Harry Reid Finally Starts to Fight Smart

This post, written by John Nichols, originally appeared on The Nation

Harry Reid is finally coming to the realization reached months ago by the American people: That Democrats in Congress have been played for suckers by the Bush White House and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

The Senate majority leader's recognition of the realities of Washington in the Bush era -- as evidenced by his decision Monday to set up a scenario that could clarify the role played by Republican senators in maintaining the president's exceptionally unpopular approach to the Iraq War -- holds out the prospect that the politics of the debate over ending the occupation could change radically in the weeks to come.

Make no mistake, such a shift is necessary.

Despite the clear mandate they received last November -- a mandate that, in a time of war and against a fierce campaign by the sitting president, restored the opposition party to control of both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time since the "Republican revolution" of 1994 -- Congressional Democrats have for the past six months behaved as powerless bystanders in George Bush's Washington.

Instead of boldly challenging the most dysfunctional president in American history, using all the tools of the system of a checks and balances that was established to favor legislative oversight of the executive branch, Democrats have played the game by Bush's rules. And they have lost at every turn.

With a quarter of the term of the current Congress now done, it is clear that the cooperative approach adopted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nevada, hasn't worked. It is not just that approval ratings for Congress are now below those of a failed president that Democrats were elected to challenge and constrain. It is that the disastrous war in Iraq, the central crisis of this American moment, continues to claim the lives of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians at an alarming rate.

The circumstance requires that Congressional Democrats change course. And their new priority should be to clarify rather than muddy the debate over Iraq.

That is what Reid is doing, at least tentatively, with his decision to, as he puts it, "highlight Republican obstruction" of Democratic efforts to bring the troops home.

Reid plans to do that Tuesday by refusing to allow Republicans to quietly make procedural moves to block voting on an amendment sponsored by Michigan Senator Carl Levin ☼ and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed that would establish a withdrawal timeline. Instead, he plans to force the president's Senate allies to filibuster -- at least for one night -- in favor of continuing a war that even Republicans do not want to be associated with anymore.

"I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down," Reid declared Monday afternoon. "If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin/Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday. The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up or down vote on this amendment to end it."

Unless Republicans agree to a simple-majority vote on Levin-Reed, Reid has indicated that he will keep the Senate in continuous session through Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

The point is to make it absolutely clear that Republican senators -- even those who say they want to start bringing the troops home -- are doing everything in their power to prevent a Senate vote that might embarrass of challenge Bush.

It is not likely that one night of filibustering complete the process of exposing the Republican shenanigans for what they are.

But Reid's move is a step in the right direction.

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