In what Harry Reid himself called “my final speech” this past week on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Nevada’s senator for the past three decades and minority or majority leader of Senate Democrats for more than a decade rambled for 77 minutes in his customary monotone through a disjointed litany of accomplishments and a painfully personal autobiography of his ascent from poverty in Searchlight, where his mother did laundry for the brothels.
Reid retires from the Senate in January.
Toward the end of his speech, Reid, after chiding the press for focusing too much of late on scandals and fake news, said, “I acknowledge the importance of the press. I admire what you do and understand the challenges ahead of you. But be vigilant because you have as much to do with our democracy as any branch of government. This is best understood by listening to what George Orwell had to say a long time ago, and I quote: ‘Freedom of the press if it means anything at all means the freedom to criticize and oppose.’ So press, criticize and oppose, please do that.”
That has not been his attitude in the past, as many longtime Nevada journalists can well attest, but consistency has never been Harry’s strong point, and far be it from us to ignore his admonition.
For example, in his farewell speech Reid flatly stated, “I have no problem with coal,” even though in the past he has declared “coal makes us sick.” Seconds later he was bragging about his role in blocking construction of several new coal-fired power plants in Nevada and the shutting down the existing ones.
That’s a quicker than usual 180-degree turn even for Reid. In February, Reid called horror stories about ObamaCare “tales, stories made up from whole cloth, lies distorted by the Republicans to grab headlines or make political advertisements.”
One month later to the day, Reid flatly denied ever calling such ObamaCare stories lies. “That is simply untrue, I have never come to the floor in my recollection,” he said. “I never said a word about any of the examples that Republicans have given regarding ObamaCare and how it’s not very good.”
Sometimes it has taken years for Reid to reverse course. In 1993 he called for an end to birthright citizenship by which the children born here of illegal immigrations are declared citizens, saying, “No sane country would do that.” Now, he says the opposite.
He once called the spending of the Social Security trust fund embezzlement, but now says everything is just fine and nothing needs to be done.
Though Reid droned on at length in his speech about his impoverished upbringing, he hardly touched on the fact that, while spending most of his adult life drawing a public salary, he is a multimillionaire.
In 1998 Reid invested $400,000 in a parcel of land in Las Vegas, but transferred the land to another party three years later for the purchase price, according to records. Yet, when the land sold in 2004 he pocketed $1.1 million. Reid aides dismissed the earlier deal as a “technical” transfer.
Sometimes his efforts fell short. After Reid acquired 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., the land was expected to increase in value after Reid passed a bill to spend $20 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River nearby, but the bridge was never built.
Then there was the time Reid interceded personally with immigration officials to reverse a decision to deny visas to Asian investors in a Las Vegas casino project that employed his son’s law firm. Though he clearly violated Senate ethics rules, he said he would do it again.
It is not just what Harry does, it is how he does it. He has a well-earned reputation for being truculent, belligerent, rude, viciously vindictive, antagonistic and downright Machiavellian.
After being questioned about his lying about Mitt Romney not paying taxes for a decade, Reid shrugged, “I don’t regret that at all. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
His own former press aide once told a reporter Reid looks at a person’s vulnerabilities to “disarm, to endear, to threaten, but most of all to instill fear.”
His former Senate colleague Richard Bryan said Reid “has a memory like a political elephant. You cross him, he’ll never forget that. There will be a price to pay. Certainly there are people who paid the price.” He declined to name names.
Consider this a criticism, Harry, and don’t let the door hit you …
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.