Harry Reid in winter – Politico
Harry Reid doesn’t particularly like long phone calls. He is known to abruptly hang up after a quick conversation with an aide, a senator or a lobbyist.
But in the aftermath of a grisly New Year’s Day exercise accident, which gave him four broken ribs and may leave him permanently blind in one eye, the 75-year-old Nevada Democrat has been burning up the phones with up to 50 calls per day, trying to make clear that he’s still in charge. He may be keeping largely out of the public eye, but his conversations with other senators, President Barack Obama and prominent Democratic players have shown he’s not yielding any of his power during his convalescence.
He has been beginning his days earlier than usual, calling his press assistant, Brian Ahern, for his news briefing at 6 a.m. Moments after his executive assistant, Adelle Cruz, gets into office around 8 a.m., Reid retrieves his messages and begins fielding and placing calls all the way until after 9:30 p.m., according to his aides.
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Reid is quietly moving to retain his political clout, even as he’s had to cede leadership of the Senate to Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell. From his telephone, he’s quieted speculation internally that he’ll retire, telling the new Senate Democratic campaign head, Jon Tester, on a conference call that he’s running for reelection next year so he wouldn’t have to worry about finding a replacement in Nevada. He’s been involved in recruiting decisions for next year’s Senate races, even making clear his preference that the party establishment not endorse a Democratic candidate in the California Senate primary, several people said.
“The mind is still working so he’s got to do something with it,” said Tester, a Montana Democrat.
Part of Reid’s routine is the result of pure restlessness. A workaholic who rarely takes vacations, doesn’t watch much TV and lives in a one-bedroom condo, Reid has been growing a bit stir-crazy, according to aides and friends. He tends to read during his spare time, but the injury to his right eye had made reading impossible until just a day ago. He’s been known as a workout nut who does yoga almost every morning combined with a healthy diet of situps, but he’s been told by doctors to avoid exercises that may strain his eyes or aggravate his ribs. So he’s turned to taking hour-long walks in the hallways of the Ritz-Carlton, where he’s owned his condo since 2001.
And part of Reid’s effort, too, is to exert himself in the Democratic Caucus as his party struggles to find its way out of the minority. It was just over a month ago that Reid faced the most serious threat to his own leadership, after at least six Democrats opposed his reelection as the head of his caucus. Amid his absence, hiswould-be successors like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer are now taking a more visible role running the Democratic minority. Republicans, too, are eager to take down Reid in 2016 and are hoping to recruit popular Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — so the five-term senator wants to send every signal that he won’t miss a step and plans to run a forceful reelection next year.
Reid returned Tuesday to the Capitol for the first time since his injury, running his party’s weekly lunch meeting, where he joined Democrats decrying leaks out of their party’s retreat in Baltimore last week, senators said. But he maintained an unusually low profile. He didn’t give an opening speech on the floor and avoided the press, taking a short-cut to the lunch through the Senate Reception Room that limited his time in the hallways. He skipped the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night and missed a series of votes Wednesday, including what could have been a decisive vote to approve a resolution saying the Senate believes humans cause climate change.
After his staff announced that Reid would be absent next week to undergo eye surgery at George Washington University Hospital, the senator agreed to hold his first press conference of the year. It was held in Reid’s small conference room Thursday afternoon, allowing him easy access but limiting the number of reporters and photographers who could attend.
Seated at a table before the American and Nevada flags, with oil paintings of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter hanging on the walls, Reid kicked off his remarks with a defiant call for Republicans to drop extraneous provisions on a homeland security spending bill.
But the press was mostly interested in his injury and upcoming surgery — as well his future political plans.
Reid recalled the painful day of the accident, noting that he and his wife Landra were in their new home in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. He was performing an exercise on a large rubber band, but when it snapped, it spun him around and sent him flying into his cabinets. The crash nearly caused him to bang his temple, which could have made the accident even more serious. Sources familiar with the incident said Reid was exercising in his bathroom, with the exercise band attached to the shower door.
“It didn’t knock me out, but it sure hurt,” Reid said calmly Thursday. “And I was taken to the hospital.”
In next week’s surgery, doctors will attempt to reconstruct the broken bones around his eye. A bone that’s broken, he said, is pushed in against his eye, affecting his ability to see. Moreover, blood continues to sit in the back part of his eye, forcing doctors to drain it as part of the reconstruction effort. A senator who spoke to Reid say it’s possible he may need multiple surgeries.
“They’re confident that I’ll be really quite good after that,” he said, predicting he’d return to work in the first week of February.
But there’s no guarantee that he’ll regain his sight in his injured eye. And while Reid said the injury wouldn’t affect his reelection plans — “We have quite an operation in Nevada that hasn’t lost a step. We’re off and running” — he also hedged when asked about his plans.
“At this stage,” he said, “I’m fully intending to run.”
Asked why he was qualifying his statement, Reid shot back: “I plan to run.”
Republicans aren’t taking any chances.
“I never underestimate this guy’s drive,” said Reid’s fellow Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller . Asked how the latest episode influenced the Sandoval recruitment effort, Heller said: “He’ll have a legislative session in front of him; I think he wants to get through that.” The session is expected to end on June 1.
Despite his low profile, Reid has, at times, shown his face publicly — even as his injuries can be difficult to look at. The day the new Senate convened earlier this month, Reid cut a video at his condo to push the Democratic mantra — but also to show Washington and Nevada he was still fully functional. (It took just two takes to put the video together, aides said.) When he appeared before cameras Thursday, Reid’s eye was covered with a white bandage and he had a deep purple bruise covering the right side of his face.
Reid, of course, is used to adversity both political and personal. He’s survived repeated reelection — most famously barely defeating Republican John Ensign in 1998 by 401 votes. But his family, too, has had its share of challenges in recent years. His wife, Landra, broke her neck, back and nose in a 2010 car accident in Fairfax County, Virginia. Landra Reid also was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2011. And in October 2014, Reid’s daughter, Lana Reid Barringer, needed surgery to remove a tumor that doctors believed was cancerous. (Barringer’s tumor was actually benign, and Landra Reid’s cancer is now in remission.)
Those family health scares, combined with Reid’s own personal hardships — his father committed suicide in 1972 and Reid himself survived a car bombing in 1981 — all seem a part of why Reid is now unperturbed by his potential loss of sight.
Asked earlier this week if he’d regain his eye sight, Reid would only say: “Hope so.”
And at Thursday’s press briefing, Reid wouldn’t say if he was fearful about permanently losing his vision.
“Well, I’m looking forward to Monday, that’s for sure,” he said, referring to the day of his surgery .
He said he’s been taking Tylenol “once in a while” but downplayed breaking four ribs.
“They’re so meaningless, it’s hard to believe,” he said.
Reid’s curt demeanor seems to also have been having some effect in the Senate. Insiders say Democratic meetings appear to be going longer than usual, given Reid’s brusque style and tendency to cut long-winded senators off abruptly. Similarly, when a colleague has an idea that undermines his leadership team’s plans, Reid has never been afraid to rebuff a senator’s request.
“No one says ‘no’ now,” according to one Senate source..
Reid’s chief floor aide, Gary Myrick, is still heavily involved in day-to-day negotiations with McConnell’s office . Durbin handles the opening speeches, while Schumer is running the caucus meetings and messaging operations. They, along with another Democratic leader, Sen. Patty Murray, have met in Reid’s condo — as have his senior staff. And as Reid prepares for his transition, he has been keeping in contact with Drew Willison, who will soon be the senator’s new chief of staff, sources said.
On Thursday, Durbin described Reid as filled with “impatience” these days but said that he’s also anticipating having his surgery and recovering.
“I feel for him because it must be terribly frustrating to be worried — worried about your physical health but unable to do things,” Durbin said.