As Congress gets back to work, Capitol Hill conservatives are anxious about the out-in-the-open partnership between retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.) to ban web-based gambling.Reid said he confers with Graham on the legislation for a federal ban web-gambling and the two men agreed to let the House pass its bill first in the same March 27 interview Reid gave to Joe Schoenmann, host of KNPR's “State of Nevada” program that featured first-time-long-time President Barack Obama.
After the president took Reid's answer off the air, Schoenmann asked him about the effort by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson to ban online gaming with federal legislation that is called Restoring America's Wire Act. The RAWA bill would assert that the 1961 Wire Act provisions did and will always will make it illegal to gamble on the Internet.
In the asking, Schoenmann got his wires crossed.
The host asked Reid to discuss how after pledging to make Internet gambling legal across the country, how did he feel about Adelson's effort to go the other way.
“Joe, you have the facts wrong,” Reid said. “I believe online gambling is not good for our country.”
The senator said he had worked to make online poker legal nationwide for the good of Nevada and the good of the nation, but in failing that, he was now working to ban web-gambling all together.
Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized online gambling inside their borders. If it becomes law, RAWA will re-criminalize online gambling in those three states.
Reid, who in the early days of this current session has befuddled Republicans with his delaying tactics and use of parliamentary procedure, said that in a March 26 phone call he told Graham not to worry about obstacles from the Democrats.
“I will not stand in his way at all,” he said. “If it passes the House, we are going to give a good try in the Senate.”
The senator further told Schoenmann that based on his four years at the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, he was in favor of greater controls on gambling in general and specifically in the Indian lands.
In the last session of Congress, Reid was content to operate in the shadows and let Speaker John A. Boehner (R.-Ohio) take lead on the online gambling ban. Boehner is very close to Adelson as demonstrated by the speaker's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.
The same week at the Netanyahu speech, Boehner met with Boehner, as well as the two men carrying to the ball for him: Graham and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah).
Like the White House and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), Reid gave Boehner the room he needed to push RAWA himself. No one in Democratic leadership sticks their neck out on Boehner's word—not because he lies, but because he cannot deliver.
But, with Reid onboard, RAWA was very close to being included in the Dec. 11 continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
When Boehner did not push load that bale onto the wagon, the next move was to fast-track a bill through the House for the waiting Senate. But, that path House was blocked when Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R.-Va.) insisted on regular order and then declined to hold a committee hearing that would be considered consistent with regular order.
Adelson is not going away.
As a matter of practical politics, opposing the RAWA means they are saying no to a man, who has stroked checks totaling more than $100 million for conservatives. In the 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Adelson supported both former speaker Newton L. “Newt” Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senator Richard J. Santorum.
Just because, both Gingrich and Santorum lost, Adelson's support kept them in the race and kept the eventual nominee former Massachusetts governor W. Mitt Romney from making his general election pivot away from conservatives as early as he wanted to make it.
Before Adelson made the big ask, passage of RAWA, he was the champion of conservatives, who happen to be Republicans. But, as conservatives shy away from outlawing their patron's online competition, clubhouse Republicans may have no such qualms.
Meanwhile, across the ailse, Harry Reid last great masterstroke before leaving the national stage might be to put the Democrats in the running to win the real first in the nation primary: Adelson checkbook.