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Playing in Traffic Is Not Safe Politics

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the current Senate Majority Leader . Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the current Senate Majority Leader . Flickr user sdmc

While I have never seen anyone literally thrown under a bus, I would imagine it is quite a grisly sight. In politics, we occasionally see someone throw an individual or a group on their own team under one. That is not a pretty sight either.

Early this year, we saw Senate Democrats throw their House brethren under the proverbial bus with a Jan. 29 story in Politico headlined, “Democrats: Cede the House to Save the Senate.” It noted that Democrats’ hold on their majority in the upper chamber was tenuous, while over on the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was raising money hand over fist despite having little chance of reclaiming the majority House Democrats lost in 2010. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Senate Democrats were trying to redirect fundraising from what they saw as a lost cause on one side of the Capitol to what they saw as a much more important one on their side.

On one level, it was pretty obvious that the odds were exceedingly long for House Democrats and more like 50-50—give or take 10 points—on the Senate side. But these kinds of stories are usually played out in the weeks or final months before an election, not in the first month of the election year. To me, it was both understandable and unseemly, and certainly not very subtle. I could only wonder just how angry House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was with the story, particularly given that I had heard her deliver a very spirited defense of Democrats’ House chances just a few weeks earlier. But as the old saying goes, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

We saw it again this past week with The Washington Post’s inimitable Dana Milbank writing a column July 4 suggesting that perhaps the Obama presidency might benefit from Democrats losing their Senate majority. The crunching sound you heard was the bones of Senate Democrats under a bus, a pretty fair indication that someone in or close to the White House was beginning to rationalize why such an outcome might not be as bad a thing as some might think—all logic to the contrary.

Milbank argues, “The prevailing view is that a Republican Senate would only compound [President] Obama’s woes by bottling up confirmations, doubling the number of investigations, and chipping away at Obamacare and other legislative achievements.”

Now here comes the bus. Milbank continues, “Yet there’s a chance that having an all-Republican Congress would help Obama—and even some White House officials have wondered privately whether a unified Republican Congress would be better than the current environment. Republicans, without Harry Reid to blame, would own Congress—a body that inspires a high level of confidence in just 7 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup survey last month finding Congress at a new low and at the bottom of all institutions tested.” Crunch.

All of this reminds me of a lunch conversation with a senior White House adviser just a few weeks before the Democrats’ disastrous 2010 midterms, when they lost their House majority and saw their Senate edge cut by more than half, losing six seats. The adviser appeared genuinely disinterested in the midterm election, seeming to only want to talk about which Republicans might actually jump into the 2012 contest.

To be sure, Obama is running around the country doing fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as he does for other party entities. But a lot of the goodwill built up by doing seven-digit fundraising events is undone by those in and close to the White House, whose loyalty seems to be only to The Man and not the best interests of the party. Sure, if Republicans “own” Congress, then the Obama White House will have a better angle of attack, but—and you can call me old-fashioned—it is never a good thing to lose a Senate or House majority.

That is not to say that Republicans shouldn’t worry about the possibility that if they hold the House (highly likely) and win a majority in the Senate, that some of the more exotic GOP members would be emboldened to do things that could be disastrous for their party. That should be a legitimate concern.

But for Obama, while yes, he would be recorded as the first African-American president, he would also be remembered for having lost a House majority in his first-term midterm election and the Senate in his second term—a fairly inauspicious record, with the Affordable Care Act credited as having assisted in the play.

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