And he admits the current dysfunction in the Senate and lack of respect – especially for the minority party members – have been frustrating.
His decision on whether to run for re-election in 2016 could depend greatly on what happens in the 2014 elections.
“It’s a factor,” Coats said during a quick interview Friday before he headed to the Matterhorn to participate in the Elkhart County Republican’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
Coats represented northeast Indiana in the U.S. House from 1981 to 1988, when he was appointed to fill out the term of Sen. Dan Quayle, who had just been elected vice president .
Coats retired from the Senate in 1998, but returned in 2011 after Evan Bayh retired from the Senate. Such repeat performances are rare, and he is the only current senator to do so.
Coats’ return coincided with the so-called tea party revolution that is credited with helping alter the environment in Washington.
While he didn’t mention that aspect, he admits that it has become difficult to get much done in the Senate and blames the lack of cooperation on Senate Leader Harry Reid.
“It’s been very frustrating from the standpoint that you come back … for a special reason and you want to address certain key issues that are important for the country and you’re not allowed to do it,” Coats said. “It’s not working the way it used to work and traditionally worked for 200 years.”
While Republicans control the House, the chances they may take the upper hand by winning control of the Senate in 2014 appear to be growing.
Such a scenario could improve a sense of cooperation between the two chambers, but that would set the stage for a potentially more combative relationship between Republicans and Barack Obama during his final two years as president.
Republican control in the Senate would usher in a new era.
“That would set the stage for us to try and demonstrate to the American people that our policies and our process are better in their interest,” he said.
Given that opportunity, could Republicans change the tone in D.C. for the better?
“I can’t guarantee what 50-some other people would do -- given that opportunity -- but right now, we’re very unified that that’s what we’d like to do.”
While some Republicans prefer to take an unwavering stand on principles rather than compromise, Coats take a more traditional approach.
“When you have divided government, the only way to get something done is to work with the other side.”
Coats confirmed that he’s taken several steps toward laying the groundwork for a re-election bid, details of which were outlined in a recent story in the Indianapolis Star.
He says that’s just good planning.
In the meantime, Coats said he’s focused on legislative issues, including Ukraine, where he believes the U.S. needs to “speak with one voice.”
He also supports efforts to extend unemployment insurance benefits, but in doing so, prefers to see jobless Americans take what some define as “suitable” jobs to qualify for unemployment until something better becomes available.
He said such legislation would address concerns about people who view jobless benefits “as a perpetual check and not seriously out looking for a job.”