Washington — Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), a Tea Party favorite, has boxed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) into a corner. After a quiet day of quorum calls and speeches, Reid abruptly adjourned the upper chamber Thursday and postponed votes until Monday. According to numerous Hill staffers, Paul deserves some credit for the impasse.
Here’s the back story: On Wednesday, Paul, with little notice, attached an amendment to the small-business re-authorization bill. The amendment, which chastises President Obama for his actions in Libya, urges members to adopt the president’s own words as “the sense of the Senate.”
To make his point, Paul quoted, in the legislative language, from Obama’s 2007 remarks on the subject: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” According to Paul’s office, “the measure aims to put the Senate on record affirming Congress as the body with constitutional authority on matters of war.”
GOP sources tell National Review Online that Paul’s proposal flummoxed Reid, who does not want his members to have to weigh in on Obama’s dusty quote about congressional authority, even if the vote is only to table the measure.
Republicans speculate that Reid was already irked, sensing disarray in his caucus over the McConnell-Inhofe amendment to block carbon regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency. Paul’s proposal simply added fuel to the docket fire. Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2012 are quite sensitive to tricky amendment votes, and Reid, some say, may have simply thrown up his hands. For Democrats, a weekend to sort things things out is more appealing than a tense Friday in the cloakroom.
“Paul’s Libya amendment has brought the Senate to a standstill because Reid doesn’t know how to handle it,” one GOP aide tells me. “If he allows a vote, Democrats are forced to either disagree with then-senator Obama or with President Obama. It’s possible that Reid just yanks the bill or files cloture, seems he may do anything to avoid a vote on Paul’s amendment.”
Still, during a testy floor exchange Wednesday with Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the Kentucky freshman argued that his amendment deserves a vote, and fast. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, with all the complaints from many people on these wars that we were involved in, President Bush did come and ask for the authorization of force,” he said. “We’ve had two to three weeks of this issue. They had time to go to the U.N. They had time to go to the Arab League. They had time to go to everyone. I think you should be insulted the way I am insulted they never came to Congress.”
Durbin fired back that Bush, by coming to Congress, actually “broke precedent.” Paul looked on, bemused.
Durbin asserted that Obama acted within the law. “The senator from Kentucky has the right to express his point of view, debate it on the floor of the Senate, and the right to pursue the War Powers Act, which gives Congress the authority for a hearing and a decision,” he said. “But what I would, I guess, disagree with the senator from Kentucky is on the characterization that the president did not follow the law. He did notify Congress. I think the circumstances moved so quickly with human life hanging in the balance the president made that decision and now stands with the American people making judgment as to whether it was the proper decision to make.”
With Durbin so confident in Obama’s words and actions, you’d think Reid would hustle to have Senate Democrats back him up on the floor. For now, however, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.
UPDATE: Senator Paul, in a Friday letter, urges Reid to call a vote.