When I interviewed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in December, one of the things I was struck by is that, despite his understated way of speaking, you can tell that he is a legitimately tough guy who, when push comes to shove, will fight back and stand his ground. We're seldom totally satisfied with how the leaders on our side of the political aisle stand up to the people we hold in so much disdain, but legislative politics is about far more gray than black and white and just because we don't always understand why Reid does what he does, doesn't mean he lacks a strong spine.
And, while Reid's surprise move to hold the Senate in session all night tonight if Republicans block yet another Iraq-redeployment bill certainly took the political world by storm yesterday, Senate watchers know that Reid is no stranger to holding the Senate open to take a stand and make a point.
On November 10, 2003, when Reid was Assistant Minority Leader to then Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the Nevada Senator single-handedly held the Senate floor for almost nine hours in a one-man protest over GOP leader Bill Frist's scheme to have the Senate spend 30 consecutive hours that week on Bush administration judicial nominations that Democrats had blocked.
I don't know if you recall that judicial Rogues Gallery of Estrada, Owen, Pickering, and Pryor, but they were the only four of 172 Bush judicial nominations that the Democrats objected to and, in Frist's characteristically uncompromising way, he was prepared to hijack the entire Senate agenda to shove them through.
And Reid used the prerogative held by every Senator to take the floor for as long as desired, provided he followed Senate rules and did not sit down or stop talking except to field questions from colleagues.
Saying, "you can only be slapped around so many times," Reid took very careful sips of water to avoid having to hit the men's room, leaned on his desk from time to time, but remained standing and held the floor for over 8 1/2 hours, effectively controlling Senate business for the entire day.
"The Senate is a body where one person can throw a monkey wrench into it, and a monkey wrench is being thrown today by the senator from Nevada," Reid said that November 10.He then went on to talk about a host of issues including global warming, the minimum wage, the Bush economy and energy exploration. But he saved much of his bile for the spectacle of Republicans willing to hold the Senate hostage for the sake of four wealthy judges, while refusing time and time again to raise the minimum wage or deal with massive national job losses.
Reid then spent more time listing towns throughout America and the number of jobs they had lost under the reign of George W. Bush.
"What a ridiculous thing to have 30 hours -- a week before trying to get out of here -- spent on the jobs of 4 people, when there are over 3 million people who have lost their jobs and more than that are unemployed. We are going to spend 30 hours on the lives of four judges. That just doesn't seem right to me. If people are wondering why we are not moving along, you can do all the name calling you want, but I think the history books will reflect how the leadership has been -- at least during the past few days when you interrupt the ending days of a session to spend 30 hours on a wasteful exercise.
"Why don't we spend 30 hours talking about why we haven't increased the minimum wage? That would help commerce in this country. That would work within the confines of this legislation. The minimum wage is now $5.15 an hour. Take that math and figure out how tough it is.
"Let's spend 30 hours talking about people who are working two jobs at $5.15 an hour, who have no benefits, no medical benefits, no retirement benefits. We should spend a little time on them, on the minimum wage. I think that would be something that would be very beneficial.
"Mr. President, 7.5 million Americans worked two or more jobs in October, up from 7.3 million just a year ago. That is an increase of 200,000. The percentage of people for part-time jobs increased from 1.7 million to 1.8 million over the same course of the year.
"I want to look at where some more of these jobs have been lost."
After hours talking about the irresponsibility of the Republican majority and how beholden they were to Bush and his judicial nominees, Reid changed course and read many chapters from the book he authored about his tiny hometown: Searchlight: The Camp That Didn't Fail.
"I am a soldier with a mission," Reid said with a smile to a near-empty Senate chamber. "That mission is to tell people around the world, C-SPAN and people within the breadth and width of my voice, about Searchlight and how it got its name."And so it went -- except when Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire tried to interrupt Reid. Here's the actual Congressional Record entry:
And so Harry Reid does it again today and tonight and into tomorrow morning and my money is on him to outlast Bush's boys on the other side of the aisle.
Mr. GREGG. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. REID. No. I will in half an hour or so.
Mr. GREGG. My question was going to be as to how much time the Senator is going to take?
Mr. REID. When the Senator was off the floor -- and I will repeat -- I indicated my great respect and admiration for someone with a record of accomplishment that certainly is significant -- Governor, Member of the House of Representatives, Senator, and I indicated publicly, and I will say again, my speaking today for an extended period of time has nothing to do with my regard for the Senator from New Hampshire. I am going to talk for probably four or five hours today.
Mr. GREGG. Will the Senator yield for a question? That is not a problem for myself. I would just like to know the approximate time.
Mr. REID. I have answered the Senator's questions, and I would appreciate it if he would not interrupt.
After all, The Democratic Leader has been there before.
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.