“There will come a time when we will all go away,” wrote Harry Reid in 2008, “and the facilities we serve today will be run by non-living men and women, and those organizations will function. good because we were careful with them, otherwise they will get in trouble and other people’s problems need to be solved. “
Reid, Former Democratic Senate leader dies December 28 at age 82, which is in the state of the Capitol today — a Capitol that is once again drawn to debate about its function as an institution and its ability to solve people’s problems. On Tuesday, President Biden, another Senate institutionalist, went to Georgia to ask the agency to suspend its threshold of 60 votes to pass a law on voting rights.
It’s a change that Reid will welcome, having concluded years ago that the age of the cinematographer has arrived. As he wrote those words back in 2008, however, he was recalling a moment when he was on the other side of the matter. The next sentence was, “Well, because the Republicans couldn’t make their way through to get some radical judges confirmed to the federal bench, they threatened to change the Senate fundamentally so it wouldn’t. never the same again.”
In 2005, President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Senate, frustrated with Democrats’ filtering of judicial candidates, threatened the “nuclear option” to end it. The GOP turned a complicated procedural matter into a national crusade, raising the partisan fervor against fraudsters. Reid, then the minority leader in the Senate, was determined to save it. “Nuclear Choice” dedicates an entire chapter of Reid’s memoir, Good fight, co-written with Mark Warren. He called the efforts of then-GOP leader Bill Frist to weed out dangerous, radical, reckless and potential people as “the end of the US Senate,” and delivered the blow. bipartisan rally “Gang of 14” that would ultimately prevent such a change. “In partisan fury, they tried to blow up the Senate,” wrote Reid, “future generations to come.”
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Those feelings have long since faded. Seven years after severing an agreement to keep the film original, Reid takes it upon himself go nuclear in 2013, removed the threshold for most executive and judicial confirmations. In 2017, with Republicans once again in power in the White House and Senate, then-majority leader Mitch McConnell removed it for Supreme Court candidates also, even though he against President Trump’s attempt to kill it to pass legislation. Today, with 50 Democratic votes in the Senate and Republican support for voting bills they consider essential, libertarians are fervently pushing to repeal. completely remove it.
Reid came out for killing the camera in 2019, argumentative that it has outlived its usefulness and is stifling popular will. “The Legislature is gone,” he told me that summer. “It’s not a matter of if, but when they’ll get out of it. And at first glance, people say, ‘Oh, that’s not so terrible,’ but think about it. The American people must think something is wrong that to get something done, you need 60% of the vote. That does not make sense “.
I went to Las Vegas to interview Reid for story belong to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his longtime legislative partner (who, he told me, was still as “fun” as the day they met). Two and a half years outside the Senate, after suffering from pancreatic cancer, Reid was unable to walk and looked frail, but he remained involved in politics. He started a public policy institute at UNLV with former GOP Speaker John Boehner and is taking on 2020 presidential candidates ahead of state caucuses. We know each other well: I started my political reporting career working for his hometown newspaper, Las Vegas Review Magazine, and since moving to D.C. in 2010, he’s done a lot of research on him. Reid cut off an unusual Washington figure, with humble origins and a disdain for the good guys – a real character, unlike a lot of the Senate’s empty suits.
Reid told me that he was prompted to change his tune on the film by its dramatically increased use by Republicans during Barack Obama’s presidency. “People wrote, ‘Reid changed the rules.’ Well, I did,” he said in his low, humorous voice. “But I’m not the first — the rules are always changing in the Senate. Why did I change the rules? Obama was elected president. We have over 100 judges that we cannot confirm. The vital DC circuit was crippled by vacancies that some Republicans said didn’t even need to be filled, and the GOP filtered out the President’s nominee for Secretary of State. room for the first time in history “So we had to do something,” Reid said, “and I did.”
In other words, the ends justifies the means. Reid realized that the outcome would likely be a Senate operating more like the unruly, partisan House of Representatives. But anyway, he believed it was necessary. “The Senate will be like the House, but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “You know, the majority will rule. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Congressional procedure tends to turn people into hypocrisy. The Republicans who are currently protesting the film’s potential demise in apocalyptic terms Reid used to be the same people who rationalized its removal in 2017 and in some cases. advocated its repeal in 2005. The current debate comes at a time of larger rethinking of the institutions of American democracy — whether they reflect popular will whether and how our system translates votes into congressional seats and legislative initiatives. After Trump’s precedent-breaking presidency, many, like Reid, have come to realize that rules are a terrible substitute for the unwritten rules that have long held things steady — and, once broken, it can be difficult or impossible to restore.
Reid was alarmed and disgusted with Trump, but he told me he gained a new appreciation for the rule of law after his presidency. “I never, until Trump arrived, understood how strong and powerful the Constitution is,” said Reid, a lawyer by training. “At least in my mind, it has been very powerful, showing that it is more than a bunch of men who rule our country. It has shown that we are a country of laws. And even Trump, no matter how much he tries to minimize the rule of law, it’s there. Even those who have a totalitarian view, they cannot do it. ”
Reid’s successor, the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, could hardly be more contrasting in style. Schumer’s signature wears out his flip phone with constant, engaging communications. Reid is known for hanging people, even the Chairman of his own party. (He even told me, his wife.) When I last year’s Schumer profile, many Democratic senators have pointed out the contrast. “You’re going to go up to Harry and say, ‘I have this great idea,’ and Harry will say, ‘No, that’s not a great idea. Next up,'” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana. “Chuck will listen to you and ask questions about it. Sometimes I sit there and say, ‘Get little Harry out here, just drop the hammer.’ But Chuck, you know, he made it work.”
Reid stressed to me that he didn’t want to comment on Schumer, because while in office he didn’t like former officials taking pictures on the sidelines. But while Schumer is known as a people pleaser, Reid made it clear that he believes the key to leadership is the opposite.
“If you are going to be a good leader, you have to be able to say no,” says Reid. “You can’t say, ‘That’s a great idea, let me think about it.’ What I’m trying to do is say, you know, nothing’s going to happen. We cannot do that. They want to join a committee, no, I have too many people ahead of you. And I think people appreciate being able to come to me and I told them how I think about it. “The current state of affairs in the National Assembly — which surpassing trillions of dollars in new spending last year but already failed to advance many of the cherished priorities of the libertarians– raises the question of which approach is more effective. But Reid’s attempts to break the logjam were also unsuccessful.
Reid’s growing views on the issue mirror his political temperament: he believes in incrementalism, but he also believes in change. In one breath, he praised a New York columnist Times‘David Brooks argues that the revolutionary fervor of the left threatens to discredit the progressive project; next, he refused to romanticize his home town of Searchlight, saying its inhabitants were “lack of seriousness” and partly to blame for its decline. “The searchlight has given opportunity after opportunity to create things, such as wind farms, that could bring in much-needed construction work, but have killed initiatives instead. there. “So, you know, it’s partly their fault. They just want to keep things as they are.”
Things change, institutions grow, there comes a time when we will all be gone. I tried to get Reid, one of the most consequential politicians of his time, to reflect on his legacy. But he doesn’t care. “I want to be remembered as someone who was not dictated by social norms in Washington,” he said. “That I am very protective of my family, spend a lot of time with them and treat my family well. For me that is good enough. ”
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