Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi leave me far from brimming with confidence as they try to herd their two groups of cats. There is no Chris Matthews-like "thrill" when I watch this House Speaker and Majority Leader in action – and indeed, I was tempted to write that as "inaction". If they cannot show strong leadership within their own Democratic party, how in the world will they take any kind of party lead on online gaming reform?
Okay. Yes, indeed. They've only been in session for a week, President-elect Obama is still a week away from assuming his office and yet already the sweeping presence and powerful leadership strokes of a Tip O'Neill or a Mike Mansfield are sorely missed. How will this lot pass a stimulus package if 535 people all must contribute? Opinions may indeed be as plentiful as arses — everyone has one — but as the classic saying states, there are two things you never want to see being made, sausages and laws. Even though Newt Gingrich acted the buffoon most of the time, one knew who was in charge and Republicans knew how to whip everyone into line.
As I watch Pelosi and Reid — and I'm a Democratic supporter — I am reminded of the song from the movie and musical Chicago: "Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane, shoulda been my name… cause you look right through me, walk right by me and never know I'm there."
Pelosi's main contribution, beyond ensuring members' young ones were on the podium with her as their parents and grandparents were sworn in, was a December tantrum warning former House colleague and leadership competitor Rahm Emanuel that her Congress will not roll over and that he must clear all House Congressional contact through her. I am certain that once he stopped laughing, the new White House Chief of Staff was scared into submission.
Reid? He flip-flopped badly on Roland Burris, the Obama replacement appointed by embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, and won a cloture motion for committee membership composition by basically saying, "Please don't hurt me" to Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The silly thing about his big win is he held all the cards in that one and still gave ground. Had they not agreed, the old rule would've stayed in place and the Dems would have gained up to four new seats on each committee. McConnell threatened to filibuster if the Dems did not accept his demand of capping Democratic committee majorities at two. Final solution: three. Way to go Reid-ee! You gave up a third of your margin for what, exactly, in return? A threat to not filibuster?
You'd never know that right now the Dems control 57 seats. They made a huge amount of fuss over Roland Burris taking seat number 58. And in Minnesota, Norm Coleman will finally be pronounced politically dead and Al Franken will take seat number 59 on the Dem side of the aisle.
59-41, one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority, and yet you would think they were living in the 110th Congress where it was 51-49 and the Vice President was a member of the opposition. There are two moderate New England Senators (one who re-won her seat narrowly) and that endangered species is much more likely to vote across party lines than toe a far-right Republican line. With projected further gains in 2010 — as five more Republicans announced their retirement this month – mild-mannered Harry is the best they could do for a leader? It's that push for appeasement that makes the Reid/Pelosi Congress less certain to battle the Republicans' own strident party-plank stance against online gambling.
Editor's note: Contributing columnist Denis Campbell brings an independent and experienced eye to poker's political scene. Campbell has worked closely in the past with former Cabinet Secretaries in the Carter and Clinton administrations, Ambassadors and members of Congress. He offers commentary on US and UK politics for the BBC and Huffington Post, and is currently the editor-in-chief of UK Progressive Magazine. Here, Denis offers his insights on matters affecting <a href=https://www.pokernews.com/>poker</a>. Denis' views do not necessarily reflect those of <a href=https://www.pokernews.com/>PokerNews</a>.