Harry Reid's One-Man War Against the Opposition

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would apparently like to get things done in the Senate, but faces a few problems. So he's going to war.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would apparently like to get things done in the Senate, but faces a few problems. One, he doesn't get along with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Two, he doesn't trust Republicans. Three, his leadership is dependent on holding tenuous seats in November. So he's going to war.

Over the past week, Reid has launched a quixotic fight against the Koch brothers, the fossil fuel and industry magnates whose relationship with conservative politics is like that parasite that infects cat owners' brains: everywhere, unavoidable, and mind-controlling. The New York Times went long on the Reid war on Thursday, calling it a "new Democratic strategy," which it isn't overall; the Kochs have long been a Democratic Party boogeyman, replacing previous mustache-twirlers like Karl Rove and George W. Bush in the liberal imagination. But the expansion of Reid's seemingly off-handed dismissal of the Kochs from the Senate floor — "Republicans are addicted to Koch," the last name being pronounced ma-rih-WAH-na — into an actual strategy on the part of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is an interesting development.

The DSCC, the Senate campaign arm of the party, is "starting a digital campaign that will use Internet ads and videos, as well as social media, to tie Republican Senate candidates to the policies and actions of the Koch brothers." And the slogan is that clever drug reference Reid workshopped on the Senate floor.

Up first on the list is Alaska, where Democrats will try to link Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell, the Republican Senate candidates, to an oil refinery in the state owned by Koch Companies Public Sector. The refinery is set to cease gasoline and jet fuel production, which would lead to the layoffs of roughly 80 refinery workers.

Alaska is home to Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat who faces a tough reelection campaign in November. He's one of several incumbent Democrats that are key to Reid being able to keep his job in 2015. Reid's war against the Koch brothers, such as it is, comprises two goals:

  • Spur Democrats to want to give money in contested Senate races as a bulwark to the millions the Kochs invest, and
  • Taint Republicans' fundraising and relationships.

That, too, is a tried and true strategy. In 2012, the Kochs invested heavily through a network of non-profits and advocacy organizations like Americans for Prosperity. They didn't get much return on that investment, as Mitt Romney can attest, but the specter of their pouring more cat-parasite money over the conservative ranks is a useful nudge to Dems.

There's another way the November elections are hampering Reid's agenda in the Senate. McConnell, normally a savvy operator, has withdrawn into his conservative shell in the face of a somewhat threatening conservative primary opponent and a legitimately threatening Democratic opponent. To Politico, Reid lamented, among other things, that he doesn't "have a partner" in getting things done in the Senate any longer. "I’ve had tough elections — you still have the job to help run the Senate," Reid said.

Senate Republicans, he said, are no longer led by pragmatic leaders like Bob Dole, Trent Lott or even Bill Frist. Now, McConnell’s GOP conference is essentially leaderless and “obviously” run by the “crazies,” he said. As he’s tried to circumvent McConnell and reach out directly to rank-and-file Republicans to move legislation, Reid says, he’s been stymied by GOP senators who are “so afraid” to negotiate with him for fear of tea party backlash from the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

So Reid, Reid believes, has little choice but to block the opposition when- and wherever possible.

We can predict an end date to this war: January 2015. By then, one of three things will have happened. One, Mitch McConnell will be the head of the Senate. Two, some other Republican will be, and Mitch McConnell will be retired. Three, Harry Reid will still be Senate Majority Leader, dealing with either McConnell or someone else who doesn't face reelection any time soon. The war will be over, and the Senate will be back to what it was a year ago at this time: barely habitable rubble.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.