Corker: Reid is Senate's Putin

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is not unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin and has only himself to blame as GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) holds up Senate action in protest of Democrats' power grab, a top Republican said Thursday.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Reid's refusal to allow Republican amendments and last year's vote to weaken the filibuster has brought Congress to a halt. As a result, tax and immigration reform are likely dead for the year, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking panels told reporters during a wide-ranging breakfast conversation hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

“Understand McConnell's position,” Corker said. “If you allow people just to run roughshod over you — just like we're seeing right now with Putin in Russia, right, where he's getting no pushback from the United States … — if you don't have any pushback, then obviously people [will continue taking advantage of you].”

“The Senate has been on the verge of a death spiral now for several months," he said. "The U.S. Senate will not function in an appropriate way with the leadership we have now."

The result, he said, is that there's “no way” tax or immigration reform are likely to get done before the 2014 midterms.

“In fact, I see no way anything important is going to be dealt with this year,” Corker said, except possibly housing finance reform. 

Corker said more than 40 of President Obama's nominees for ambassador would already have been approved unanimously “had we not embarked on the nuclear option.” 

He said the GOP push to attach Iran sanctions legislation to a pending veterans bill is likewise due to Reid's refusal to bring up a stand-alone bill for a vote.

“When you have a leader that is totally bent on ensuring that there's no debate," he said, "you're going to find people looking for all kinds of avenues to try to bring something to the floor for debate.”

Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, called it “beyond belief” and “reprehensible” that Reid would prevent a vote on the Iran sanctions bill. The White House has pressed Reid to avoid a vote, arguing that passing new sanctions could derail international nuclear talks with Iran.

“Sen. Reid is unwilling for his majority members to be in a position to take tough votes,” Corker said. “We've got the biggest foreign relations issue facing our nation that's come about in recent times, and we're saying the U.S. Senate can't debate that on the floor?”

Corker also unloaded on President Obama, whom he described as a jovial golfing partner who's unwilling to challenge the tough leaders in Russia or Syria, or even his own base.

“This president is afraid to stretch his base,” he said. “That's why we haven't had the ability to solve the major problems of the day,” including entitlement spending reform.

Corker said a similar reluctance to make tough choices is evident in Obama's foreign policy.

In Syria, he said, the Senate is weighing options to make clear the U.S. “won't tolerate” the ongoing use of barrel bombs and other heavy ammunition in a conflict that has left more than 130,000 people dead. He said lawmakers and U.S. allies — and many within the administration — are frustrated that the White House hasn't done more to change the balance of forces on the ground.

“There's no way I see Assad coming to [peace talks in] Geneva when he thinks he's winning to negotiate himself out of office,” Corker said.

And in Ukraine, Corker said he's worried Putin could launch another military operation, like the 2008 border war with Georgia, in order to stop another former Soviet republic from slipping out of Moscow's orbit. He said his staff has been floating ideas, such as announcing a new strategic relationship with Poland or other declarations to send Russia a clear message that the U.S. has vital interests in the region and won't sit idly by.

“I continue to be concerned that we're going to see a replay of what we saw in Georgia,” he said.

“We've talking about the things our office needs to do to push the administration to really take a strong position here,” Corker said. “Right now it seems the president really doesn't have a plan. Like so many other foreign policy crises, it seems like we're catching up and dealing with events ad hoc.”

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