Reid and Daschle: Still ‘Like Brothers’

Posted March 2, 2007 at 6:34pm

In the two-plus years since they last stood side by side in the Senate Democratic leadership, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and the man he succeeded, former Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.), are as close as they’ve ever been — a rare bond given the often distant relationships other current Congressional leaders have with their predecessors.

Reid and Daschle still share phone calls frequently, get together for dinner and, on occasion, even take in a movie. They regularly turn to each other for counsel and — just as they did when they served in the Senate together — consider the other to be a both a trusted political adviser and personal ally.

“Tom Daschle is my friend,” Reid said recently. “We are like brothers, literally.”

Reid served as Whip under then-Minority and Majority Leader Daschle for six years before Daschle was defeated in a bitter re-election battle in 2004. Reid took over for Daschle thereafter, recently assuming the same Majority Leader position Daschle held for a brief 18-month period during the 107th Congress after then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) bolted the GOP to caucus with the Democrats as an Independent.

Today’s relationship between Reid and Daschle is relatively unique on Capitol Hill, where ambition, egos and competition among past and present leaders run high. And while the current House and Senate leaders may not be outright adversaries with their predecessors, none regularly turns to them in politics or friendship, sources on and off the Hill say.

“It is unusual in politics and unusual in this business,” Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said of Reid and Daschle. “A lot of people in politics are always looking over their shoulders and are paranoid about one thing or another. They were relaxed in their own selves and trusted each other. They worked closely together and developed a friendship that even exists today.”

Republicans and Democrats alike privately acknowledge communication and contact is scarce between the three other top Congressional leaders and their predecessors — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and ex-Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and ex-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

In each case, the 110th Congressional leadership has an inner circle and set of confidants separate and apart from the lawmakers who held the post previously. What’s more, those three new leaders were never personally close with their predecessors while serving under the Dome.

“McConnell, Boehner and Pelosi all ascended to leader by challenging the current leadership,” said one former senior House Democratic aide. “Their platforms were basically, ‘I can do better,’ and their elections followed losses at the polls for their respective Caucuses.”

“Reid was the heir apparent,” the one-time staffer noted. “He and Daschle worked hand in hand together.”

Daschle said in an interview that the two men developed such a strong tie while working together for so many years in the Senate. He added that while it may be unusual for such a friendship to carry on, it shouldn’t be surprising given the two Senators’ political profiles, approach to legislating and long-standing trust.

“We were not competitors in any way,” Daschle said. “He wasn’t seeking to take my job, and I greatly appreciated the tremendous way he always allowed me to do my job but in some ways enhanced it. We thought working as a team we could do more.”

While serving together, Daschle and Reid were each other’s closest confidants. Former aides and Senators both say Daschle gave Reid great latitude as his No. 2, handing off duties and allowing Reid to run the Whip operation almost independently from the leader’s office. Daschle earlier also had turned to Reid to help head up the Democratic Policy Committee from 1995 to 1999.

“They were very close when Daschle was the leader and Reid was his chief lieutenant,” said one former Daschle staffer. “It was the kind of relationship where Reid could always walk into Daschle’s office, unannounced.”

“It’s fairly unique in so far as how things have gone in the past, and how things are now with the other leaders,” added the one-time Democratic aide. “Unlike the sense you get with some of the other leaders, I think Harry Reid genuinely wishes Tom Daschle was still the leader. He was very upset that Daschle lost, but Daschle was very comfortable handing off the job to Reid.”

Reid and Daschle have similar political résumés, having both served in the House and advancing to the Senate in 1986 as representatives of rural, independent-minded states. The two men also are alike stylistically, both known for being unassuming and soft-spoken.

“They have the same quasi-genetic makeup,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Daschle, now a special policy adviser at the D.C. law firm Alston & Bird, said his friendship with Reid today is in “some ways easier and in some ways harder” given the two Senators spend fewer hours together, but their interaction is under more relaxed circumstances. Daschle insisted he never lobbies Reid, describing their relationship as an even exchange or a give-and-take: “I don’t consider myself a key adviser as much as a good friend.”

“We talk a lot and we give each other advice,” Daschle added. “It’s the natural thing for friends to do. I don’t think he seeks me out exclusively for anything. It’s the kind of relationship where we bounce ideas off each other and share ideas about issues.”

But when he’s asked about the types of advice he’s offered Reid lately, Daschle is quick to demur: “Those conversations are so privileged, I can’t violate confidences without his approval.”

Indeed, it is just that type of loyalty that makes Reid call Daschle “my closest political friend” and the person whom he credits for his Senate success. Without Daschle, Reid said, he never would have had the opportunity to flex his muscle as the Whip and so seamlessly ascend into the Minority Leader’s chair after Daschle’s electoral loss.

“I feel that Tom Daschle is the reason,” Reid said. “When I worked the floor, I had total leeway. I could do what I wanted to do. He trusted me. He knew I wouldn’t do anything to embarrass him. He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to do.”

Reid said Daschle is a critical part of his circle of advisers, saying that in many ways Daschle has been able to assume the role of his longtime mentor, the late Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan (D). Reid served as lieutenant governor under O’Callaghan.

O’Callaghan died in 2004. Reid said, “It left a tremendous void in my political life. Tom Daschle filled that void.”