WASHINGTON—Sen. Dikembe Mutombo (R-CO) showed that he is still one of the most dominant big men in Congress Thursday, blocking a record 16 bills in one legislative session.
The 7-foot-2 senator, who broke the record previously held by Sen. Shawn Bradley (D-NJ), Rep. Arvydas Sabonis (D-OR), and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), batted away legislation left and right, sometimes swatting bills so hard that they were sent flying all the way back to committee.
Mutombo punctuated his final block, a clean rejection of the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act, with his signature finger wag.
"He stuffed the new jobs bill right back in Harry Reid's face," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told reporters. "And then when Reid tried to put the bill back up for consideration, Sen. Mutombo blocked it a second and then a third time. That's when I knew he had a chance at the record."
"He just completely dominates the Senate floor," McCain added.
His biggest rejection came 20 minutes into the first half of the session when 5-foot-10 Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) had his Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act emphatically slapped away by a leaping Mutombo. Following the rejection, Mutombo glared at Dodd from the Senate podium and said, "Get that weak-ass legislation out of my house," in a yell that was reportedly heard in the top rows of the Senate Chamber.
"You don't mind giving up the blocks record to a talent like Mutombo," said Sen. McConnell, who is still considered the Republican floor leader. "Some say he's too centrist, and he may take that position at times, but the fact is he can get stuff struck down like nobody's business."
Mutombo, who has been called a "force" by his Republican colleagues and is a key player in their legislative game plan, had a career-best nine blocks during the first half of Thursday's session. He easily rejected several appropriations bills, barely even getting off the Senate floor on two of them. For his 10th block of the day, he also got a piece of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act.
"He's like a brick wall out there," a visibly tired and sweaty Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told reporters. "Sen. Mutombo's arms are so long that if legislation is introduced anywhere in his vicinity, he's probably going to knock it away. There's no way we are going to get health care through with Mutombo out there."
"You can try and alter your legislation or fake him out by attaching a rider to a bill, but in the end he's just too big," Kerry continued. "And fast. He's got surprisingly quick footwork."
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo started his political career as a city councilman in Denver, quickly gaining a reputation as an elected official focused on getting that stuff out of here. Campaigning on a platform of defense, defense, defense, the popular Mutombo was elected to the State Legislature in 2002 and then to the U.S. Senate in 2006. According to Senate sources, the rookie lawmaker came out of nowhere to stuff Ted Kennedy's Vaccine Access and Supply Act "so far down the late senator's throat" that he easily won the respect of his Republican colleagues.
"He reminds me of myself out there, just rejecting stuff left and right," said former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who retired in 2007. "Even when he gets called an obstructionist, or for goaltending, he's established psychological dominance and made his point: You don't come through his part of the floor."
Though many Democratic senators have called Mutombo's legislative style extremely partisan, one-dimensional, and completely unfair, some of his colleagues across the aisle have praised Mutombo's willingness to assist them in getting their legislation through Congress.
"The thing about Mutombo is that, for a big man, he can actually pass bills really well," Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) said in reference to their bipartisan work on the Trade Act of 2007 and the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008. "Because he's so tall, he sees the perimeter of the entire Senate floor and knows when a senator from the left or right might offer some weak-side help."
"Reminds me of a young Bill Bradley," Baucus added.
Such praise from Democratic lawmakers is rare, however, with many saying that Sen. Mutombo is directly responsible for the gridlock currently facing Washington.
"Sometimes I get the impression that he'll block something just because it's introduced by a Democrat or, quite frankly, just because he's taller than the rest of us," Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) told reporters. "Why else would he reject a resolution supporting stability in Sudan?"
Specter went on to express concern for the future of his party, saying that the only hope for getting meaningful legislation passed through Congress is to make sure Rep. Greg Ostertag (D-UT) is elected to the Senate during November's midterm election.