Harry Reid’s fever had broken, but it didn’t take much to get the Senate majority leader from Searchlight hot around the collar.
Just broach the subject of Nevada’s role in America’s increasing but expensive use of renewable energy, and watch Reid’s temperature rise. Without much prompting Tuesday at CityCenter’s Vdara, he thumped the state’s electricity utility NV Energy like Buddy Rich on a snare drum and couldn’t resist a slap at the Review-Journal’s editorials on the subject. (“The only good thing about it is, nobody reads it.”)
Flu had driven his fever to 102 degrees just a day earlier, and on Tuesday Reid kept an abbreviated schedule that still had him meeting with reporters, donors and constituents throughout most of the day. Now 74, he fielded a call from a physician between questions.
“We’ve had a lot of criticism (about renewable energy), that it’s a waste of money, and we shouldn’t give them tax breaks, but what it’s done for the economy in Nevada is really good,” Reid said during a wide-ranging interview. “There’s no question that a lot of the renewable energy created here in Nevada goes outside the state. The construction jobs are here, though. But for NV Energy, we would have huge amounts of renewable energy (being used) in Nevada. NV Energy has had its head in the sand like an ostrich.”
Will that change under multibillionaire Warren Buffett’s influence as the utility’s new power behind the power company?
“Warren Buffett told me it would,” Reid said, adding: “They should call the company the New NV Energy. It’s part of the Buffett empire. It will get better. We’re only going to do better.”
As if to punctuate the point, on Thursday Reid and acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Cheryl LeFleur celebrated the completion of the One Nevada Transmission Line project that connects NV Energy’s northern and southern service, and figures to increase renewable energy development in the state. Clearly, Reid sees his forceful hand on the growth of green energy in the state as part of his political legacy.
Reid provides no shortage of grist for critics. Being the driving force behind the hard-won passage of Obamacare is also on his legacy list. But not even Reid can claim the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was anything but a nightmare.
Would the rollout debacle or, say, the possibility of liberal discontent with President Barack Obama seriously complicate the Democrats’ chances of maintaining a majority in the Senate in 2014, or even Reid’s own likely run for re-election in 2016?
“I don’t think there’s any problem with the liberals — none, zero,” Reid said. “The progressive part of my caucus is happier than hell. The only fear is, it’s 2014. My 2014-ers, as I call them, of course they’re concerned because the rollout of Obamacare was not good. But right now we have 11 million people on Obamacare, and it’s looking better every day. Tens of thousands of people are signing up every day to add to that.”
The U.S. public has far less to be concerned about from affordable health care than it does from super-billionaire conservative brothers Charles and David Koch, Reid jabbed.
“The fear the country should have, but they don’t at this stage, is the fact the Koch brothers are trying to buy the country,” Reid said. “Not only United States Senate seats, not only Congress seats, but also they’re now getting involved in state races. They did here in Nevada last time. I’m sure they’ll do it big time. ... That’s a concern to me. It should be a concern to the American people. You have two brothers who have made fortunes in oil and gas and coal are trying to buy the country. But in spite of that, they (Republicans) have to pick up six Senate seats, and I don’t think they can do it.”
Counting votes and knowing the rules of engagement in the Senate are things Reid knows arguably better than anyone. But does he have any regrets about forcing a revamp of the filibuster rule, which enabled Democrats and Obama to approve numerous appointments previously stalled by Republicans?
Reid broke his poker face long enough to almost smirk at the notion.
“(His assistant leader Illinois Sen.) Dick Durbin walked into my office. He looked at me and said, ‘Harry, they’re mocking us. They’re daring us to do something.’ They didn’t think I had the votes. But I showed them, didn’t I? They didn’t think I had the votes. ... They were stalling. They were daring for me to do something. There may be some more changes if they keep messing around.”
Was it meant as some sort of lesson for Republicans?
“It’s not a lesson for the Republicans,” Reid said. “It’s a lesson for everybody: Don’t overplay your hand.”
With the subject turning to counting votes and playing the hand that’s dealt, it seemed like an appropriate time to ask whether Reid, after five decades in public life, has any plans that didn’t include frigid Washington winters and the never-ending Senate tug-of-war.
Again the temperature rose. No Florida retirements. He fully plans to run for re-election.
“How many times have I told people, fifteen, twenty?” Reid asked in the general direction of staffer Kristen Orthman.
According to the prevailing political handicapping, that means Reid will likely find himself going up against Gov. Brian Sandoval, who in 2012 was whispered as vice presidential material on the GOP ticket.
“That didn’t go any place, did it?” Reid said, pausing, then adding, “I like Brian Sandoval. I appointed him to the federal bench. I like him. When he does something that I think is worthy of admiration, I speak out.”
Then he delivered a remark that a skeptic might interpret as a warning.
“I think Brian Sandoval has a future. But always remember: A month ago (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie was unbeatable. He’s not unbeatable anymore. All it takes is one little scandal, one little bump in the road, and it changes forever. So I wish (Sandoval) no ill will. I like him. We have an extremely cordial relationship. And I know that there’s a lot of talk about him running against me.
“I’ve run against them all. If he wants to run against me, he can do that. I don’t have a lot bad to say about him, to be honest.”
No, practically nothing at all.
Political critics who imagine one day the senator from Searchlight will cool down, take a bow and willingly depart the biggest stage in U.S. politics figure to wait a long, long time.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.