January isn’t half over, and already presidential election-year saber rattling has begun in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants senators to take votes on some of the high-profile stances of the Republican presidential nominees. Donald Trump, the party’s gadfly, provides ample opportunity.
Republicans aren’t biting, yet. GOP congressional leaders spent much of Thursday, the second day of their legislative retreat in Baltimore, deflecting questions about the 2016 presidential race. They insisted that the GOP-led Congress would focus on its members’ own November elections instead of litigating the ups and downs of presidential contests this winter and spring.
“The only thing we can do is control what we do here and what we do as individual members of Congress,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. “What we want to do is make sure that both House members and senators are well positioned going into this election.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, isn’t content to let congressional Republicans sit on the presidential sidelines until they have a nominee to unite behind.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Reid said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should put GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country up for a vote. It is an undisguised attempt to push Senate Republicans into the melee of their party’s nomination fight.
And if McConnell won’t schedule a vote, Reid made clear that Democrats would try.
“The obvious next step is to vote on [Trump’s] policies, including his unconstitutional plan to bar people from entering the United States based on their religion,” Reid said. “If Republicans are afraid to bring their standard-bearer’s policies up for votes, Democrats will hold Republicans accountable by seeking floor votes on Trump’s policies ourselves.”
Asked about Reid’s statement, McConnell told reporters that during his tenure as Senate leader, he has “tried to avoid turning the Senate into a studio for the presidential campaign.”
But McConnell was also clear that he would go toe to toe with the Democratic leader if provoked. “It’s worth noting that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said, adding that if Reid follows through on his threat, “you could expect amendments that they might not like related to the Sanders or Clinton campaign.”