Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) sharply criticized President Bush in a short but blistering floor speech Monday for allowing the Republican National Committee to “send out a hit piece” attacking him, hours before the Nevadan and Bush broke bread at an intimate White House dinner.
The RNC sent a 13-page document to 1 million donors and grass-roots activists Monday, accusing the Minority Leader of working to thwart Bush and the Republican majority from legislating by blocking votes on issues ranging from judicial nominees to the creation of the Homeland Security Department.
“The Republican National Committee is [Bush’s] committee,” Reid said moments after the Senate was called into session Monday afternoon. “He picks the chairman. He picks everybody there. He raises the money for it. It is the president’s organization.
“He can’t say one thing to the American people and then to the Democratic leader of the United States Senate send out scurrilous letters saying that I’m a bad guy,” he added.
Reid said the RNC attacks contradict Bush’s insistence that he wants to reach out to Democrats.
Since January, Republicans have begun to dedicate their political resources to attacking Reid — the new Democratic leader — in an attempt to paint him as an obstructionist. Republicans believe this tactic helped to discredit former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) with South Dakota voters and led to his defeat in November.
During his speech, Reid called on Bush to “repudiate” the document and direct the RNC to stop its distribution. But the Minority Leader’s appeal fell on deaf ears. Republicans refused to back down Monday in the aftermath of Reid’s excoriation.
RNC Communications Director Brian Jones confirmed that the research document on Reid went out as planned and that the attacks by Reid would not slow the GOP effort.
“Harry Reid’s record speaks for itself,” said Jones. “It is a record of obstructionism and being out of touch on some of the most important issues facing the American people.”
A senior Republican Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reid should not be surprised by the Republican criticism.
“Did you not think we were going to do this?” the aide said sarcastically. “Especially given that everything being done by the Democrats since the election is to turn up the partisan rhetoric starting with setting up a war room and calling the president a liar?”
Despite his pointed remarks to Bush, Reid and his wife joined three other Senators and their spouses at the White House on Monday for dinner with the president. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said the Minority Leader had no plans to confront Bush directly about the document.
“He said what he wanted to say on the Senate floor,” Manley said.
Before the Senate shuttered its doors Monday night, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) defended Reid, calling him a “moderate” and urging Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to tell the RNC to “suspend this personal attack on Harry Reid.”
But Republicans pledged to continue their criticism of the Nevadan. Previewing a future line of attack, Jones pointed out that Reid established a “taxpayer-funded war room … [to] counter the Republicans’ message.”
“To not acknowledge that he set up an operation that was inherently obstructionist is to deny the facts at hand,” said Jones.
At the time of its formation, Reid said the war room would “ensure that all Americans … know the values and principles for which Democrats stand.”
Manley said Democrats are puzzled about why Republicans would attack Reid now, given that the Nevadan has agreed to allow for a vote on class-action reform.
“The irony is he is helping shepherd through class action under criticism from some of the [Democratic] party’s allies a piece of legislation being advocated for by the Republicans,” said Manley, who noted that Reid personally does not support the bill.
Reid’s decision to take to the Senate floor to denounce the Republican tactics is a sign of the aggressiveness that he plans to bring to the job, his allies said. It also reveals that Reid has learned from the example of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race, they added.
Kerry has acknowledged that he was too slow in responding to attacks by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, a third-party group that questioned his credentials as a Vietnam war hero.
Ultimately, the claims made by the organization dominated media coverage for weeks, damaging Kerry’s credentials as a decorated war veteran — and as a credible messenger on the Iraq conflict.
Reid directly addressed the question of character in his floor address Monday.
“I think what politics is all about, what government’s all about, is honesty, integrity,” he said. “If that’s the watchword of this president, he will repudiate what his Republican National Committee is doing.”
Reid charged that Bush continues to preach a message of bipartisanship to the American people, but never follows through on his pledge to work cooperatively with Democrats.
“I don’t think the president of the United States can say one thing and then do something else and get away with it,” Reid said. “Is this how he wants to be a uniter?”