TOUGHER THAN DASCHLE
Sen. Harry Reid may not have the same name identification as Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Christopher Dodd, but he is well enough known within his own Democratic caucus as a ruthless player of political hardball.
In fact, some Republicans expect that he will be tougher for Republicans to deal with than Sen. Tom “Obstruction” Daschle.
Nevadan Reid knows that on January 4, when 55 Republican Senators take their seats, he is looking at what amounts to a 10-seat deficit (Sen. Jim Jeffords, who clings to the term “Independent,” is Democrat in his voting patterns, so should be counted as one). Thus Reid, according to Democratic leadership staffers, is looking for ways to make some trouble.
“If the Republicans don’t want Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chafee, we’d gladly take them,” says a Democratic leadership aide. “We have nothing to offer them other than respect, which is more than they get where they’re seated now.”
Reid has discussed making a play for Specter and/or Chafee should either indicate a willingness to surrender his Senate seniority and move across the aisle to the minority. Rhode Island’s Chafee has openly discussed a potential move, citing his state’s blueness and a sense that he is out of step with the conservative Republican Party.
Specter, who is attempting to salvage his leadership position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has not discussed any such move. To gain his chairmanship, Specter must be approved by this fellow GOP committee members. If successful, his name is then put before the full Republican Caucus for a secret ballot. If he fails to receive a majority in either vote, his chairmanship is lost.
Specter has stated that he has put out feelers to his fellow GOP Judiciary colleagues in preparation of the vote. It is not clear whether he has spoken to them since last Thursday, when conservatives across the country began a drive to deny him the chairmanship based on comments that seemed to indicate that he would not look kindly on conservative judicial candidates being sent before his committee.
If Specter is denied his chairmanship, Reid believes he could make a reasonable case to draw the Pennsylvania Republican over to either an Independent position or perhaps even Democratic.
“It doesn’t do us a bit of good beyond giving our side a small victory to rub in the faces of the Republicans,” says the Democratic leadership staffer. “It doesn’t weaken the Republican position in the Senate one bit. I’m not sure it’s worth all the trouble it would cause, but Senator Reid maybe thinks he has to do something to assert himself as leader.”
That would appear to be Reid’s greatest concern. Within weeks, Reid will attempt to solidify support for himself as minority leader in the absence of the departing Tom Daschle. Reid provided more than $3 million to support the election of Democratic senators in this election cycle alone, while also serving as Minority Whip. He is credited, more so than Daschle, with stymieing GOP legislative plans over the past two years, and was much more visible than other senior Democratic senators during the 2004 election cycle.
In light of the Daschle-Reid leadership’s failure to improve the Democrats’ Senate standing, Reid could still face some challenge to his leadership, whether from Chris Dodd or some other multi-term senator. There are also rumblings about Hillary Clinton being placed into the post, though it appears she has no interest in serving as the poster child for Democratic obstruction of the Bush agenda for the next two years.
“She has to decide what she wants to do,” says the Senate leadership staffer. “If it’s run for higher office, you know she isn’t going to be taking a high profile leadership post. My guess is that she sits back, burnishes her moderate exterior, and lets Bill handle the party politics from the outside.”
Early Tuesday there was any number of Kerry staff ready to walk over to the West Wing to start measuring new curtains. But apparently no one was more eager than the First Lady-in-waiting.
Word out of the campaign headquarters was that Teresa Heinz Kerry was set to mobilize designers and aides to begin planning for the transition. “You got the impression she was way ahead of her husband in some regards,” says a Kerry campaign staffer. “For all the talk about not wanting to be First Lady, you got the sense that it was something she was really looking forward to.”