New York Times
By David M. Herszenhorn
March 13, 2016
If there were any doubt, Senator Harry Reid clearly has one last, good fight in him.
Instead of cruising to retirement after securing a two-year budget deal last fall and essentially bequeathing his leader’s suite to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Mr. Reid, Democrat of Nevada, is waging war with Republicans over the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Though the battle is decidedly uphill, it is one that supporters of Mr. Reid, 76 and in his 30th and last year in the Senate, say he is well suited to wage. Win or lose, it will be a fitting capstone to a career that included eight years as majority leader, and countless bitter feuds, during one of the most rankly partisan periods in Senate history.
“It’s tailor-made for him,” said Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who was with Mr. Reid in Las Vegas days after Mr. Scalia’s death. Mr. Kaine said that Mr. Reid viewed the Republicans’ refusal to even meet with a potential Supreme Court nominee as disrespectful to President Obama and a threat to the Senate as an institution.
“It’s a battle for the job description of what a U.S. senator is,” Mr. Kaine said. “We should be guardians of this institution. To have a battle in your last year, to try to guard something important about the institution, that’s a good battle for Harry Reid to have.”
Mr. Reid has relentlessly denounced the Republican position as obstructionist. And each morning he has taken to the Senate floor to excoriate the Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, and to demand that Republicans fulfill what Mr. Reid says is their constitutional duty to act on a nominee. But even all this is just throat clearing, with heavier rhetorical firepower to begin when Mr. Obama announces his nominee, expected as soon as this week.
While such a Supreme Court fight is almost unheard-of, Mr. Reid is a veteran of partisan battles. In his first year as Democratic leader, when the party, like now, was in the minority, he helped defeat President George W. Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security. Later, as majority leader, Mr. Reid helped win the passage of Mr. Obama’s stimulus package with just three Republican votes, and he muscled through the Affordable Care Act on a strictly party-line vote that delivered the president’s signature achievement and, critics say, did lasting damage to the institution Mr. Reid professes to love.
But while Mr. Reid is known as a skilled tactician and a masterful arm-twister in procuring needed votes, the Republicans’ entire approach is to prevent any Supreme Court nominee from ever reaching the Senate floor. That means there is no parliamentary maneuver for him to make, or horse-trading for him to conduct.
That leaves Mr. Reid armed with nothing but pure political messaging, at a time when Republicans, led by his nemesis, the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, see absolutely no reason to budge.
With the Supreme Court now evenly split, a new justice could determine the outcome of cases that might reshape American life. Republicans believe their core voters strongly support their decision and the issue will unify them in the fall election.
Of course, Mr. Reid is certain he will win.
In some respects, he said, the court fight is easier than others. On Social Security, Democrats were battling a popular president. On health care, they had to explain highly complex legislation to a skeptical public. A Supreme Court vacancy, by comparison, is easy to understand.
“McConnell and the Republicans think this is going to go away,” Mr. Reid said in an interview in his office. “It is not going to go away.”
“We are going to keep the pressure on,” he added. “I, frankly, don’t think McConnell can withstand the pressure, ultimately. I think it’s going to get much more intense than it is right now.”
Since making that prediction, Mr. Reid has repeatedly accused Mr. McConnell of shirking his responsibilities and blasted Mr. Grassley for diminishing the stature of the Judiciary Committee.
“Senate Republicans are known — and have been for some time now — as a set of human brake pads, obstructing, filibustering virtually everything President Obama has had on his agenda,” Mr. Reid said in a characteristic floor speech on Feb. 25. “But this raises obstruction to a new level never seen before in this country — the Supreme Court: no hearings, no vote.”
He ended with what has become a frequently repeated exhortation: “Once again I tell my Republican friends: Don’t run away from your responsibilities, just do your job. Do your job.”
Republicans accuse Mr. Reid and Democrats of hypocrisy, citing statements by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he was Judiciary Committee chairman in the early 1990s, to say that Democrats would do the same thing to a Republican president’s nominee if circumstances were reversed.
In many ways, the night of Justice Scalia’s death on Feb. 13 highlighted the extent to which various burdens of the Democratic Party often fall on Mr. Reid’s slender shoulders. Mr. Reid was home, ahead of the Nevada presidential caucuses, which had taken on urgency after Hillary Clinton’s loss in New Hampshire.
Mr. Reid did not formally endorse Mrs. Clinton until after the Nevada vote, but his position was well known and his public appearances, ostensibly for a get-out-the-vote effort, were clearly orchestrated to secure her victory. She won, and her campaign was widely viewed as being back on track.
“He got the job done,” said the House minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.
Ms. Pelosi called the Republican position on the court opening “so disdainful and so contemptible” and said that Mr. Reid was the person to fight it.
“Nobody is more up to the task than Harry Reid,” she said.
Mr. Reid views Mr. McConnell as his chief rival, and after Senate Republicans racked up a series of legislative accomplishments last year, including a transportation infrastructure bill, a major education bill and the two-year budget deal, Mr. Reid clearly savors the court fight as a way to portray Mr. McConnell as the face of obstruction.
In the court fight, however, Mr. Reid’s primary target has been Mr. Grassley, who is up for re-election and, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has the power to convene confirmation hearings. The other prong in Mr. Reid’s strategy is to tie the Republicans’ position to the rise of Donald J. Trump.
Last week, Mr. Reid stood on the Senate floor with a huge poster bearing a quote from an op-ed in The Des Moines Register: “This isn’t the Chuck Grassley we thought we knew.”
“I agree with these Iowans,” Mr. Reid began, before launching into a taunting critique. “He is allowing himself and his committee to be manipulated by the Republican leader for narrow, partisan warfare,” Mr. Reid said. “He is taking his orders from the Republican leader and, sadly, Donald Trump.”
Mr. Reid, a onetime amateur boxer who later worked nights as a Capitol Hill police officer during law school, relishes a fight, so much so that aides have warned him not to enjoy the court clash too much, or at least not to show it.
Mr. Reid’s oratorical style, which tends toward mumbling, helps create the impression that he is not particularly having much fun. Still, his words are designed to stab like daggers.
“He started his tenure proclaiming that he would rather dance than fight, and since then he has managed to do both,” said Jim Manley, a former senior communications aide to Mr. Reid. “However, it looks like he’s going to go out fighting.”
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