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Healing the Chamber

Chapter Text

Tired of the procedures of the Senate, Susan Collins left the floor and headed to her office. She remains very disappointed that she could not secure the life support that the filibuster was on. Sure, she was determined to speak again on the floor – she had prepared a long speech to convince her colleagues from both sides of the aisle to protect the integrity of the filibuster - but there was no guarantee they would agree.

Frustrated, she called on her closest ally, Mark Warner. They have been working on a radical proposal for months, but they weren’t prepared to publicise the plan just yet. But Susan felt like she had no choice. If she waits for any more days, the Senate could die forever. She couldn’t even get a second Republican senator to assure her that he or she would vote against the rule change. The closest she could get is John McCain’s public statement that anyone trying to remove the filibuster on the Supreme Court is a ‘stupid idiot’. But who knows, she said. He has a history of saying maverick things on the media, and then voting with the GOP leadership. ‘He’s afraid of primary challenges’, she thought, something that she never had to care in her own case. She was too popular she could wage an independent candidacy whenever she thought her primary election would be vulnerable and still sail safely to reelection.

Susan was finally woken up from her thought with a knock on the door. ‘Come in’, she said, as a tall, handsome man steps in. It was Virginia Senator Mark Warner. He, a self-proclaimed conservative Democrat, decided to vote against cloture, but he wasn’t going to join that filibuster. He had been working with Susan Collins on a proposal that could change the Senate forever, but only if they could muster sufficient support from both sides of the aisle, and so far they have only been able to secure one senator’s support.
- Why did you call me? – he started
- I have prepared a lengthy speech to defend the filibuster in the Senate. I hope we can prevent that rule change.
- I will definitely vote against that rule change. It’s a disgrace.
- I mean, I support Judge Gorsuch personally, but we can’t let one candidacy of another branch ruin this Senate, this part of our legislative branch. What the hell are Schumer and McConnell thinking?
- Pandering to their vocal extremist bases?
- *sighs* We’re tired of that aren’t we. We both had to deal with that so many times.
- But if we can ever try to defend the filibuster, we need another Republican senator to support us.
- But who?
- We can try convincing John McCain again, and go ask Lisa Murkowski. She waged a successful write-in reelection campaign in 2010. She’s not going to be intimidated as easily as the others.
- I hope so.

Warner reviews the documents on Gorsuch and the documents on the proposal that Collins have on the desk. They have prepared so well for this, he thought to himself, but why does it have to be this moment? He didn’t know if it would go well, and especially, how down south their political careers would go with this proposal if it failed. He had secured support from certain donors and grassroots organisations, but he was careful not to let the deal leak. It was not supposed to. Leaking it would ruin everything, regardless of how careful they crafted their plans. They were so careful they decided not to show any other senator the details – save for one, Angus King, Collins’s Maine colleague, self-proclaimed radical centrist.

But Collins was thinking about something else too. Her eyes traced the lines that defined the man’s face, following his shiny, straight, neatly arranged hair strands. How handsome he is, she thought to herself. They’ve been working together in this chamber for years, yet she somehow hasn’t ever thought about him and his beautiful face.
- What are you thinking, Susan? – remarked Warner, sensing that Collins was distracted. Collins shook her head in denial.
- When the hearing begins, before McConnell files cloture, I will come to the floor. Is that good?
- I’m not really sure. He might file for cloture very early, interrupting your speech in the process. Just come to the floor the previous day to be safe. Then I can help you prepare another speech to reiterate your position on Thursday.
- Do you think we can actually save this place?
- I’m not sure, but we’ll fight to the death for it. Otherwise, I’m never going to see my constituents again.
Collins and Warner fist bumped. It felt a bit weird for them, since in their days of youth nobody did it, and neither of them has done it ever before, but whatever.
- Uh, I think we have to go now, Susan.
- Yeah. let’s get back to the floor.
As Warner prepared to leave, Collins suddenly burst out:
- Hey, wait, Mark. We need to find a time to announce our proposal.
- I don’t know. Maybe we can do it after this partisan shit show is over. We need to fight the radicals first.
- Agreed.

Warner finally stepped out of the room, and Collins prepared herself for the ensuing floor fight.

Chapter Text

“So again, tonight, I appeal to my fellow honourable Senators: save the Supreme Court filibuster. It is not worth killing bipartisanship for any executive or judicial nominee. Make no mistake – this is yet another escalation of the increasing partisan wars in this chamber and will only result in the elimination of the legislative filibuster, turning the Senate into a smaller version of the House without any meaningful reason for its existence. Regardless of your position on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland or Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, please vote against the rule change.
If anybody wants to question me on whether this is a protest or rebel vote, I say, yes, it is. This vote isn’t about protesting either nomination. This vote is a protest of the radical polarisation of this chamber that is bringing the Senate six feet under.”

Susan Collins finally stepped aside from her four-hour speech. She tried not to mention Garland or Gorsuch up until her last words. It was a deliberate choice to separate the filibuster issue from both nominations. She feels a little vindicated – even if she probably didn’t swing any other Republican votes. During her speech, she noticed Mitch McConnell smirking, apparently signalling that he didn’t need her vote anyway and that the rest of his conference will stick to him. It’s a shame the Republicans are determined to kill this chamber, but in that case, she isn’t taking any part in it. Let the 51 other Republicans take the blame. She’s not doing it.

But the roll calls were starting soon, so she waved Warner and he came to her desk.
- What shall we do now, Mark?
- Well, I’m going to convince Dean Heller. I’m sure the only thing he’s afraid of is a primary challenge from somebody to the right.
- Hmmm, good luck. That guy’s been difficult to convince – he’s from a bluish state, yet he almost never shows any sign of bipartisanship. But I believe in you. I’m talking to John McCain and Lisa Murkowski.

Collins walked over to Murkowski’s table. ‘We need to talk, Lisa’.
- I don’t want to risk another costly primary campaign, but I think I have made my decision. I’m not risking this institution.

Collins was pleasantly surprised, though not so sure if Murkowski really meant what she thought Murkowski meant. So she walked over to John McCain, discussing the end of the filibuster. After a while, she finally asked him:
- So, are you going to vote to end the filibuster?
- I have finalised my decision. Nothing will change it now.
- But what about the Gang of 14 deal that we worked so hard to broker?
- I said I have decided, Susan.

There was no other possibility, so she kept on talking with McCain anyway.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the room, Warner was talking with Heller.
- Tell me, Dean. What do you really think about the removal of the filibuster?
- It’s sad, but there’s no choice.
- Really Dean? Do you really think so? This is the worst – well no, the second worst – thing that could happen to the Senate, and the only worse thing is the elimination of the filibuster on legislations!

Warner grabbed Heller’s arms and stared directly into his eyes. There was something in those greenish brown eyes that were so mesmerising, so enchanting to Warner. But those eyes also told Warner something. Heller was lying.

Warner waited for a couple of minutes before speaking up.
- Dean, I know that’s not what you’re thinking. Come on Dean, you can’t trust me?
- I-I-I… - Heller could only mumble that much before breaking down. Warner opened his arms and Heller fell in. He cried desperately, wetting the shoulder of Warner’s jacket, but Warner didn’t care. He closed his arms, hugging Heller tightly, patting his back lightly.
- Don’t worry Dean; you’ll always be safe and loved in my arms. When you can, please tell me what’s wrong and we’ll try to fix it.
As Heller continued to weep in Warner’s embrace, the clerk has begun the roll call. McConnell was chatting with his whip, John Cornyn; they were both pretty confident they will get the change through without Collins’ vote anyway.

When the roll call reached Richard Blumenthal, Heller finally stood up. He knew there wasn’t much time left, and he needed to tell Warner something. He kept searching for something in his pockets, which Warner realised was a tissue. Warner reached for the handkerchief in his pocket, and wiped away Heller’s tears, still rushing down his cheeks, now flushing red. Heller finally had the courage to speak up:
- I am just too afraid, Mark. I barely got through my election last time, and if I’m going to alienate the Tea Party, I’m definitely not going to get re-elected. Hell, I’m not getting through the primary, even. I’m going to get fucked in 2018. I want to be moderate, but I don’t want to lose my election, either.
- Don’t worry, Dean. When I say that I’ll be there for you, I’ll be there for you. I will protect you. Trust me. Look, I’ll tell you the plan we have, but you have to be really secret. Don’t ever tell anyone – not even your closest aides, or your wife, or your family. Also, promise to uphold your moderate principles from now on.
- Of course, Mark. If you say so, I trust you. There’s nobody in this world I trust more than you. I swear I’ll never let you down on this. Or on anything.
Warner leant in to whisper the plan to Heller.
- I knew it, Mark. I knew you would find a way to help me. You can count on me for this. – Heller leant in to hug Warner for the last time, before turning back to his seat. Warner helped Heller fix his attire and handed him the handkerchief before they parted. He smiled gently, knowing that he has helped a man come to terms with himself. ‘Be brave!’ was the last thing Warner told Heller.

Meanwhile, the roll calls have gone pretty far. Collins have proudly cast an Aye vote and returned to continue convincing McCain, but everyone else has cast a vote exactly the way McConnell and Schumer expected. The roll call has already reached Chuck Grassley by the time Heller could properly seat himself. He took deep breaths and tried to calm down. He glanced back at Warner twice, meeting wide, reassuring smiles both time. As the clock ticks closer and closer to his turn, Heller felt his heart beating like he just finished a 200 metres Olympic run. His mind was filled with emotions and thoughts alike, feeling conflicted about what he really stands for and what people think he stands for, about how he got elected and his relations with his colleagues, about his very career. Time seems to be dilating; it feels like forever before his turn. He wonders if that was just because he wanted that time to be longer. Tears keep running down his cheek even though he didn’t really know why he was crying. At last, the clerk called his name, and he rose silently, his gaze still stuck to the floor, grinning as if to gather all the mental and physical strength he had left.

The floor was busy with Senators chatting in all emotions – laughter, confidence, sadness, hatred. Everyone was sure that there would be, at most, another GOP defection – possibly McCain, who already said that anyone who thinks this is a good idea is a ‘stupid idiot’ – and then Mike Pence would rush in and cast the tie-breaking vote, and then everyone in the Senate would tweet out their official statements literally three seconds after the vote ended, even though everyone knew they couldn’t have written hundreds of words in that short of a time. Mitch McConnell was on cloud nine, ready to proclaim the Gorsuch confirmation the first victory of the new Administration. He would have rescued the apparent disunited image that the GOP-controlled Congress had in the press. For her part, Collins kept on trying to convince McCain – apparently to no avail – while Warner was charting out his next moves if the nuclear option succeeds. He is prepared to blame both McConnell and Schumer for the partisan showdown on the Senate floor, possibly the day immediately before the announcement of his proposal, or even right before the announcement, at the beginning of the press conference. The vast majority of the Democratic caucus were pretty upbeat – although they were expecting defeat – and the few who weren’t were the moderates like Manchin or Donnelly.

But all the Senators were soon aware that Dean Heller had not cast his vote after over five seconds. He definitely had heard the clerk call his name since he had stood up, but he is still silent. ‘What is he thinking?’ was the question on everyone’s mind. Collins and McCain both turned to check on Heller, noticing a small tear drop forming in the corner of his left eye and growing bigger with every moment. The noises, rampant on the Senate floor when Heller rose, subsided rapidly, yielding to a deafening silence as the whole chamber glanced over to the senior senator from Nevada. McConnell suddenly felt uneasy; he had prepared himself for another defection, but not exactly this one. He considered Heller a weirdly obedient pet to his purposes, a fragile, weak man who never dared to threaten the GOP leadership. Every time he thought Heller was on the verge of dissent, he would tell an aide to send Heller a small piece of paper with the word ‘primary’, and he would be sure that Heller is in line with his decision. If somebody as weak and helpless as Dean Heller could find it within himself to dissent, who knows who else might take a stand? Regardless of what could happen, he quickly keyed in Pence’s number and called him.
- AYE, SIR!!! SENATORS, DON’T BE INTIMIDATED BY THE EXTREMISTS! SAVE THE SENATE!

Everyone could hear Heller’s voice cracking at the end of his sentence. He fell down to his seat, weak and helpless, tears rushing down his cheek, and for a moment, the slightest of moments, he was audibly crying. But Warner’s voice resonated once again above his head, ‘Be brave!’, and he took out the handkerchief to wipe away his tears, held his head high and let out a small but unmistakable smile. He thought about turning back to look at Warner for a moment, but hesitated, afraid of rumours that could arise from just a slight look on his face.

The roll calls continued without another surprise, until John McCain, still telling Collins that ‘Nothing will change my decision now’, took his turn to rise up and calmly but adamantly declaring his vote: Aye. Collins was a bit annoyed that McCain kind of tricked her into thinking that he would vote nay, but nevertheless she was pleasantly surprised. McConnell was stunned and couldn’t utter a word, his face completely devoid of emotions. Pence arrived a nanosecond after McCain had cast his vote, only to find his presence worthless. The Twitter press corps mostly found their pre-written statements worthless too. Heller quietly stood up and moved to the back of the floor where he could find Warner, and he smiled again as they embraced.

- I did it! – cried Heller, as Murkowski cast the fourth dissenting GOP vote.
- You did it! – yelled Warner as he held Heller close and tight. It was his turn to shed tears, thankful tears for his colleague, Dean Heller the senior Senator from Nevada, who was so dignified and graceful. They sank into a blissful silence.

The Senate vote ended, with a fifth GOP dissenter: Rob Portman. Unsure of what to do, McConnell and Schumer agreed to adjourn the session.

Chapter Text

- Come in. – Warner answered the knock on his door, expecting an aide to bring in his documents.
- Mark, it’s me. – The man said excitedly right after opening the door.
- Deaaaaaaaaan! – Warner stood up abruptly from his work, rushing around his desk and towards Heller – How’s it going? – He yelled while embracing Heller.
- I-I just want to thank you again for last night, and, uhm, ask for a couple more favours.
- Go ahead, Dean. Feel free to ask me anything.
- Can you help me set up a meeting between me and Senator Collins? I need to talk to her as soon as possible. Also, CNN just contacted my staff asking to interview me, but I’m not sure if I can take it.
- I’ll arrange for you to meet Senator Collins tonight since I’m coming to her office today anyway. Regarding the interview, is there anyone else invited?
- I have no idea.

Heller’s phone rang, interrupting the conversation. While waiting for him to finish his call, Warner rearranged the files on his table to prepare for the trip to Collins’s office. When Heller’s call finished, Warner noticed that he had turned sombre again.
- What’s the matter, Dean?
- My aide called. I’m going to have to hold a press conference tomorrow.
- It’s alright; I can help you prepare for it tonight. It’s only six thirty. Anyway, we can go to Senator Collins’s office right now, I have to discuss some work with her anyway.

Warner led Heller out of his office and they rushed to Collins's.
- Susan, it’s me, Mark.
- Come in please, we have lots to discuss tonight. It’s been a terribly long senate day. – Collins said with an audibly exhausted voice.
- But Susan, you locked the door!
- Oh, I’m sorry. – Collins said as she walked over to unlock the door. To her utmost surprise, the first figure to enter wasn’t the tall and neat Mark Warner she was expecting. Dean Heller appeared instead, immediately falling to his knees:
- Senator Collins, please accept my apologies.
- For what? What have you done wrong? You were the best senator today; you were strong, brave and deserving of every respect!
- No, Senator Collins, it’s… different. I’m sorry for not standing up to the GOP leadership to support you. I wanted to sign on to many, many of your moderate proposals, only to be prevented by my fear of a primary challenge from the right, which was exploited skilfully by McConnell. That made your job much more difficult. Even today, even though I was very convinced by your speech, I couldn’t find the strength to announce my opposition to the nuclear option, and that forced you and Mark to spend a lot more effort than it should have been necessary. I am, of all Senators, probably the guiltiest of pandering to the extremes, and I deserve every punishment for that.
- It’s alright, Dean – Collins said as she bent down to wipe away his tears – it wasn’t exactly your fault. And even if it was, I’d forgive you by now. Actions speak louder than words, and your vote did just that. We can all, together, build on this proposal, and defend the Senate from both the right and the left. Now Mark, Dean, please feel free to seat yourself on the couch while I brew some tea.

Warner helped Heller stand up and they sat next to each other on the couch while Collins walked out. Heller asked:
- Do you think I could manage it tomorrow at the press conference?
- You can. The moderate Dean Heller is the one true Dean Heller, so you should simply be genuine and stay true to yourself and I’m sure you’ll be appreciated. Just speak for yourself and be authentic, and I believe you can win the hearts and minds of everyone – at least the ones not too extreme to hear you.
Heller’s phone suddenly vibrated. It was a text message from Joe Manchin: Thank you for saving the Senate. Truth to be told, I was surprised, but I really liked how you stood up for this place. Stay strong, be brave! He wanted to show the message to Mark Warner, but a barrage of others arrived. Lamar Alexander sent a message too: You were really brave today! Even I didn’t have the courage to do what was right. I am so sorry to leave the burden on you to oppose the nuclear option. Rob Portman, the fifth dissenting vote, also texted him: You did a great job! Were it not for your vote, I wouldn’t have found it within myself to oppose the nuclear option either. You really inspired me. And of course, Catherine Cortez Masto, his junior colleague: That’s a Nevadan guy! Lead us by example!

When the texts finally stopped – there were at least a dozen of them, Heller reckoned – he let out happy tears and gave Warner his phone. Warner nodded approvingly, gazing at Heller with a wide reassuring smile. To him, Heller always felt charming and innocent, lovely and vulnerable, and he wanted to give Heller a sense of security and comfort – or a safe space, if you will – from this chamber full of dirty tricks whenever he sees him. He wanted to protect this man from the ensuing painful chaos that has taken hold of the Senate.
- But what about the CNN interview? – Heller broke the silence with yet another question.

Just then, Collins walked into the room with a teapot in hand. ‘Freshly brewed top-quality Maine black tea for you two. Not all Senators get this treatment! Oh wait, Dean, did you just say something about a CNN interview?’
- Yes, I did.
- That’s strange. They asked me too. I forgot to ask them which senators they were going to interview; I only knew there would be some other than me. Hmm, I’ll tell my staff to ask. It’s likely we’re gonna be in the same interview. – She paused a bit as her phone beeped – Oh yeah, they just sent me something. Oh, it’s you, me, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman. We’re getting interviewed because of our vote.
- Guess I should accept the interview then. – Heller quickly texted his aide.
- It’s high time we start working on our proposal. It had better been announced damn soon. Before McConnell and Schumer suddenly find a weird solution that enhances both the extreme right and the extreme left. – Warner announced. Collins and Heller agreed, and they moved over to Collins’s desk to review papers and speeches.

Collins treated her guests with delicate Maine lobster at eight, and they returned to the desk to work. At one point, Heller fell asleep on the desk, but Collins and Warner agreed to let him take a rest after the bruising Supreme Court battle. Collins was once again looking at Warner and his handsome face, his beautiful blue eyes, his perfectly manicured nails, his sharply defined head, and his brown, smart hair.
- What’s the matter, Susan? – Warner asked after realising he was the only one working.
- Mark, I have to tell you something. You’re really good-looking, and I don’t know how I haven’t realised that before we started working together on this enormous project. But… now I’m kinda unsure if our relation is just…

Warner silenced Collins with a deep kiss that felt like forever. They closed their eyes and enjoyed this everlasting moment in silence, sealing their newest bipartisan deal. Warner could feel shivers running down his spine and hair standing up straight in the back of his head, and he thought Collins felt the same too, but it didn’t matter. He honestly had not thought about this possibility until moments before, but it felt so wonderful.
- A-ha! I knew it! – Heller suddenly bolted upright – You two are perfect together!
- No, wait, Dean, no, don’t tell anyone, I haven’t even known anything about this yet. – Warner grumbled. He didn’t want to create a scandal out of thin air to plague this new proposal. – And were you pretending to sleep, man?
- No, I’m definitely not telling anyone! But you two are like my guardians, always looking after me, so now you two can be my sugar parents. We can be like a little family.
- No, we’re not going to be, Dean. Please don’t call me and Mark Mom and Dad. We do want to make this proposal as much of a family as possible, where everyone will feel a sense of belonging, comfort and compassion for each other, and we do specifically love you – we want to take care of you and help you in the Senate – but please don’t call us that. It’s… weird.
- Besides, that’s not what sugar daddies and sugar mummies are. We’re not paying for your college student debts. – Warner chuckled. – But we’ll continue to help you navigate the rest of your term and try our best to have you re-elected. We love you, and we want you to be here with us.

Warner leant in to kiss Heller’s forehead and Heller smiled gracefully. They got back to working on their proposal, with the Sunday deadline hanging above their heads.

Chapter Text

The time had come for Dean Heller, the senior senator from Nevada, to go to his press conference at 9 a.m. of April 6, 2017 at the Capitol. Heller let out a long sigh and took his briefcase before leaving, preparing for the worst. As he was walking down the pavement, a hand grabbed him by his wrist:
- Dean, let me come with you. – A soft voice emerged from behind. Heller turned to see Collins looking at him dearly.
- Susan, why are you here? How did you find out where I am?
- I followed you from your office. I thought that as the leader of the new Caucus, I have the duty and honour of standing with other members – even if the Caucus isn’t officially in existence yet. And that starts today with your press conference. I will stand beside you. I’ll have your back.
Heller was again teary, squeezing Collins’s hands tight like holding on to a rope, despite knowing that he was on a pavement in the middle of Washington D.C. He had never ever felt so secure with two guardian angels in Collins and Warner watching and assisting his every step, and there was no need to be afraid of the paparazzi.

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Collins and Heller stride along the streets and into the Capitol press room, where the cameras were flashing left and right. Heller suddenly panicked for a moment, even though he’s been doing this for years. While thinking in fear about the press, he missed a step and would have fallen down to the ground had he not been able to hold on to Collins’s wrist. His eyes met hers, bright like stars, brown like chestnut. He burst out an apology to her as his forehead directly hit the press room door.
- Careful, Dean! You may get hurt! – Collins said as she gently rubbed Heller’s forehead.
- Don’t worry. With you and Mark by my side, I won’t have to worry about anything, including physical pains.
Heller and Collins fist-bumped – ‘this has already been the second time this week’, Collins thought to herself – and trade reassuring looks before entering the Press Room.
- Senator Heller, what caused you to oppose the end of the filibuster?
- I was very much convinced by Senator Collins that the end of the filibuster would undermine the very meaning of the Senate – a consensus-based deliberative body where the debate itself may be just as important as the final vote.
- Will this independent-minded vote be the exception or the rule?
- I very much hope it will be the rule. What I have changed is my attitude towards compromise and bipartisanship, not just a convenient time to take a stance. The Supreme Court and Senate rules aren’t the place to pretend to stand up to the party leadership.
- Senator, do you consider this a significant U-turn of your senatorial tenure? You have sided with the Tea Party on many, many occasions – holding positions well outside the mainstream. Why did you decide once and for all to move back to centrism?
- I was personally and emotionally moved by Senator Collins’s speech on the floor that day. Her speech helped remind me of my mainstream roots – my positions in the days I was serving in Nevada before Congress – and I realised that what I had been doing was just out of fear of the Tea Party – a fear not unfounded but completely detrimental to what I could contribute to the Senate. It wasn’t worth it pandering to the Tea Party, and I think more and more Senators will come to realise that centrists and moderates in this country are more plentiful and less properly represented than any other political constituency right now.

Heller was exhausted after the press conference, but he was relieved that he would be regarded not as a Tea Partier, but as who he really is from then on. Collins squeezed Heller’s hand tight:
- You did it, Dean! As you can see, just be yourself at these public appearances and you’ll turn out fine. People can always spot genuineness when and where it’s there.
- We’ll have to prepare for our CNN interview today too, right?
- Yeah, we will.
Collins and Heller walked back to Collins’s office – or, as they like to call it, ‘The Moderate War Room’. Again, they took Warner in to discuss the details. They had about three hours to prepare, so they didn’t really have time for affectionate gazes and lines.

- Senator Collins, why did you decide to speak for so long – over four hours – on the Senate floor one this one issue, the filibuster? – Anderson Cooper ended the silence.
- Because to me, the filibuster is the spirit of the Senate. It is the one thing that sets the Senate apart from almost all the other legislatures worldwide, granting significant leverage to the minority party. Dislodging the filibuster for any nomination or legislation – including the executive and judicial nominees in 2013 – completely undermines the Senate’s mission of building consensus. This is not what should be tolerated, and I came to the floor to defend the Senate’s soul.
Heller took a deep breath to try to calm himself down before his question was asked. “Don’t break down and cry, Dean”, he thought to himself.
- Senator Heller, why did you decide to vote against the nuclear option?
- When Senator Collins came to the floor that night, I have basically made up my mind to vote for the nuclear option. But once I’ve heard her speech, I was personally swayed by her argument. And then I realised that of all the Senators in that chamber I was probably the most, most, most guilty of pandering to the extreme right. There are others further to the right of me, but they hold those positions as personal convictions, unlike me, and even in a fight as important as this, when I knew what was the right thing to do and how important it was to get this decision right, I couldn’t find it within myself to stand up for what’s right. I just couldn’t. It took another Senator, whose name I will not disclose here, encouraging me to be brave and really, really vote as my conscience tells me to actually give me the mental strength to vote that way on the floor. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but it shed a lot of burden for me, and I think it let people see who I really am and let me be true to myself in the future.
And then he started weeping again, right on national television, unable to prevent the flurries of emotions and thoughts that had flooded him right before he cast his vote from coming back. Paper slips with the word ‘primary’ avalanched in his mind, as he sobbed even louder, McConnell’s verbal threats and patronising insults replaying with a terrorising gravity, like a whirlpool sucking in all of his grey matter. Everything in front of his eyes became blurry and his mind sank down into the maelstrom.
‘Be brave!’ Only Warner’s voice could rescue Heller from the abyss. He shook his head in denial and quickly wiped the tears from his face. Millions have witnessed them, but he tried not to think of it for a moment.
- Dean Heller, be proud of yourself! I wouldn’t have been able to make that decision without your encouragement! – Murkowski tried to comfort Heller. – You were very inspirational.
- Gotta admit I already decided that if there were already two aye votes before my turn, I would vote nay because I was really, really afraid of the potential backlash from being the deciding vote. Couldn’t be more ashamed that I decided to do so while considering myself an institutionalist and moderate. And then Senator Heller stood up for his principles, unafraid of anyone, and I thought to myself ‘if he can do it, why can’t I?’. I was thoroughly impressed by his genuinity and decided to vote aye so that Senator Collins didn’t waste her time convincing me and the rest of the chamber and that Senator Heller didn’t waste that vote.
Heller smiled, gripping the seat hard, struggling to hold back his tears. His colleagues would answer for him what the public wanted to know. He had done his part.

Chapter Text

Collins and Warner descended from the stairs, accompanied by Heller and King. They had a press conference scheduled for 9 am – mere minutes away – and the press has been speculating endlessly about what these two centrist senators would be telling America in a surprise press conference. They reached out to each other, holding their hands tight. Collins whispered, ‘This will all go well, Mark. Don’t worry. We’ll always have each other.’

They waved to the cameras and gathered around the podium. Collins and Warner stood beside each other and Collins began the announcement:

- We are here today because of the descent of the Senate in particular and of Congress in general into the partisan chaos and dysfunction that have been seen for the last eight years. Many legislators in both chambers of Congress have made scoring political points and sticking to stubborn unrealistic positions their ultimate goal, instead of creating pragmatic solutions to the problems that America has been facing – the mission of this institution. Instead of serving their state or their district at large, they only serve the people in their own party, or worse, serving the extremist wings of their party, and we believe in this regard, both parties are equally culpable.

- The extremists in both parties have become very vocal and opposed to compromise in any sense, despite the fact that compromise is the cornerstone of politics. Politicians have moved away from the centre  en masse and prioritised partisan obstruction over compromise in fear that being seen as ‘willing to compromise’ will defeat them in the primaries, since the primary electorate usually represents less than ten percent of the general electorate and is filled with the most radical and vocal people on both sides. As a result, the choice for the general electorate is generally between an extremist Democrat and an extremist Republican, and the centre of the political spectrum is almost invariably underrepresented in Congress and in State Legislatures.

- That is why today we are here to announce the creation of the Senate Moderate Caucus, a caucus for senators who are going to be unapologetically moderate, willing to compromise, and support unleashing the great potential of the United States of America and all of its fifty states and its citizens regardless of ideology in finding solutions to the social, economic and environmental problems we are facing. The centre deserves its voice and we will strive to be that voice right here in the Senate and further in the House of Representatives, in Governors’ Mansions, and in State Legislatures nationwide. We will be ready to work with both sides to create what we believe is the best solution for the United States and our own states on each and every issue. We will also not hesitate to call out extremism and unconstructive obstruction on both sides when we see it.

- In the coming days, we will reach out to potential members of the caucus to strengthen our numbers, and our ultimate goal is to force a compromise between the two sides on deeply controversial issues such as healthcare, the Supreme Court, gun control, and immigration. We will hold public hearings in the Caucus with witnesses and debate between members of the caucus to determine our official negotiating positions on these areas, as well as secret informal deliberation on the sides of these meetings. We will prioritise the Supreme Court and healthcare, topics on which we hope to hold these hearings within the next two weeks. We will then commence direct negotiations with the leadership of the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference; however, we will ensure that each and every Senator in our Caucus will have their voices heard and will be fully aware of the details during those negotiations.

- In the long term, our work will not be limited to the Senate. The Senate Moderate Caucus is just the seed planted for the birth of a Moderate Party that will seek to represent the political centre at the federal, state and local level. We plan to form grassroots groups in all fifty states as well as associate caucuses in the House and State Legislatures nationwide to ensure that the voice of centrists and moderates are heard loud and clear, and to push back against the radicalisation of both sides of the political discourse. We will make it clear that populism and grassroots organisation do not have to go hand in hand with either political obstruction or obliteration of the system, but can also be utilised to actively fight for sensible reform that promotes both growth and equality, safety and liberty, and patriotism and openness.

- So tonight, to all American moderates and centrists in all fifty states – your voice will be heard, and heard very clearly, here in Washington D.C. and throughout this nation. We shall fight against the hard left and the hard right to preserve and advance the United States of America in all its glory and virtue, as the leader of the free world ready to stand up for liberal democracy worldwide and for all our allies. Because America can only be first if it is willing to lead others by example, by diplomacy, and by strength. We will restore the American dream not by closing our doors, but by embracing the universal Western values of democracy, freedom, justice, equality, and secular government, and by joining forces with our allies to combat the threats to those values.

Heller and King applauded as Collins and Warner finished their announcement. Warner let out a long sigh, relieved that it had gone well – at least for the time being. Collins smiled at Warner, her eyes giving out sincere thanks for his accompaniment.

- Senators, will members of the Senate Moderate Caucus rescind their membership in the Democratic and Republican parties?

- That will have to be seen, but that will very likely be the case.

- America has never had a party like this Moderate Party you are proposing. Are there any comparable parties you would like to name?

- The closest I can name is the Liberal Democrats in Britain. We will publicise detailed policy statements after we have concluded our membership roster and conducted public hearings and secret deliberations with all our members.

- What is the Senate Moderate Caucus’s position on the Russia investigation?

- As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I would like to confirm that I and all members of the Senate Moderate Caucus shall fully support the ongoing investigations on Russia’s involvement and intervention in the United States election in 2016 without prejudice to any candidate. We believe that the American people deserve to know the full extent and details of Russia’s meddling in our electoral democracy and that any wrongdoing by any side shall be brought to justice.

After taking a few more questions, they finally ended their press conference and walked inside. They had just reshaped Congressional politics, and now it’s time for them to reshape their relationship. Heller took over the paperwork and the phone calls as Collins hopped into Warner’s car.

- Where are we going now, Mark?

- Shh, you’ll know soon enough. – Warner said as he pushed in his Celine Dion CD Falling into You. – But rest assured, it will be wonderful.

Warner’s car surfed through the streets of Washington, over the Potomac river and into his home state of Virginia. Collins rested her arms on the car door and gazed into Warner’s eyes with forceful passion and overwhelming love. Never had she felt anything so intense for anybody or anything other than stacks of paper and endless pages of legal documents. And then she unconsciously began singing along to the CD:

I’m falling into you

This dream could come true

And it feels so good

Falling into you

Falling like a leaf, falling like a star

Finding a belief, falling where you are…

Warner jokingly pinched Collins’s cheek before pulling his brake outside a seafood restaurant. He quickly came over to her side, opening the door and holding her hands as they cheerfully bounced inside the VIP room he reserved.

Warner ordered oyster, smoked trout, Chesapeake crabcakes and cherry pie to background French songs. The dim yellow lights and rose decorations set the tone for the room as they began dining.

- Mark, you really remind me of my best friend in high school. He was always very neat whenever he saw me, and he was the best project partner I’d had until then.

- Thank you, Susan. – Warner said as he planted a kiss on her cheek. She blushed and quickly turned away before continuing.

- How did you know I love Celine Dion?

- Do you? I didn’t know that, I just chose my favourites.

- You like Celine Dion too?

- Yeah. For a long time, too.

Warner’s phone buzzed, but when he saw it was just Kaine texting about random workplace issues, he ignored it and turned off his phone. ‘I want to spend tonight with you, and with you only, Susan.’, he said as he turned off the music and sat next to a piano conveniently placed in the room. Then he began playing Mariage d’amour, with the passion of knowing that it was his story as much as anyone else’s. Collins watched his long and thin fingers, his perfectly manicured nails slam down the white and black keys with vigour, skill and emotion, his mind completely insulated from his surroundings, filled only with his deepest and truest feelings for her, the kind of emotion he hadn’t felt in years.

When the piece finished he gasped, as Collins reached out her arms to hold him tight from behind. ‘That was wonderful, just like you, Mark.’ He turned to comb his hand through her hair, pausing a moment to embrace her stunning face, and pulled her face near, closer and closer until their lips met, gently yet firmly. Collins ran her hands down his cheek and they held close together for a couple of minutes that felt like eternity.

‘Let’s come over to my place.’ – Warner said as they held hands and strolled out of the restaurant.