In a wide-ranging, 24-minute interview Wednesday with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid briefly repeated his anti-GOP talking points, but then engaged in a fascinating give-and-take about his evolution on gay rights, Ted Cruz's ability to destroy the GOP, his friendship with Sheldon Adelson and more.
The interview, embedded below, featured one of Reid's better and more revealing performances. His clear comfort with the interlocutor surely helped, but also did not result in the too-loose-among-friends performance that inevitably results in gaffes for candidates and politicians. There were no really damaging Reidisms I detected.
Reid flashed his classic, broad, wry smile several times during the interview, clearly enjoying himself.
But he also was pretty open and seemingly candid about his evolution on gay rights and how he had wrongly evaluated information he had been given, as he put it. Fascinating stuff and, I wonder, a microcosm of a politician who has been very conservative on social issues his entire career now moving with the country in the other direction in the twilight of his service.
Some highlights and comments:
►Reid referred to Republicans as "bullies" and "these people," as well as the "80 or 90 people who live in a world I don't understand," a reference to the House Republicans he usually calls "Tea Party anarchists." He added, "The Republican Party is staggering right now," saying the GOP has offended every ethnic group, women and -- Reidism alert -- "LBJ, LBG, gay-lesbian commnity." And: "I don't know who they can expect to vote for them."
I wonder: Has there ever been a national leader who for so long and so consistently has lampooned the opposition party as out of touch with what he says is the American mainstream?
►On Ted Cruz, Reid said, "If I didn't care so much about our country, I would hope he (Cruz) gets the nomination because that would be the end of the Republican Party."
Maddow: "In what sense?"
"He stands for everything America doesn't."
I would love to see the body language between those two guys when they pass on the Senate floor.
►On the Tom Coburn "a-hole" flap: "I'm sure he didn't mean it," Reid said, smiling, knowing he did. And then: "We've had a meeting. It's all over with." That Reid smile again.
Oh to have been a fly on that wall.
►This part was the best: Reid told Maddow he had just been to see "The Laramie Project," the play based on the horrific 1998 murder of Matthew Shepherd. "That's part of my education," said Reid, who has slowly come around to supporting rights including gay marriage, which he said felt "so good" to oppose a move to ban it. And then: "We have more to do...Why in the world in modern day America should anyone be be fired or otherwise discriminated against...becasue of sexual orientation? They shouldn't be."
Asked whether Sen. Dean Heller will vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act: "This is beyond hard votes. It's an easy vote. This is fairness...It's just the right vote." (I think Heller is a yes.)
Maddow pointed out that Reid voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (later he favored repeal, which he called "one of my proudest moments.").
Maddow asked about Reid's personal evolution and he invoked Las Vegas LDS/conservative icon Sandy Jolley, who used to be a real force in politics here. "She led the efforts against the Equal Rights Amendment in Nevada," Reid said. "But Sandy and I have talked and talked and talked and we have seen how individual lives had been affected by the issue. And together she and I have worked our way through the issue.....it's caused me to re-evaluate all my prior misinformation."
That is just stunning, folks. How often do you hear a politician talk like that about a change in such an important position, a social issue that the Mormon Reid previously would not have considered backing.
►On a budget deal, this classic Reid remark: "Rich people are willing to pay more. The only people who don't want them to pay more are the Republcans in Congress."
And then this: "I am going to apologize to no one for what we've done with the deficit....i don't want any lectures about Democrats and spending. We have sacrificed a great deal."
Actually, Reid & Co. have given on spending issues, inlcuding in the recent deal. But that kind of hyperbolic language about sacrifices surely will only inflame GOP passions even more.
Maybe that was a Reidism, too.
►On the flibuster: "We've changed things. Time will only twll if we'll change them some more. Stay tuned."
And then that mischievous grin again.
►On NSA spying, Reid chose his words at first inartfully and then very carefully to try not to criticize....anyone: "We live in a new world...a world of people trying to blow up this building while we're doing this interview ."(What???)
Reid did not say a bad word about the NSA but said he understood senators "asking for more transparency.....i think it's clear we don't understand it (what the NSA did).....but it's good that we have people looking at it."
See how delicate he is being. Then he said any senator can " call one of these agencies, if they don't get a return call, i'll make sure they do."
I bet he would.
Red, ever the tradiitonalist, suggested senators sometimes talk too much about private meetings: "I'm an expert at senators talking about stuff they shouldn't be talking about."
And, amazingly, he didn't mean himself! He meant he suffers for it. I think.
All right, that might be a Reidism, too.
►Maddow asked about the efforts to bring a national convention here when he is up for re-election in three years: "Some of my friends have spent a lot of money trying to defeat me...Honestly I haven't let it affect our friendship. Sheldon Adelson and i still meet and have conversations. He has a problem; i try to help him. He also mentioned Steve Wynn (they have always been friendly) and concluded: "As far as I'm concerned, it would be good for business."
There is it, the Reid imprimatur. Maybe Brian Krolicki should get him on the host committee.
Adelson and Reid, based on conversations I have had, really do like and respect each other. Only in Nevada.
I wonder if that lasts through 2016, though -- Adelson heads the next Republicans for Reid?
Maybe Reid should talk to Shelley Berkley about her erstwhile closeness to Adelson....