Reid: "Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems"

For now, the majority leader seems nonchalant about a decision that could kill his healthcare reform bill

Published October 27, 2009 8:15PM (EDT)

Only a day after Senate Majority Leader stuck his neck out by announcing that he'd push for a healthcare reform bill that includes a public option, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., came out and all but threatened to cut Reid's head off by voting with the Republicans to filibuster the legislation. But at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, the majority leader wasn't angry; indeed, he called Lieberman a "friend."

"I don't have anyone that I have worked harder with, have more respect for in the Senate than Joe Lieberman. As you know, he's my friend. There are a lot of senators, Democrat and Republicans, who don't like part of what's in this bill that we went over to CBO. We're going to see what the final product is. We're not there yet. Sen. Lieberman will let us get on the bill, and he'll be involved in the amendment process," Reid said.

"Some of you will recall one reason that we were able to solve the problem with the nuclear option -- I write about it in my book -- is I called Joe Lieberman to my office and said, 'Joe, I want you to join -- I want you to join the enemy and get us out of this deal.' And he did. I have the greatest confidence in Joe Lieberman's ability as a legislator. And he will work with us when this gets on the floor, and I'm sure he'll have some interesting things to do in the way of an amendment. But Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems."

One explanation for Reid's position: He at least has Lieberman with him on the first procedural vote for the bill, the one that brings it to the floor for debate and amendments. It's not clear Reid has the 60 votes that will be needed to do that, so he has to hold on to Lieberman's there. The majority leader alluded to that during the press conference. Asked, given the Connecticut senator's stance, "how realistic is it to expect that an opt-out plan will actually survive in [the bill's] final form," Reid responded:

Folks, why don't we wait? Take this one step at a time. Yesterday, you were all concerned about, "You can't get this on the floor." Let's take it one step at a time. We'll get it on the floor. We'll have an amendment process -- and that's what we do.

Just as Senator Dodd said, "that's what we do." We haven't been doing a lot of it because we've got 81 objections so far this year by the Republicans; 54 filibusters and whatever it is to take us to 81 -- objections are going to bills. So we're moving forward just as quickly as we can.

Another reason for Reid not to go on the warpath against his erstwhile ally: Democrats are still hoping that Lieberman is posturing right now in order to gain some leverage and some profile from his stance, and that he can be persuaded to come around when it counts. If that's the case, antagonizing him now wouldn't make much sense.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Harry Reid Healthcare Reform Joe Lieberman War Room