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.
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