seat, making their goal of retaking the Senate that much more difficult.

ROSE: Nancy, thank you.
With us now, one of the few moderates left on Capitol Hill. She's a Democrat. She is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Senator, good morning.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D), MISSOURI: Good morning.

[CBS News Graphic: "Political Paralysis: Sen. McCaskill On Partisan Bickering"]

ROSE: So tell me what you think is the reason for this, and whether anything can be done about it and whether, if no moderates are in the Senate, what it will mean for how this country goes about its business.

MCCASKILL: Well, if we don't begin to take better care of the moderates in both parties in our democracy, it's not going to be pretty, because if you look through history, Charlie, all of the great work we've done in Congress has been around a table of compromise, when it comes to the most difficult problems. And the problem now is the two ends are getting all the amplification. The political system loves the extremes. It doesn't so much show a lot love for the moderates. So it's really hard right now.

[CBS News Graphic: "USA Today/Gallup Poll: U.S. Political Ideology In 2011: Conservatives, 40%; Moderates, 35%; Liberals, 21%; Margin of Error: +/- 1%"]

ROSE: Do you believe this is happening in both parties, not just the Republican Party?

MCCASKILL:  I do believe it's happening in both parties, but particularly in the Republican Party, because some of our Republican moderate colleagues have been taken out by primaries from their right flank. So I think there seems to be more worry on behalf of the Republican members that they have to, like, hew to a pretty extreme agenda, or they get taken out in a primary process.

[CBS News Graphic: "Moderates In Congress; Leaving: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), Sen. Ben Nelson (D), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I); Gone: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), Sen. Evan Bayh (D), Sen. Arlen Specter (D), Sen. James M. Jeffords (I); Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I); Sen. Bob Bennett (R); Rep. Mike Castle (R)"]

ROSE: What's interesting about this is that elections are won in the center- elections are won in the center.

MCCASKILL: That's true and, you know, in the House, you have to remember, they're busy trying to draw those districts, so that they are safe, which means they're trying to draw them so they're bright blue or bright red. I think the best hope to keep moderation on the Hill is, in fact, in the Senate, where you have states like mine. I mean, you couldn't call my state a blue state under any stretch of the imagination, but there's a lot of independent voters that want me to be stubbornly independent-

ROSE: Well, some people-

MCCASKILL: They don't want me to say, yes, sir, to Harry Reid-

ROSE: More and more people are saying what we need is a third party, a more independent party.

MCCASKILL: You know- and that might happen down the line. For now, I'm hoping that the business community in this country and that independent voters in this country tune in earlier to the process, and begin to show some support for the people who are willing to say no to their party, and yes to the American people.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.