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 partys prerogatives in the 111th Congress and will not allow an Obama White House to dictate the chambers agenda.
Official Washingtons current love fest with President-elect Barack Obama and his mandate for change notwithstanding, Reid said he would work to restore the legislative branchs muscle, which he believes Congressional Republicans largely surrendered to President George W. Bush.
I dont work for Barack Obama. I work with him, Reid said during a 30-minute interview with Roll Call in his Capitol office. Theres been large amounts of power during the Republican years ceded to the White House. Were not going to do that. I hope we dont have a single flare-up with Obama, but we might. But just because he wants [something] doesnt mean were going to cave in.
During GOP rule from 2001 to 2007, Democrats often bitterly criticized Congressional Republicans as a rubber stamp for Bush. Were not going to do that, Reid said.
Reid already hinted at his plans to keep the Obama administration at arms 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 GOPs 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 positions largely ceremonial role as President of the Senate.
Its 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, its 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 dont 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.
Its easy to be a gracious winner. Its hard to be a gracious loser. But Mitch is trying to do that, Reid said.
Though he gave high marks to McConnell for offering to cooperate on legislation, Reid was not as generous when it came to Republican threats to block the Senate from seating Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, who was certified the winner of his race against Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) by the state canvassing board this week. Frankens legal certification requires the signature of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), which he has yet to secure pending the outcome of Colemans legal challenge of the election results.
Reid said he would not seek to seat Franken in the near future, but that eventually his patience for the legal wrangling over the seat would run out.
As I told Republicans on the floor today, were going to be very patient, but theres going to come a time when we do something about it, Reid said. If theyre just stalling so we dont have our 59th vote, I think the people in Minnesota are going to see through that pretty quickly.
Reid added that he would not hesitate if the circumstances call for it to send both the Franken matter and the questionable appointment of Democrat Roland Burris to Obamas vacant seat to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Reid is scheduled to meet with Burris today, but he declined to reveal what he planned to tell the former state attorney general. Reid has not ruled out seating Burris eventually but said no such action would be taken this week.
Understand that I dont need anyones permission to refer Franken and Burris to the Rules Committee, Reid stated. I can do that. I can just walk out and file a resolution, and it goes there automatically. But were going to be fair and deliberate in what were doing.
Electorally, Reid has become the top target of Republicans in the 2010 cycle, and he practically dared the GOP on Tuesday to come after him. If Republicans are so convinced they can beat him, Reid said, they should devote a lot of resources to Nevada. That will allow us to have a lot of other resources that they wont have to that we can use other places.
Republicans in Washington, D.C., and Nevada have made no secret of their intention to go after the Majority Leader over the next two years.
I have won races and I have lost races, Reid said. Anyone can be beaten at any time. I can be beaten; I understand that. But its nothing Im going to go to bed quivering about every night.
He added, Ive had a pretty good career, and Im going to continue doing the best I can for Nevada and the country.