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September 23, 2014

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Harry Reid’s delicate dance with the issues

Where to begin with a Harry Reid interview that concluded with this response to my question about whether he regretted his infamous “war is lost” comment about Iraq:

“Could I have phrased it better? Understand, I could have phrased a lot of things better.”

The Senate majority leader said it with a chuckle, but the most serious impediment to his re-election may be that words do matter — especially in campaigns. And the reason Reid has yet to commit to debates with Sharron Angle, who is now being called a “mental patient” and “nutbag” on MSNBC as she has fallen back to Earth since the primary, is that Reid knows what his handlers do: You never know what he might say.

And in a wide-ranging interview Friday on “Face to Face,” the majority leader said many interesting things, with a little prodding from the gentle host:

The economy: Reid stuck with his mantra — which has the intellectual advantage of being truthful but the political disadvantage of diminishing resonance — that times were worse toward the end of the Bush Administration. “We’ve done some things that have stopped some of the problems,” Reid insisted, invoking capital action on homebuyer tax credits, cash for clunkers and so on. He added, “I know how people feel … We’ve made limited progress but we’ve made progress … We didn’t dig this hole, but we’re certainly doing everything we can to get out of it.”

But, as Greg Sargent put it in The Washington Post last week about the Democrats’ problem: “While they need to argue that their policies are responsible for stabilizing the economy and putting us on the road to recovery, how do they do this without seeming out of touch with the reality on the ground?”

And something tells me Harry Reid can’t demonstrate he feels people’s pain as effectively as Bill Clinton could. Just a guess.

Barack Obama: When I asked Reid if he could find any disagreements with the president, who spent two days in Las Vegas energizing the Democratic base and depositing $800,000 in the senator’s campaign war chest, he didn’t cite policies but talked of Obama’s aversion to confrontation. Reid said Obama could have “been more firm with those on the other side of the aisle … He’s a peacemaker … Sometimes I think you have to be little more forceful and sometimes I don’t think he is.”

Reid went so far as to say the White House “came in late” on health care reform, which he described as “a great product.”

The majority leader can’t run away from that still-unpopular measure, but he may see those words repeated.

Social Security: With Reid’s attacks on Angle for her ever-evolving position on Social Security — privatize, phase out, personalize, save (!) — I wondered whether he felt any culpability for raiding the trust fund and for proposing no long-term solution. Reid said “people have to stop badmouthing Social Security,” insisting it is fine for 40 years, and blamed GOP presidents for the trust fund raiding, although Congress has been complicit.

The truth is the Social Security trustees said in their 2009 report that “reserves are exhausted in 2037, at which point tax income would be sufficient to pay about three fourths of scheduled benefits through 2083.” But, as many have pointed out, every year the assumptions seem to be optimistic considering other economic forces and the pick pocketing by the Gang of 535.

But Social Security’s utility as a political bludgeon is undeniable, and Angle’s statements will cost her.

Immigration: It took awhile, but I finally got Reid to say he supported the administration’s lawsuit against Arizona. Just last week, he told the Review-Journal through a spokesman he was neutral on the lawsuit, which didn’t seem to jibe with his description of the measure as “legalization of racial profiling.”

This is a delicate dance for Democrats, who want Hispanic voters but recognize the popularity of the Arizona statute. Reid also said he plans to bring immigration reform to the floor again this year, “but I need a few Republicans.”

Figure those odds.

David Petraeus: Reid had essentially called the general a liar three years ago when he also made those “war is lost” comments. But the majority leader embraced Obama’s decision a couple of weeks ago to put Petraeus in charge in Afghanistan.

Reid said his comments were “blown way out of proportion,” pointing out Petraeus said the war in Iraq could not be won militarily. Then this: “It wasn’t won militarily. It was won politically, diplomatically and with the surge.”

Something tells me those winning words won’t matter as much this campaign as the losing ones from 2007.

You can see the interview here: http://tiny.cc/352qh

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