Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 13, 2009

SCREWING OVER DAWN JOHNSEN.... In a Senate where the Democratic caucus now stands at 59 votes, this is just ridiculous.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves to ease a backlog of executive branch nominations, he suggested on Tuesday that he does not have the votes to bring up President Barack Obama's pick to run the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.

"Right now we're finding out when to do that," Reid said, responding to a question about the status of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen's nomination to the Justice post. "We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60."

Let's acknowledge at the outset that allowing a shrinking Senate minority to mandate 60 votes for confirmation is itself absurd. No president in American history has had to deal with this kind of obstructionism to put together the team he wants, staffing relatively unknown administration posts. It's obstructionism on an unprecedented scale and it's an unsustainable way for the political process to operate.

Let's also take a moment to note that Johnsen is an exceptional nominee, who is unquestionably qualified, and clearly deserves confirmation.

That said, what kind of show is Harry Reid running here? His caucus has 59 members, and Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, a conservative Republican, has already endorsed Johnsen's nomination. We have Democratic senators who won't even let the president's choice for the OLC get a vote because she's pro-choice?

I know that Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) oppose Johnsen's nomination. Fine, they can vote against her when the Senate votes on her confirmation. But denying Johnsen an up-or-down vote, because 15 years ago she provided legal counsel in support of legal reproductive rights, is farcical.

Christy Hardin Smith noted this morning, "This is a failure of leadership. Period." She's absolutely right.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Reid is disgusting.

Posted by: Bill on May 13, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

Since when is Arlen Specter pro-life?

Posted by: Danp on May 13, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Since when is Arlen Specter pro-life?

Since he became a Dem, of course....

Posted by: Disputo on May 13, 2009 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

LBJ spins in his grave. He'd be grabbing a select few Senators by the lapels and threatening to do things to their dogs and children that would give Nazis nightmares.

Posted by: steve duncan on May 13, 2009 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Can the Senate find a leader? Please.

Would somebody go to Reid's office and chant "Up or Down Vote, Up or Down" Vote a few million times.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 13, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Well, when the Republicans get trashed in the next election cycle, and the Dems hold a 65-33-2(ind) formula from 2010 onward, this moment will be the sword the Republicans fell on.

I don't think Republicans see the irony - their guy has Yoo and others debasing our rule of law from the OLC and now they want to obstruct this president from installing needed, competent counsel.

What a bunch of hooey-eaters those Republicans are! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 13, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

"This is a failure of leadership. Period."

This is the last line of each chapter of each of the bios of the Democratic Party leadership, so called.

Posted by: Fleas direct the era on May 13, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Its a failure of leadership on the part of Reid, true, but to change things, Dems need to start hitting really hard on the obstructionism of the Republicans. That needs to be put clearly before the voters for the mid-term elections. Reid is secondary here. Its the Republican obstructionism that is the primary problem, and voters need to know that.

Posted by: Vicki Linton on May 13, 2009 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

All too often Democrats are their own worst enemies...I have never seen Reid as particularly effective or progressive (he probably doesn't claim to be the latter)...and I actually do not think President Obama considers himself progressive either...I can live with that BECAUSE I am a Democrat in philosophy and a LIBERAL which sadly means that I want to know ALL THE INFORMATION and make up my own mind...that, when your opponents are REPUBLICANS, is a recipe for disaster at times...like NOW!!!!

Posted by: Dancer on May 13, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I don't think the GOPers really care that Johnsen's pro-choice, no matter how much they bray about it. That's just political cover, plus a little red meat for the dumbass fundies back in their home states.

What scares the crap out of the Party of Torture is Johnsen's devotion to the rule of law and her outspoken anti-torture stance. Just remember: those Rebublicans just loves them some torture, and they worry that she'll take their new toy away from them, and probably put more than a few of them and their cronies in the Graybar Hotel.

Posted by: azportsider on May 13, 2009 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

it occurs -- over and over and over and over and over again, and again and again -- that were there an actual media and active aware citizens in this country...

well, it just gets too painful to imagine in comparison to the wasteland before us...

Posted by: neill on May 13, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

I think you need to hyphenate "screwing over" which, as written, seems to imply that someone is having sex above Dawn Johnsen.

Or, if that is indeed the case, I'd like to see pictures.

Posted by: Tom on May 13, 2009 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, Oh, Oh, when Franken joins the fray. For what, a so-called majority which includes the two Wal*Mart Senators Pryor and Lincoln, the two Senators from the PNW who represent the co-states of Microsoft and Frank Blethen of the Seattle Times, Dorgan of Big Banking, Tester and Baucus from Big Pharma, Banking and Insurance, Tim Johnson of the State of Credit Cards, Arlen representing his beloved State of Arlen - Not to forget Nelson and Landrieu whose coffers are always open to "Gifts"

What Freakin' Majority - Now, could we have Wall Street's Call-BoyGirl Geithner run for the Senate in NY? Ah, November Fifth last seemed ever so promising.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 13, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I don't believe a party with control of the House, Senate, and executive branch would be such a push-over if "The Market" wanted tens of billions of taxpayer dollars with no strings attached.

This is nothing but unconvincing theater on Reid's part.

Maybe Nader was right?

Posted by: Ugly Moe on May 13, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Man oh man this is disappointing from Harry Reid. I used to have such hopes for him to be tough, having heard the stories of how he stood up to the mob in Vegas.

But he can't stand up to the mob in the Senate!! It's far more important for him to be seen as genteel than for him to lay down the law. He can't even be bothered to push back and use the bully pulpit.

Democrats can be such complete wimps.

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on May 13, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

It's a simple question, really ! Why is Harry Reid the majority leader ?

Posted by: rbe1 on May 13, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm tired of this nonsense. It's self-defeating. Reid has 2 options:
1. Act like a spineless wimp, and only bring a vote when he has the 60 senators lined up behind him to make it go through. This has the benefit, in the short term, of always ensuring success. However, long term, it means that in a year the GOP will say, "They had 60, and they didn't do anything. Vote for someone who will."
2. Call the GOP on this crap. Call for the vote, and every time the GOP blocks with procedural crap, call a press conference, and say, "We tried to do the nation's business. Unfortunately, our friends across the isle thought that rather than confirming the president's nominee in an up or down vote, the nation could afford to play political and procedural games. It's unfortunate that they place politics above trying to help their constituents. I hope that they will serve their country, rather than their party, tomorrow."

Surprise. Reid keeps choosing the path of cowardice.

Posted by: Diogenes on May 13, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

azportsider is exactly right.

Posted by: Vicente Fox on May 13, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Is there any Democrat outside of the U.S. Senate who think Reid should be the leader of anything?

The words "Reid" and "leadership" don't ever belong in the same sentence unless it also includes the words "complete failure of".

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 13, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

rbe1 has the right question. It's no longer about Reid: he's already proven his incompetence. The question now is why the Senate Democrats continue to choose an incompetent leadership.

Posted by: ferg on May 13, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

threatening to do things to their dogs and children that would give Nazis nightmares.

but give Bill O'Reilly and Cheney woodys.

Posted by: ckelly on May 13, 2009 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

So why don't the complaining posters start the "up or down vote" chant to Reid? E-mail Reid, Specter and their own senators demanding up or down.

Beyond that, the White House needs to get one of it's allies to request the CRO and Parliamentarian research the history of cloture and issue reports. The 60 votes for everything is NOT tradition or standard practice, it is a recent perversion. Once the reports are publicized by the White House and some allies, then ask Biden as President of the Senate for a ruling. Let the Rethugs howl while action is taken, which is what the vast majority wants and FDR understood.

Posted by: OKDem on May 13, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

What is Reid supposed to do to get a vote?

Posted by: Woo on May 13, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

LBJ spins in his grave. He'd be grabbing a select few Senators by the lapels and threatening to do things to their dogs and children that would give Nazis nightmares.
Posted by: steve duncan

Amen. I knew we were in trouble when after becoming majority leader Reid told 60 Minutes that he didn't consider LBJ a good role model for the job. He obviously had Caspar Milquetoast in mind instead.

What a spineless wimp Reid is. And I'm not terribly impressed with Pelosi, either. Is their any way we can dig up LBJ and Sam Rayburn? They'd be more effective dead than Reid and Pelosi have been proven to be alive.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on May 13, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

I blame the entire caucus. They have known for years that Reid is not willing to push and is willing to let the minority invent a '60 votes for everything' rule, yet they keep re-electing him as their supposed leader. They would do better with Orrin Hatch as their leader.

Posted by: freelunch on May 13, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Reid's abjectly craven refusal to bring a bill or a nominee to a vote because of his inability to get cloture is essentially a non-event. By definition, nothing happens. It's hard to Obama to go to the public and try to explain how the Dem's inability to get cloture is a problem when 90% of the public has no clue what in hell cloture is in the first place.

If Reid would get off his spineless ass and bring Johnson's nomination to an up-or-down vote, THAT is an event. Whether the GOP allows it to come to a vote or filibusters, something actually happens, and the GOP would finally be forced to take a visible stand. If they filibuster, then the entire business of the Senate grinds to a halt. That is then something tangible that Obama can respond to in the manner that Diogenes laid out.

Harry Reid is, without a doubt, the most ineffectual, incompetent, feckless, spineless, gutless, cowardly, and above all, FLACCID Senate Majority Leader either party has had in the last 100 years.

As long as he's Majority Leader, the national Dems aren't getting a nickel from me.

Posted by: bluestatedon on May 13, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Truth to Power: When an actual authentic poll is taken (where the sample isn't just 18% Republicans) Your socialist agendas are not supported by the "American people." When the word "Conservative" is substituted for "Republican" in polls, the poll numbers swell to a majority for the right. Obamunism will cost you seats in 2010. Graft ,corruption, and fraud are the hallmarks of the stimulus bill - and the future holds inflation, debt repudiation, and bankruptcy (please see yesterdays figures on Social scurity and Medicare.) Maybe Dingey Harry Reid knows something the Monthly doesn't...

Posted by: Mike campbell on May 13, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

"But denying Johnsen an up-or-down vote, because 15 years ago she provided legal counsel in support of legal reproductive rights, is farcical."

Not that the 60 vote thing should be a blocker, but since it seems to be in Reid's mind; perhaps it should be verified - Isn't Harry Reid a pro-lifer? Maybe he himself is the one that has a problem with Johnsen.

Posted by: MVPOnlin on May 13, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I think you need to hyphenate "screwing over" which, as written, seems to imply that someone is having sex above Dawn Johnsen.

General comment to all: Can we cease and desist with the grammar and spelling lessons to Steve. Geez people, he is a writing machine, and he is not perfect. Let it go already.

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on May 13, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60.

And when that is met, the bar will be raised to ~85 votes...just to be safe. Hey Reid, what kind of incriminating pictures do they have on you? The party of torture got your knees wobbling?

and what berttheclock said @ 9:17

Posted by: Kevin on May 13, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that this is lame, but really, getting Senators in line is like herding cats. If a bunch of Democrats want to be total douchebags about this, there's really not much Harry Reid can do to bring them into line. Dawn Johnsen's nomination is an issue with absolutely no political saliency. Nobody is going to lose an election because they were dicks about it, so Ben Nelson, et al, can hold this hostage if they like.

It's all incredibly stupid, and Reid certainly hasn't proved his effectiveness, but I don't really see any clear answers as to what should be done about it. Having cloture votes that you lose is a ridiculous waste of time. Forcing them to filibuster is also stupid - and doesn't even really work, given the way Senate rules work. The only thing to be done is to persuade and cajole enough senators to get the thing through. This is stupid, and annoying, and slow. But we won't really know that Reid has failed until Johnsen either gets confirmed or there's some definitive statement that she won't be.

It's stupid and annoying, but I don't see what other option there is. And the problem here isn't really Reid. The problem is that the Senate is a terrible institution with terrible rules that sucks, and that the Democratic caucus is full of obnoxious prima donnas who will vote for whatever shit a Republican president wants but then turn against their own party. Neither of those things is Reid's fault. At this point, it seems like the Senate is basically an unmanageable institution, especially when Democrats are in charge.

Posted by: John on May 13, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I don't expect anything to change after Franken is seated and the Dems have 60 seats (or for that matter, in two years assuming they pick up a few more). Reid will then develop a fondness for honoring anonymous holds and start conceding certain victories.
I have to wonder what is really going on. No one with the political skill to rise to Reid's current level could be so timid. There has to be something that we don't know about. A secret alliance, a bribe, blackmail,... something.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee indeed.

Posted by: jeri on May 13, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

If Dawn Johnsen is rejected as the head of OLC, maybe Holder will select her as Special Counsel to prosecute the Bush administration for its torture program. She would be perfect for that.

Posted by: PS on May 13, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever happened to the nuclear option the Rethuglicans taught us all about? Jeez, can't the Dums learn anything?

Posted by: Frak on May 13, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Just wanted to add my agreement that Harry Reid needs to go - and wonder why he keeps getting elected as Senate Majority Leader?

Posted by: John Bubba on May 13, 2009 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I fear for the Democratic Party if Reid is the best leader they can find for the Senate. They will be paralyzed for the duration of their majority, which probably won't last very long either unless they can get measures passed and people confirmed.

Posted by: CDW on May 13, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

It's only a failure of leadership if the Dems actually want her. I kind of doubt they want someone who believes in the rule of law either.

Posted by: Jay on May 13, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Mike campbell, and if your wrong will you move to Mexico?

Posted by: Repug-Repo-Man on May 13, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Wishful thinking Mike, but even with Reid as leader, remind me again why people would vote for the GOP? From everything I've heard the majority of Americans think we are moving in the right direction, the GOP has no solutions, no alternatives, and no legs to stand on. Save all the Socialism this, and socialism that, do yo even know what socialism is? Try selling plutocracy to Americans, because that's all we can expect from the GOP.

Posted by: Repug-Repo-Man on May 13, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid as the "Wuss" is straight from Central Casting. Obama has to begin knocking some heads together or will get nowhere.

Posted by: Totto on May 13, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Goddammit, how can this even be?

Posted by: Lynn Dee on May 13, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Bolton was assigned to UN under a recess appointment since he had zero chance of confirmation. Any reason Johnsen couldn't assume the OLC gig the same way?

And what Diogenes said @ 9:41.

Posted by: Chopin on May 13, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

You better have your own agenda for yourself and your family because these people only seem to care about themselves while America goes down the drain. There's no surprise here. Many white sheets have been taken out of the closet since the inauguration. Yes, this country has come a long way, but still has quite a ways to go and those who believe that all the power should stay white are fighting for dear life to maintain it as much as possible. I never cared for Harry Reid. He, Specter, and Nelson should look at their true beliefs.

Posted by: sad analysis on May 13, 2009 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK



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