It’s been more than five years since Harry Reid announced he wouldn’t seek a sixth term as a U.S. senator and nearly three years since he last stepped into the Senate chambers as the Democratic leader.
But in the two years and 10 months since his retirement from the Senate, Reid continues to be a political force in Nevada. Democratic candidates for the 2020 election often tout their discussions with the former Senate Majority Leader during campaign stops in Nevada ahead of the state’s first-in-the-West presidential caucuses in February 2020.
While Reid has said he would not endorse any of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president until after the Nevada caucuses, his words carry significant clout in both Nevada and national political circles.
Reid underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2018, and after surgery and chemotherapy declared the cancer was in remission earlier this year. Reid said that while he was “a long way from being well,” he’s making progress and doing better than he had been.
He said he tried to be available when people reached out to him, and that he stayed in touch with members of the Nevada congressional delegation and others including his successor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“I just try to be available to my friends and I try to be as candid with them as I want to be,” he said.
Reid recently sat down with the Sun in his Bellagio offices to discuss a wide range of topics, including the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump now taking place in the House of Representatives, the 2020 presidential race and the current state of Reid’s beloved U.S. Senate, the legislative body in which he served for three decades.
How do you feel about the ongoing impeachment proceedings in the House?
I, of course, have a lot of admiration for Nancy Pelosi. The first time she was speaker, I was majority leader. I became so impressed with her leadership skills, and, with impeachment, I think she’s handled this just right. She’s been very fortunate that the face of impeachment has been Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, (who) is as nice in person as he appears on all his TV interviews. So, I think she’s done extremely well having the closed hearings and now public hearings. I think she has done just a remarkably good job on a very difficult subject.
Democrats have taken a lot of heat for those early closed sessions. How do you feel about those?
In the Constitution, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s completely up to the House. I think that had they not done the closed hearings, it would have been a circus. The way it is, they were able to get what witnesses they wanted and now we have the public hearings — there’s a pretty good idea of what each of them are going to say. I think Pelosi’s done a really good job.
My personal feeling is that Trump hasn’t handled this very well. I think that he could have handled it differently. I think just being opposed to everything isn’t the right way to go. When they talked about impeaching (President Richard) Nixon, for example, anything that the House wanted, he gave it to them the same day. It was the same when (President Bill) Clinton was impeached. I think it’s a mistake to try to stonewall everything.
Do you think it’s justified? Do you think there’s cause there for impeachment hearings?
I think that they have tried to make their case. I think they’ve made a pretty good case so far, but we’ll just have to wait and see. No one is under the — I’m not, at least — illusion that he’s going to be convicted in the Senate because they’re just so in lockstep with whatever he does. I don’t think there’s too many people other than his base that are impressed with the Republican Senate.
How do you feel about the state of the Senate now?
Very disappointed. I was there for the last impeachment (Clinton in 1999), and I just think that, as I said, stonewalling everything doesn’t make Trump look very good.
Why do you think the Senate is like it is?
Part of it is Trump. You’re either for him or against him, and that isn’t the way it should be. Because he takes no prisoners, people are afraid to offend him — people of his own party. I think there are some cracks in the wall. I think we’re seeing some of that change a little bit.
I think with a new president (after Trump), there will be much more desire to work together. The House always is the way it is, whatever party is in the majority wins, and they get anything they want. That’s not the way it is in the Senate, and we’ve gotten away from the Senate as it should be. Right now, all they’re doing is approving judges. They’re not voting on amendments, they’re not doing anything. That will change with a different administration.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has called for the Ukraine whistleblower to testify …
Let me tell you about Sen. Graham. They were called the “three amigos” — Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Graham. Since John McCain died, Lindsey Graham has lost his way. He was somebody who was looked upon by Democrats and Republicans as being independent and levelheaded.
Do you think, behind the scenes, that Republican senators like Graham might have a different feeling about Trump?
I think that there’s a number of Republican senators who are not comfortable with their position, but they’re all afraid because Trump takes no prisoners. He goes after them. Even Jeff Sessions, who is now running for his old Senate seat — Trump’s not supporting him.
Do you think this has made an environment where the legislative branch may come off as subservient to the executive branch?
I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times where I said the Senate has changed dramatically. It’s not a question “if” the filibuster is being done away with, it’s a question of when it’s going to happen. The Senate’s not the way it used to be. You cannot justify 60 votes being the threshold. Why should our democracy, to get something done, need 60% of the vote? It doesn’t make sense. That’s why, with the filibuster gone, the Senate will become much like the House. You’ll still have six-year terms in the Senate, you’ll have a bicameral legislature. It’ll still work out OK.
In the past, you warned Democrats not to take Trump too lightly.
I still feel that way. If you look at Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, you’ll find that he’s still really running strong there and he can be re-elected, as much as I hate to say that.
How do you feel about Nevada’s position in the election?
I’m not a big fan of having Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states. We’ve tried to change it but we can’t get it changed. Iowa has no diversity. New Hampshire has less diversity. That’s why the work that I and others did to get Nevada the third state is important because Nevada is representative of what the country is. We’re a state that is heavily Hispanic, we have a large chunk of African-Americans and Asian-Americans. It’s a state where you understand the strength of the West. I think it’s good we’re third, it’s good for the country.
How do you feel about the different candidates’ campaign ground games in Nevada?
We’re a caucus state, so people, a lot of times, don’t understand what they are. Take, for example, Hillary Clinton. The only caucus state she organized was Nevada, she ignored all the rest of the caucuses and it was a mistake.
(Former Vice President Joe) Biden has a good ground game. (Sen.) Elizabeth Warren has a good ground game. (South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete) Buttigieg is really doing much better here in Nevada than he was. I think we have pretty good participation.
It seems that this election has candidates that have gone a bit further to the left than in the past. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think that’s fair. I think that, if you look at past elections, in the primary they’re always to the left if they’re a Democrat or to the right if they’re a Republican. As soon as the primary is over, they move back to the center. That’s the way it has been, and that’s the way it will be.
Recently, you’ve come out against single-payer “Medicare for All.” Are you in favor of a public option?
I’m in favor of Obamacare, which I worked very hard on. We had the public option for 24 hours there and Lieberman changed his mind, so we lost that. I’m in favor of strengthening Obamacare with the public option.
Medicare for All is too expensive. Warren has come up with $22 trillion, and it’s a large number to swallow.
Do you think Democrats have a shot at flipping the Senate?
I think we have a shot at a Democratic majority in the Senate. I think we have good chances (picking up seats) in Colorado, Maine and Arizona. I think with Sessions getting in the primary in Alabama, we have a chance to hang on to Alabama now. With what happened in Kentucky the other day, that’s in play now. We have two seats in Georgia; we might get one of those.
How do you feel the Nevada congressional delegation is doing?
Catherine Cortez Masto is a power in the Senate. She’s doing really well. Jacky Rosen — we had to find somebody to run for the 3rd District House seat, I thought she was a magic candidate and she was. People love the woman. Now she’s in the Senate.
Dina Titus has a lot of seniority now. She’s become a real power in the House. Becoming a power in the House is not easy to do, but she’s done it. The more junior members of the House are doing very, very well.
Trump’s campaign is saying it thinks Nevada is winnable for the president. Do you?
Yeah. I’ve always said don’t count him out, even in Nevada.
If there is a path for him here, what is it?
The path that he has every place. He has a very enthused base of support in Nevada and every place else. The problem is his approval rating is a little over 40% and so the independent voters become so very, very vital to his future. Right now, he’s not getting the independent vote, but that may change.