WASHINGTON – For Harry Reid and his Senate Democrats, revenge is a dish best served bold.
For years, they complained that the Republican minority had tied the chamber in knots. But now, just weeks into their stint in the minority, Democrats are brazenly using the same knot-tying procedures.
Four times, they used filibusters to block the majority from bringing up a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that would undo President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. And even after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell essentially surrendered on Monday – splitting the immigration proposal from the funding bill – Democrats continued grandstanding gleefully on Tuesday, confident that if parts of the Homeland Security department shut down in the coming days Republicans will be to blame.
And so Reid led about 30 Senate Democrats and a couple of uniformed firefighter chiefs into a basement room in the Capitol complex Tuesday afternoon for a pep rally daring Republicans to let funding run out for DHS and essentially declaring the GOP majority soft on terrorism. “With terrorists threatening to attack America, we must fund Homeland Security and fund it now,” said Reid, who, wearing Wayfarer sunglasses and sporting ghastly facial bruises because of a recent accident, seemed downright scary as he invoked terrorist beheadings.
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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked of the Republicans: “Are they going to prioritize politics? Or are they going to prioritize national security?”
And Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, where the Mall of America is the target of a new terrorist threat by the Somali group al-Shabab, told Republicans “to get these firefighters funded, to fund our security and not to send a message to al-Shabab that we’re going to shut down Homeland Security.”
All of this must make McConnell wonder why he wanted so much to become majority leader. The Kentucky Republican is making a good-faith effort to keep his promise not to have a shutdown. But he is finding out that the Senate is just as ungovernable under his Republican control as it was under the previous management.
For his troubles, McConnell is the target of carping by conservatives and is so far receiving no assistance from House Speaker John Boehner. He’s also an easy mark for mischief-making Democrats, who are enjoying the advantage Republicans had for years: It’s easier to stop things from happening than to make them happen.
On the Senate floor Tuesday morning, McConnell described his proposed surrender. “My preference remains with the legislation that’s already passed the House,” he said, referring to the plan to make homeland-security funding conditional on the demise of Obama’s immigration actions. But “I’m ready to try another way. I hope our friends across the aisle will demonstrate similar flexibility.”
In a news conference in the afternoon, he further unfurled the white flag. “I’ve indicated to the Democratic leader that I’d be happy to have his cooperation to advance the consideration of a clean DHS bill which would carry us through to September 30th,” he said. Even before a vote on the now-decoupled proposal to eliminate Obama’s immigration plan? “I would be happy to do that,” McConnell said, asking for “cooperation from the Democrats in going forward to pass what they have said for two months they wanted to pass.”
His problem is Democrats don’t have a lot of incentive to take yes for an answer just yet. McConnell’s decision to split the immigration legislation from the funding has fired up conservatives such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who tweeted that Obama would simply veto the immigration piece, asking, “Think we were born yesterday?” Some House conservatives have even urged McConnell to abolish the filibuster in order to pass legislation tying the immigration proposals to DHS funding – an incendiary but pointless gesture because Obama would veto the bill even if it passed.
If and when Democrats finally do accept the terms of McConnell’s surrender, the conservatives’ wrath will turn against Boehner, who will have little choice but to go along with the concession or to be blamed for the shutdown.
Democrats on Tuesday acted as if they would rather enjoy the political benefits a shutdown would bring them. “It appears to me that the ideologues are still running the Republican Party,” Reid taunted, listing various conservative voices that have warned against a shutdown. “The burden is on the Republicans. What they’re doing is wrong for the country. And they not only will be blamed, they should be blamed.”
Power without responsibility: Such are the perverse pleasures of being in the minority in today’s Washington.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.