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January 25, 2015

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For Harry Reid, it’s been the best of times, worst of times

Reid’s year has been filled with political victories, personal trials and some compromises


AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meets reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010.

When you’re in Congress, you mark time in two-year chunks. For Harry Reid, this last chunk was about as two-sided as it gets.

On the personal front, it’s been a time of existential trial.

Reid watched his own fate as a career politician hinge on the outcome of a brutal re-election campaign, that of his wife rest in the hands of a surgeon after a collision with an eighteen-wheeler, and that of his fellow Nevadans sink under the pressure of a protracted recession that has put the state in last place nationally in almost every measure from employment to foreclosures.

But on the professional front, things have never been better.

Scholars and pundits of all political persuasions agree that the 111th Congress has been the most productive the country has seen since at least the “Great Society” years of 1960s, if not ever.

The lion’s share of the credit goes to Reid, who as majority leader in the Senate was the ultimate stopgap: If he could find a way around blocks, filibusters and changing majorities, bills passed; if he couldn’t, they died.

“If we had accomplished in any prior Congress that I’ve been involved in 10 percent of what we were able to do this Congress, we’d be celebrating by turning back flips,” Reid said in his office on Wednesday, barely an hour after the Senate had ratified the new START treaty with Russia, its last major piece of work before breaking for the holidays.

“Think of the stuff that we’ve done.”

A partial list is considerable, even if some of the measures were controversial: The stimulus, health care overhaul and Wall Street reform; and bills to repeal the military’s policy against gays serving openly, strengthen equal-pay laws and give the Food and Drug Administration more power to regulate food safety and tobacco.

With Republicans coming to power in the House in less than two weeks, it’s likely we’ve not heard the last word on some of those issues — especially the stimulus and health care, which Reid counts as his biggest accomplishments.

Reid’s no stranger to partisan gridlock. There were 88 cloture votes in the 111th Congress, representing 88 filibuster threats from the GOP. The record number has put filibuster reform on the agenda for the next session.

Certain battles, he says, were “excruciating,” and he counts partisan gridlock as his biggest personal disappointment of the recent session.

“I was unable, I think until the lame duck, to convince my Republican colleagues that it was best to work together,” Reid said, echoing what has become a new mantra for him: The true take-away of the midterms was a mandate to work together. “Think of how much we could have done.”

The lame-duck session is, in a way, proof of that logic. With election pressure off, Senate Republicans and Democrats came together to pass more legislation — and in Start, approve the first arms control ever in a lame-duck session — in the last month.

It wasn’t always the way Democrats, or Reid, would have liked. A bill to extend tax cuts and unemployment insurance, for example, largely pitted congressional Democrats against the president, not a great position for a party regrouping for 2012.

Republican leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have been salivating at deepening those tensions, warning Democrats that “if they think it’s bad now, just wait.”

But Reid doesn’t think so. And although it may buck conventional wisdom, recently he has been adept at disassociating impressions from facts. (Take his recent re-election: Polls and abysmal approval numbers had Reid presumed dead before he swept the state in a race that wasn’t close.)

Reid said his job for the next two years is to be a “cooling vessel for the heat of the House of Representatives.”

“It’s going to be much easier than it was,” Reid said.

Of course, that outlook doesn’t quite square with the to-do list Reid seems to have going in his head for the next session.

Amid all the activity, Congress failed to take significant steps in three major areas of the president’s agenda that are vitally important to struggling Nevada.

Energy legislation, a subject with huge implications for Nevada’s new renewables industry, not to mention Yucca Mountain, never happened. Neither did wide-scale, pre-collegiate education reform, or anything on immigration — a controversial topic nationally that has emerged as the key policy issue for Nevada’s Hispanic population, which made up 16 percent of the midterm electorate.

“I think you’re going to be surprised,” Reid said, promising to take up a comprehensive immigration bill. “I think we’re going to make some progress.”

Once presumed to just be a pre-election, base-shoring ploy, passing immigration reform appears to have emerged as one area for which Reid has formed a real passion. That’s a significant switch for a man who routinely voted against reform as a freshman senator.

But in sessions such as this one, there are moments of re-examination and learning, even for someone as entrenched as Reid.

His most significant came only days before the House approved the health care bill he had spearheaded, when he learned that his wife of more than 50 years, Landra, had been in an accident with an eighteen-wheeler and was hospitalized with a broken neck.

“Everything that we do here is important to somebody. But as individuals, the most important thing is what happens with our families and our friends,” Reid said. “She never asked for any sympathy or special attention, and I didn’t give her a lot, because I was stuck here. But she never complained.”

Reid says that experience made him stronger, and only more determined to forge ahead.

We’ll see how far it gets him in the next two years. Policy agenda aside, his political skills are likely to be in higher demand, as the wiry former boxer’s role morphs from legislative quarterback to campaign linebacker, protecting the president and his slim majority in the Senate when 23 members of his caucus are preparing to face re-election.

As he plots that strategy, he’ll likely recall another inspirational moment, and piece of wisdom handed over from a Senate colleague who, after being trounced by a Tea Partyer in the midterms, won’t be back next year.

“ ‘In life, you have to weigh your principles with the better good,’ ” Reid said, quoting outgoing Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. “That’s what we do all the time.”

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  1. The Fox News nuts, Dick Morris and the talk radio hate crowd...said Reid was going to lose. Now some of them, like Heidi Harris says the election was rigged by the "union that works on the machines." Of course why didn't they rig the Heck Titus race?

  2. Heidi Harris, like Savage Weiner will say anything for a buck.

    Watch the newsreels of Hitler giving speeches. You will see his fist clenched and/or pounding while he is talking very fast. He is telling the Germans how they are being lied to by Britain, France and the rest of the World. He is creating hate in his audiences, and with hate, he gets their vote.

    Achtung Amerika, wake up before its too late.

  3. Couldn't agree more with you, SunJon. We've got to get rid of Reid, Pelosi, Obama & the rest of the "Progressives" who are eroding our freedoms everyday. Maybe, as that kook from Florida, Alan Grayson, proclaimed, "They will get sick & die." He's a typical Dumbocrat. As for Reid "feeling the pain" of the unemployed, he doesn't look as though he's missed a meal lately.

  4. Bottomline Searchlight Harry is the poster boy for incompetent.

  5. As usual, the teabaggers are whining again! Boo-hoo, Queen Sharrrrrrrrrrrron of the Tea-nuts couldn't beat Harry Reid.

    Funny enough, conservatives often talk about "personal responsibility"... But neither Angle nor her teabagger fans want to take any! Nope, they'd rather continue to float ridiculous conspiracy theories and moan over their lost delusions of grandeur.

    In the mean time, all the rest of us Nevadans living in the real world are relieved that Senator Reid worked to secure passage of such important legislation as the START Treaty and DADT repeal... And relieved that Reid will still be here in the next Congress to prevent Nevada from ever becoming the nation's radioactive waste dump.

  6. Presidential Medal of Freedom, Noble Prize and "man of the year" should be awarded to Reid.

  7. "For Reid it's been the best of times, worst of times"?? Huh?

    How about this: "It has been the best of times for Reid and the worst of times for America"

  8. Some of you Goofballs, are going to have to go to the Union Hall, get a union card,(if you qualify) and go get a real job. You're going to need all the help you can get...........

  9. A well-written, thoughtful story that doesn't even blame the right-wing lie and smear machine for giving Reid and other people trying to make this a better world political trouble--not to mention its political and business allies creating this recession in the first place.

  10. Harry Reed took Sharon's advice. He 'manned up' just in time to put a real hurtin' on the Repubs. He made it hurt so bad that they had to get off their rear ends and actually do something rather than just say No! And if the Repubs think its bad now, just wait until next year, when the Senate rules will be changed and if they threaten to fillibuster, they will actually have to do it, not just talk about it.

  11. Harry Reid is the greatest Senator Nevada has ever had.

    That's all I have to say.

    Happy Holidays Senator and Mrs. Reid!

  12. Wow, the Harry Reid BS/PR Machine is still at work after the election.

    Even after he barely saved his neck from retirement, his thugs can't stop passing out the kool-aide and having the mainstream media buying into anything he says as Gospel!!

    Best of $$ Times for Harry, worst of times for Nevada. By the end of January, he will once again forget where the state is and who lives here.

  13. It is odd to see the comments about Reid's supposed incompetence after he just, as Lindsey Graham put it, ate the Republicans' lunch. He did the same during his campaign. So, this supposed incompetent beat the Republican party in an election and in a Congress that did something antithetical to all that Republicans believe: help the American people and behave like true Christians. Hate to break it to you, Republicans, but you're embarrassing yourselves.

  14. Perhaps Sen Reid can explain about the $28.4 Million dollar Dept. of Energy(DOE)Grant for Silver Peak Lithium Production, Nevada. Per Senator Reid 2010 campaign senatorial Radio ads touting the help to Silver Peak and Chemetall(Rockwood Industries)What the ads failed to explain is how much of the $28.4 million dollar grant is going to build a new Lithium Hydroxide Plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina(where there is no Lithium Production)that seems more to benefit New Jerseys Senator Robert Menendez' home state, as Rockwood Industries i.e., owner of Chemetall Corp. AND as of Dec. 23, 2010 another round of lay offs at Chemetall in Silver Peak, Nevada. Congratulations are in order to Senator Reid for putting another one over on Nevadans and adding to the number of un-employed here in Nevada. . . Happy Holidays Senator Reid?

  15. You liberals can gloat now about your hero Reid. Yes, he did cram some crap through in the Lame Duck Session of the 111th Congress. He had to cram while his fellow outlaws still had control of Congress. The House will be controlled by the GOP in the 112th Congress, so Sierra Harry won't be able to wreak any more havoc on the country and Nevada. The House controls the purse strings which means a lot of people and businesses which supported Reid in his campaign won't be getting the kick-backs they were expecting. Good. Sweet irony! Reid is now a toothless tiger.

  16. With all of you teabaggers bashing Senator Reid, why don't you take 5 seconds and tell us what Ensign has done for our state..