Photo/Dennis Myers U.S. Sen. Harry Reid gestures toward a wire service reporter in his Reno office during a news conference. His aide Kristen Orthman is at left.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is retiring at the end of his term, but it is difficult to tell from his role in innumerable issues inside and outside his home state.

Last week Reid sat down with reporters in Reno amid various pressures weighing on him.

Two days before the gathering with reporters, conservative protesters had picketed Reid’s Las Vegas office to object to the Iran agreement, and the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, had reported on discontent with Reid in the Democratic Party over his failing to endorse the agreement. “It’s mystifying why Leader Reid hasn’t come out in support of the Iran deal, when rejecting it would set us on a path to war,” Charles Chamberlain, director of a liberal PAC founded by Howard Dean, told the Hill. The newspaper also quoted a Reid aide saying the senator “doesn’t want to put pressure on colleagues,” an unusual approach to congressional leadership.

Reid told the newspaper, “I finished reading the document, a hundred and some-odd pages. But the one thing I need to do—I have people I need to meet with. I need to meet with people who have been very good to me over the years.” One of those people was identified as right wing billionaire Las Vegan Sheldon Adelson.

At the meeting with reporters, Reid identified another of them—Atlantis casino hotel owner John Farahi. Adelson and Farahi are both outspoken advocates of Israel’s political stances. His plans to discuss the issue with them led to headlines like this one in the Jewish Voice: “Will Billionaire Adelson Persuade Sen. Reid to Oppose Iran Deal?”

Reid also defended his New York Democratic colleague Charles Schumer from charges of disloyalty to President Obama after Schumer said he would vote against the Iran agreement. Reid has endorsed Schumer to be his successor as Democratic floor leader over the objections of the liberal blogosphere. The New Yorker reported that on Aug. 6, the day of Schumer’s Iran announcement, the White House asked Reid to announce his support to counter the impact of Schumer. Reid refused. He finally came out in favor of the agreement on Aug. 23.

When told that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had put out a statement accusing Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto (without citing any evidence) of waiting on Reid before she takes a position on the Iran pact, Reid offered little more than a shrug, saying it didn’t matter since she has no vote on the agreement. Cortez Masto is running to replace Reid in the Senate, with his endorsement. Republican candidate Joe Heck has been critical of the agreement.

While Reid stayed silent on Iran, Obama piled up chits to Reid. In recent weeks, the president has designated a Reid-requested national monument and spoke this week at a Reid-sponsored energy meeting in Las Vegas the same day that he raised money for Cortez Masto.

When Reid finally came out for the Iran pact, he said, “A nuclear-armed Iran would pose the gravest imaginable threat to Israel. If America walks away from this agreement and loses the support of our allies in the sanctions regime, Iran could have enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb in a matter of months. Iranian leaders have regularly stated that they intend to wipe Israel off the map, and I believe those threats should be taken with the utmost seriousness. This agreement is the best way to prevent Iran’s leaders from obtaining the nuclear weapons that would empower them to follow through on their threats to Israel. I have come to this decision through a rigorous process of study and review.”

The statement received wide attention.

In his meeting with reporters, Reid also wandered into a dispute over solar power in Nevada. He criticized NV Energy, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Berkshire keeps investing in renewables but in Nevada is trying to undercut a program to encourage solar use. NV Energy is seeking to block efforts to lift the legal cap on power that could be fed back into the grid by rooftop solar generators.

Reid, who has personally intervened to stop two coal-fired power plants in Nevada, said Buffet is living in the past if he thinks the large-utility model of George Westinghouse will prevail into the future. “But I think he’s wrong on rooftop solar,” the senator said.

Asked if Gov. Brian Sandoval should go to the Public Utilities Commission to intervene about the dispute, Reid said, “Why not? I’m trying to intervene. If I had more power, I would.”

Reid also offered Sandoval support if petition efforts to overturn the tax program enacted by the Republican legislature in Nevada succeeds on placing the issue on the ballot.

Reid didn’t actually discuss the purposes to which the taxes are being put, including state schools. Rather, he praised the governor for getting them enacted and said, “I think it would be a real disservice to our state if the crazies were able to prevail.”

The tax program cleared the supermajority needed to pass the Legislature, though conservatives say the defeat of a somewhat similar tax in the 2014 election should have dissuaded the lawmakers from approving the program.

House politics

Reid said he has heard Sen. Bernie Sanders’ calls to put an end to corporations whose sheer size, in an economic collapse like 2008, could threaten the nation. But he said Republican leaders in Congress have effectively stopped Democrats from being legislators, so it’s difficult to even take a look at the proposal (see “Free speech,” page 15).

Reid said he expects in the next few days to endorse a candidate in the state’s U.S. House district 4 where Republican Cresent Hardy—trailing badly two weeks before the 2014 election—pulled out a win when a Karl Rove political action committee suddenly intervened and bought more than three-quarters of a million dollars in television commercials attacking Democratic incumbent Steven Horsford. Four Democrats are running against Hardy—former Clark County Assemblymember Lucy Flores, Clark Sen. Ruben Kihuen, wealthy Las Vegas figure Susie Lee and former Assembly speaker John Oceguera. Horsford stayed out. The district, which contains northern Clark County, part of Lyon County, and Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties, has a Democratic registration majority. President Obama carried it by more than 10 percentage points against Mitt Romney in 2012.

In House district 3, which contains Reid’s home town of Henderson and the rest of the southern tip of the state, Nevada Democrats are counting on Reid to recruit a prominent candidate. He said he has been having talks with possible candidates and hopes to come up with a name soon. The district, being vacated by Heck, is closely divided and was carried by President Obama by a percentage point—which is how much Heck originally won the seat by in 2010, against Democrat Dina Titus. He widened his margin to seven points in 2012 against Oceguera.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...