There have been numerous profiles of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the past week or so, after he took the lead on government shutdown non-negotiations and began something of a public meltdown. He took some heat for angrily snapping at CNN’s Dana Bash and badly fumbling a question about funding for cancer treatment. He also threatened to leak private emails from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to the press, and then did so.
Because of his temper and his tendency to lash out, Reid has always been more effective working behind the scenes to protect Democrats’ priorities and find procedural ways to further marginalize Republican participation in the legislative process. With the attention on the government shutdown, it was inevitable Reid would have to step somewhat into the spotlight, and Beltway media are noticing. But by far the most enlightening profile of Reid’s new, more public role is today’s version in the Hill. It is from this story we learn that President Obama has, essentially, been benched:
President Obama has handed over the reins of leadership on government funding and the debt limit to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Reid is now fully in charge of his party’s negotiating strategy, a significant change from past showdowns with Republicans.
He has taken the initiative from Obama, who played the principal role in the 2011 debt-limit talks and New Year’s fiscal cliff deal. Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are relieved by the switch.
The story goes on to note the “pugnacious style” Reid has brought to the crisis, which is an understatement. But the change in command is not really about “style,” the story explains:
Liberal Democrats do not fully trust Obama, in part because of his more diplomatic style. Their disquiet was deepened by his past tax deals with Republicans and repeated offers to trim Social Security and Medicare costs.
Obama alarmed some in the Senate Democratic caucus last week when he convened congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the government shutdown and looming debt-limit debate.
They feared he might take the lead in the talks and make concessions to get past the current fiscal crisis.
“There’s some concern being expressed now that Obama is calling the leaders to the White House that this might be premature,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, a senior Democrat from Iowa. “What’s he going to say? What’s he going to do?
“I hope he just says, ‘Harry’s the leader. We’re following Sen. Reid,’” he added.
Even if this is the truth, it would probably be more appropriate for these Democrats to avoid humiliating Obama like this. But it certainly is revealing. Probably the best description of the Democrats’ mindset from the beginning of the shutdown is that they were “alarmed” when Obama invited congressional leaders to talk. Even communicating with Republicans is frowned upon.
And why are Democrats opposed to Obama participating in the current round of national politics? Because they fear he will negotiate in good faith–the idea of which has sent Reid into an erratic tailspin–and that the president will think he has more authority here than Reid. That’s not how Democrats see it: “There’s no question, Reid is now the quarterback,” one Senate aide told the Hill.
Of course there is logic to Reid’s strategy. Polling shows that Republicans went against public opinion to risk shutting down the government over ObamaCare, and they do not seem to have had a fully developed strategy for winning the showdown. Democrats see negotiations as throwing a lifeline to a Republican caucus seemingly in need of one. As the White House’s petty behavior has shown, the Democrats would prefer the shutdown continue and are attempting to make it as painful as possible on the country because they assume Republicans will get the blame for the effects of the shutdown.
The story suggests that when it comes to the government turning its abusive tactics on the American people, Reid thinks that even Obama has his limits. Nobody thinks Reid has such limits, which is why Democrats are going to the press with declarations of loyalty to Reid and suggestions that maybe the president sit this one out.