The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 6 –
- Harry Reid retires — his Senate legacy
- Grand pickup opportunity for Republicans
- Republican targets in the House for 2016
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
Overview: Hillary Clinton’s situation becomes uglier with the revelation that she wiped her server clean of all her emails at some point after being asked to produce the ones related to State Department business last fall.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy’s now-famous explication of “spoliation of evidence” comes to mind immediately — when people destroy evidence in court cases, juries are allowed to presume that they did so because they had something to hide. In this case, voters are entitled to the same privilege.
Clinton set up a system that put her above the law and federal regulations and Obama administration policy, and she has tried to use her illicit, opaque behavior in office to confer a benefit upon herself. This probably won’t kill her hopes for the Democratic nomination — as we’ve previously noted, there is no other credible Democrat waiting in the wings to replace her — but don’t be surprised if voters decide not to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Harry Reid: Harry Reid’s not wholly unexpected retirement announcement is a serious blow for Democrats in a number of ways. For one thing, they are losing the most capable parliamentary tactician and manipulator in their party.
To understand Reid’s effectiveness, consider that after more than a decade of fierce resistance, he almost single-handedly prevented nuclear waste from being transported away from major population centers all over America to be stored at a scientifically approved safe location at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Reid pulled this off at a cost of as much as $65 billion to American taxpayers. Thanks to Reid, taxpayers will be paying a minimum of $23 billion in damages (or possibly twice that amount) to the various utility companies around America who had paid fees on the promise that their nuclear waste would be removed to Yucca Mountain by 2020.
This may all sound reprehensible — and objectively speaking, it is — but a senator who can pull that off on behalf of his state through years of bare-knucked political machinations is precisely the guy you want leading your Senate caucus. Reid’s skill covers a multitude of sins within his party, including his shady land deals and the embarrassing, blow-hard, offensive, and even slanderous comments he has made at various times about President Bush, the Koch Brothers, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and others.
Reid’s parliamentary acumen, combined with a lack of excessive reverence for the institution of the Senate, permitted him to dominate the upper chamber in a way that previous majority leaders never did. The following chart, compiled from congressional data sources, illustrates how he did it and shows how his reign was unlike those of his predecessors in either party:You will notice that after Reid became Senate Majority Leader in 2007 — in the 110th Congress — the number of amendments proposed by the Democratic leader suddenly skyrockets. There is a simple reason for this: In an effort to prevent floor amendments and floor votes on issues that might prove embarrassing to his members, Reid was doing something known as “filling the tree.” The basic idea is to propose bogus amendments to every important bill (at least two amendments for every distinct part of the bill) in order to block anyone else from offering an amendment of their own. The majority leader can do this and no one can prevent him because he has the privilege of first recognition from the chair.
As the chart suggests, Reid’s use of this tactic reached unprecedented levels. The slide in amendments by his Republican counterpart is also a sign of how, over time, Republicans were increasingly excluded from the legislative process. This, in essence, is how Reid “destroyed the Senate,” at least as a body where members’ votes and voices counted and everyone participated in the legislative process. This also explains the other side of the “Republican obstruction” story. Unable to amend (or even to try to amend) key bills, Republicans had even more motive than usual to try to block everything. If you turn on C-Span 2, you will notice that the Senate is functioning very differently now that Reid is out as majority leader — earlier this year, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed more amendments in one day than Reid had in the entire previous Congress.
Another important point: People might wonder why Reid was so reluctant to propose budgets each year, and why the Senate went so long without passing one. Because budget amendments cannot be blocked in this way, the typical vote-a-rama that occurs with a budget resolution (this just happened last week) can be awkward for members, forcing them to take sides on everything from minimum wage to taxpayer funding of abortion. Reid’s goal was to protect his fellow Democrats from such votes, and so presenting a budget would have been counterproductive.
And a final note on Reid’s importance to Democrats: In Nevada, they will really miss him. About 550,000 people voted in Nevada’s governor’s race last year. In the 2010 midterm, when Reid was on the ballot and driving the Democratic vote with his machine, nearly 700,000 people voted. It is a clear sign that Nevada Democrats face a possibly grim future without him. His hand-picked successor, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, D, will have her work cut out for her — and that goes double if the popular Gov. Brian Sandoval, R, decides to enter the race.
Republicans now have their largest House majority since Herbert Hoover was president. But why stop there when you could go for the heady heights of the Coolidge era?
Last week, we looked at likely Democratic House targets. Here’s a quick and early look at some of the House seats Republicans will probably target in 2016.
It won’t be easy to win this North Florida seat back from Rep. Gwen Graham, D, one of just two Democrats to defeat an incumbent Republican in 2014. But the district is quite winnable, and Republicans would be foolish not to try. The Republican field remains unclear — former Rep. Steve Southerland, who lost it in November, has ruled out a rematch. The seat probably becomes an easy pickup if Graham leaves it to run for Senate.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., is abandoning this Republican-leaning Treasure Coast seat to run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. It should be one of the easiest pickups for Republicans in 2016, if not the easiest. The seat was lost by Rep. Allen West, R in 2012, and Republicans failed to field a credible candidate in 2014 to take it back.
When Rep. Collin Peterson, D, retires, this seat will probably flip to the GOP. But he is a strong incumbent, and one of the very few House Democrats who voted against Obamacare. Republicans’ run at him in 2014 got some attention when a late poll showed a close race, but they came up nine points short. Peterson, who will be 72 on election day, has said he is running for re-election — but then, so did Harry Reid, right?
This Omaha-area district was the site of the other Republican incumbent’s defeat. Rep. Lee Terry faced a much stronger-than-expected primary from his right, and nearly drew an independent Tea Party challenge as well. That threat was averted, but his campaign became desperate in the final stretch against now-Rep. Brad Ashford, and a racially tinged NRCC ad connecting Ashford to a black mass-murderer backfired on Terry. He lost by about 4,000 votes.
Republicans have a slight edge in the district and will surely try to win it back. The first Republican to announce is a retired Air Force General, Don Bacon, who describes himself as a conservative. He probably won’t have the primary field to himself.
One thing working against the GOP here is Nebraska’s unusual law parceling out its electoral votes based on the winner by congressional district. Obama competed for and won the district in 2008. It is more Republican now, but the Democratic nominee could well consider trying to repeat that feat, which is sure to drive up Democratic turnout. A recent bid by Republicans to make Nebraska a winner-take-all state was stymied in the unicameral legislature earlier this month.