Presidential primary fight doesn't bother Reid


While Democrats across the country are anguished about the bitter fight for their presidential nomination, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't appear to be losing any sleep over it.

Asked about it last week, Reid said he remains convinced the nominee will be decided well before the August national convention. He wore a serene and mysterious smile.

But Reid isn't one for lengthy explanations. The conversation went like this:

Question: Do you still think the Democratic race can be resolved before the convention?

Reid: Easy.

Q: How is that?

Reid: It will be done.

Q: It just will?

Reid: Yep.

Q: Magically?

Reid: No, it will be done. I had a conversation with Governor Dean (Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) today. Things are being done.

That's all the Nevada Democrat would say about it.

Reid also weighed in on the controversy over Michigan and Florida, states whose Democratic convention delegates were stripped when they scheduled primaries before Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, without permission from the DNC.

The DNC authorized only Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to hold nominating contests before that date. Those four states teamed up to demand successfully that the Democratic candidates not campaign in the two renegade states.

The punishment was intended to be symbolic, on the assumption that a nominee would be decided early and delegate counts wouldn't matter.

That has turned out to be a bad assumption. Now Hillary Clinton, who won both states and trails in the delegate count, says Michigan and Florida shouldn't be left out, even though Barack Obama wasn't on the ballot in Michigan.

Both states came to the conclusion last week they couldn't hold new primaries.

"Michigan and Florida wouldn't play by the rules," Reid said. "They're not my rules. They're not the caucus' rules. They're DNC rules. They broke the rules."

Adding delegates for those states, he noted, would alter the number of delegates needed to get the nomination, currently 2,025. It wasn't crystal clear, but Reid seemed to suggest that delegations from those states should get to attend the convention, but not vote.

"Michigan and Florida delegates are going to be seated. They're going to be a part of the convention," he said. "It's a question of whether anything can be worked out to change this prior to the 2,025.

"They're the ones causing all the problems. No one else did. And so they will be seated. They're big states. They represent 29 million people. We want to make sure their delegates are part of the convention that takes place in Denver."

TIME MACHINE

Remember when the United States had to take out Saddam Hussein because he was part of the shadowy enemy that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, and was doing his darnedest to get nuclear weapons?

The Bush administration has acknowledged that the Iraqi dictator wasn't linked to al-Qaida, and inspectors have determined his nuclear program was defunct. But the Nevada Republican Party makes it sound like 2003 all over again.

In a statement attacking the "anti-war left," state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden last week said politicians who advocate "surrender" like to avoid "facts that we, as Republicans, clearly know, understand and will never forget."

"It is a fact that Saddam Hussein was a terrorist and Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism," Lowden said. "It is a fact that Saddam Hussein had and utilized weapons of mass destruction. It is a fact that Saddam Hussein's government paid tens of thousands of dollars to families of terrorist suicide bombers who killed innocent men, women and children."

Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Zac Moyle said the sponsorship of terrorism was a reference to Saddam's funding of Palestinian suicide bombers and to his actions against his own people, which included the use of weapons of mass destruction.

But the statement appears carefully worded to imply something different, said Max Bergmann, deputy policy director for the National Security Network, a nonpartisan anti-war group.

It's accurate to call Saddam a terrorist who used weapons of mass destruction if you're referring to his terrorizing his own people: Saddam in the 1980s used biological weapons against the Kurds of northern Iraq. And in an attempt to curry favor with other countries in the region, Saddam did give money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

But Lowden's statement appears to suggest something different, Bergmann said. It reads as though it is reasserting the debunked rationale for the war, linking Saddam to anti-American, Islamic extremist terrorism.

"Saddam terrorized his own people. That is fundamentally true. He was a tyrannical, authoritarian dictator who tortured people and ruled with an iron fist," Bergmann said. "But if you're going to imply that that's why the invasion of Iraq was necessary and urgent, does that mean the United States should be taking out all leaders who terrorize their own people, from Mugabe in Zimbabwe to the military junta in Burma? The fact is that in invading Iraq, we attacked a regime that had nothing to do with September 11th."

War observers on both sides of the partisan divide, including Democrats who supported the war, have largely abandoned those arguments, Bergmann said.

"I'm sort of surprised a party would still be pushing this line that's been so thoroughly discredited. It's like they're living on another planet."

Moyle defended the statement, saying Saddam "paid for suicide bombers and things of that nature. He used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. That shows he was capable of that. He was a terrorist, a dictator, someone who was a potential threat, and we believe we are better off having him not in power."

Asked whether the statement implied an association with al-Qaida, Moyle declined to comment. As for whether other cruel tyrants should be targeted by the U.S. military, Moyle said he wouldn't engage in speculation.

RIGHTS AND WRONGS

As a politician who opposes legal abortion but seeks the support of pro-choice constituencies, Harry Reid walks a fine line.

He attempted to explain the balancing act at a Democratic event last week, when an activist asked him about the issue of affordable birth control.

"It's very unusual for someone like me, because of my stand on abortion, but I have the support of all the feminist groups in Washington," Reid noted. The reason, he said, is that he found common cause with such groups in working to stop unwanted pregnancy.

Some Reid critics have questioned his pro-life bona fides, given his good marks from pro-choice groups. For example, in 2007 he got a 100 percent "Pro-Choice Score" from NARAL Pro-Choice America. Reid has said he hasn't had to vote directly on whether or not abortion should be legal, because the matter has been settled by the Supreme Court.

"It seems common sense to me that if we can lower the number of unwanted pregnancies, we can stop a lot of abortions," he said last week.

Reid explained that he was the author of a bill to mandate that health insurance companies cover birth control.

"After I came out with this legislation, I did a national radio program, and a woman from Texas called," Reid recalled. "She said, 'I don't believe in contraceptives.' I said, 'Nobody forces you to use them.'"

That's all well and good, but he didn't answer the question, the questioner, Annette Magnus of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, noted after Reid's appearance.

The group is urging its supporters to e-mail and call Reid's office to urge him to take up the birth control issue. Because of an apparently unintentional provision in a federal law that took effect last year, the average cost of a month's supply of birth control pills went from $10 to $50.

Planned Parenthood says that change most affects college students and low-income women.

There is a bipartisan bill in Congress to fix the provision at no cost to government or taxpayers; even opponents of abortion rights don't oppose it. But the bill is languishing because it hasn't been taken up as a priority, the group says.

Pressed on the question later, Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the senator is aware of the issue and is committed to solving it.

"We support a no-cost technical fix to get it done as soon as we can," he said.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.