A red light at the intersection of incompetence and ambition

Harry Reid failed today in his attempt, fueled by his re-election ambitions, to insert into a defense policy bill (1) the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and (2) the DREAM Act that would have enabled citizenship for illegal immigrant students in exchange for government or military service. The controversial provisions failed due to a filibuster.
Reid’s interest in pushing for the DREAM Act is obvious – he hopes to win and energize Hispanic support in his difficult race against Sharron Angle. Similarly, though less urgently, by repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” he wants to give gays rights supporters a reason to be enthusiastic about his candidacy.
But Reid’s electoral interests don’t necessarily align with those of other endangered Democrats. Some House Democrats reportedly were unhappy to see immigration and gay rights agenda items take center stage, when their message (such as it is) is economic. On the Senate side, Jim Webb, who isn’t running this year but will have to face voters in red-again Virginia soon enough, was asked whether he wanted to have an immigration debate now. Webb smiled and replied “No comment.”
Reid was able to keep nearly all Senate Dems in line for the actual vote, as he has been for the entire Congress to their detriment. Only Senators Lincoln and Pryor (both of Arkansas) broke ranks on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Meanwhile, the Republican members (with the exception of Sen. Murkowski, who was out of town) all voted in favor of the filibuster. Among them was Susan Collins, who wants to end the policy but refused to go along with Reid because he was unwilling to permit consideration of all amendments Senators wished to offer. Said Collins, “there are many controversial issues in this bill; they deserve to have civil, fair and open debate on the Senate floor.” But that’s not the Harry Reid way.
For many congressional Dems, then, Reid’s maneuver proved to be a lose-lose proposition – they spent time and energy on issues they rather would have avoided and accomplished nothing. Nor did the White House come out smelling like a rose. Gay activists complained that President Obama was missing in action. Said one:

We haven’t noticed any activism on this issue out of the White House at all. It just goes to show what we’ve suspected all along: the White House never supported moving forward on this issue…..and was backed into a corner and jumped on the train as it was leaving station.

Even Reid may not get much credit for his maneuver. For one thing, failure is rarely welcome. For another, Reid probably helped contribute to the failure through his unwillingness to entertain amendments which, according to one gay rights activist, “blew the votes we had lined up.” Similarly, Hispanic groups understandably were disappointed that they couldn’t get a vote on the DREAM Act. They are probably wondering why this legislation, which from their perspective is the narrowest and least controversial of their agenda items, was intertwined with a hot-button gay rights issue.
The answer can be found at the intersection of Harry Reid’s incompetence and his ambition.

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