A Lonely Place

OK, it is still recess and, for us reporters, that means a vacation away from members of Congress (they call it a district work period and they are working hard). So in the absence of the echo chamber, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s newfound support for cutting off funding for the Iraq war seemed like one of those passing remarks he is fond of. And later, as it was buried by the Don Imus brushfire, it began to feel like something I had dreamt and not actually read.

But Congress is set to return to town next week and Reid has indeed boldly moved himself outside the mainstream position of his party, a lonely place one cannot exactly return from with ease. He has aligned himself with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and supports his legislation for an end to funds come March 31, 2008. Reportedly, Reid made this decision following an emotional visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but I guess we should assume he has actually weighed this question over weeks, if not months.

Last month a non-binding resolution opposing cutting off funds passed the Senate with 96 votes. At least five key Democrats such as Barack Obama of Illinois and Carl Levin of Michigan have reiterated this sentiment during the recess in response to Reid’s change of heart. They insist: “Congress won’t cut off funding” (Levin), “ … nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground” (Obama) and that “you can’t put war on a calendar” (Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota).

Reid’s office has stated his new position is his, that he is not speaking for the caucus, and that he wants to continue to pressure President Bush to follow the will of the American people who oppose the war. The Senate Democrats running for president certainly won’t appreciate having to cast a vote — for or against — on the Feingold proposal. Is Reid’s goal to get Republicans to defend the Iraq war for campaign commercials, or is he ultimately trying to lead the caucus where it clearly doesn’t want to go? Does Reid think he can change other minds — President Bush’s, Republicans’ or fellow Democrats’? He should hope that he can. If he pushes too hard but can’t convert enough people along the way, he could find Democrats resenting him for failing to represent their interests. That would be too lonely a place for a majority leader.

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