Acknowledging the aftershocks of the Democratic midterm disaster and the perils of retaining a Democratic Senate majority in 2012, Majority Leader Harry Reid is easing his grip on communications strategy with a wide-ranging series of staff and procedural changes.
The Senate changes have been obscured by the larger drama of the House Democrats’ painful transition to the minority and the low-level insurrection against the leadership of incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But Reid’s moves amount to an admission that the Senate majority, which lost six seats on Nov. 2 and has more at stake in 2012, needs a more agile and effective way of telling constituents what it is doing and why.
Reid’s changes are being widely welcomed by a caucus nervous about the next two years. It’ll face an emboldened Republican Party and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made defeating President Barack Obama’s agenda his top goal. And some members are frank in admitting that their old way of doing business has to change.
In a closed-door session Thursday afternoon, postelection tensions were on display in what several senators described as an intense venting session about the disaster of the 2010 elections and what needs to change before 2012.
The moves are a “recognition that we need to be more disciplined and more thoughtful about the way we go about doing our business,” Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told POLITICO. “And that’s a recognition of the relentlessness of the political attack that we’re under.”
The series of changes began Monday with Reid’s announcement that he would merge his “war room” communications shop with the Democratic Policy Committee, which analyzes bills and helps formulate policy positions.
Reid put Sen. Chuck Schumer, the hard-charging political tactician from New York, in charge of the new operation, with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan to serve as Schumer’s deputy.
Until now, Reid’s staff constituted the Democrats’ message machine, a curious choice considering that Reid is, by his own admission, an inept communicator.