U.S. Senate Democrats Unwisely Re-elect Harry Reid as Leader

Senator Harry Reid
Senator Harry Reid

Today, November 13th, the Senate Democrats re-elected Senator Harry Reid as their leader, now Minority Leader, for the next Session of Congress starting in January. [1]

Although the voting was by secret ballot, it was not unanimous. At least four of the Senators rejecting Reid have been identified: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. McCaskill said, “When you have an election like this, common sense says we need to change things. The voice was very loud and unmistakable. To me that means changing leadership, and it was just that simple.” Heitkamp added, “This was a change election. I think that we needed to demonstrate that we heard the American public.”

Over the last several months, these four were part of a group of about 10 more junior Democratic senators have begun more openly registering their dissatisfaction with Mr. Reid’s approach. Others include Senator Angus King of Maine and Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

The leadership votes went ahead after several in the caucus asked for a delay to give them an opportunity to consider others for the leadership posts.

Senator Reid apparently responded to these negative views of his leadership by appointing Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as the Caucus’ Strategic Policy Advisor, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to chair a caucus committee that handles outreach to outside allies and activists and Senator Tester as Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

As a Democrat, I think the re-election of Reid is a horribly unwise. I have cringed every time Reid appears on television as the voice of the Senate Democrats. He comes across as tired, old, cranky, dull, weak and unpersuasive. When he appears on television with the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Majority Leader, the personal animosity between the two often is apparent. The Democrats and the country do not want to see a continuation of this outworn drama.

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Amy Klobuchar

As a Minnesotan, I believe our Senator Amy Klobuchar would be an excellent new Minority Leader. She would be a fresh face, younger (age 54) and female in sharp contrast to McConnell. She also has a record of being able to get along with Republicans in the Chamber. In the final debate this year for Minnesota’s other U.S. Senate seat, the unsuccessful Republican candidate, Mike McFadden, frequently praised Klobuchar and said “I’m here to say Amy Klobuchar sets the bar for work ethic and authenticity.”

Scott Lehigh, a Boston Globe columnist, said the 74-year old Reid “should announce that when this session of Congress ends, [he] will relinquish [his] role as leader of [the] . . . Democratic [caucus].” Reid is a “tired face, stale voice, entrenched presence in Washington. . . . After a certain period, congressional leaders’ caricatured images get so ingrained that they become electoral liabilities for their parties.” (Lehigh makes the same argument about why Nancy Pelosi should not be the Democratic leader of the House in the new Congress, but that is an argument for another day.)

Another columnist in the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib, posed a similar question, “Where are the [Democrat] party’s fresh young leaders?” But he assumed that Reid would be the new Minority Leader, and instead mentioned Senator Elizabeth Warren as a potential national leader of the party along with “highly capable younger Democrat [Senators]:” Mark Warner, . . . a 59-year-old moderate from a key swing state, as is Colorado’s 49-year-old Michael Bennet. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 47, is a rising star.”

I have no quarrel with any of these prominent Democratic Senators, and any of them would change the public persona of the Senate Democrats, but I point out that they have less experience in the Senate than Senator Klobuchar’s eight years: Warner (six years), Gillibrand (six years), Bennet (four years) and Warren (two years).

Here is a personal plea to Senator Reid. Wake up. Give someone else the opportunity to lead. Do not be a liability to your party. Stand down.

==============================================

[1] This account of the re-election of Senator Reid is based upon articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Politico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Outrageous, Dysfunctional U.S. Senate

Today (April 17th) the U.S. Senate again demonstrated its dysfunctionality in outrageously refusing to vote on the merits on adopting reasonable, common-sense legislation to combat the horrendous toll of gun violence in the U.S. Just look at the New York Times and Washington Post articles on this day in the Senate.

Under the unconstitutional Senate filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to end debate and proceed to voting on the merits, the compromise measure crafted by Democratic Senator Joe Machin and Republican Senator Pat Toomey to require background checks for sales of guns online and at gun shows (but not between neighbors and family members) failed to get the 60 votes although it had the support of 54% of the Senate.

Similarly a measure to increase enforcement and reporting on gun purchases by mentally ill persons had majority support (52%), but not the “necessary” 60 votes and thus failed to advance.

Another failure despite majority support (58%) was a measure to make straw purchasing and trafficking of guns a federal crime.

One gun control measure–renewal and strengthening of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines–also failed to even get a simple majority, 40-60.

For me these actions once again show the outrageousness of the filibuster rule and the failure of the Senate earlier this year to abolish or make significant changes to that rule. I have frequently railed against the filibuster rule and practice in this blog.

As President Obama said afterwards, it was a “shameful day for Washington.”

 

 

Additional Support for Reform of U.S. Congress

NoLabels

 

Some members of Congress, governors, mayors and over 1,000 political activists have created a group called “No Labels” to mobilize support for efforts to reduce or eliminate the dysfuntionality of the federal government.

Led by former Republican Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, it is working to bring our political leaders and parties together to forge solutions to our nation’s problems.  No Labels promotes its politics of problem solving in three ways: by organizing citizens across America, providing a space for legislators who want to solve problems to convene and by pushing for common-sense reforms to make our government work.

make-congress-work-simple-banner

One of the action plans of No Labels is called Make Congress Work with the following 12 proposals:

  1. No Budget, No Pay. If Congress does not timely pass a budget and annual spending bills, then they should not get paid.
  2. Up or Down Votes on Presidential Appointments. All presidential nominations should be confirmed or rejected within 90 days of submission to the Senate.
  3. Fix the Filibuster. Change the Senate rules to require real filibusters and eliminate them on motions to proceed to consider proposed legislation and other matters.
  4. Empower the Sensible Majority. Allow a bipartisan majority to override a leader or committee chair’s refusal to bring a bill to the floor.
  5. Make Members Come to Work. Make members work three five-day weeks in Washington per month with one week in their home districts.
  6. Question Time for the President. Provide for the President monthly to provide members an opportunity to question the President and to debate their ideas.
  7. Fiscal Report to Congress. A non-partisan leader should deliver an annual in-person televised fiscal report to a joint session of Congress to provide one set of facts relevant to fiscal policy.
  8. No Outside Pledges. Members of Congress should only take the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office.
  9. Monthly Bipartisan Gatherings. Each house should have monthly, off-the-record bipartisan gatherings to discuss current issues.
  10. Bipartisan Seating. At all joint sessions or meetings of Congress, every member should sit beside at least one person from the opposing party.
  11. Bipartisan Leadership Committee. Congressional party leaders should have a bipartisan committee to meet and discuss legislative agendas and solutions.
  12. No Negative Campaigns Against Incumbents. Incumbents should not conduct negative campaigns against other incumbents.[1]

The group’s website provides interactive petitions to support these measures. I have signed them and urge you to do the same.

Points 2 and 3 of this action plan relate to reforming the Senate’s filibuster rule, which has been discussed in prior posts.

On January 22nd the Senate will turn to the filibuster issue.

This week three of the Senators pushing for such reform are reiterating their campaign for signing a petition supporting their efforts.

In addition, one of groups working for such reform, the Communications Workers of America labor union, is launching a cable television advertising campaign calling on the Senate to eliminate the silent filibuster and implement “common sense” rules reforms. The union also will have interactive  online advertising to highlight how the silent filibuster may block issues such as immigration reform, climate change and job creation. These ads will culminate in an online petition for such reform.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernstein, a political commentator, agrees with me that requiring a talking filibuster will not really solve much. Such a reform, he says, is addressed at improving the transparency and accountability for filibusters. The real problem is that filibusters or the threats of same are used at every possible opportunity, so that 60 votes are needed to do anything, and the talking filibuster proposal does not address that problem. Instead, supermajority voting is the problem that needs to be addressed by reform.

Skepticism about the merits of the current proposed reforms of the filibuster rule is also voiced by two former secretaries of the Senate. They argue that the real problem is the increasing inability of the minority party in the body to offer amendments to bills under consideration and their resulting use of the filibuster to protest such exclusion and to prevent consideration of the measures. Instead the former secretaries of the Senate suggest that it adopt a standing order for only this session of the Congress allowing the minority party the opportunity to offer one to three relevant amendments to a bill or other measure. This right would be controlled by the minority leader or his or her designee, with the subject matter of these proposed amendments be disclosed, in writing, as soon as the bill becomes the pending business. After the session is concluded the efficacy of this change could be evaluated before adopting it or something else as a standing rule of the Senate.

On Friday, January 11th, Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly told a Nevada television station that the Senate was unlikely to pass a radical revision of its filibuster rule.


[1] Another action plan of No Labels is called Make the Presidency Work that will be the subject of a future post.