Senate Democratic leaders, hoping to harness the energies of a frustrated rank and file, will huddle Wednesday with 22 freshman and sophomore Members to map out a strategy for combating Republican obstruction.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the meeting with the junior Senators, who have become increasingly restless and have urged leaders for months to take a more aggressive stand against the GOP.
The Democratic bloc has been slowly coming together on its own, and earlier this month it worked with Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to mount a floor offensive against Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) one-man blockade of a short-term unemployment and health benefits extension.
Reid is hoping to channel the Democratic Senators’ energy into constructive strikes against a newly empowered Republican Conference. The GOP now has 41 seats, enough to sustain a filibuster.
“They are young and untainted by their time in Washington,” a Democratic leadership aide said Tuesday. “As former Congressmen and former governors … they’re used to more action. And they’ve got good ideas.”
Wednesday’s meeting will give the Senators an opportunity to discuss a number of potential strategies for highlighting what they see as GOP obstruction. Among the ideas: forcing round-the-clock Senate sessions that would include live quorum calls, forcing Republicans to repeatedly — and publicly — renew their holds on legislation and nominees, or making more aggressive use of the chamber’s rules to circumvent filibusters.
Much of the discussion is expected to focus on how to put the junior Senators on the front lines of the ongoing jobs agenda fight and the upcoming battle over reconciliation to pass health care reform.
But the meeting is also likely to include other topics: Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who is also chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, will announce plans to hold hearings on proposals to change the chamber’s filibuster rules, an issue that is atop many junior lawmakers’ agendas.
Members of the freshman and sophomore classes said they were pleased Reid and other leaders are embracing their desire to get more aggressive.
“I think all of us are feeling we need to get out of a defensive crouch and stand up tall,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said.
McCaskill and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the leaders of the junior Senator bloc.
“Democrats, particularly the newer ones, are tired of it,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said of GOP obstruction. Democrats should force Republicans to pay a price for blocking their proposals, he said.
McCaskill described Wednesday’s meeting as an opportunity for the Conference to get on the same page. Reid “knows that we’ve been meeting and talking, and he just wants to make sure everyone is communicating,” McCaskill said.
The Democratic leadership aide agreed, saying Reid sees the session as an “opportunity to share their ideas with leadership” and discuss “what can be done and what just can’t be done.”
The junior Senators, a handful of whom are younger than their more senior colleagues, believe that as a group they can be more successful trying to break GOP filibusters. “[Sen. Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.] just isn’t going to be able to sit on the floor for three hours asking for [unanimous consent agreements] … but with their numbers” that becomes a more viable response to a Republican blockade, the aide said.
Senators said that they would use the face time with Reid to make the case for a more aggressive posture and that it should be embraced by the entire Conference.
Begich argued that the group’s success in defeating Bunning’s filibuster last week “clearly showed the differences” between Democrats and Republicans. He said he and his colleagues will use the meeting to advocate for forcing Republicans into similar situations, “rather than this cosmetic process of de facto filibusters.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said the meeting will also include some talk about messaging tactics that Democrats can employ to take on Republicans, in addition to “how we spend our time” on the floor trying to defeat filibusters.
“If they’re going to hold things up, they’ve got to be forced to go the distance once in a while,” Casey said.