Is It Time For Harry Reid To Step Down?

[ Posted Monday, September 24th, 2007 – 13:48 UTC ]

Is it time to call on Harry Reid to step down from his position as Senate Majority Leader?

This column poses the question, but admittedly, provides no clear answer. This is because I feel the subject is still one that is legitimately up for debate, but I also feel that the time has come to begin this debate. And let me be clear -- I am not suggesting he resign from the Senate, but rather that he hand the reins of Senate leadership over to a more able Democratic colleague.

I pose the question reluctantly, since infighting is generally counter-productive for a political party that wants to move its agenda forward. And Democrats admittedly have a bigger reputation for such infighting than Republicans. But sometimes a change in direction is the smartest plan of action in the long run.

Now, to be fair, Harry Reid can be very forceful and non-relenting. He's even come up with some political gimmicks which force the media to cover the Democratic point of view (the sleepover, to name one). And when he does so successfully, I have praised him. It wasn't so long ago (4/25/07) I wrote an article titled "Certain Portions Of Harry Reid's Anatomy May Be Rather Oversized And Possibly Composed Of Brass," for instance. I do give him credit when he deserves it, but sadly he hasn't done much to deserve it in the last few months.

Instead, he has been vacillating. The Republicans and the White House have seen this, and swarmed Reid like hungry piranhas. With little warning, Democratic voters have opened their morning papers to stories about how Reid has helped Bush fund the Iraq war, legalize warrantless wiretapping (just so Congress could go on vacation), and (most recently) Reid allowed a Senate vote to condemn's controversial ad in the New York Times. Rumors are now flying that the next story to disappoint the rank and file of the party may be Democrats allowing Bush to retroactively give giant telecommunications companies immunity over lawsuits on the wiretapping they may have already done. My opinion (9/20/07) remains that even attempting to do so is unconstitutional ("No... ex post facto law shall be passed."), but this apparently doesn't even matter to congressional Democrats -- which is a shame, since such lawsuits may be the only way the public ever hears what has been done in their name.

Democrats cannot afford to get mugged in this fashion from here to election day 2008. The country cannot afford it, for several reasons. (1) There's a real war going on, and real people are dying out there while Congress dithers. (2) Civil liberties which stretch back hundreds of years are being callously tossed onto the garbage pile, and civil liberties are always harder to regain once they're gone. (3) There's an election going on, and the weaker the Democrats look in the Senate, the harder it's going to be for them to convince voters they're tough enough to run the country. (4) Because I'm tired of reading these embarrassing stories in the morning paper, dammit!

In Reid's defense, he has a much weaker hand to play than most people realize. Up until a few days ago, he didn't really have a "51-49" majority, what he had was a 48-1-1-49 razor-thin plurality. One of those "ones" in the middle votes reliably with the Democrats, and one is Joe Lieberman (need I say more?). Which meant Reid was really working with a 49-50 minority. But now all Democrats are healthy and present and voting in the Senate, so that has changed to a 50-50 split. That's still pretty tough to get things done in a house where 60 votes is necessary to move anything forward. Minority rights in the Senate are much greater than in the House, which is why we need strong Democratic leadership that is willing to fight hard for Democratic positions. Instead, over and over again, Reid shows up to play polo while the Republicans arrive in full armor and ready to joust.

There are two schools of thought about how to get the 60 votes needed to move legislation. The first is to show backbone, tell Republicans they only get to vote on what Democrats present them with, and from a position of strength (complete with threats to use Republicans' votes against them on the campaign trail), convince enough Republicans that it's in their best interest to come across the aisle and vote with the Democrats. Senate Democrats should be driving the debate, and refusing to back down on key issues, in other words.

Instead, the Reid school of thought has been to compromise before the debate even begins. In a non-election year, with less controversial legislation, this might indeed be wise. But when fundamental issues like war and the Bill of Rights are concerned, Reid should hang tough. A lot tougher than he has been. As for "reaching across the aisle" -- these sort of negotiations should happen behind closed doors, in the weeks leading up to scheduled floor debates. They should not happen the Monday of Debate Week, and they definitely should not happen in the press (the way they recently have been). If such bipartisanship fails, then hold a press conference and say so (and repeat the word "obstructionist" in every sentence you speak), but only after the fact.

Take the budget, for instance. The New York Times ran an article today with some chilling quotes in it:

Mr. Bush's public comments suggest he is determined to veto one or more appropriations bills, to highlight what he describes as excessive spending. But neither side has a postveto strategy.

Democratic leaders in Congress say they have yet to resolve the most basic strategic question: Should they negotiate with the president or just send him bills reflecting their priorities and wait to see what happens?

"I don't think anyone knows how this is going to turn out," said Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

So let me get this straight. The budget is supposed to be passed and in place on October first, the start of the federal government's fiscal year. The House has passed all of the 12 appropriations bills which constitute the budget. The Senate has passed four of these, but (as is usual) has rewritten them slightly. None of these four have gone to conference committee, where such differences are hammered out. October first is a week away, making it all but impossible that even a significant fraction of the budget will be on Bush's desk by that point. And Democrats don't even have a strategy for how to handle it all?

This is pathetic. And it is a failure of leadership. Before summer, Democrats were optimistically saying they would pass some of these 12 bills and put them on Bush's desk before they adjourned for the month of August. That obviously didn't happen. Not only didn't it happen, but two months later, none of the bills has even made it to conference committee. That's a pretty poor excuse for a track record.

Democrats have some great ideas in their budget proposals -- ideas which are wildly popular with the voters -- and they should be using these ideas to rhetorically bash Bush upside the head every chance they can get in the mainstream media. Instead, we are exposed to the spectacle of Democrats not being able to get their act together, once again.

This is why the subject of new Senate leadership is now an imperative which should be up for discussion. It's not like the Democrats don't have some strong-willed leaders waiting in the wings, almost any of whom could do a better job of forcefully stating the Democrats' positions. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Russ Feingold, and Carl Levin spring immediately to mind. I would include Patrick Leahy on that list, but the glacial pace of forcing the White House to provide answers to his Judiciary Committee (and his apparent lack of urgency in doing so) makes me wary of him for now. We'll truly see his mettle in the upcoming confirmation hearings for the Attorney General nominee. But there are many senators who could show the country some Democratic backbone who also could be included on such a short list. Even Jim Webb (freshman from Virginia) seems like he'd do a better job at this point. Because we need a leader now who truly does have some fire in the belly, and isn't afraid to show it.

The four presidential candidates obviously wouldn't want to run for the position of Majority Leader right now, but it would be interesting to see which candidate they would support for the job. It would be a small measure of the direction they want to take the Democratic Party in -- kind of a "dry run" for selecting a Vice Presidential nominee to share the ticket with them, or even a mini-preview of what their cabinet might look like. Which, after all, is a test of their leadership. And we should not just hear from the four in the Senate (Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Obama), but also from the other Democratic candidates as well.

The question at hand is simple: can the Democratic Party afford the vacillation and inconsistency of Harry Reid right now? He is not responsible for all the ills of Congress, but if he stepped down it would provide a visible change and a fresh new face for the direction of the Senate Democrats. This would help show voters what the Democratic Party believes in, and what they're willing to stand up for. A visible change in leadership might also help reverse those rock-bottom poll numbers Congress is currently earning. Because what most pollsters and pundits miss is that the public is not just angry about the way the war debate has gone (although that is a huge factor in their dissatisfaction), they are also disappointed and disgusted with Democrats being timid and refusing to stand up to the Republicans, in any visible way.

We need a Senate Majority Leader who will believe in something, say so in a telegenic and charismatic fashion on television, and then back it up by fighting for it in the Senate. It's all about that intangible quality called leadership. A strong leader might lead us off a cliff, or into the wasteland of permanent minority status -- but they could also lead us back to being a party people can believe would stand up and fight for what is right.

The question remains: Is Harry Reid the right person to do so, right now? Or is it time for Harry to go?

I don't know the answer. I am not willing (yet) to forcefully call for his ouster. But I strongly feel that the question itself should be posed, discussed, and answered in a very short time -- for both the good of the party, and the good of the country.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “Is It Time For Harry Reid To Step Down?”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I agree that at times Sen. Reid seems at a loss. This is not good for the country and not good for the Democratic party. I am sure that there is a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on but it is difficult to keep giving him more chances when he (and Pelosi) disappoint us again and again.

    Things seem to be spiraling out of control and no one has stepped up to lead us out of the mess we are in.


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Once again, ya'all refuse to think the unthinkable...

    That maybe the "Bush Doctrine" is the best way to go...

    Until ya'all are ready to at least CONCEDE the possibility, ya'all are just going to be pulling out your hear and griping, "Woe is me...."

    Because until your minds are not closed to other possibilities, you are restricted in your beliefs.. Never one considering that maybe, JUST MAYBE, ya'all are wrong and others are right...

    How did Q put it in the STAR TREK TNG finale??

    "For that brief instant, your mind {will be} open to possibilities, both gross and benign..."



  3. [3] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    In a word; yes.

    Truth and our Constitution come first above all.

    Our military swear to uphold the Constitution first and foremost.

    When we resort to torture, to detaining children and placing them in "re-education camps", to baiting a people we occupy so we can kill them indiscriminately... and our political leaders sit worrying about an AD... about SPEECH... which is a fundamental part, nay, THE most fundamental part of our Constitution... then it is time for that political person to be replaced.

    I did not fight to quell speech, no matter how harshly I judge it.

    I did not fight to defend our Constitution just to watch greedy, evil men, try and tear it apart for their own gain.

    There was a time when truth trumped political expediency... but, that time was when we were the oppressed; not the oppressors.

    There was a time when doing what was right for our country took precedence... but, that was a time when people were willing to sacrifice for their beliefs instead of screaming them as they ran the other way.

    There was a time when having religious freedom, the right to worship as we wished, drove our forefathers to leave countries that worked to suppress, oppress, and even torture... but, that was before they could get power and oppress others, suppress others, and even torture them.

    What have we become... and where did my country go?

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    >What have we become…
    >and where did my country go?

    Your country is at war. Deal with it.

    Quit worrying so much about the aide and comfort of your country's enemies and worry more about what those enemies want to do to you, your family, your friends and your fellow Americans..


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Iddn't it interesting??

    Dems Can't Make Guarantee on Iraq Troops

    Looks like the top 3 Dem Pres contenders are becoming GOP-lite.. With regards to Iraq anyways.


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