Nevada Sens. Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Republican, are having trouble getting over two tense election cycles that have strained both their friendship and their working relationship.
While Reid has long attempted to forge good relationships with members of both parties in Nevada’s congressional delegation, the 2010 and 2012 elections frayed his friendship with Heller, who previously served in the House.
A spokeswoman for Heller said his 2012 race, in which Reid campaigned against him, has taken a toll, but the two senators are attempting to put it behind them.
“Before the campaign, Sen. Heller and Sen. Reid might be considered good friends,” Heller’s spokeswoman said. “Post-campaign, the more appropriate description would be that the two are friends.”
A GOP source close to Heller said, “Team Reid spent $10 million on attack ads and millions more on the ground to defeat Dean Heller. A level of involvement that was not only unprecedented but also not soon to be forgotten by Team Heller.”
A spokeswoman for Reid said, “The past two election cycles there have been big Senate races,” adding that Nevada is a swing state and that the contests were very competitive.
Heller squeaked out a victory against former Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, in November. Similarly, the majority leader faced a tough bid for a fifth term in 2010.
But the spark for much of the duo’s current tension came last September, when Reid blamed Heller for failing to win Republican votes for an online poker bill that is a priority of powerful home-state casino interests.
“A pretty political move on [Reid’s] part,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who added it was “pretty nasty during the campaign.”
Now that the elections are behind them, the two are looking to get past the campaign.
“They are committed to working together,” Reid’s spokeswoman said, noting that the senators have known each other for a long time and have a friendly relationship.
One growing pain in their burgeoning working relationship is the nomination of Elissa Cadish to join the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Reid supports Cadish, while Heller has concerns about her stance on gun rights.
“We are still working on it, I don’t have an answer for you right now,” Heller said last week when asked what he expects to happen with Cadish’s nomination.
Cadish did not even get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee last year because Heller did not return a “blue slip” signaling his approval to the committee. Asked recently whether he expected his concerns to prompt a withdrawal of the nomination, the junior senator from Nevada said, “I am not changing my position, so” it’s unclear.
However, Heller’s spokeswoman said, “Both Sen. Reid and Sen. Heller are working to better coordinate on future nominations.”
Reid’s spokeswoman confirmed that discussions are ongoing and noted that last month the majority leader declined to elaborate on how he and Heller planned to get past the judicial nominations issue.
“That is something we do among ourselves,” Reid said at a meeting of the state’s congressional delegation.
President Barack Obama first nominated Cadish in February 2012 and renominated her in January.
Heller has also yet to return the blue slip for Jennifer Dorsey, a Nevada lawyer who has been nominated to join the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. She was initially nominated in September and was renominated in January.
“He is continuing to review the Dorsey nomination,” Heller’s spokeswoman said.
Blue slips are a courtesy extended to home-state senators for judicial nominees. The home-state senator is expected to give the Judiciary chairman his thoughts on the particular nominee. In practice, the committee usually declines to take up a nomination unless blue slips from both home-state members are returned, and that has been particularly true under Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.
The Senate is poised to consider the nomination of Andrew Gordon, who was also nominated to join the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The Judiciary Committee cleared his nomination — backed by both Heller and Reid — last month.
Though Reid and Heller’s relationship remains strained, Reid worked closely with former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., with whom he served for 10 years. Heller was picked to fill Ensign’s seat after he resigned in 2011.
Reid had brokered a nonaggression pact with Ensign, but there is no such deal with Heller, sources close to the junior senator said.
Nevertheless, the two men are co-sponsors of a lands bill involving Yerington, Nev., and they, like many Senate delegations, co-host “Welcome to Washington” breakfasts for constituents. Another area of agreement is killing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project, something both lawmakers mentioned in press releases prompted by the nomination of Ernest Moniz to be Energy secretary.