Reid fills the notebooks


Sen. Harry Reid told a group of reporters this morning he did not intend to make a lot of news. But he filled a bunch of notebooks during a wide-ranging discussion.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, was the guest at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. The gatherings are a Washington institution -- for years they were organized by Monitor columnist Godfrey Sperling, who retired four years ago.

Seated along a long table and amidst several dozen national and regional reporters, Reid declined the hash browns, scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon. But he accepted the use of a microphone as a salve for his voice that was raspy this week due to allergies.

Here some of what Reid said:

-- He said he has raised $2 million for his re-election during the first three months of the year. That would raise his fund-raising so far this cycle to more than $7 million, and serve as a further disincentive for Republican challengers in Nevada.

"I am sure they are going to find someone to run against me. I have a target on my back, and on my front," Reid said, but he added he likes his chances.

"I feel comfortable I will be competitive," he said.

Reid said he continues to apply the lessons learned from his near-disastrous 1998 campaign when he beat Republican John Ensign by only 428 votes.

"I tried to run a campaign in '98 on a shoestring," he said. "I waited late, didn't have a professional fund-raiser, just didn't do much."

-- He has spoken to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., about switching parties, along with other Democrats in Pennsylvania. But those efforts came to an end when Specter came out this week against the union-backed "card check" bill that is favored by most all Democrats.

"I think he in coming out against card check sort of stopped everyone from being able to help him," Reid said.

Reid surmised Specter, in a difficult re-election race, announced his opposition to the organized labor bill in order to build support with Republican constituencies back home.

"But it hasn't helped him," Reid said. "In Pennsylvania he is 26 percent behind in the Republican primary."

-- He suggested John Roberts misrepresented himself before the Senate during his 2005 confirmation to become chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Roberts" didn't tell us the truth," Reid said, without elaborating. "At least (associate justice Samuel) Alito told us who he was . We are stuck with these two young men and we are going to try to change that by having some more moderates on the federal court system as time goes on."

Reid also said he would not consider invoking the "nuclear option" to strong arm Democratic judges through the Senate. When Republicans ran the Senate in 2004, then-leader Bill Frist of Tennessee was moving to change Senate rules to cut off senators' filibuster rights until a last-minute compromise was reached.

At the time Reid argued the rules change would "destroy the Senate as we know it."

This morning, Reid said: "There is no way I would be part of using the nuclear option. I want every Republican to hear that."

-- Reid said he was surprised he has become good friends with one-time adversary T. Boone Pickens. The senator and the oilman-turned-wind-energy maven have worked together on renewable energy issues.

But maybe it should not be a surprise. Reid recalled at one time he did not care for John Ensign, but the two Nevada senators have become good friends.

"The next thing I expect," Reid joked, "is that I will start liking the New York Yankees. I doubt it but it is possible." Reid grew up a fan of the Cleveland Indians.

-- Reid defended the Obama administration's proposal to reduce the tax benefit for wealthy people making charitable donations.

"The charitable deduction is not being taken away from anyone," Reid said. "It is still there. They are lowering the amount you can deduct by a few percentage points. That's all it is.

"The few charitable deductions I give, I don't' say what kind of tax break do I get if I give money to the Boy Scouts or to my church. I just think it has been blown way out of proportion."

When Obama had lunch with Democratic senators on Wednesday. Reid said one senator he did not name began talking about things she thought needed to be done, and then almost immediately complained about the charity tax proposal.

Obama told her, "You can't have it both ways," Reid said. "We have to pay for some of this stuff."

-- A liberal group running an ad campaign to pressure Senate moderates to support Obama's budget "is not helpful," Reid said.

"Those groups should leave them alone," Reid said. "It is not helpful to me or helpful to the Democratic caucus."

Americans United for Change is running television commercials in 12 states represented by moderate Democrats and Republicans. Some Democrats have begun meeting in a coalition formed by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., in a bid to shape policy.

"I think it is unwise and not helpful," Reid said. "Everyone going to those meetings are part of the Democratic caucus and have been very constructive."