Capitol Smackdown

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; 8:09 AM

I must say, they really looked mad yesterday.

Politicians are masters of manufactured outrage. In fact, one might say that's what they do for a living.

But when Bill Frist said he felt "slapped in the face" by Harry Reid, it was like his face was red and stinging. And Reid looked just as ticked off when he came out to face the cameras.

The occasion-- and what passed for excitement inside the Beltway-- was a maneuver in which the Democratic leader forced the Senate into secret session over the Libby indictment and prewar intel.

Frist declared it a "stunt," and he was right. But it was a stunt that got attention, which is important when you're in the minority.

Let's separate the theatrics from the substance.

On the drama front, Reid didn't accomplish much, nor did he really intend to. Except, perhaps, to serve notice that he's no Tom Daschle and isn't going to play the gentlemanly game of go along and get along.

On the substance front, Reid has a valid point: The Republican Congress--which held hearings every 10 minutes on various and sundry Clinton scandals-- has no interest in performing serious oversight of the Bush administration. (Imagine if a top Clinton aide had been indicted in the outing of a CIA operative! The GOP chairman would have scars from colliding with each other in the rush to hold hearings.) But with 44 votes, Reid can't do much about that.

All this looks like it will produce some ruptured relations as the Senate gears up to consider Sam Alito-- and with the nuclear option hovering on the horizon, in case the Dems actually try to filibuster.

"Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session on Tuesday over the Bush administration's use of intelligence to justify the Iraq war and the Senate's willingness to examine it," says the New York Times .

"The move provoked a sharp public confrontation between the two parties as the Republicans lost control of the chamber for two hours and were left to complain bitterly about what they called an unnecessary 'stunt.' The confrontation demonstrated an escalation of partisan tensions in the wake of last week's indictment of the White House aide I. Lewis Libby Jr. in the C.I.A. leak case."

Frist said "he would find it difficult to trust Mr. Reid any longer." Like they had such a great relationship before? Frist went to South Dakota last year to campaign against Daschle, so he knows politics ain't beanbag.

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