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NAM, Reid Tussle

Engler: Reid Fails ‘Our Judges’

An exchange between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler during a closed-door meeting with the association’s leadership has prompted Democratic complaints that many of K Street’s top lobbying shops have done a poor job of keeping up with the changing political face of Congress.

Reid’s office declined to comment on last week’s meeting. Reid had sidestepped a meeting with just Engler and suggested in a letter that Engler had hijacked the manufacturers’ agenda for a political one.

A senior Democratic leadership aide familiar with the talks said that during the meeting, Reid noted Engler’s and NAM’s involvement in the 2005 “nuclear option” fight over Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Reid said many his colleagues were upset with their participation in an issue far from the manufacturers’ concerns. According to this source, Engler shot back that Reid had not done an adequate job of confirming many of “our judges.”

The exchange left some of those present uncomfortable, the aide said, suggesting that the influential lobbying group was out of touch.

“They still don’t get it. After a year and a half, they still don’t get the fact that Democrats control the House and Senate. In the end, all they’re doing is hurting their own members,” the aide said.

A NAM official declined to comment on the substance of the meeting but said the association was grateful for Reid’s decision to spend time discussing their agenda. “The meeting was private, and the leader was very generous with his time,” the official said, adding that NAM’s board and Reid “discussed ways in which we could work together on ways to move the manufacturing agenda forward.”

In the past, Engler has said that his role — and the role of NAM — in the nuclear option fight has been blown out of proportion.

The meeting came in response to a request from Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan, for a meeting with Reid to discuss the association’s priorities. Although Engler had originally requested a one-on-one meeting, in an April 22 letter to Engler, Reid suggested a broader discussion with the group’s board, particularly NAM’s Domestic Manufacturers Group, noting that “I am very interested in meeting with senior officials from manufacturing companies to discuss the concerns of U.S. Manufacturers. I want to be sure the issues we discuss and ideas we exchange actually reflect the views of the manufacturing sector, however, and not personal views or views of only a segment of manufacturers.”

According to sources close to Reid, it was his concern that Engler has used NAM as a forum to push his own positions or those of Republican business leaders that prompted Reid’s decision to resurrect his complaints about the nuclear option.

High-profile Republicans still head many large associations despite Democratic gains. Although it had been predicted that lobbying shops across the city would quickly move to bring in top Democrats, many have not.

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