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Reid a No-Show for Las Vegas Debate

Things have gotten so tense and chaotic on Capitol Hill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is reluctantly skipping tonight's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas after working tirelessly to turn his home state into a player in the early primary season.

Just days after offering to hug Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his seeming cooperative spirit, Reid now finds himself caught in parliamentary gridlock with Republicans and wrangling over executive and judicial nominations with the White House. With President Bush threatening more vetoes of spending measures for the war and major domestic programs, the beleaguered Reid has had to jettison most extracurricular activities.

The first casualty will be his no-show at tonight's presidential debate in Las Vegas sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. Reid used his clout to cajole the DNC into allowing Nevada to move up the date of its caucus to Jan. 19, ahead of every other state except Iowa and New Hampshire which traditionally kick off the caucus and primary season.

The Silver State obviously hasn't received even a fraction of the attention lavished on Iowa and New Hampshire, but tonight's Democratic debate is Nevada's big chance to step out of the shadows. With the high-stakes debate being televised 0n CNN, Reid had hoped to be on hand to bask in the glow of the klieg lights and the national media hype. The debate will be the first since the frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), slipped up in a debate held in Philadelphia. [While Reid is officially uncommitted, his politically influential son, Rory, the Clark County commission chairman, has endorsed Clinton.]

But the Senate is bogged down in legislative maneuvering that has stalled consideration of the farm bill, with McConnell balking at Reid's tactic to close off the number of amendments Republicans could offer. In addition, the Senate still must take up a bill to provide so-called "bridge" funds to cover the next few months of costs of the Iraq war. And negotiations continue over the next attempt at passing a $35 billion expansion of a children's health insurance program. Reid is now openly talking about the Senate working through Sunday, if not into next week.

"Unfortunately, Sen. Reid will not be able to attend the debate because the Senate still has work to finish this week," spokesman Jon Summers said. Instead, the best Reid can do is offer a "welcome" statement to candidates on his state party's web site.

But that is just this week's scheduling headache. The longer-term casualty might be the holiday travel schedules of Democratic leaders and senators from states relatively close to Washington. Reid is seriously considering not formally adjourning the chamber over the Thanksgiving-New Year's season to block presidential recess appointments stemming from contentious executive and judicial nominations.

Democrats had been planning to leave for a two-week Thanksgiving recess this weekend, then come back in early December to finish up their last appropriations bills and other critical issues. They expected to adjourn some time just before Christmas and reconvene for the second session of the 110th Congress in mid-January.

While worried about any recess appointments, aides said Democratic lawmakers are particularly concerned about the nominee for surgeon general, Kentucky cardiologist James W. Holsinger, who is under fire for a 1991 paper he wrote about homosexuality and health. Past threats to keep the chamber in pro forma sessions were dropped when presidents and majority leaders reached deals swearing off recess appointments. Reid hopes to reach such a deal by the weekend.

"While he hopes to avoid any unnecessary confrontation, if the President is unwilling to cooperate, he is considering keeping the Senate in a pro forma session to ensure [Bush] does not get away with any highly confrontational recess appointments," said Jim Manley, another Reid spokesman.

According to the Congressional Research Service, any time the Senate is adjourned for more than three days, it is permissible for a president to make a recess appointment for cabinet officials and judges without confirmation votes. Reid would need to, at a minimum, assure that roughly every third day he or some other nearby senator opened up the chamber and kept it open for the day, and then adjourned.

Otherwise, Bush could appoint Holsinger or make any other recess appointment, and the appointees could serve out the remainder of the president's term.

By Paul Kane  |  November 15, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
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Senator Reid will do us more good in Washigton than at the umpty-eleventh debate. Someone has to watch the Govt. while Bush is in office. I applaud his fervor for protecting us from an overreaching administrtation. Will someone pick that man up a sandwich while he is on watch?

Posted by: John W. Gibson | November 15, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Senator Reid is a LIBERAL IDIOT! He is worried more about being a thorn in Pres. Bush's side than doing what he was elected to do.........enacting Legislation. I can't there are so many ignorant people in Nevada who voted for this Idiot!!!

Posted by: Dickie Hicks | November 17, 2007 12:00 AM | Report abuse

The Democrats pledged to work hard to "change the direction of the country." Now they are going to a four-day week. Why is anyone listening to anything they say?

Posted by: Ellen | November 19, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the duplication of the word "country." It is also time for the Congress to stop investigating everything, and start legislating. Richardson also now says the surge is not working!! These people are so transparent in their hatred for George Bush that they would rather lose in Irag than admit that he is doing anything right. To think that they are talking about withholding money for the troops is outrageous. They are like petulant children -- stamping their feet when they do not get their way.

Posted by: Ellen | November 19, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: votenic | November 20, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Ellen, you're sort of a dim bulb, I guess...the GOP is preventing legislation every way it can with an unprecedented use of the filibuster. They're sore losers, it seems, and they want the Dems to feel frustrated and angry, so they'll accomplish that any way they can. Try paying attention, you'll find it interesting. And the investigations are just getting started.

Posted by: DFC | November 26, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

People are not reacting this way because of "hatred for Bush", Americans are good people. The decreased income, fear and insecurity his policies have brought all of us (death in military homes) keeps us all in a state of stress. Sen.Reid and others are trying to control an immature dysfunctional man who never should have been placed in power.

Posted by: Zaney | November 26, 2007 9:53 PM | Report abuse

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