Of course, speaking extemporaneously has its risks, which Durbin learned last fall after he was forced to apologize for comparing alleged abuse of prisoners by American troops at Guantanamo 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 $866 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 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."