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Of course, speaking extemporaneously has its risks, which Durbin learned last June after he was forced to apologize for comparing alleged abuse of prisoners by U.S. troops at Guantánamo Bay to techniques used by the Nazis, the Soviets and the Khmer Rouge. And some Republicans complain Durbin is too strident in his role as assistant leader of Senate Democrats, constantly on the attack against Republicans and President Bush. But Durbin, 61, has a bipartisan side. He has joined with Senator Rick Santorum, a staunch Republican from Pennsylvania, to push the U.S. government to give $500 million in additional funds for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Early this year, he helped broker a compromise between Democrats and Republicans to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, working on a provision that will keep most libraries from having to hand over information about users without an order from a judge.
And if he can't reach a compromise behind the scenes, Durbin is happy to return to the open well of the Senate. "I really enjoy debate," he says. "The battle of ideas is what it should be about."
BEST: RICHARD LUGAR
The Wise Man
In an airport in the Russian city of Perm, a minor diplomatic crisis broke out last August. In violation of an international treaty, local border police refused to allow the plane of Senators Richard Lugar and Barack Obama to depart without being inspected. Instead of pitching a fit, Lugar, the powerful Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, curled up on a chair--ignoring the overpowering smell of a broken toilet--and took a nap. The Russians eventually backed down. "He is a quiet, intelligent, steady force," says former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, Lugar's former colleague. But make no mistake, Kerrey adds: "He's unmovable when he reaches a conclusion about what ought to be done."
That level of conviction helps when, as one of America's leading internationalists, you're a defender of free trade and an enemy of farm subsidies yet you represent a state dominated by manufacturing and farming. It's also a bonus that Lugar's thinking has often proved to be ahead of the curve. In the 1980s he led the push for democracy in the Philippines and South Africa when the Reagan Administration was still backing undemocratic regimes there. And Lugar, 74, has long been an ardent advocate of developing alternative fuels as a way to wean the U.S. from foreign oil--an approach endorsed by Bush in January.
Lugar's signature achievement was to recognize the dangers of loose nukes 10 years before 9/11. With Democrat Sam Nunn, he sponsored legislation that funded the removal of all nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan and the deactivation of 6,828 nuclear warheads throughout the former Soviet Union. In the past few years, Lugar has expanded his nonproliferation efforts to help secure shoulder-launched missiles, a favorite of terrorists, and chemical-weapons depots, like one near the Kazakhstan border that contained 1.9 million sarin-gas shells. He is withholding support for Bush's recent nuclear deal with India until hearings he has called determine whether letting Delhi import technology to build reactors would create a new proliferation problem.
BEST: CARL LEVIN