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A Small Man in a Big Job

The petty reign of Harry Reid

Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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“It’s really a failure in leadership of my friend,” Reid told reporters. In the meantime, David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff, gathered several reporters for Las Vegas-based news outlets into his office. Republicans on the Hill say the 45-year-old staffer is abrasive and difficult to work with but a faithful executor of Reid’s schemes. Krone provided reporters with a series of private emails between himself and Heller’s former chief of staff, Mac Abrams. The emails showed what looked like a disorganized effort to corral Republican support for the bill, though Heller and Republicans dispute the characterization. Nevertheless, the ploy succeeded in embarrassing Heller, earning him a bit of bad press back home in Nevada. In November, he prevailed over Berkley, but the Internet gambling law both Heller and Reid wanted remains dead. The incident was classic Reid: short-term political gain at the expense of a policy victory. It’s a testament to Reid’s influence, though, that Heller, a Republican who won’t face reelection until 2018, is now unwilling to publicly cross his rival.

Not even President Obama has escaped the wrath of Reid​—​or, to be more precise, that of Reid’s minion Krone. As Bob Woodward recounted in his book on the debt-ceiling negotiations of 2011, The Price of Politics, Krone traveled with Reid to the White House that summer during the intense debate over extending the debt limit. In the Oval Office, Reid began explaining the outline of a $2.7 trillion debt limit extension before turning it over to Krone to explain the details. Reid’s plan included another round of defense cuts that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell had “secretly pledged to honor.” Obama dismissed the idea, saying he didn’t trust Boehner and McConnell. Krone, Woodward writes, “either would not or could not conceal his anger” at the president:

“Mr. President, I am sorry​—​with all due respect​—​that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

Reporters covering Congress seem more interested in getting along with Reid than in critically examining his reign. Members of the Capitol Hill press corps regularly pass along as simple fact Reid’s assertion that the Republican minority has slowed down activity in the Senate and hardly ever challenge him on it. At a recent press conference, I asked Reid to explain his tactic of blocking unwanted amendments and rushing through debate. Republicans say Reid thereby stymies meaningful debate in the Senate, so they often use parliamentary procedures to protest. Why, I asked, had he decided to gum up the amendment process in the first place? Reid dodged:

“We have to spend 8 to 10 Senate days, that’s a couple weeks, to get on a bill,” he said. “Because [Republicans] virtually oppose every time we try to give a bill a motion to proceed. That wastes 10 days. With that 10 days, if we didn’t have to do that, we could be on a bill, there could be amendments. We’ve arrived at a point where we don’t have time to do that.”

It was a circular response. Reid has decided to limit GOP amendments because of the possibility Republicans will block bills to protest Reid’s practice of limiting GOP amendments? When I shouted a follow-up at the end of the press conference​—​“Do you think you should open the amendment process, that it might earn you some goodwill with the Republicans?”​—​Reid slowly turned, looked at me, and refused to answer. “Grumpy!” a photographer noted.

Reid can be curt to reporters, which may explain some of the reluctance from the press to ruffle his feathers. In 2009, a reporter asked him to clarify a statement he had made on the Senate floor. Reid told the reporter to “turn up your hearing aid.”

“It was clear for those of us who understand English,” Reid sniped. He once introduced Politico reporter Manu Raju to an aide as “the biggest pest in Washington.”

Amid the fiscal cliff negotiations late last year, Reid sparred with a young reporter over President Obama’s plan, acting as if he had no knowledge of the plan’s existence. “The president’s fiscal cliff plan, the White House plan​—​why hasn’t that been put up for a vote yet in the Senate, and are you planning on putting it up for a vote?” the reporter asked.

“I’m sorry, what?” Reid said, looking confused.

“The White House proposal that they floated around last week on Capitol Hill?” the reporter repeated.

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