Chief political reporter Adam Nagourney penned a 5,000-word profile of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "Harry Reid Faces Battles in Washington and at Home." It will appear in the January 24 edition of the New York Times Magazine. Despite dubious assertions of how "deeply and deceptively interesting" Reid is, the senator from Nevada comes off as petulant and capricious - not necessarily someone you want carrying your political agenda:
Harry Reid was hoarse and hacking, drawn and more stooped than usual on a Sunday morning 12 days before Christmas. It was not yet noon, and Reid was in his second-floor corner office in an empty United States Capitol. He had arrived to bad news. Joseph Lieberman, the independent Connecticut senator, had announced on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he would not support the Senate health care plan, which meant that Reid did not have the 60 votes he needed. Lieberman's announcement, which torpedoed a compromise that Reid helped to midwife, caught the Senate majority leader by surprise. Reid had spoken with Lieberman two days earlier, and one of Lieberman's top aides participated in the Saturday-afternoon conference call that Reid orchestrates for Democratic senators who will be appearing on the Sunday talk shows. "He double-crossed me," Reid said stiffly, associates later recounted. "Let's not do what he wants. Let the bill just go down."
Lieberman disputes this in a post filed by Nagourney Thursday morning:
On Wednesday, Mr. Lieberman went public with a different take, suggesting that Mr. Reid knew all along that Mr. Lieberman would not support the Medicare proposal.
In the magazine piece. Nagourney brought up Reid's mastery of the misspoken word, including his recently revealed description of Barack Obama as fortunately lacking "Negro dialect." But Nagourney promptly portrayed Republicans as partisans merely using the controversy to "derail health care reform" and the rest of the Obama agenda:
The health care negotiations demonstrated Reid's command of the Senate and his sway among his fellow Democrats - which contrasts with his perhaps equally remarkable inability to master other elements of the contemporary politician's game. Despite Reid's quiet demeanor, he has an almost pathological propensity to say things that get him in trouble. He is a model of indiscipline in a city that feasts on the errant remark. In January, he would have to apologize to President Obama after being quoted in a new book, "Game Change," by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, as saying that Obama would be able to become the nation's first black president because he was "light skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Republicans promptly demanded Reid's resignation as majority leader, seizing a chance to push Reid to the sidelines in their ongoing effort to derail health care reform - and most of the Obama agenda, for that matter.
Nagourney lights into the Senate as being on "the brink of dysfunction" because of its failure to quickly pass a huge piece of liberal legislation, Obama-care:
For all the power and the glamour - the personal relationship with a president, the corner office in the Capitol, the place in history - it is hard to see why anyone would want to be Harry Reid in today's Washington. Reid spent almost all of last year as a partisan leader in a partisan battle, which is pretty much what he should not be doing if he wants Nevadans to send him back for a fifth term. He as much as anyone has the burden of delivering the president's agenda through a Senate that has staggered to the brink of dysfunction. "The atmosphere in Washington has changed dramatically," Reid, who was elected to the Senate in 1986, told me. By nature a pragmatic deal-cutter, Reid is viewed with suspicion by the left, which cannot understand why he has to play ball with the likes of Lieberman. He has to sate a long-deprived and lopsidedly left-leaning Democratic conference hungry to pass big legislation, anxious that its 60-vote margin will evaporate after November.
Nagourney has a lot to answer for from this passage, besides the attempt to make Reid "deeply and deceptively interesting." The mental image of Reid doing yoga in black Lycra stretch pants cannot be unseen.
By reputation and appearance, Reid, who is 70, is one of the blander elected officials in Washington. Upon closer inspection, he is deeply and deceptively interesting. He is a senator from Nevada who hates gambling ("The only people who make money from gambling are the joints and government"); a backroom deal-maker who does not drink alcohol or coffee; a Washington celebrity who sniffs at the dinner-and-party circuit. "Senator Daschle went to dinner almost every night with someone," he told me. "I go to dinner never, with anyone, during the week." He does find time, at least twice a week, to slip on a pair of black Lycra stretch pants to do yoga with Landra at their apartment in the Ritz-Carlton. He has an intolerance for fat people, manifested in asides to aides who seem to be getting portly and an office staff that is suspiciously slim. He was born out of wedlock. He is certainly one of the few members of the Senate to have a Grateful Dead poster, signed by the band's members, hanging in a bathroom at his house. Reid has been an amateur boxer, a Capitol police officer and the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, where his tenure inspired death threats and a character in Martin Scorsese's "Casino." The mezuzah on the right side of the doorway in Searchlight is a reminder that Landra was Jewish before they converted to Mormonism.
Nagourney overstates the liberal Reid's "pragmatism" and opposition to abortion.
For the White House, Reid is a gift in a challenging year. Conciliatory, endlessly patient and pragmatic rather than dogmatic, he has different skills from those of some senators who might otherwise be in his spot - like Schumer or Durbin - and he seems suited to this time and this caucus. Nor is he perceived as carrying an ideological agenda. Unlike most of his colleagues, he opposes gun control and abortion, but those views are reflected only when he votes and do not color the way he manages or negotiates a bill. "Harry by any normal criteria would be considered a moderate Democrat," Obama told me. "He's someone who doesn't think in big ideological terms."