The Two Faces of Harry Reid

In characterizing Harry Reid, The Almanac of American Politics (2008) said that the four-term senator from Nevada and Senate majority leader “has had a voting record more moderate than those of many Senate Democrats.”

This recent characterization by the Almanac differs somewhat from that in its 1988 edition, shortly after Reid won his first term in the Senate, when it wrote of him: “His voting record is somewhat conservative, especially on cultural issues, and did not differ much with [Republican opponent Jim] Santini in debates.”

And it just isn’t accurate.

With all due respect to the Almanac, Reid’s voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 18.56%) shows him to be neither “moderate” nor “somewhat conservative.” But the Almanac nonetheless has a point: that the perception of Reid—a Mormon who says he is pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment—as a moderate has been the way many Silver State voters
have perceived him through more than 42 years in elective politics.

That perception as someone not-so-liberal helped Reid in his first Senate contest with Santini in 1986 and almost certainly helped him overcome his toughest-ever challenge in 1998, when he edged Republican John Ensign (who later won Nevada’s other Senate seat) by 428 votes—the third-closest contest in the history of popular Senate elections.

Now the 70-year-old Reid is in the political fight of his life and a cinch to put on the “moderate” mask once again. But the hard facts are that now, more than ever, Harry Reid’s “moderate” talk and image doesn’t match his decidedly liberal record.

“Impersonates a Pro-Life Senator”

In large part because he proclaims himself “pro-life” and voted seven times in favor of a ban on partial birth abortion, Reid is often seen as more moderate than many of his liberal colleagues. Even after voting in 1993 to lift a ten-year ban on federal employees’ healthcare policies covering abortion, Reid still got away with calling himself pro-life in two re-election races.

But that will be hard to do for him this year, after the debate and vote on Obamacare so vigorously fought by anti-abortion groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In fact, the National Right to Life Committee charged that Reid “impersonates a pro-life senator” because of his role in enactment of the healthcare legislation. The language in the Senate bill did not include a ban on tax dollars for abortion and the language dealing with abortion in the measure was denounced as “unacceptable” by National Right to Life.

Reid also voted against an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.) to restrict federal funding of abortion and voted for the final passage of the healthcare legislation—“the most pro-abortion single piece of legislation that has ever come to the House floor for a vote,” the NRLC called it when the House finally voted on it in March.

Paygo No, Spending Yes

Like many Democrats, Reid points to his support of the “Pay As You Go” rules to demonstrate that he is a fiscal watchdog. As he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (January 31, 2010), “These Pay-As-You-Go rules are necessary because we spent the last decade spending money we did not have.”

Swell. But Reid voted to waive Pay-Go provisions in order to pass the administration-backed jobs bill with a $15 billion price-tag (H.R. 2847, Motion Agreed To, 62-34).

On spending votes overall, the ratings of key groups show the fiscal “watchdog” from Nevada to be toothless: the National Taxpayers Union gave Reid an “F” with a score of 6%, the Chamber of Commerce gives him a lifetime rating of 36%, and Citizens Against Government Waste a lifetime rating of 18%.

Reid on Wall Street

Even when votes aren’t involved, Reid’s actions and rhetoric at home sometimes don’t add up. In an appearance with President Obama in Las Vegas on July 9, 2010, the majority leader spoke of the dreams of investing in real estate in Nevada.

“But greedy Wall Street took that away from us,” he declared. “That’s unfortunate. Reckless Wall Street’s banks, they gambled with our money, they gambled with our jobs, and they lost. And it hurt Nevada more than any other place.”
The Wall Street-bashing has been a staple of Reid’s recent rhetoric. Last year, he told the Las Vegas Review Journal in February 2009 that “because of the greed of Wall Street and others, we’re in the situation we’re in.” On April 15, he put out a press release stating: “Every day, I hear from Nevadans who lost their savings and their economic security because of the greed and excess on Wall Street that put our economy on the brink of collapse.”

Reid did not mention that he has taken $987,655 from the securities and investment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the same joint appearance he made with President Obama in Las Vegas earlier his month, Reid weighed in against “ruthless insurance companies [that] denied healthcare” and proudly recalled how he and fellow Democrats “took them on.” Reid has so far taken $334,400 from the insurance industry in this election cycle and $612,025 from the health professional industry so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Please Take Another Look, Almanac

As a further example of his being “moderate,” the Almanac pointed to national defense and “was one of the few Democrats to vote for the Gulf War resolution in 1991 and he voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2002.”

While Reid did vote for the Iraq War resolution in ’02, he said five years later that the surge strategy of the Bush Administration was “absolutely wrong” and that this was demonstrated by support from senators of both parties for a nonbinding resolution in the Senate (which eventually failed) expressing disapproval of the troop surge.

In 2007, groups such as were firing at the architect of the surge, Gen. David Petraeus. Reid was right at their side, telling CNN in April of that year that he did not believe the general’s s claim that the surge was working.

“I don’t believe him,” Reid said. A few months later, he told a press conference, “For someone, whether it’s General Petraeus or anyone else, to say things are great in Baghdad isn’t in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad, even though he’s here and I’m not.” On September of ’07, after took out a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing Petraeus as “General Betray Us,” Reid joined with 24 fellow Senate Democrats in opposing a resolution condemning attacks on the general’s integrity.

You get the picture. Whether it’s national security, abortion spending or just Harry Reid’s rhetoric about business, one can almost always find a sharp discrepancy between what he is saying and his votes and actions—or his votes a few years after taking a very different position.

At the very least, hopefully, the next edition of the Almanac of American Politics will catch on to this and take a different view of Harry Reid. At best, so will voters in Nevada this fall.