Sestak Unloads On Senate Democrats He Hopes To Join

Rep. Joe Sestak may want to join Harry Reid in the United States Senate, but he thinks the majority leader could demonstrate, well, better leadership. He also was not bashful about sharply criticizing Sen. Ben Nelson and the rest of the Senate Democrats as lacking courage.

Sestak (D-PA) is battling Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic primary nomination in the Keystone State, going into rebel mode with calls to “fix the leadership problem” in the Senate.

TPMDC spent about 30 minutes interviewing Sestak Friday about health care and the political landscape in Pennsylvania. After hearing his pointed critique of the process, I asked him who in the Senate would make a better majority leader than Harry Reid.

After a long silence, Sestak offered, “I don’t know them all well enough. I like Jack Reed. … No one jumps to mind.”Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) is highly regarded but not currently a member of the party’s leadership team.

“We don’t have any titans over there. [Harry] Reid needs to lead,” Sestak said.

Sestak spent most of our interview going after Specter, but also portrayed himself as recognizing early that the August town halls were a sign of deep discontent with the establishment from both parties.

He said the lesson from Massachusetts should have been learned last summer. “There’s such an unease about the establishment. There’s lots of anxiety,” he said.

Sestak also said Massachusetts saw “Ben Nelson’s hand in the cookie jar,” a stinging reference to the Medicaid deal Nelson secured in the Senate health care bill before agreeing he would vote for it.

He said he’d be willing to lose his job over health care, though admitted he would vote for the Senate bill if necessary rather than get no bill at all.

“If we fail shame on us,” Sestak said. “The Democrats were given an opportunity to lead, not a mandate.”

Sestak did not reserve his criticism for the upper chamber alone, saying that House Democrats are missing leadership skills as well.

He complained that Democrats are briefing members on polls during caucus meetings.

He also said that tax incentives he wanted to see in a jobs will were never included, and said members were given the bill the night before the vote with “no transparency to what really happened” or how the bill was written.