Harry Reid Has Cheers for McConnell, Jeers for Frist

Reid prefers a crafty foe like the current minority leader.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't suffer fools, or political imposters, gladly. Sometimes blunt to the point of being rude, the Nevada lawmaker is speaking out now on the three Republican leaders he's had to duel with. Two get praise for being worthy opponents, while one, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, is sent packing like the outlaw played by Russell Crowe in the 2007 hit 3:10 to Yuma, a Reid fave. "He was the only majority leader that became majority leader because the president said so," sneers Reid in Terence Samuel's new book The Upper House, a profile of the Senate through the eyes of several members. Reid's point: Unlike Trent Lott, who Frist replaced after Lott resigned for making comments seen as racially tinged, or current GOP leader Mitch McConnell, Frist leaned on former President W. Bush for help to win instead of running on his own. In his online bio at billfrist.com, Frist brags that he "served fewer total years in Congress than any person chosen to lead that body in history." For Reid, experience still matters.

What's more, writes Samuel, a former U.S. News congressional reporter, Reid feels Frist broke protocol by campaigning against then Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

His feelings really come through when discussing McConnell. "I'll say this about Mitch McConnell, he does have some understanding of the institution, which I appreciate," Reid says. "One reason our relationship is as good as it is, is that I know that he understands the institution. Bill Frist did not." Frist had no comment on Reid's remarks.

Reid's black-and-white view of politics seems to mirror his preference for movies pitting good versus bad. "I go to the movies every chance I get," says the Searchlight, Nev., native. He digs Westerns and dramas like In the Valley of Elah.

While quietly effective, Reid comes off as a far different kind of boss than the stereotypical, back-slapping majority leader, like the legendary Lyndon B. Johnson or Daschle before him. "I am not a social guy. I try to take care of my family—my wife and five kids and 16 grandchildren—the best I can and my second family, which is now 50 senators," he says. "I consider them my family. I devote my life to my two families; that's what I do. I'm not a golfer; I don't play cards; I don't shoot baskets."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

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