Never before has a politician with so much disdain for the media, and so little understanding of it, ascended to such power. So when Reid’s normally top-notch team bungled the response to the FEC inquiry, they not only let what should have been a one-day story become a multi-day Reid-bashing extravaganza—they also revealed just how much trouble the majority leader can get himself into when his safety net fails him.
The Senate majority leader has one of the savviest teams in the business, both in his office and on the campaign side. He needs it. These folks usually protect Reid—who has no self-editing mechanism—or at least turn deep self-inflicted wounds into paper cuts. But not even his Praetorian Guard can insulate Reid when it comes to his weakness for family, which was exposed a decade ago when the Los Angeles Times raised questions about his sons’ lobbying activities. (Reid has one daughter and four sons, all of whom are at least tangentially involved in Nevada politics.)
After the whole mess unspooled—and it became clear that Ryan Elisabeth was in fact Ryan Elisabeth Reid, Harry’s granddaughter—it all made so much sense. Of course it was a family matter. At the time the story broke, Reid was busy negotiating an unemployment benefits extension, pushing for a higher minimum wage, trying to get a Ukraine aide bill passed. Not to mention framing the 2014 elections for Democrats by launching daily fusillades from the Senate floor against a couple of Kansas billionaires. So if he was going to get tripped up by something as small-ball as a measly five-figure line item on a campaign finance report, it had to be personal.
Reid has refused to talk to me for three years because of perceived slights against his children, including my exposing that he lobbied a local city council to help land his son Josh a city attorney’s post. He has also been accused of helping another son—Ryan Elisabeth’s father, Rory—get legal clients, and of taking a special interest in Asian investors represented by Rory.
Whether they’ll cop to it or not, Republicans are currently engaged in a filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense secretary.
Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s conservative senior senator, has attempted to place a hold on Hagel’s nomination. Lindsey Graham has indicated his willingness to do the same. Generally, such requests are granted as a courtesy by the majority leader, but Harry Reid has opted not to honor them in this case and has gone ahead and filed a cloture motion. Thus, 60 votes will be required for there to be a simple up/down vote on the nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, there is no way to call this anything but a filibuster.
“What a shame,” Reid lamented after filing his motion on Wednesday. “That’s the way it is.”
Reid may simply have been speaking as a White House ally there, but he’s also a Senate institutionalist, one who - to the consternation of many progressives activists - balked at an effort last month to water down the chamber’s filibuster rules. Reid clearly believes in the unique individual prerogatives that the Senate grants its members and is loath to break with tradition and create new procedural rules and precedents - especially if they might come back to bite his party the next time it’s in the minority. From an institutionalist’s standpoint, what’s happening now with the Hagel nomination is very troubling.
Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory. Look at it this way: Hagel is on course to be the first Pentagon nominee and only the third Cabinet nominee ever to face a 60-vote requirement for confirmation. But even that understates it, because the other two - C. William Verity and Dirk Kempthorne - weren’t up against serious filibusters.