Senate minority leader Sen. Harry Reid has had at least three opportunities in the last 72 hours to allow moderate Democrats to cut a deal with liberal Republicans and protect his precious obstruction strategy. Each time he’s conveyed through intermediaries that the deal wasn’t satisfactory.
“He hasn’t liked the language we’ve worked out regarding future Republican decisions to use the nuclear option,” says a Democratic staffer with knowledge of the conversations. “Leader Reid has been tracking the negotiations, and he’s not satisfied that we’re getting anything close to a fair deal.”
The deal’s parameters involve the loss by Republicans of at least two nominees, whether through a vote by the full Senate or by never reaching the floor. At least three of President Bush’s nominees would get their votes and likely confirmations over the next two weeks, while Democrats would promise not to use the filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee. That point has been a sticky one for Republicans, but it is believed that in the discussions Democrats have indicated that no name mentioned publicly thus far as a potential Bush nominee was viewed as filibustable in the context of the agreement.
Reid, though, seems to have reached a point where he feels he must stand firm. He is facing increasing pressure from inside his caucus to appear tough with the Republicans. While Democrats have been claiming that the judicial obstruction debate is not about ideology, and all about a desire to play a role in governing, Reid’s Senate Whip, Dick Durbin, last week went to Reid’s leading home state newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, claiming that Reid’s — and by extension Democrats’ — allowing bankruptcy reform and class-action lawsuit reform legislation to move through the Senate had weakened the caucus.
“You have Durbin stabbing his boss in the back in his own backyard, claiming that because the Democrats worked on legislation, opposed the legislation on the floor, and allowed a vote on the legislation, somehow that has made them weaker for the filibuster debate,” says a Republican Senate staffer. “So if Durbin had his way, they would have just obstructed everything, and held all legislation hostage for leverage in filibusters. He can’t have it every way he wants.”
Reid, according to aides, was stunned by Durbin’s betrayal, and while the two men have spoken since, Reid has not put the incident behind him.
“You always make calculations and game plan the best you can,” says a Senate leadership aide loyal to Reid. “We made a calculation to fight for Democratic values in those pieces of legislation, but Republicans voted the bills through. We could have tried to oppose them on the floor, but we negotiated. The public wanted to see movement and action from both sides.”
Reid seems also sold on losing on the nuclear option because Democrat polling indicates their position is viewed as more in line with the public’s on judges and the role of Congress. This, despite Republican polling that showed the Democrats took bigger hits in their approval numbers compared to Republicans for their actions related to the judicial obstruction fight.
HOWIE’S LATEST PHANTOM
DNC research staff were scrambling Sunday morning to try to at least identify by state the woman that party chairman Howard Dean made mention of during his lackluster appearance on Meet the Press. In discussing his party and its support of abortion rights, Dean said:
Let me tell you why I think we ought to — why I want to strike the words “abortion” and “choice.” When I campaigned for this job, I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, “I’m pro-life. I don’t like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I’m not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do.” Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the “pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice,” she says, “Well, that’s not me.”
The DNC search was instigated out of concern that some media might turn to them to confirm the story.
“We’ve had media come back to us before on some stuff that he [Dean] has put out there, and this was a situation where we thought maybe somebody might be looking into it,” says a DNC researcher. “We’re looking over the itineraries, trying to see where it might have taken place, but he wasn’t in office at the time, so we’re kind of hamstrung.”
Generally, DNC researchers said they were pleased with Dean’s performance, if only because they felt host Tim Russert was not on his game.
“It definitely wasn’t your typical ‘gotcha’ interview by Russert,” says the DNC staffer. “On just about every issue: Social Security, the filibuster, DeLay, Bolton and Iraq, Dean basically just put out what we gave him: Bush is privatizing Social Security, DeLay should be in jail, the filibuster is un-Democratic, Bush is a liar, Bolton is a liar. Russert never called us on a single thing. We got lucky.”
During the interview, Dean stated the usual Democratic canards: that Republicans wanted to privatize all of Social Security, that House leader Tom DeLay‘s admonishments at the hands of the House Ethics Committee were comparable to criminal prosecutions, and that the filibusters were the end of democracy as we know it.
Dean’s stories of interactions with folk have raised questions before. During the campaign, some questioned whether several incidents where Dean assisted supporters who suddenly fell ill at a campaign event were staged. And Dean at one time seemed to pull back from a story he told early in the campaign season involving one of his young patients and the possibility of her having an abortion after being impregnated by her father.
“It isn’t that he goes in thinking he’s going to lie about this stuff, whether its Social Security or abortion,” says the staffer. “He’s like a lot of these top-flight politicians, who take their talking points and build on them.”
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