Reid Spills Senate Secrets

Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:52pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) soon-to-be- released book, “The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington,” includes plenty of touching details about the Democrat’s rise from a hardscrabble Nevada shack to one of the highest offices in the land.

[IMGCAP(1)]But HOH’s favorite parts were ones in which the man from Searchlight gives us a peek over the shoulders of Senators and reveals some of the chamber’s dishy secrets. From the department of we-read-so-you-don’t-have-to:

  • Babs is a ‘bitch.’ In 1988, then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) tried to reassure Reid that he would like then-President-elect George H.W. Bush, calling him the “the nicest guy, very pragmatic.” But Bentsen had a less-than-flattering assessment of Barbara Bush, Reid writes. “But watch out for his wife; she’s a bitch,” Reid recalls Bentsen telling him.
  • Specter’s no pal. In the spring of 2007, Reid was looking for Republicans to support a bill to end the war in Iraq. Looking at his options, Reid had this to say about Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.): “Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is always with us when we don’t need him.”
  • Daschle and Baucus don’t like each other. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) apparently didn’t like the close relationship Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “By the end, [Daschle and Baucus] really couldn’t stand each other, and had several extremely testy exchanges on the floor and in private as a result.”
  • Frist was unsure of himself. It’s no secret that Reid wasn’t a big fan of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and while Reid takes great pains to praise Frist’s work as a surgeon, he has no kind words for his leadership style. “As Majority Leader, Frist had almost no legislative experience, and always seemed to me to be a little off-balance and unsure of himself. … In negotiations, he sometimes would not be able to commit to a position until he went back to check with his caucus, as if he was unsure of his own authority.”
  • Pardon Me, Madam. Lawyers made opening statements in the case against the “D.C. Madam” in Washington on Monday, and even though he was half the country away, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) apparently was a little on edge.

    Vitter was attempting to leave a packed town hall meeting in Gonzales, La., when a pack of media types peppered him with questions about his interactions with Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service.

    Vitter, who reportedly was a client of Palfrey’s, was listed as a potential witness by her attorneys. “I do want to reiterate how sorry I am for causing folks real pain starting with my family and including the people of Louisiana,” Vitter said, according to a report by CBS affiliate WAFB Channel 9.

    Vitter said he planned to stay hard at work and continue a busy schedule, but he didn’t get far. While backing out in a white Honda, the junior Senator accidentally hit a stop sign before driving off with a dented fender.

    One Democratic strategist found humor in Vitter’s driving mishap. “If stop signs were the only thing David Vitter had rear-ended he wouldn’t be in so much trouble,” the strategist told HOH.

    The Fictions of Life. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) won’t let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. Jefferson, who vowed to reporters that he would “re-establish the truth” after an FBI raid turned up $90,000 in cash in his freezer that allegedly came from illegal bribes, has written a book (sort of) about his life.

    But in “Dying is the Easy Part,” the lines between fact and fiction aren’t exactly clear. The self-published book is a series of short stories based on Jefferson’s experience growing up in the South, on his parents and grandparents and the lessons they taught him, and on his own family. The book jacket refers to the contents as the writings about “the people, surroundings, and situations that raised him.”

    Jefferson tells HOH the book is meant not as a memoir — although some might assume so — but as a work of literature. The stories are varying degrees of true, he says. “It runs from about 80 to 85 percent in some stories to less than 50 percent,” he says.

    But trying to parse through what’s real and what’s not can be confusing. A character called “Cuttin Honey” in the short story “Dying is the Easy Part,” which gave its name for the book’s title, is based on an amalgamation of three people Jefferson knew, he says. The scene in which Jefferson learns he has a major heart blockage after he schools then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) in a basketball game in the House gym, however, is true to life, Jefferson says.

    Publishing expert Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs books, says Jefferson’s tactic is unusual, though understandable. “It sounds to me like Congressman Jefferson, who has had a number of problems, wanted his legacy to be under his control,” he tells HOH. “And so it is his story, in his format.”

    Java Diplomacy. He may be best known for vanishing before our eyes during Colombian coffee commercials, but Juan Valdez didn’t give Members of Congress and staffers the skip on their trip to Colombia over the weekend. The United States Trade Representative CODEL, which focused largely on Colombian trade and not-so-coincidently came right before President Bush announced he was sending the Colombian free-trade agreement to Congress, included a veritable smorgasbord of Colombian fare. One of the major things USTR wanted to show lawmakers was not just the products but what they mean for creating a better economic growth, USTR spokesman Sean Spicer told HOH.

    But it didn’t hurt that the lawmakers were greeted by Carlos Castañeda, a coffee grower who plays the Juan Valdez character. Republican Reps. Jean Schmidt (Ohio), Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.), Phil English (Pa.), and Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge (N.C.) were treated to an impromptu visit by “Valdez” and his mule Conchita after participating in a coffee-tasting by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

    They didn’t leave empty-handed either. The company had plenty of swag for the Members and staff to take home, including sample coffee beans, an empty burlap sack and a baseball cap emblazoned with the company logo.

    All In the Family. Washington is getting a double dose of actor Jon Voight’s offspring. Actress-turned-United Nations goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie will be testifying about the plight of Iraqi children for the Council on Foreign Affairs today. And apparently, do-gooding runs in the family. Jolie’s brother, James Haven — who’s most famous for lip-locking with big sis Angie at the 2000 Oscars — is also making his way to Capitol Hill today. Haven will be talking with lawmakers about vulnerable children and orphans on behalf of Global Action for Children.

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