Harry Reid Needs a Reminder That He’s In the Minority Now

Harry Reid just can’t give it up. Despite guiding his caucus into the minority, in no small part because of his too-clever-by-half attempt to gum up the Senate towards his own political ends, Reid seems desperate to retain the power of the Majority Leader.

His latest gambit, which is sure to rankle pro-trade senators on both sides of the aisle, is to delay the passage of bill needed to finalize negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest free-trade agreement in history. The Washington Post editorial board writes:

LOSING THE substantive argument over President Obama’s bipartisan trade agenda, opponents are now resorting to procedural legerdemain. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declared that he’ll attempt to filibuster pending trade-promotion authority legislation, which is needed to expedite consideration of a 12-nation deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Pro-trade forces in Congress understand that the United States stands to benefit most from a tariff-cutting pact, since the Asian partners’ tariffs are high and U.S. tariffs are already low, as a new report by the Council of Economic Advisers points out. That’s the kind of fact-based discussion the opponents can’t withstand, and which Mr. Reid’s last-ditch procedural chicanery is intended to avoid.

Oddly enough Reid’s move appears aimed directly at pro-trade Democrats, including President Obama, a move that will inevitably create tensions going forward. Part of the problem is that seven Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have already voted in favor of the trade promotion bill. Asking them to now vote against the bill puts them in a very difficult position. The other problem is that President Obama is an enormous supporter of the bill, indeed he’s staked a large part of his legacy on seeing the Trans-Pacific over the finish line, so he’s sure to not take Reid’s maneuvering lying down.

The move is especially odd given that Reid said last year that he was “not going to stand in the way of” international trade deals, even though he personally opposed them.

Nevertheless, Reid’s position has hardened. He’s not just a “no” when it comes to new trade pacts, he’s said he’s a “hell no.” Now, his strong-arm politics is forcing Senate Democrats to choose between supporting their caucus leader or the president. Unsurprisingly, members of both parties now find themselves upset with the Minority Leader. POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Manu Raju report:

Pro-trade lawmakers in both parties expressed irritation with Sen. Harry Reid on Monday after the Nevada Democrat said he would block any new trade deals until Republicans approve new infrastructure legislation and reform the PATRIOT Act.

Among those senators is Sen. Tom Carper, who when asked what he thought about Reid’s tactics said, diplomatically, that he “will have a different view.” Sen. Ben Nelson also chimed in, expressing his preference to “go on and get TPA up and get it passed” to give the White House more time and leverage to get a favorable deal done. And, perhaps most significantly, Sen. Patty Murray, who could be the next Minority Whip, has now stated her opposition. The Hill reports:

“I support the bills that came out of the [Finance Committee],” she told The Hill Wednesday.

Murray said trade “is a huge part of our economy.”

She added, “What we grow, what we make in Washington state is sold worldwide and we have to be part of writing the rules of the road. If we leave ourselves out of that, we’ll be dictated to by other countries on how our products are going to be sold and accepted to markets.”

Mitch McConnell will need six Democrats to overcome a Reid filibuster and forge ahead with trade legislation. And we hope he can get it, not only because the free trade agreement makes good policy and political sense, but because Sen. Reid needs a loud and clear reminder that he’s no longer the Senate Majority Leader. If he has an issue with that he can take it up with the voters who demoted him.