Partisan Anger Could Hobble Senate

ByABC News via logo
November 2, 2005, 8:57 AM

Nov. 2, 2005 — -- If bad blood between Senate Republicans and Democrats continues beyond Tuesday's angry blowup over Democrats' demand for a closed session on pre-war Iraq intelligence, it could make it difficult to get much done in what looks to be a busy legislative session.

"It could go through the end of the year," said George Stephanopoulos, ABC News' chief political correspondent and host of "This Week." "We could be here [hobbled by partisan anger] until Christmas.

"It only works in the Senate if everyone agrees," Stephanopoulos told ABC News' "Good Morning America" today. "Any single senator can shut the Senate down at any time. And right now, they're dealing with budget bills, they're dealing with tax bills, they're dealing with the avian flu legislation. If they can't find a way to put these relationships back together, everyone is going to be harmed."

What's more, Stephanopoulos said he has never seen such intense partisan fighting.

"There is a lot underneath," he said. "I've been working on Capitol Hill for 20 years, and I've never seen the divisions so deep, so institutional and so personal. And that's what you saw played out yesterday."

In a surprise move on Tuesday, Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a rarely invoked Senate rule to force the Senate into a closed secret session to find out what happened to the long-delayed investigation of the Bush administration's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence.

Republican leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was livid.

"The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," Frist said, describing Reid's move as a slap in the face.

"Democrats used scare tactics," Frist added. "They have no convictions, they have no principles, no ideas."

Reid fired back. "It's a slap in the face to the American people that this has been this investigation has been stymied, stopped, obstructions thrown up every step of the way," he said.

After two hours Tuesday, Republican leaders agreed to kick start the Iraq war investigation. Reid rebuffed criticisms that he should have first consulted with Frist before going public.

"Consult with the leader so he stops me from going and moving on this?" Reid asked. "What do you mean 'consult with him?' What are you talking about?"

Stephanopoulos said Reid and other Democrats felt they had to do something dramatic to make their point.

"Democrats had a secret meeting in Reid's office on Halloween night at 6:15 and they hatched this plot," Stephanopoulos said. "They said the only way they could get this investigation going was to do it in secret. They say they've been frustrated for a year and a half in getting this investigation into whether the administration twisted the intelligence and they're making no apologies whatsoever for it."

Democrats got what they wanted: The Senate will now publicly review the Bush administration's handling of pre-war intelligence.

But in doing so, has the atmosphere in the Senate been poisoned? If so, that may make it difficult for the Senate to agree on anything -- and may make future battles, such as the fight over Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, even tougher.

ABC News' Linda Douglass and George Stephanopoulos contributed to this report.