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Forget the Honeymoon — Get a Marriage Counselor

The Senate Democrats are not amused with the handling of the Roland Burris mess. (Re-enacting a scene from the civil rights era – in which a neatly attired African-American man gets thrown out of a building to huddle in the rain — was one heck of a way to start the session, wasn’t it?) They are mad at the Senate leaders and at the President-elect according to this report:

Democrats angry over the botched handling of the Roland Burris imbroglio are putting the blame on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin and President-elect Barack Obama — even as new legal developments in Illinois throw the issue back to the Senate again.

Democratic sources say that Reid and Durbin underestimated the storm that would be caused by their attempt to deny a seat to a 71-year-old African-American.

“Reid operates in this tight, little circle with Durbin and [Sen. Charles] Schumer and [Sen. Patty] Murray,” complained one veteran Democratic senator, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He needs to talk to more people, and maybe these kinds of situations won’t occur again.”

Other Democratic insiders put some of the blame on Obama, complaining that he kept his distance from the Burris controversy then jumped in at the end to claim the mantle of peacemaker — much as he did in the flap over Sen. Joe Lieberman’s support of Republican John McCain’s presidential bid.

“A lot of people were pissed” with how the Burris situation was handled, said a Democratic source involved in the discussions.

Yikes. But in fairness, with the exception of Sen. Diane Feinstein, I didn’t see too many other Democrats popping up to say, “This is dumb.”

Does this have any ramifications down the road? Well, the President-elect who, however briefly, did hold a Senate seat seems not to have mastered the art of dealing with former colleagues. Part of the problem stems from the natural inclination to run from the scene of disasters — which often seem to pop up in Harry Reid’s vicinity. And the Obama team hasn’t quite come to grips with the difference between a candidate and a party leader/President. The former could avoid comment and gently distance himself from miscreants; the latter has to resolve food fights before they spatter him. And yes, part of problems is that the Obama team, whether in dealing with Blago or in selecting Bill Richardson, has a tin ear for political scandal. So the relations with Capitol Hill may not be so cozy.

The article reveals another problem: the Senate Democrats don’t much like or respect Reid. Republicans might cackle that the Democrats are just coming around to this realization. Nevertheless, there is a difference between a Senate leader of the opposite party, whose job it is to annoy, frustrate and criticize the White House, and a Senate leader of the same party, whose job it is to build coalitions to pass the President’s agenda and grease the skids for legislation. Reid  seems spectacularly ill-suited to fill the latter role. But he’s the chosen leader, and unless more calamities befall the Senate, that’s the position in which Reid will remain. The Senate Democrats’ success (and many of their members’ re-election prospects) will depend as will, to a great extent, the Obama legislative agenda, on the extent of Reid’s finesse. Good luck, fellas.


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