The diminished standing of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada was on display on the state’s newsstands last week, with photographs of President Obama alongside Sen. Mitch McConnell instead of Reid dominating the post-election edition of USA Today. Even its occasional placement alongside a Reno Gazette-Journal home state assessment (“Reid still a force”) couldn’t take the edge off Reid’s reduced stature.
Many Harry Reid critics seemed to feel terrible for the badly beaten Democratic Party and offered advice to help it come back.
On a Fox network program, former George W. Bush press aide Dana Perino said, “My point on Harry Reid is well known. … He’s an absolutely poisonous person in the United States Senate and politics and the entire country … and Democrats would be much better off if he were to move on. But I think he’s extremely powerful and has a big reelection coming up in Nevada, and that’s going to be a tough race for him, and they are not going to want to diminish him in any way. If they take away his leadership position, he probably will lose.”
“He’s raised millions of dollars for his colleagues, served as the public face of GOP disgust and tried, though failed, to protect some of his colleagues by blocking legislation from votes in the past year,” wrote Ed O’Keefe in the Washington Post. “But the loss of as many as nine seats has only intensified the anger and frustration that’s been brewing among a small band of Senate Democrats, who suggested Wednesday that they might withhold support for their leader.”
Other conservative commentators who emoted for the poor Democrats claimed Reid had blocked so many votes that his members were unable to show their Republican sides. Coal lobbyist Scott Segal (Reid is a coal critic) at the D.C. law firm of Bracewell & Guiliani told the San Francisco Chronicle that Obama had a defacto veto in the Senate in the form of Reid, who could block politically risky legislation from advancing in the chamber, thus keeping it away from Obama’s desk.
“What this really did is deprive business-oriented Democrats of the ability even to be relevant, thus devaluing, for example, the chairmanships of Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich,” Segal said. “Political advertisements literally from coast to coast were able to characterize these moderate Democrats as having 100 percent agreement with President Obama.”
Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin: “Not only did [Reid’s] party lose the majority and sustain massive losses, but his strategy of preventing votes was the downfall of many Democrats. The reason Republicans could claim truthfully that their opponents had sided with the president 97 (or whatever) percent of the time was that Reid didn’t take many votes, and he shut down the amendment process. That left red state Democrats precious few times to demonstrate their independence …”
But such figures seemed to be defending Democratic senators from floor strategies those senators themselves wanted. Senate Democratic whip Richard Durbin of Illinois told the Los Angeles Times, “Privately, I’ve had people call me—beg me—not to vote,” Durbin said. “He’s [Reid’s] done what he thought was in the best interest of the caucus.”
Besides, with Republicans stealing the Democrats’ one-time economic populism—by criticizing poverty, the drug war and its impact on minorities, unfair taxation, corporate unaccountability, wage stagnation—it appeared that the last thing the Democrats needed was more chances to show their conservative side. Nevada columnist and editor of NevadaLabor.com Andrew Barbano, a former professional campaign consultant, said the ongoing recession D.C. doesn’t recognize was an omnipresent factor.
“To the contrary, Reid blocked votes on a lot of Republican-laid land mines, where a recorded vote would have had no use other than as campaign commercial prop,” Barbano said. “Andrea Mitchell of NBC News got it right: The Democrats failed to seize the economic issue. For millions, Great Depression II has never ended. So the guy with three jobs either had not time to vote or has given up on the political process as offering any surcease from sorrow. Business-oriented Democrat, definition: Somebody who wants to cut corporate taxes.”
What Andrea Mitchell said was, “I’m not echoing [Republican National chair] Reince Priebus, because he is obviously partisan, and that’s his job, but if you look at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Financial Times, all the reporting on the jobs data from Friday reported that participation rate is at historic lows, decade lows. Fifty-nine percent are … in the labor force. That’s just not a sustainable recovery. We have two Americas. We really do.”
One of the odder attacks on Reid came in Los Angeles where Wilshire Mormon Ward bishop Mark Peredes posted a blistering attack on a website devoted to exploring relations between Jews and Mormons:
“Of all of yesterday’s election results, the one that made me dance a jig was the ousting of Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader. … [T]he Senate’s most powerful perch will no longer be occupied by a Mormon who does not take his religion seriously. … My disgust with Reid’s political prostitution comes from my weekly counseling sessions with Mormons who are serious about their religion, ordinary people who struggle with pornography and other addictions, relationship issues, crises of faith, etc. These are people who know what God wants them to do, and strive mightily to do it. They may fail at times, as we all do, but at least they are trying to adhere to their church’s teachings. Sadly, Harry Reid apparently believes that the church’s teachings on the evils of gambling, abortion, and same-sex marriage don’t apply to opportunistic politicians.”
The reaction in Salt Lake City was swift and sharp. LDS church members took to social media to express their disagreement, and a church spokeperson, Dale Jones, chastised Peredes for using the church to market his views. Although Peredes wrote that he was not speaking for the church, he also wrote that part of his job as bishop is to judge “whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose” church teachings.
In spite of all the attacks, there was also considerable recognition that the political highway, both in Nevada and D.C., is littered with the bodies of those who have underestimated Reid. House Speaker John Boehner said of Reid: “Clearly, he’s going to have some power.” If no longer majority leader, Reid will remain the Democratic floor leader, and some of his most effective years were 2005 to 2007, when he was minority leader, which he will again become in January.
Among questions now being asked is whether he will “be able to partner with incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner as they take control of a new Republican-led Congress? Or will he resort to the very obstinacy he has derided in Republicans over the last six years in order to protect Democratic priorities?” That was political writer Lisa Mascaro at the Los Angeles Times.