Democratic centrists unhappy with how the Senate has functioned under Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.) sought to delay a Thursday vote on keeping him as leader.
At least four Democratic senators tried to postpone the secret-ballot vote on whether Reid should serve as minority leader next year, several Democratic lawmakers confirmed.
“I said I most certainly didn’t think we could go forward with business as usual as far as our caucus is concerned. That’s why I cast my vote against Sen. Reid and had urged the caucus to delay the vote for a week,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “More than half a dozen spoke on that topic.”
The caucus rejected a motion to delay the election by voice vote and then approved Reid for another term as Democratic leader in a yes-or-no vote by secret ballot.
The effort failed, in part, because no Democrat was willing to step up and take on Reid, who has served as Democratic leader since 2005, and a senior Democratic aide downplayed the attempted delay as a show vote by centrists who want to distance themselves from the leadership.
“There was a voice vote, and it was defeated. If it had been a real effort, there would have been a ballot vote,” the aide said.
But the votes suggest some unhappiness that Senate Democrats are keeping the same leaders after a disastrous midterm election that saw them lose their majority.
At least a half-dozen Democrats voted against him in the secret-ballot tally.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who declined during her campaign to say whether she would vote for Reid as leader, like Landrieu, asked for a one-week delay of the leadership election.
“I thought it was important to have a conversation about what happened in the elections, what we should be doing going forward, how we could work with the new Republican majority in a way that gets things done for New Hampshire,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to wait.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he wanted to wait a week before voting on the leadership team to see if any challengers might emerge.
“We just wanted a week’s extension, so we could really have a good dialogue. Sometimes something emerges, some people would emerge from that,” he said. “We never had that chance.”
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) also sought to delay the leadership election for a week, according to a Democratic senator who attended the meeting.
McCaskill, Manchin, Landrieu, Heitkamp, and Virginia Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) all said publicly that they voted against Reid.
At a press conference following the meeting, Reid said the discussion was focused more on what the party could do to help the middle class than on his own track record.
“The one thing that came out of the caucus without any second-guessing is that we have to continue fighting for the middle class, in speech after speech after speech,” he said characterizing the comments of 28 senators who spoke up behind closed doors.
“We’re going to do everything we can in the 114th Congress to make sure the middle class of this great country of ours has a fair shot at succeeding,” he added.
Some Democrats, however, believe the party message would gain more traction with a leadership shake-up.
Manchin said “nothing changed” as a result of the Thursday’s leadership election, even though Reid appointed liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to a new post on the leadership team.
While the promotion of Warren, a rising liberal star, might energize the party’s base, centrist senators questioned whether it would do much to woo “the voter in the middle,” according to one moderate lawmaker. Warren will be involved in crafting the Senate Democratic message and developing their policy agenda, according to a senior aide.
Angst-ridden Senate Democrats warned their leaders Thursday that they had to re-evaluate their strategy and tactics in the wake of an Election Day blowout that cost them at least eight seats.
The Democratic caucus held what members described as an emotional and frank meeting for nearly four hours in the Capitol’s Old Senate Chamber, where the body used to meet until 1859 and the acoustics are so good that a speaker doesn’t need a microphone to be heard around the room.
“It was really kind of a heart-rending three hours of discussion of what happened and why it happened and where we should go as now in the minority,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “So there’s a lot of thinking to be done and, I think ideas to be shared, and I think this is just the beginning.”
One of the principle criticisms, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting, is that Reid did not allow enough votes on the floor, which fed the public perception that Democrats were, in part, responsible for Washington gridlock.
McCaskill said the chamber has become engulfed in partisan bickering and said her priority is “making this place functional again and working with our Republican colleagues.”
Some Democrats questioned whether Reid, a partisan warrior, is the best face for the Senate Democratic caucus at a time when they want to increase bipartisan cooperation.
McCaskill said the Democratic message has “been drowned out by a lot of the political backbiting, and there’s a lot of us who feel it’s time for us to not mimic what the Republicans did, but rise above it and try to work together.”
Reid defended his track record and argued that Republicans derailed a vote on Keystone and a bipartisan energy bill earlier this year.
“We tried on 73 separate occasions to have a vote on amendments. The minority refused to let us have a vote. We tried having votes, remember?” he said.
He acknowledged low voter turnout was a major problem for Democratic candidates and said his caucus is resolved to giving people a reason to show up at the polls by fighting for the middle class.
Democrats also debated how far they should go to work with Republicans next year. Some of them warned it would be unwise to give any support to Republican plans to drastically cut nonmilitary domestic spending or pass a Highway Trust Fund extension that does not raise new tax revenue to pay for projects.
Reid pledged to work with Republicans and announced he had tapped Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the new chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, to assemble a list of bipartisan bills that could pass with Democratic votes next year.