By Alexander Bolton - 04/28/10 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has deployed unusually tough tactics to pressure Republicans to back Wall Street reform — a move that could shore up his liberal base, but one that GOP centrists say is counterproductive.
Reid will need at least one Republican vote in order to move the legislation forward, but centrists in that party caution that the Democratic leader’s actions have been divisive and unnecessary.
Political experts in Nevada say this is crucial for Reid, who faces a difficult reelection campaign, because his political future depends on energizing and mobilizing the Democratic base in his home state.
Reid shows no signs of backing down and has even suggested the Senate no longer has any Republicans who could be considered moderate.
On Tuesday, Republicans voted to defeat a motion to begin debate on Wall Street reform legislation.
It was the second time in two days that Reid scheduled a vote on the matter, and he plans a third vote on Wednesday and a fourth on Thursday, according to a Democratic aide.
Reid also scheduled a vote Monday evening, during the dinner hour, to force senators to show up on the chamber floor, a move that was seen as punishment for Republicans voting to block the Wall Street bill earlier in the day.
Reid could bring lawmakers back to the chamber again after regular hours to discuss Wall Street reform, disrupting their evening schedules.
Some of these tactics have vexed centrist Republicans, whose votes are necessary to pass a reform measure.
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who earlier this year bucked his party to advance Democratic jobs legislation and an extension of unemployment benefits, said the repeated votes are “absolutely” counterproductive.
“I don’t think it helps,” he said.
However, according to reports, Voinovich said late Tuesday that even though he’s not likely to vote to begin debate on Wednesday, he will eventually vote for the motion if the talks continue not to be productive.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the only Republican to vote for Democratic legislation regulating derivatives, said the tactic “sours” the mood of the Senate.
“The reason it sours it is because [the Democrats] keep wanting bipartisanship, but they’re always defining bipartisanship as one Republican and 59 Democrats; that’s not bipartisanship,” Grassley said.
Grassley said he told Reid on Monday that he had a problem with the leader’s strategy of putting political pressure on Republicans in hopes of getting one or two to defect.
Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who is working on a book about party leadership in the Senate, said Reid’s tactics are highly unusual.
Smith said the last time he knew of a Senate leader holding multiple cloture votes in succession was more than 20 years ago when then-Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) held seven votes to advance a campaign finance reform measure.
Reid has played hardball on other issues. In February, Reid scuttled a bipartisan agreement on jobs legislation, bringing instead a pared-down version of the bill and daring Republicans to vote against it.
The gambit worked, and a handful of Republicans crossed the aisle to approve a $38 billion measure.
Reid has also turned up the pressure on immigration reform, putting a deadline on talks between Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who has a long career of working with Democrats to pass major legislation, said she has come to know the meaning of bipartisanship after 30 years in Congress and that what Reid is offering doesn’t fit the definition.
“It just does not make sense to turn this into a divisive partisan issue,” said Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), another important Republican swing vote, of the Democrats’ handling of the Wall Street reform legislation.
Collins criticized the effort to bring a bill to the floor in the midst of “negotiations on very complex, technical issues … that are proceeding well.”
Reid has turned the tables back on centrists by telling reporters there aren’t any moderate Republicans in the Senate.
When a reporter asked Reid on Tuesday about “moderate Republican senators,” Reid cut the question short by interjecting: “There aren’t any.”
Reid says GOP centrists are making unrealistic demands by asking him to give Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Banking panel, more time to negotiate a compromise.
“Now, remember this negotiation thing has gone on for a long time, not days, not weeks, months,” Reid told reporters.
Liberals have applauded Reid for confronting Republicans so forcefully.
Talking Points Memo, a liberal online publication, lauded Reid’s tough approach in a Tuesday post: “How Harry got his groove back: Reid plays hardball with the GOP … finally.”
Political experts in Nevada say that revving up the Democratic base is the key for Reid winning a tough reelection fight. Polls show him trailing GOP opponents, his approval rating mired below 40 percent.
“There are very few undecided voters,” said Ted Jelen, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “It’s very unlikely Reid will be able to persuade people who are already leaning against him.
“So the key to him winning is to identify, mobilize and turn out his party’s base.”
Jelen said Reid may be helped politically if the Senate doesn’t pass Wall Street reform, giving him a political weapon to use against the GOP.
“In the short term, Democrats are better off having the issue instead of having the bill,” he said. “They can call the Republicans obstructionist and that’s a good way to mobilize true-blue Democrats.”