Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When they get behind closed doors

Say what you will about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but he's not afraid to take a chance.

Yes, the Reid-orchestrated temporary shutdown of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday was a stunt, but it got Democrats what they wanted -- a promise that senators will continue an investigation into the deceptions and bad intelligence that led the country into the Iraq war -- and it did so in just a couple of hours. It also left Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., blustering about "an affront to the United States" and looking embarrassed about being tactically one-upped by Reid.

It's important to note that Democrats' decision to force a closed session, while furtive and provocative, is a permissible tactic under Senate rules. That stands in stark contrast to Republicans' renewed threats to invoke the nuclear option if Democrats try to filibuster Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, in that the nuclear option would clearly violate a written Senate rule that requires a 2/3 majority vote to change the rule allowing filibusters of judicial nominees. (Frist, by the way, is a huge supporter of the nuclear option, which, if you're worried about affronts, would be a pretty big one to the rule of law.)

Reid took a calculated risk with the closed session. The temporary shutdown invited the danger that the GOP's frequent accusations that Democrats are extremist or obstructionist would gain firmer traction in the mainstream media and that the charges would entrench themselves in the public's psyche.

But on the upside for Democrats, the closed session secured a promise that Congress will continue to probe prewar intelligence and, just as importantly, brought that issue back into the public limelight. The shutdown also served as a shot across the GOP bow to signal that Reid wouldn't take the nuclear option lying down.

Reid wagered that the tactic's positives outweighed its negatives, and though it's too early to know for sure whether the Democrats will profit from the move in the end, it at least seems improbable that the move caused them much damage among swing voters.


Post a Comment

<< Home