Skip to content

Why Senator Reid Matters

December 21, 2010

Worth a read.

A month ago, with no members of the press present, Harry Reid gave a speech at the private wedding of his openly gay communications director, Jon Summers. According to a source who was present, Reid spoke powerfully in favor of equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

I’m reporting this previously undisclosed episode because I’m not sure folks fully grasp how instrumental Reid was in getting don’t ask don’t tell repealed. Specifically, I don’t think it’s clearly understood what was so effective about his strategy, and why it was central to getting this done against all odds.

It’s worth stepping back and pondering how dramatic the reversal in Reid’s fortunes has been in the past six months. Last summer, his reelection campaign was in so much trouble that people were openly speculating about who would succeed him as Majority Leader. Six months later, he has not only been reelected after presiding over one of the most productive Congresses in decades, but he’s also earned himself a place in the history books for notching an accomplishment that rivals the great civil rights bills of the past.

How did Reid do it? Advocates for gay equality hammered Reid relentlessly throughout this process, erupting in anger each time he refused to state definitively that a DADT vote would happen or refused to clarify precisely when such a vote would happen. Advocates worried that Reid was going to let the session pass without a DADT vote at the behest of the White House, which was prioritizing New START above all else.

But Reid’s approach paid off, and here’s how. Recall what happened before the vote on the defense authorization bill containing DADT repeal was blocked by the GOP. Reid made a whole range of concessions to GOP moderates, bringing them to the brink of casting a Yes vote. When it became clear that Susan Collins’s procedural demands risked throwing the lame-duck session into chaos, Reid’s decision to fast-track the vote — even though vote counters knew it would not pass if he did — was roundly criticized.

In retrospect, it turns out Reid’s gamble worked. Scheduling that first vote allowed moderates the room to register their procedural objections with a No vote. As Reid knew, he could then schedule a second, stand-alone vote, giving the moderates a bit more time and maneuvering room (and another round of meetings with military leaders) to come around to the Yes camp.

What’s more, when Joe Lieberman and others started demanding that Reid hold the DADT vote before resolving New START, Reid saw the logic of this move. According to sources involved with the process, Reid had specifically delegated to Joe Lieberman the task of rounding up the votes, and assured him a vote would happen if he got to 60. Lieberman assured him he had over 60 in hand, and told him the prospects for repeal would be at risk if the vote were delayed. Reid forged ahead despite GOP threats that so doing could scuttle the START treaty. The rest is history.

Needless to say, advocates and bloggers who pushed tirelessly for repeal, as well as Obama and the White House, were every bit as important to the process as was Reid. For all the talk about the White House prioritizing New START, the simple fact is that the White House created the political climate to make repeal possible. The Pentagon report and Robert Gates’ testimony were major game-changers that removed the last pretexts GOP moderates had for opposing repeal. And the relentless pressure applied to the White House and Reid by advocates and bloggers was ultimately instrumental in compelling Democratic leaders to maintain full commitment to getting repeal done.

Reid’s efforts may not be quite on a par with Lyndon Johnson’s masterful orchestration of the Senate during the civil rights debates of the 1950s. But DADT repeal is on a par with the great civil rights milestones, and Reid, one of the primary movers making this legislative achievement a reality, has now secured his own place in history.

One Comment
  1. December 22, 2010 9:51 AM

    I’ve often called the Majority Leader Harry the Weak-Reid, but your comment is trenchant.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: