Harry Reid, the Kurds and Filibusters

Finally, after two years of struggle, Democratic leaders have found something good to come out of what Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) likes to call the “catastrophic failure” of America’s involvement in Iraq. And what is that good thing? The filibuster.

Finally, after two years of struggle, Democratic leaders have found something good to come out of what Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) likes to call the “catastrophic failure” of America’s involvement in Iraq.

And what is that good thing?

The filibuster.

This week, Democrats have been atwitter about remarks on the subject of filibusters made by freshman Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides MORE (R-Ga.), who just returned from a visit to Iraq. While there, Isakson met with Kurdish leaders as they prepare to take minority seats in the new Iraqi National Assembly. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Isakson described his conversation with one Kurdish official about the protection of Kurdish rights.

“Even though the results of the election were not complete at the time we were there, we knew they would be in a minority,” Isakson said. “And we asked, ‘Don’t you fear that, the Shiites’ inevitably being in the majority, that you’ll be overturned?’ He says, ‘Oh, no, we have a secret weapon.’”

“This is a Kurdish leader, of course, in the middle of Iraq in the 21st century, who said he had a secret weapon,” Isakson continued. “And we asked what the secret weapon was. He said, ‘Filibuster.’”

Meeting with reporters after the Democratic policy luncheon Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller Steyer's impeachment solution is dead wrong MORE (D-Nev.), the leader of filibusters against 10 of President Bush’s judicial nominees, read Isakson’s statement aloud and added that Isakson “went on to praise Iraq for basing their government on American democracy and using the filibuster as the way they would ensure that the majority never overran the minority. So that’s what they’re saying in Iraq.”

Reid then asked if there were any questions. Someone asked, “So your strategy on judges is based on Iraqi politics?”

“Pardon me?” Reid said as the group began to laugh. Reid pronounced the question “facetious” and didn’t answer it.

Just hours after Reid’s appropriation of Isakson’s floor speech, Isakson issued a statement saying his “good friend Harry Reid” had misunderstood his remarks.

The issue, Isakson pointed out, was not the filibuster per se but the abuse of the filibuster.

“Let there be no reservation or doubt that I believe the Senate should vote on each and every judicial appointment made by the President of the United States and that no rule or procedure should ever stop the Senate from exercising its constitutional responsibility.”
Despite that damage control, Isakson’s remarks — and Reid’s use of them — left some Republicans a bit dismayed.

“Oh, jeez,” was all one would say when told what the Georgia senator had said. Not exactly on message.

But others didn’t get what the fuss was about.

“My reaction is that I’m baffled that [Democrats] think there’s anything there,” another Republican said. “Everyone has always defended the filibuster as a protection of minority rights in the realm of legislation.”

Of course, whether it should apply beyond the realm of legislation to the realm of judicial nominations is the issue at hand — and the one that will be settled, one way or the other, by the coming battle in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Reid is telling the world that the battle has already been fought and the Democrats won. He’s even trying to suggest that, contrary to popular belief, the president’s filibustered nominees have actually gotten their votes in the Senate.

“Remember, when you have a vote on cloture, it is a vote,” Reid said at his news conference. “It’s not as if it doesn’t exist. It’s a real vote.”

And since the Senate has already voted on those Bush nominees — where did you get the impression that there were filibusters going on? — there is no need to expect anything new after the president renominated them this week.

“Renomination is not the key,” Reid said. “I think the question is those judges that have already been turned down in the Senate. And unless there’s something that is new that I’m not aware of with each of these men and women, we will vote the same way we did in the past.”

One reporter was curious about Reid’s we’ve-already-voted argument, asking, “So a vote on cloture is equivalent to voting on the nomination?”

“A vote on cloture is a vote on cloture,” Reid said.

Now that clears things up.
Last week, in an e-mail that Democrats labeled a vicious personal attack, the Republican National Committee called Reid the “Chief Democrat Obstructionist.”

Senate Democrats dashed off a letter to the president. They have “every intention” to “work with” Bush “on the important issues that face our country,” they said. And they urged the president to “keep your word about being a uniter and publicly halt these counter-productive attacks.”

But why are they so upset? The “Chief Democrat Obstructionist” label seems not only true but something of which Reid might be proud.

After all, the Kurds are watching.

York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: byork@thehill.com