By John Russonello
January 12, 2009
If we ever had any doubts that the U.S. Senate was truly the nation's most exclusive — and perhaps isolated and calcified-club, last week's behavior by Majority Leader Harry Reid wiped away those doubts.
The Senate Democratic leadership has refused to rally Democratic senators to stand up and face down Republicans on issue after issue for the last four years. When Democrats were in the minority, Reid did not think it was worth a Democratic filibuster over two right-wing appointments to the Supreme Court-Samuel Alito and John Roberts.
Roberts even refused to hand over the legal advisories he wrote as a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, which would have given the nation a better idea of where he stood on constitutional issues. Roberts said no, and the Democrats, being consistent, said, well, OK, never mind that we asked for them — go ahead and take a job (chief justice) that you will have for the rest of your life, from which you cannot be fired, and which will allow you to set policies that will affect all Americans for decades to come.
Similarly, Reid did not rally his party to stop the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which gave President Bush the authority to imprison people indefinitely and torture them based only on suspicions rather than on evidence.
When Democrats became the majority party in the Senate, Reid did not rally his party to call the Republicans' bluff that they would filibuster bills to expand health care for lowincome children, restore habeas corpus rights taken away in the Military Commissions Act and give longer home leave time for U.S. service personnel in Iraq. A majority of senators supported each of these proposals but when the Republican leadership threatened a filibuster, maintaining order in the club was more important than taking a stand.
How sad it is that when Reid finally found the strength to fight, he decided to make the fight about whether to allow Roland Burris to be sworn in to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Roberts is not worth a fight — and Burris is? Think it through, Democrats. Maybe it's time for a change.
John Russonello is a partner in the public opinion research and strategic communications firm Belden Russonello Strategists in Washington.