Is Harry Reid a wimp?

All along the blue blogosphere, the cries ring out for Harry Reid’s head–or all the Senate Democrats. And it has been a pretty bad couple of days if you’re a progressive. In the last week, the putatively Democratic Senate has:

1) Failed to break a GOP filibuster on a bill restoring habeas corpus;

2) Failed to break a GOP filibuster on the Webb Amendment; and

3) Managed to condemn MoveOn.org for suggesting that maybe David Petraeus is not the second coming of George Marshall.

The question, of course, is why Harry Reid lets them get away with it. He can’t change the Senate rules, of course, but he can make the Republicans stand there and openly tell the public why it doesn’t want soliders to have adequate rest. It would make a good sound bite: “The Democrats want to protect the troops; the Republicans want to protect the President.” So why doesn’t he?

I asked a colleague of mine who is an expert on Congress. This is what she said. Take it for what it’s worth:

1. The Democrats are very invested in the notion that they can get the appropriations bills enacted in a timely manner. This shows their ability to govern.

2. The Democrats are also very invested in getting S-CHIP reauthorized. Many Republicans are VERY nervous about not getting this done: their governors and publics are screaming at them about this. The Democrats may not be able to override the President’s veto, but would be happy to have him veto S-CHIP and undermine the Republicans in their districts.

So? “Remember,” she told me, “that the Senate grinds to a halt unless you can get a unanimous consent agreement.” Making the GOP filibuster prevents these agreements and it will essentially clog up the calendar so much that nothing can get done. Also remember, she told me, just how slim the Democratic majorities are.

I don’t buy it. If Mitch McConnell is committed to making the Democrats look bad, then he will also filibuster the appropriations bills (which the GOP can do) unless the Dems give the President everything he wants, and even then he will hold it up to make them look incompetent. I can see not forcing a public filibuster on habeas–that’s hard for people to understand–but I think that doing it for the Webb Amendment works. I also endorse Mark’s proposal to put the Webb Amendment in the conference report.

But if that’s the case, then once McConnell does this, we might get these public filibusters–and it will probably come on Webb or S-CHIP (if those GOP senators who voted for it now reverse themselves to protect the President). If we don’t, then we have only two more options:

1. The Senate Democrats are brain-dead; or

2. They are so cynical that they would like the war to continue through 2008 to give the Democrats an issue.

Or maybe both.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.