Everybody Hates Congress

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are joined by other Senate Democrats at a press conference in the Capitol in May.

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To complete the reversal of fortunes, Democrats have picked up a Republican strategy circa 2004: accuse the opposition of being obstructionist. "Because of the obstructionism of the Republicans in the United States Senate, I'm not happy with Congress, either," Pelosi told reporters at a press conference highlighting Democratic achievements last week. "I believe that our record will come across to the American people as we're able to pass legislation into law orů tell the American people as to why that hasn't happened."

Democrats in the Senate are facing many of the same problems. Majority Leader Harry Reid controls the Senate by one of the slimmest margins in U.S. History, with 48 Democrats constituting a majority (Senators Joe Lieberman and Vermont's Bernie Sanders are Independents who caucus with the Democrats and South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is still out on medical leave). As a result, Reid has been forced to file for cloture (a procedural tactic to prevent filibusters) more than 40 times in six months—a record pace. "I have come to the conclusion that everything I do is going to be objected to," Reid told TIME.

So what can Reid do? After months of being banged around, last week he decided to play hardball. He threatened to hold the Senate in session through August recess—a month both chambers usually take off—unless Republicans relent and clear the way for ethics reform and the implementation of the 9/11 commission's recommendations.

Pelosi, too, has begun fighting back. Taking recent criticism of the President's "surge" plan by Republican Senators Richard Lugar and John Warner as evidence of a splintering opposition party, SHE PLANS TO hold one vote each week in July on the war, including a second run at a timeline for withdrawal and a bipartisan measure that would strip Bush's authority to wage war in Iraq. The idea is that if more and more Republicans are forced to turn against the President, Democrats will eventually have the votes to force Bush into a timeline for withdrawal.

Despite the poll numbers, Emanuel claims he isn't worried yet. A Democracy Corps poll of the top 35 vulnerable Democratic districts last month found that when voters are given actual candidates to choose from, Democrats are maintaining a comfortable lead—most of them top their Republican competitors by double digits. "When 72% of the country thinks things are heading in the wrong direction, they're not going to feel good about anything," Emanuel, said.

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