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Despite His Party's Majority, Senate Leader Harry Reid Gets Off to a Rough Start
Tired of negotiating with Coburn, Reid issued another threat yesterday and vowed to hold weekend votes, a common tactic for Senate leaders but not one generally issued on the second legislative day of the year. "People who are United States senators should cancel their travel plans this weekend," Reid said on the Senate floor.
It's unclear whether he will follow through on the threat, given that Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be among five current senators leaving on a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Regardless, Reid remains immensely popular with his Democratic colleagues. A former Capitol Police officer, Reid has taken on the tough jobs many never wanted, including ethics committee chairman and whip. He led the fight against Bush's Social Security plan, calling the president a "loser" and a "liar" in the process, comments that made him a frequent target of White House criticism.
"He's willing to take the barbs, the arrows and the slings and still carry on. When he wants to get a job done, he'll get it done," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who ranks Reid "very high" among the eight majority leaders he has seen in 24 years.
But the Burris situation has been an unwelcome diversion from what should have been a triumphant opening of the Senate, given the Democratic gains and Obama's pending inauguration.
After Blagojevich's arrest, Reid gathered the signatures of all 50 members of the current Democratic caucus who served in the last Congress and demanded the governor's resignation, saying they would consider blocking any Blagojevich appointment because federal prosecutors alleged he was trying to sell the Obama seat for his own financial gain.
Following Burris's selection, Reid and his leadership team issued a statement saying anyone appointed by Blagojevich "cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated."
But Democrats balked at the suggestion that they would block Burris, who has no apparent connection to Blagojevich's scandals. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the Rules Committee, said her constitutional review showed the Senate had no ability to deny Burris the seat so long as he was not connected to the Illinois scandal. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he called Reid last week to tell him that if Illinois officials signed off, "we have to seat him."
Asked if this was how he had expected to start the new year, Reid bellowed, "No!"
"It's certainly been a diversion," he said. "A lot of time has been devoted to that. But I don't think it's kept us from the other things."