By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
President Obama avoids “confrontation,” complains Senator Harry Reid.
That’s right. Just two days after President Obama left Las Vegas, having raised beaucoup bucks for his re-election campaign, the Senate majority leader threw Obama under the bus, complaining he wasn’t tough enough in dealing with Republicans.
“On a few occasions, I think he should have been more firm with those on the other side of the aisle,” Reid told Las Vegas television station KSNV. “He is a person who doesn’t like confrontation. He’s a peacemaker. And sometimes I think you have to be a little more forceful. And sometimes I don’t think he is enough with the Republicans.”
Now, that may have been impolitic for Harry Reid to say, but — let’s be honest — he’s right. Obama has been much, much too nice to Republicans. He’s spent too much time, made too many compromises, and tried too hard to win their cooperation — which he’s never going to get.
Indeed, the very fact that Senator Reid felt free to criticize Obama openly speaks volumes. Clearly, he didn’t fear any repercussions for speaking out. And that’s the problem. In Washington, nobody’s afraid of Obama. Not Republicans. Not blue-dog Democrats. Not liberal Democrats. Because they know Obama will simply turn the other cheek. Which may be good if you’re striving for sainthood, but not if you’re trying to get your legislative agenda through Congress.
That’s reflected in this week’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, in which six out of 10 Americans say they have lost faith in President Obama’s ability to lead the nation. Half of those are disenchanted Republicans who didn’t vote for him, anyway. But the other half are disappointed Democrats, who don’t think the president’s been strong enough. In dealing with obstructionist Republicans, as well as disloyal Democrats, Americans are looking for more LBJ out of Obama, and less Gandhi.
Still, there are two problems with Reid’s criticism. First, why’d he wait so long? The time to push President Obama to be more confrontational with Senate Republicans was during last year’s debate on health care reform, not now. Had Reid done so, we might well have ended up with a public plan option, which Obama first championed, as part of the final legislation. Congress would definitely have passed a stronger bill, and sooner.
Second, who is Senator Reid to accuse anyone else of mild manners? He is, in fact, the last one to make that charge. Because if Barack Obama’s too nice to Republicans, so is Harry Reid. Even though he’s a former boxer, he’s still the “Mr. Nice Guy of the Senate,” and we all know what happens to nice guys in politics. Had the majority leader himself shown a little more backbone, we would not only have a much stronger health care reform bill, Republicans would no longer have the filibuster to hide behind.
As it is now, Republicans don’t actually have to conduct a filibuster. All they have to do is threaten a filibuster, and Reid rolls over. Why not call their bluff? If Mitch McConnell and his cronies want to filibuster middle-class tax cuts, for example, let them have at it. Roll out the cots, roll in C-SPAN, and let them pontificate for days on why President Obama’s proposed extension of tax cuts for the middle class should be held hostage until Obama also agrees to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, those making more than $200,000 a year. Make them filibuster until their patience, or bladder, wears out. Harry Reid should have done that long ago.
Still, it’s never too late. Here’s one way for Senator Reid to set the example by showing how tough he really is. Let him lay down the rule: There will be NO AUGUST RECESS — senators will be stuck in this summer hell-hole called Washington, D.C. — until the Senate passes a bill extending unemployment benefits for 3 million American workers who stand to lose their benefits by the end of July.
Keep senators here in Washington, and turn off the air-conditioning, until they deliver. That’s the only way to force Republicans to do the right thing on unemployment benefits. It all depends on two questions: Is Leader Reid “confrontational” enough to do it? Is President Obama “tough” enough to back him up?
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