“I want to be able to go out at the top of my game,” Harry Reid told the New York Times’ Carl Hulse in announcing his retirement. The former Senate Majority Leader, forced to the minority for the first time in eight years, has had enough. Facing a tough re-election bid next year while still recuperating from a bad accident at home, Reid will instead stand down:
Senator Harry Reid, the tough tactician who has led Senate Democrats since 2005, will not seek re-election next year, bringing an end to a three-decade congressional career that culminated with his push of President Obama’s ambitious agenda against fierce Republican resistance.
Mr. Reid, 75, who suffered serious eye and facial injuries in a Jan. 1 exercise accident at his Las Vegas home, said he had been contemplating retiring from the Senate for months. He said his decision was not attributable either to the accident or to his demotion to minority leader after Democrats lost the majority in November’s midterm elections. …
“I want to be able to go out at the top of my game,” said Mr. Reid, who used a sports metaphor about athletes who try to hang on too long. “I don’t want to be a 42-year-old trying to become a designated hitter.”
With Congress finally freed of his leadership and passing its first budget resolution in six years as a result, “the top” is a relative term — but we’ll still be happy to see him go. So too may be some of Reid’s own colleagues, Hulse notes:
Mr. Reid’s tenure has become increasingly combative in recent years and included a procedural change on nominations that infuriated Republicans. He also came under fire for blocking floor debate, and even some of his Democratic colleagues suggested that he was stifling the Senate. Just this week, he alienated House Democrats who thought he was sabotaging a compromise on Medicare.
Reid actually chortled to Hulse that he still had “quite a bit of power as minority leader,” but there may have been some question as to how long that would last. Reid derailed a popular bill on human trafficking under orders from NARAL to keep a potential pipeline open for federal funding of abortions. The same issue nearly derailed the bipartisan compromise on the doc fix bill that Nancy Pelosi herself co-authored. The contrast of Reid’s obstructionism on budgets through most of his reign and the easy way in which Republicans settled back into normal order would have proved embarrassing when the GOP used it on the campaign trail next year, and Reid would have become the poster boy for the kind of dysfunction voters would get if they chose Democrats in Senate races.
Now, after announcing his retirement, Reid’s clout will recede even further. A Minority Leader who doesn’t plan on running again will hold fewer cards for whipping his caucus into line. Other Democrats will look to those who will control committee assignments in future sessions, and the jockeying for leadership slots will necessarily push Reid to the sidelines. Procedurally, Reid might be able to cause some problems, but the more he does that the more he damages Democrats in the next election cycle, especially to the extent that it’s seen as running interference for a lame-duck President who suffered two successive midterm disasters.
The worst part of the next eighteen months or so will be the valedictions offered to Reid for his service. By any objective measure, Reid has been a blight on the Senate and on Congress. He declared the Iraq war “lost” while Americans were still fighting there, and he derailed a budget process that had worked well before his ascent into leadership. He stripped the Senate of one of its debate functions after sabotaging the amendment process, and nearly destroyed regular order. On top of that, Reid used his post to commit McCarthyite character assassination of Mitt Romney, claiming to have inside knowledge that Romney hadn’t paid taxes in ten years, a smear that turned out to be utterly false. He has been a malevolent force for years in American politics, and nothing he did in Washington will improve the place as much as his leaving it.
Goodbye, Harry, and good riddance.
Via Jeff Dunetz, here’s Reid’s retirement video.
Update: What happened here? Almost two months ago, Politico reported that Reid was gung-ho for 2016:
Sen. Harry Reid summoned dozens of staffers to the Senate’s Mansfield Room Tuesday and delivered a clear message: He’s running for reelection next year.
The comments are in part aimed at putting to rest growing speculation inside the Senate that the 75-year-old Nevada Democrat — badly hurt from a painful injury to his right eye — would call it quits after nearly three decades in the chamber. The Senate minority leader faces what could be a difficult reelection race next year, plus his would-be successors are ready to run the Democratic Caucus the moment he calls it quits.
But Reid told roughly 50 aides at an unusual all-staff briefing just off the Senate floor that he is definitely running in 2016, prompting a round of applause, according to attendees. And in a brief interview with POLITICO, Reid made clear that he’s directed his top political aide, Rebecca Lambe, to continue hiring senior-level staff, including a campaign manager.
Maybe his fellow Democrats had a little chat with Harry?