Even after he abruptly left the Senate's Gang of Six in May, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn couldn't get too far away from one of the group's chief budget negotiators, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The two conservatives continued having dinner almost every evening in the trendy H Street neighborhood close to the Capitol. And they kept talking about whether the left-for-dead Senate gang could really work.
On Tuesday, Coburn had his answer: “I'm back,” he said in dramatic fashion to a bipartisan group of nearly 50 senators, prompting a loud round of applause.
The decision by Coburn, a staunch conservative known for his combative nature and unpredictable style, significantly changed the outlook for a bipartisan deficit deal at a time when the two parties' squabbles have left the country on the brink of a disastrous economic default.
The fact that this written-off Senate gang was suddenly back in play testified to how fluid the debt-limit debate remains — and it illustrates that one big move by a key player can change the narrative entirely.
“We didn't know [he was back] until this morning for sure,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), one of the group's members, told POLITICO in an interview.