Sen. John Kerry's invitation to Tuesday's Capitol Hill meeting between House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate minority whip Harry M. Reid, Democrat of Nevada, was intended as more a face-saving gesture than any indication that Kerry will take a leadership role in the Senate, says a Senate minority leadership aide.
"His presence there was more about avoiding awkward questions about why he wasn't there," says the staffer. "This was about courtesy and giving him a nod. I don't think anyone, especially Harry Reid, is willing to cede anything to Kerry at this point, because Kerry hasn't earned it. Reid and others were basically in hand to hand combat with Republicans for the past two years. Kerry was out there glad-handing and botching a golden opportunity."
If the meeting was nothing more than a photo-op, Kerry didn't get the memo. According to onlookers, Kerry practically shouldered Reid out of the way to take the center seat between Pelosi, leaving Reid to sit off to the side on a sofa.
Little was achieved in the meeting, according to a House minority leadership staffer. "It was kind of a catch-up meeting. No substantive matters were taken up. Kerry offered to help Reid, and Reid was friendly, but there is little either of them can do for our boss."
Pelosi has told associates that she believes this upcoming Democratic House caucus is primed to be better at "back-benching" than last session's. Then, she has told associates, she was new to the job and dealing with political sniping from the moderate wing of her party, particularly, Rep. Martin Frost of Texas.
Now Frost, and several other moderates, are out, after losing to conservative Republicans. "The upshot is, the Republicans are more conservative, and we've become a bit purer ourselves thanks to the thinning of the herd," says another House staffer. "[Pelosi] is expecting to have an easier time of strategizing and moving against the Republicans this time out."
Kerry and some of his associates have indicated that he intends to take a much higher profile role in the Senate, but it's doubtful that Reid, stepping into the leadership post, and others, such as Illinois's Dick Durbin and New York's Hillary Clinton, will give him much time in the spotlight.
"The only thing Kerry has going for him is the press, which will be fascinated in the dynamic of Democratic Senate politics," says the Senate Democratic leadership staffer. "But that will wear off pretty quick once people start getting their hands dirty after the inauguration."
With it increasingly appearing that Sen. Arlen Specter is managing to hold his own against conservative calls that he be denied the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, conservatives are looking to the Senate to make some kind of noise before they exit for the holiday break.
One issue that may start getting some attention is class-action reform. Some conservatives and lobbyists in the business community are said to be pushing for class-action reform legislation to be tacked on to the appropriations bill that the Senate will take up in their lame duck session.
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