Washington – Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska said today that he had an odd and unsettling late-night encounter with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Thursday night.
Senator Nelson, a conservative Democrat, has been trying over the past several days to negotiate a compromise with a small group of senators from both parties, including Republicans Susan Collins and Arlen Specter, of Maine and Pennsylvania respectively. As of last night, they had been unsuccessful in modifying the stimulus package so that enough senators would vote in its favor to override any filibuster. It was following a late night of intense negotiation that the Senator from Nebraska says he found Mr. Emanuel waiting in the darkened Capitol parking garage as he approached his car.
“Hey, Ben,” Emanuel is reported to have said to the senator. “Nice night, huh?”
“Rahm? What the hell are you doing?” Nelson said he asked in response. He said he was startled and didn’t even see Emanuel in the shadows of the near-empty lot.
“I’m just standing here, Ben. Waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Nelson asked.
“For you to tell me why you haven’t gotten a yes vote together on the stimulus bill. I’m waiting, and I’m waiting…”
Nelson says he tried to treat the situation like a joke, and laughed. He then got in his car, hoping the strange conversation was over. But as Nelson started the car, Emanuel approached and knocked on the window. Nelson begrudgingly opened it and asked, “What is it?”
“I want to ask you something,” Emanuel said. “Do you have a dog?”
“A dog?” Nelson asked. “Yes. I have a dog. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Hmm. Well, you know, it’s a funny thing. You might find that your dog isn’t home when you get there,” Emanuel said. “Isn’t where he’s supposed to be. He might be somewhere else. Like… Well, like the ‘yes’ votes for the stimulus package are somewhere else. Lots of things are somewhere else, aren’t they, Ben?”
And with that Emanuel walked off into the darkness of the parking garage, leaving Nelson to sit in his idling car and ponder his options. Today an agreement is said to have been reached between senators on a revised, $780 billion version of the stimulus package. The small bipartisan group that Nelson is a part of was essential in making that agreement possible.