[Marxism] New Senate Democratic leader will "make the trains run on time"
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 14 09:00:35 MST 2004
NY Times, November 14, 2004
New Democratic Leader in Senate Is Atypical Choice
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 - He is a teetotaling Mormon, a former Capitol Hill
police officer who opposes abortion and was a cosponsor of the
constitutional amendment banning flag-burning. He is a little-known
senator from a red state whose considerable skills do not include being
a compelling presence on television or behind a lectern.
Yet for all that, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who is about to become
the new Senate minority leader, has risen from the gray battlefield of
the Democratic campaign and is about to become one of the two most
powerful Democrats in Washington - at a time when his party is hungering
His overwhelming embrace by fellow Democrats in the Senate suggests the
extent to which his party may need to reposition itself, both
ideologically and geographically, for the difficult years ahead. But it
is also is a matter of circumstance: Mr. Reid has turned out to be in
the right place at a time of a Democratic leadership void left by the
election and the imminent departure of the party chairman, Terry McAuliffe.
Mr. Reid, 64, is a cagey inside player, who sewed up his party's support
to replace Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota - who lost his race for
re-election in another glum marker for the party - before Senator John
Kerry even conceded. In a short interview the day after Election Day,
Mr. Reid said that even after losing four seats, he did not think that
his party was as far out of power as suggested by many of his colleagues.
"We still have 45," he said. "I think it is very clear on matters of
principle that we can stand our ground."
But it is hardly clear to his allies that Mr. Reid, with his round
glasses, plain face and soft-spoken manner, is the man to replace Mr.
Daschle as the loyal if lonely face of the Democratic opposition,
soldiering on from news conferences to television studios.
"The idea that people are looking at Harry to sort of be the
spokesperson of the Democratic Party, that's not a role all majority
leaders have filled before," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of
Delaware. "I can't picture Harry on the Sunday shows every Sunday. I
don't think that's his strength. His real strength is inside baseball,
knowing the Senate, knowing the procedures."
Still, it is notable that even the most liberal of Democrats are
rallying around this man who is a minority within a minority: a
Westerner whose views on some issues are closer to the White House than
they are to his new caucus of Democrats. His choice as minority leader,
which will become formal with a vote on Tuesday, was arrived at almost
by consensus, reflecting the extent to which Democrats are soberly
reappraising the landscape.
"When you look a presidential election where we lost in every age group
except one, I think it time to do some reassessment - and that's one
reason why I'm glad Harry is there," said Senator Dianne Feinstein,
Democrat of California. "I believe very strongly that the voice of the
moderates of our caucus ought to have some sway. I have noticed in the
past that all the gravitas has slid to the left. All one has to do is
look at the map to know that you can't win a presidential election that
"If we keep going on this way, we'll be a minority party," she added.
The advisers to Mr. Reid, who is close to Mr. Bush, said he did not want
to grant full-scale interviews until after the leadership vote, but in
brief remarks, the senator said he would not let his closeness to the
president affect the way he deals with him. "I will not tell him what he
wants to hear," he said. "I will represent my caucus."
He rejected any comparisons with his predecessor. He spoke warmly of Mr.
Daschle, but said, "In the year to come, I am going to do everything I
can to put my stamp on the style of leadership."
Some Democrats looking for a ray of light in the election argued that
Mr. Reid's amiability might make it harder for the White House to
"When the conservative talk show hosts start saying bad things about
Harry Reid, it will be like attacking Mr. Rogers," Senator Ben Nelson,
Democrat of Nebraska, said of Mr. Reid, who shares Mr. Rogers's
affection for a cardigan.
Other Democrats were less sanguine, suggesting his manner could deprive
the Democrats of the advocate they would need at least until the next
presidential campaign. Mr. Reid suggested an awareness of Democratic
"I don't try to be anything other than what I am," Mr. Reid said. "We
have such a talented caucus. You're going to see more than my face on
the Sunday talk shows. "
Mr. Reid's legislative skills are undisputed. He is a tough partisan
with a command of Senate procedure and an ability to inspire loyalty
that made him an effective whip, the No. 2 leadership position to which
he was elected to in 1998. His ascension means that the administration's
proposal to put a nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which Mr.
Reid has successfully stymied, is even more remote.
Despite the charged political atmosphere, Mr. Reid has enjoyed warm
relations with Republicans in Washington and back home in Nevada: in
particular, with the man who was his Republican counterpart, Senator
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
"I am a big fan of his," said Senator McConnell. Which is not to say,
Mr. McConnell hastened to add, that he viewed the new Democratic leader
as "a patsy."
"He can be as strong as a new rope when he needs to be," Mr. McConnell said.
And few people in Washington can, like Mr. Reid, claim as friends and
financial supporters the former head of the Republican National
Committee, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., and the former president of Naral
Pro-Choice America, Kate Michelman.
Mr. Fahrenkopf, a friend of 30 years from Las Vegas, described Mr. Reid
as someone whose style allows him to negotiate difficult political terrain.
"You've got to remember that he is a Mormon," Mr. Fahrenkopf said. "So
he's got some views that would be perceived as conservative by some of
his more liberal colleagues. He's pro-life.
"But the question is, will he be faithful in putting forth the views of
his caucus - because that's his job," he said. "The job he's done as
whip, he has made very clear that he is good at putting forward the
views of his caucus."
That said, in his new role, Mr. Reid is very likely to come under
pressure to be less accommodating than he has in the past by a
Democratic Party worried about what the next four years might bring.
Allies and admirers say Mr. Reid's tenacity might come as a surprise to
"I think that George Bush and the Senate Republicans are in for a big
surprise," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who used to work
for Mr. Reid. "Harry Reid is one of the toughest people that you'll ever
meet and he's also one of the most determined people I've ever met."
He will join Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House
minority leader, as the two leading Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Reid's emergence has come at a time of great unease in the party.
Typically, in the first three years after a presidential election, the
leader of the national Democratic Party becomes the face of the party,
until the presidential field is set. But Mr. McAuliffe's term as
chairman is about to expire and there is no consensus candidate to
replace him, leaving an open stage for Mr. Reid.
Mr. Reid won a fourth term with 61 percent of the vote, after eking out
a victory by 428 votes in 1998. Mr. Reid drew nearly 100,000 more votes
than his Democratic friend at the top of the ticket, Mr. Kerry, who lost
Nevada to Mr. Bush, 50 percent to 48 percent.
Mr. Reid was born in the tiny and remote mining town of Searchlight,
Nev., a community he wrote a book about and later read long passages
from in a minifilibuster on the Senate floor last year. His father was a
miner who committed suicide.
His interest in politics came from Mike O'Callaghan, his high school
history teacher and boxing coach, in Henderson, 40 miles from
Searchlight. Mr. Reid hitchhiked to Henderson on Monday, spent the week
there with relatives while attending school, then hitchhiked back home
on the weekends.
Mr. O'Callaghan went on to become governor of Nevada - and he appointed
Mr. Reid as head the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1979, at the very
moment that the state was trying to reduce the influence of organized
crime. Mr. Reid himself became a target of attempted attacks by
Mr. Reid has come under some criticism in the past for the lobbying by
relatives who worked for a top Nevada law firm, and he has since
instituted a ban on lobbying of him or his staff by family members. Mr.
Reid's son has since left the firm in question and returned to Nevada.
To a large extent, Mr. Reid's precise role in leading the party over the
next few years remains to be worked out.
"As far as the standard-bearer of the party is concerned, I think that's
yet to be determined," Ms. Michelman said. "He will also be a strong
voice, and will be a leader. But others will emerge."
Mr. Biden said Mr. Reid "may be the perfect guy for this moment."
"He'll make the trains run on time," he said. "That's his forte."
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