As the daughter of a bakery owner who quietly rose at dawn, Mikulski is not one to boast nor is she fond of naval gazing. Tuesday, just hours after announcing her hard-brokered appropriations deal, she blustered past dozens of reporters in her red suit jacket and gold earrings, stepped onto the escalator, into the elevator and entered into her caucus lunch taking just a few questions from the reporters who could keep up with her along the way.
"She is a doer. She is not a flash in the pan," Snowe says. "She is a dynamo."
As a pragmatist first and foremost, Mikulski was forced to cut millions from government agency budgets to get her Republican colleagues on board. Wednesday, the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved her plan. Yet, as is customary with those who hold the appropriations gavel, she remained mindful of her commitment to her home state of Maryland. Her priorities were evident as she advocated to pour more money into Head Start programs and restore funds for job training and the National Institutes of Health, which has its headquarters in Maryland.
"She has a heart for people and mind for the process, which is a rare combination," says Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Mikulski's reputation for sometimes gruff interactions with staff proceed her, but have seldom had an impact on the minds of her constituents who overwhelmingly re-elect her. In 2010, and off year for Democrats, she won 62 percent of the vote.
"What happens in the congressional and district offices stays there. It is not relevant to her public persona. It really never has been," says Herb Smith, a Maryland political expert and professor of political science at McDaniel College, in Westminster, Md.
It's not relevant to her relationships in the Senate either. When it comes to the women of the body, Mikulski takes on a more matriarchal role.
Mikulski displays official photographs of the growing number of women in the Senate on her hideaway walls. She praises their accomplishments, applauding Murray for her effort to help negotiate a budget last month. Mikulski organizes monthly dinners for the women where political debates are off limits, but brainstorming and stories of friends and families are not.
For a woman who is not one to drone on over her own accomplishments, she is awfully happy to brag about the role her female colleagues are playing on Capitol Hill.
"She is the person, who when the women get here, takes us under her wing," says Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. "She helps us. It is hard to tell what the best piece of advice I ever got from her was because she is consistently offering it up."
Some of her male counterparts have been careful not to cross Mikulski. Freshman Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, says he has only worked with her briefly, but it was enough to know she is a "force to be reckoned with."
"That is a rap that women get when we are strong and we are insistent and persistent," Mikulski says. "Men fear us, but that is the way they talked about their mothers when they said 'clean up your room.' We said 'clean up your act, it is time we do something to help the American people.'"