WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada landed back in hot water Wednesday after Republicans seized on a sharp comment he made at a news conference, arguing that he does not care about children with cancer.
Reid pointed out the remark was taken out of context by GOP partisans in the wake of the federal government shutdown, and the idea he is callous about sick children was outrageous on its face. The attack also was discredited by media watchdogs.
For a while, it circulated widely on social media, propelled by conservatives who sought a talking point in the escalating public relations war surrounding the shutdown.
At the news conference, Reid, the Senate majority leader, and other top Democrats were complaining about the latest tactic by House Republicans to pass bills that would reopen selected parts of the government, including the National Institutes of Health.
Democrats condemned what they called GOP “cherry picking” and argued the entire government should be reopened rather than forcing a choice among agencies.
“But if you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?” CNN reporter Dana Bash asked.
“Why put one against the other?” responded Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
“Why would we want to do that?” Reid said in a second to Schumer’s comment. “I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own.”
Republicans and conservatives took to email and Twitter to blast Reid, saying Democrats were “heartless” and “out of touch.” Some omitted Schumer’s comment, making it look like Reid was responding directly to Bash in a way that made it sound more callous.
Media critic Dylan Byers of Politico called the attacks a “misrepresentation” of what Reid said.
Reid, who has pushed Congress to increase funding for medical research, addressed the controversy in a radio interview later in the day. When it comes to kids, “of course I care,” he said. “I have 16 grandkids and five children.”