After only seven months in office, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska has been given a nickname: Hammer.
The Republican freshman, dubbed Hammer by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also has newfound respect for Congress, saying the “legislative process” appears to be working as it was “designed to work.”
“The gridlock isn't as bad as it's made out to be,” said Fischer, who won a landslide election against Democrat Bob Kerrey last fall.
Fischer, back in Nebraska over the Senate's August recess, stopped by The World-Herald on Wednesday to talk about her first months in office.
The Valentine rancher says she is working hard to make friends on both sides of the aisle.
Although she has a conservative track record on such hot-button issues as immigration, Fischer said, she has managed to find common ground with Democrats on other issues that don't capture the news media's attention.
She noted that her mentor in the Senate is Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and that she sided with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri in her legislative efforts to combat sexual assaults in the U.S. military.
Fischer said she's even found a way to work with one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate, Al Franken of Minnesota. She supported him in his effort to require telephone companies to reduce the number of dropped calls in rural America.
“If that's not bipartisan, I don't know what is. Al Franken and Deb Fischer,” said Fischer, laughing.
Fischer arrived in the Senate in January, after a campaign in which her opponents and some in the national media attempted to portray her as a Tea Party candidate.
However, that label has fallen by the wayside over the past several months, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor with the Cook Political Report.
“She does not have a reputation as a bomb thrower, which surprised some of her new colleagues since Democrats had done a good job during the campaign portraying her as a Tea Party zealot,” Duffy said. “Fischer's voting record is certainly conservative, but it's not out of the mainstream.”
One of the issues Fischer has taken a conservative stance on is immigration. She angered McCain by opposing his efforts to provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
At the time, McCain blasted Fischer's argument that the bill would not do enough to secure the border, saying she was “ill informed.” McCain urged Fischer to come to Arizona and see for herself the new technology being employed at the border.
Fischer downplayed the rumble with McCain, saying she and the Arizonan are friends.
She has accepted his offer to come to Arizona but, so far, they are still trying to work out a time that is right for both of them.
“He calls me the Hammer. 'Hey, Hammer, how're you doing?'” Fischer said. “I love John McCain.”
As for immigration, Fischer stands by her opposition to creating a path to citizenship for any immigrant who has entered this country illegally. But she would consider some sort of “legal status,” saying it's important to know who is living within the nation's borders.
“Folks should not be rewarded with citizenship when they break our laws,” Fischer said.
She defended her decision to join forces with a breakaway group of Republican senators — led by Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas — who have threatened to shut down the federal government in an effort to end funding for President Barack Obama's signature health care law, which was passed by Congress in 2010.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, have called the GOP group's plan a “dumb” idea.
Others say that the strategy would not work and that any shutdown of the federal government would be temporary and serve only to stoke voters' anger against such “shenanigans.”
Fischer defended the plan, saying it was a way to renew the debate. “It's a way forward with negotiations. It's how I view it,” she said.
She denied that the strategy would serve to “marginalize” her in the ongoing health care debate.
“I don't think I'm viewed as being marginalized when I get to have dinner with the president. It's a cool thing,” said Fischer.