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February 6, 2007
Reid's Dilemma

Harry Reid has a dilemma on his hands. His control over the Senate rests on a single vote; even if Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota recovers enough to return to the Senate, the loss of one member of Reid's caucus will allow Dick Cheney to cast the deciding vote on control of the upper chamber. While this isn't news, an article posted yesterday by the New Yorker reveals that the debate on Iraq may push the Senate's only independent to rethink his loyalty:

Iraq is the reason that Lieberman calls himself an “independent Democrat.” Democratic voters in Connecticut abandoned him in last year’s primary, favoring the antiwar candidate Ned Lamont. Lieberman ran as an independent, and beat the ineffectual Lamont in the general election in large part because Republicans voted for him. In the campaign, Lieberman said that he would join the Democratic caucus if elected, and his victory was the deciding one that gave the Democrats control of the Senate. But he told me recently that his attachment to the Party is based in some measure on sentiment, and should not necessarily be thought of as eternal.

“A lot of Democrats are essentially pacifists and somewhat isolationist,” he told me. He had particular problems with Senator Edward Kennedy’s proposal to deny the President funding for a troop surge, and with an idea recently raised by the senior senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd, to cap the number of American soldiers in Iraq. Lieberman was not willing to say whether he would remain a Democrat if the Party cut off funding for the war. “That would be stunning to me,” he said. “And very hurtful. And I’d be deeply affected by it. Let’s put it that way.”

Lieberman’s Democratic colleagues know that if he switched parties they would lose their majority, and so they tend to indulge him, unless they are speaking to reporters off the record.

This puts Harry Reid in a serious bind. His party came to power on an anti-war platform, a fact that several in his caucus have noted in the debate on the various resolutions that have been proposed. Their activist base has already made it clear that non-binding resolutions aren't what they had in mind when they pushed for the Democratic majority in the midterms, and a lack of progress on stopping the war in Iraq could lose them their majorities in either or both chambers in 2008.

Unfortunately, unless Reid can get a Republican to switch caucuses, he has no choice but to limit their efforts to meaningless non-binding resolutions. Lieberman, smarting over the support given to Ned Lamont by Democrats he believed were his friends, now says that his loyalty to them has suffered serious damage. His "sentimental" attachment to the caucus extends only to the point of cutting off funding for the fight in Iraq. Not only would such an effort fail in the Senate -- it would require 60 votes to overcome the filibuster -- but it would effectively hand over control of the Senate to the GOP and Mitch McConnell.

Republicans such as John McCain have dared the Senate Democrats to take an action with real meaning in opposition to the war, claiming correctly that "sense of the Senate" votes do nothing to end the war on any terms but instead embarrass the White House and demoralize the troops. Unfortunately, anything else more substantive in the next two years will require them to relinquish their slender majority -- and the Democrats do not appear willing to make that sacrifice. (via Memeorandum)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 6, 2007 5:06 AM

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