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Reid Comes Out Fighting

Leader Says Senate Won’t Cave

As he begins to feel the full power of his nearly filibuster-proof Democratic majority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) made clear Tuesday he plans to forcefully press his party’s prerogatives in the 111th Congress and will not allow an Obama White House to dictate the chamber’s agenda.

Official Washington’s current love fest with President-elect Barack Obama and his mandate for “change” notwithstanding, Reid said he would work to restore the legislative branch’s muscle, which he believes Congressional Republicans largely surrendered to President George W. Bush.

“I don’t work for Barack Obama. I work with him,” Reid said during a 30-minute interview with Roll Call in his Capitol office. “There’s been large amounts of power during the Republican years ceded to the White House. We’re not going to do that. I hope we don’t have a single flare-up with Obama, but we might. But just because he wants [something] doesn’t mean we’re going to cave in.”

During GOP rule from 2001 to 2007, Democrats often bitterly criticized Congressional Republicans as a “rubber stamp” for Bush. “We’re not going to do that,” Reid said.

Reid already hinted at his plans to keep the Obama administration at arm’s length when he told news organizations in December he would not be inviting Vice President-elect Joseph Biden — who is still a Senator — to sit in on regular Senate Democratic policy lunches. Vice President Dick Cheney was a regular fixture at the Senate GOP’s weekly policy lunches for the entire Bush presidency, but his involvement in the affairs of Congressional Republicans was largely unprecedented for a vice president, considering the position’s largely ceremonial role as President of the Senate.

“It’s just a basic issue of separation of powers,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide explained. “When appropriate, administration officials are going to be invited to the caucus [lunch]. Otherwise, it’s going to be Members only.”

But Obama administration officials are not the only people being put on notice that Reid does not intend to be pushed around over the next two years. Reid also warned that he would deal forcefully with Republicans if they attempt to take advantage of his vow to solicit bipartisan input on legislation.

“I just don’t want somebody coming in thinking they can hold up everything here by my statement that I want to be bipartisan. I want to work with these folks and start legislating like we used to do around here,” said Reid, who is rounding out his fourth Senate term.

Reid said he hopes the Senate will operate more like it did in decades past — when the minority did not routinely object to legislation being debated on the Senate floor and when a free-flowing amendment process often kept individual bills on the floor for weeks at a time.

“I think we have to do some of these bills just like we used to do,” he said.

Reid added that he believes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reached out in a constructive way to encourage bipartisan comity, noting his GOP colleague was “direct and candid” during a bicameral, bipartisan leadership meeting with Obama on Monday.

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