Reid Readies for the Home Stretch

In last months, Senate minority leader aims to link GOP colleagues to Trump

Reid, seen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, is retiring at the end of this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Reid, seen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, is retiring at the end of this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 6, 2016 at 5:00am

September marks the beginning of the end of Harry Reid’s tenure in Congress. The Senate minority leader has four months left in office, and he’s not likely to go quietly. 

“As he told me a while ago, this is going to be his last rodeo,” said Reid’s former spokesman Jim Manley. “I think he’s going to take it for all it’s worth.”

The Nevada Democrat outlined several items on his to-do list Thursday, days before senators began returning from the August recess. He lamented inaction on funding a response to the Zika virus outbreak, preventing suspected terrorists from buying guns, authorizing defense programs, strengthening voting rights and filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Fall Forecast: The Senate Returns

Loading the player...

Though senators will take up some of those issues in the coming months, much attention will remain focused on the campaign trail, particularly the race for Reid’s open seat back home.

[Reid Plans Senate Exit: Not Running for Re-Election (Video)]

Reid’s preferred successor, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, is locked in a tough battle with Republican Rep. Joe Heck. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the Silver State Senate race a Tossup.

“I am going to do everything I can do to prevail, to help her prevail,” Reid recently told The New York Times.

Bully pulpit

Beyond that fight, Reid is likely to use his Senate bully pulpit to continue railing against the GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

He frequently used his morning floor speeches to tie Senate Republicans to the billionaire. A former amateur middleweight boxer, Reid did not pull any punches. On a press call with reporters in August, Reid called Trump a “bigot who’s clearly unfit for office.”

[Reid Says Trump Should Get Fake Intel Briefings]

Over the recess, Reid also called on Trump to take a citizenship test, and asked the FBI to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

ReidTimeline(UPDATED)-1

Senate Republicans facing battleground re-election contests have tried to win over Trump supporters while distancing themselves from some of his more controversial statements. According to Manley, Reid is likely to continue to link those lawmakers to their party’s nominee.

“What I think he will try to do is to make life as miserable as possible for Senate Republicans by trying to tie them as closely as he can to Donald Trump,” Manley said.

The presidential campaign and down-ballot races could dominate some of the conversations around the Senate chamber in the final months of Reid’s tenure. But Congress also faces a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government.

Funding fights

Reid on Thursday served notice that Democrats would resist conservatives’ efforts to punt critical funding decisions into 2017, when a new president would be in office. He backed the idea of a stopgap spending bill that would extend funding into December and warned that if Republican leaders play their cards wrong, they could trigger a government shutdown.

“We are not doing anything into next year,” Reid said. “And Republicans should be made aware of that right now.”

Though Reid listed several items that he believes the Senate should act on, he has not been optimistic that much will get done this year.

“We will be back in September to tie up loose ends and make sure that the government gets funded, but that is about all we have the ability to do now,” Reid said before the recess.

That doesn’t mean Democrats will stop highlighting their priorities.

“We have to have a way forward on a number of issues,” Reid said Thursday. “We cannot walk away from guns. We cannot walk away from the Supreme Court.”

Reid has said that Democrats would consider using procedural moves to force a vote on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. Republican leaders have vowed not to take up the nomination before the elections.

[Reid: Democrats Considering Forcing Votes on Supreme Court Nominee ]

“[Reid] would rather go out legislating but the reality is that’s not in the cards right now,” Manley said. “So he’s going to go out fighting, standing up for his caucus and protecting his friend, the president, until his last days in office.”

Throughout his 33-year career in Congress, Reid has been known as a sharp-tongued legislator who tells it like it is and backs up his talk. In the past year, the architect of the historic change to the Senate’s filibuster rule has not been afraid to speak his mind, especially when it comes to criticizing his colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

Manley summed up Reid’s posture: You only live once.

“It’s the era of YOLO Sen. Reid.”

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc.