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Anyone flipping away from ABC’s “Monday Night Football” to check out Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) nearly nine hours of rambling on C-SPAN2 got a hysterical preview of tonight’s session that will feature an old-fashioned, all-night debate.

Reid left even fuming Republicans laughing a bit as he and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) traded goulash recipes and tricks on how to prevent rabbits from eating away at your garden.

The humor stemmed from the fact that Reid — trying to show Republicans that the minority is heading into tonight’s showdown over judicial nominations with a steel spine and big bladder — read six chapters of his book about his home

town, “Searchlight: The Camp That Didn’t Fail,” into the Congressional Record.

An amused Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) even phoned in to the Cloakroom at one point to say that he was tired of hearing so much about Searchlight and instead wanted to hear the Senator “say something nice about” the Congressman’s hometown of Sparks, Nev.

Reid, who spoke in his famously monotone voice filled with all kinds of non sequiturs, said his first remembrance of that town was when he was a little boy. “My hair was not as red as that of one of the pages,” he said. “She is not here tonight. But she has really red hair. People thought I had red hair, strawberry blond, or red. It has turned gray.”

Reid added: “A woman got off the bus. I didn’t know she had come from Sparks. Sparks is where the mental institution is. I was just standing there, this poor little kid. I must have been about 8 years old. She got off the bus and said, ‘You little SOB, you have been following me. I am tired of it.’” (The woman, who just got out of an asylum, had mixed Reid up with someone else, the confrontation haunting the kid for weeks.)

The Democratic Cloakroom also got a call from a woman in Frederick, Md., who wanted Reid to know she loved the book. “She called Barnes & Noble, who said it would take two weeks to get a copy,” he relayed. “She said it would be good if I would speak more slowly so she can hear and understand the book.”

Reid then regaled Roberts, who was in the presiding officer’s chair, with a story from the book about a woman who runs a greasy spoon that charges only 10 cents for a cup of coffee. There was a chef who made great fish but he died, and now there’s another dude who’s really cooking up a storm.

“Every day, you see the specials — things like stuffed pork chops, spareribs — he even had goulash one night,” said Reid. “This guy knows what he is doing.”

Roberts had to jump in from the presiding officer’s chair. “With your intimate knowledge of who is a chef and who is a cook and poor Bill who has died — obviously you don’t have any fish fries anymore, but I am interested in the goulash,” Roberts said.

The Kansan added, “Going back to chapter four of your book, I got a little confused as to how the city of Searchlight actually was named Searchlight. I got mixed up between Lloyd Searchlight and the kitchen matches.”

Reid responded, “Searchlight got its name because someone said, ‘I found gold,’ and someone said he would ‘need a searchlight to find it.’ I feel fairly certain that was it.”

As for the match theory, Roberts pressed, “Those were kitchen matches, not the modern?”

“Oh, yes, I say to my friend who remembers those little wooden matches,” Reid said. “They still have them now, but usually they are hard to find and usually they have the real long ones they use for lighting fireplaces. … I compliment the Senator from Kansas for being so attentive. You did pick up a lot. You were here for quite a few chapters.”

But Roberts begged the indulgence of just one more question: “Did you ever solve the problem with the rabbits with regard to the cactus they would eat or wouldn’t eat? And I was wondering if you thought about just basically desert rocks? They have some beautiful rocks out there and I doubt seriously if the rabbits would have eaten the rocks.”

“I am not going to say in front of everybody how much money I have spent on cactus,” Reid said. “My wife knows and is not very happy about it. I hope she is not watching because I just spent a few more dollars.”

“Rubber tires, perhaps?” Roberts asked.

“Oh, no, my home is much nicer than rubber tires,” he said. “In fact, we do have a magnificent rock … that is as big as, oh, probably, four of these Senate desks put together.

“I thought perhaps with your cousin, again, you could replace those cactus with rocks and I know the rabbits wouldn’t eat the rocks,” said Roberts. “But in any case I think the operative thought would be to simply ‘rock on.’”

“Mr. President, my friend from Kansas is absolutely right,” said Reid. “We probably should rock on.”

Meanwhile, Reid’s senior partner, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), had nothing but praise for Reid’s work Monday — except for the Nevada Senator’s reading selection.

“He blew it,” Daschle said Tuesday. “He had an opportunity to give me unprecedented attention.”

Daschle, of course, has spent the past week hawking his new book, “Like No Other Time,” his first-hand account of life in Congress during the historic 107th Congress.

Given the fact that Reid’s book was published in January 1998, Daschle said, “I’m going to raise that [oversight] with him.”

Dated Daschle, Married Kerry. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday hired Stephanie Cutter, who had been actively courted by Daschle for a top communications post in his leadership office, amid a second day of staff intrigue that roiled Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Cutter replaces Robert Gibbs, who resigned along with deputy finance director Carl Chidlow to protest Monday’s firing of Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan.

Cutter recently moved up to Boston at the request of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to serve as communications director for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Daschle’s communications director, Ranit Schmelzer, said Tuesday that the office had talked to Cutter about a role in the press shop “earlier in the year” at some point, though an agreement was not reached.

Schmelzer, who is giving birth to her second child in February, plans to return to Daschle’s office next summer in a scaled-back role as spokeswoman.

She said Daschle is trying to hire a person to handle the broader “message and events” for the Minority Leader. He is also searching for a policy director to replace Mark Patterson, who is leaving to lobby for the Goldman Sachs Group.

Cutter, meanwhile, said late Tuesday that it would be a seamless transition from the convention staff to Kerry’s office — whether she winds up in the D.C. or Boston office of the presidential campaign.

“Before we have a convention we need a nominee, and that nominee is going to be John Kerry,” she said.

Let Them Eat Ketchup. Just what was Kerry having for supper during that infamous Sunday night conference call in which he informed his staff that he was canning his campaign chief?

The shocking details have all the makings of the kind of damning anecdote that can crystallize public perception, in this case the rap that Kerry is too aloof to be president. (Think back to Richard Nixon wearing his dress shoes to the beach or Michael Dukakis posing for that ridiculous tank photo.)

So what was Kerry chewing on? Crow was a common response, though there were plenty of others.

“Either foie gras with Heinz ketchup or Howard Dean’s dust,” cracked one GOP strategist.

“I can’t say what it was, but I can say it wasn’t humble pie,” added one Democratic strategist.

Another Democrat thinking back on Kerry’s swiss cheese mishap in Philadelphia cracked, “I would guess it was not a cheesesteak.”

Yet another Democratic quipped that Kerry was eating “Jordan’s lunch.”

Based on the wave of negative stories for Kerry, however, it appears that Jordan is the one who is getting to see the Senator carved up by the national press.

People-Powered Pub. Here’s a surprise: “Outsider” presidential candidate Howard Dean is planning to spend his 55th birthday right here inside the Beltway next Monday night.

The former Vermont governor, who has established himself as the clear frontrunner in the Democratic sweepstakes, will be swinging by the downtown D.C. location of the Capitol City Brewing Co. for a fundraiser at 9 p.m.

Dean’s staff is circulating an e-vite with an image of Uncle Sam in a birthday hat declaring: “I WANT YOU to be on the Host Committee for Howard Dean’s Late Night Birthday Bash!”

In honor of Dean’s age, basic tickets to the event cost $55 each; being a patron will run you $550; and serving on the host committee demands $1,055.

Can You Re-phrase That? A mostly flattering Los Angeles Times profile of Kennedy’s role in the Medicare debate had this nugget:

“Kennedy is ‘the elephant in the room,’ said a Democratic Congressional aide familiar with the four-month long negotiations,” said the front-page story.

And this is what his friends say about him?

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