U.S. Sen. Harry Reid might be retiring, but that isn’t stopping him from being provocative.
Reid, D-Nev., added another last week to a long list of head-turning comments he has made intentionally or otherwise over his long career.
In an interview on CNN, Reid said he had no regrets about the astonishing charge he leveled during the 2012 presidential campaign that Republican Mitt Romney “hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.”
The Democrat and then-Senate majority leader renewed the charge over several weeks, including at least twice on the floor of the Senate. He said the information came from an investor in Bain Capital, Romney’s private equity firm, but he offered no proof.
The accusation got a rise out of Romney personally. Following a speech in North Las Vegas, the candidate said Reid “really has to put up or shut up. Let me also say, categorically, I have paid taxes every year — and lots of taxes.”
Politifact rated Reid’s accusation without backup as “pants on fire.” The Washington Post fact-checker gave Reid “four Pinocchios,” its highest (or lowest) rating for misstatement.
But it did serve to put Romney on the defensive for a time, and the Republican did release more information on his taxes eventually.
Looking back, ”I don’t regret that at all,” Reid told CNN reporter Dana Bash.
“Some people have even called it McCarthyite,” Bash said.
“They can call it whatever they want,” Reid said. “Romney didn’t win, did he?”
The statement, accompanied by a Reid shrug, reopened Republican wounds. Reid critics erupted at what they blasted as corrosive politics. Democrats stayed mum.
At the White House on Wednesday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked what President Barack Obama thought. Earnest said he was not going to wade back into an episode now three years old.
“Obviously, Senator Reid is somebody who is going to decide for himself what he says on the Senate floor,” Earnest said. “There are a number of things that Senator Reid has said over the course of his career he has said pretty proudly were independent of the views of anybody else. They represented only his own.”
The replaying of the Romney episode came a few days after Reid announced he would retire at the end of his term in 2016 and as analysts began to ponder on his legacy.
Nevada political scientists predicted the accusation that a Republican candidate for president was a tax-dodger will be chalked up as a classic Reid maneuver but likely nothing more.
“In the long run, 20 years from now, it will be a footnote, it will be an example of Harry Reid played political hardball,” said Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Michael Green, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the episode likely will fade except as a mark of Reid’s sharp elbows in the heat of a political campaign.
“Context will play a role in how it will be remembered both when it happened and how it fits in with the rest of Reid’s career,” Green said.
Mark Peplowski, professor of political science at the College of Southern Nevada, said it was “plain and simple partisan wrangling. It was election wrangling.
“I don’t think Harry Reid’s legacy is going to come down to one comment about Mitt Romney,” Peplowski said.
Contact Review-Journal Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC