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Getting to know Sen. Bunning

From NBC’s Ken Strickland and Carrie Dann
Sen. Jim Bunning isn’t exactly known as a warm and fuzzy character on Capitol Hill.

Bunning, who won a reputation as something of a poster boy for Senate obstruction after he launched a tenacious one-man filibuster of an extension of unemployment benefits in March, told NBC News that the Senate rules that allow such log jams are the most frustrating part of working on Capitol Hill.

“The hardest part of working in the Senate is the fact that you have a hundred individuals who could stop anything,” he said. “You've got to get the agreement of a hundred people to proceed. Do you know how hard that is?”

Members of his own party certainly know. Bunning’s blockage of the unemployment package earned him the criticism of many of his fellow Republicans and verbal lashings from pundits on both sides of the aisle. (He was enthusiastically backed by party leadership when the issue came up again several months later, however.)

Bunning also said in his Exit Interview that the most politically savvy legislator with whom he has worked was the late Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, although it took him some time to understand the veteran Republican’s “my way or the high way” demeanor. “I disliked [Ted Stevens] with a passion when I first got here because he was so gruff and so short and to the point,” he said.

That’s a sentiment that might prompt some grins from those who have worked with the Kentucky lawmaker, who has developed a curmudgeonly reputation during his 12 years in the Senate. His testy exchange with ABC reporter Jonathan Karl in the doorway of a Senate elevator earned him a memorable lampooning by the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. He also famously told reporters on a conference call last year, when was still considering running for re-election, that the results of an internal campaign poll were “none of your goddamn business.”

Asked to name senators with whom he liked working, the Kentucky Republican made a point to name legislators with whom he disliked working as well.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, Bunning said, is the “most difficult” to work with because he “looks down" on Republicans in the committee's minority.

“I have difficulty with Durbin and Schumer,” he added. “Maybe it’s their personalities; maybe it’s my personality.”