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Harry Reid Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If Republicans and potential Democratic rivals want Harry Reid’s majority leader title, they’re going to have to knock him out of the ring, because the former boxer has no intent to relinquish his position anytime soon.

“I don’t want to do it more than eight more years,” the Nevada Democrat said in a Wednesday interview with CQ Roll Call. He even indicated that other Democrats would only get their chance to lead the caucus if they pried the title from his cold, dead hands.

Asked if Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray’s recent stints as Reid’s negotiator-in-chief and political guru put the Washingtonian in a position to become leader, Reid quipped, “If I drop dead? I don’t know.”

He added, “I mean, I will someday. It’s just a question of if I do it while I’m here.”

Reid is up for re-election in 2016, and he reiterated Wednesday that he intends to run. If he and his Democrats are able to hold onto power for the next eight years, Reid would be the leader for 16 years, matching the record set by the legendary Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield.

But Reid dismissed the idea that he is looking to the Mansfield record as a marker. Reid celebrated his 74th birthday earlier this month, meaning he would be into his 80s by the time his next term would end at the beginning of 2023.

But the Nevada Democrat, who has seen his fair share of tough election battles back home, seems to have plenty of fight left in him — for the political, policy and procedural dust-ups that are sure to come.

For example, Reid said he is prepared to take actions that might further erode the minority’s ability to filibuster. He would not rule out using the “nuclear option” again to change Senate rules and precedents. Just last month, Reid used the controversial procedural tactic to eliminate filibusters on most nominations.

However, he cautioned that he is not threatening to make any new changes in the immediate future.

“I hope we don’t, and I hope it’s not necessary,” Reid said, noting the increase in the number of filibusters over the past several decades. “I’m not precluding anything. It’s just according to how we get along here.”

He added, “I have no intention of changing the rules tomorrow or the next day or, you know, [in] the foreseeable future, but this is a two-way street. I think that we should start legislating and not [waste] all of our time on nominations. That’s all I’ve been wasting my time on for years here is nominations.”

But he did say that he is not willing to reverse the November filibuster rule changes, despite a robust procedural protest from the GOP side over his move to limit debate on nominees with a simple majority vote.

“I mean, having us vote to go in-and-out from executive to legislative session? To hold up just simple nominations for 30 hours?” Reid said of the tactical maneuvering that led to two all-night sessions in the Senate last week, with another such session possible Thursday into Friday.

“I just can’t understand how they think it passes the smell test and have us wait as we have for everybody. That isn’t the way we used to do things around here, and we can talk about who started it. It really doesn’t matter,” Reid said.

The interview came soon after the top two Republicans in the Senate again decried Reid’s use of the procedural tactic known as filling the amendment tree, which this week precluded senators from offering any amendments to either the budget deal passed Wednesday or the defense authorization that’s on track to pass by late Thursday evening.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas offered separate rebukes about the amendment process. While Cornyn complained about not being able to offer an amendment related to the shooting at Fort Hood, McConnell warned of what’s to come in the future.

“I’d remind my colleagues on the other side that one day they’ll find themselves in the minority again. And they should think long and hard about what they’re doing to this institution. Because the Senate is bigger than any one party or presidential administration,” McConnell said.

Reid offered an alternate explanation: He’s burning too much floor time on nominations to allow a more traditional, robust amendment process.

“They complain about no amendments? We can’t have amendments,” Reid said. “We don’t have people running these agencies.”

Reid also is in no mood to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling deadline looming in February or March. McConnell said Tuesday that he “can’t imagine” that Republicans would agree to a clean debt limit increase, but Reid flatly rejected any more concessions on budget issues.

“You know what I say to them? If they feel like that, let them default on the debt, because this is not a negotiation. That’s the least we can do is pay our bills,” Reid said.

Reid also indicated that concessions on the debt ceiling could undermine the budget deal passed by the Senate Wednesday evening.

“I think that this is such a strong statement that the Congress has made that we can work together and why, why botch it up now with a[n] … illogical, tea-party-driven mentality now on let’s default on the debt?”

As for the immediate prospects of holding the majority in next year’s elections, Reid maintained his optimism Wednesday. He reiterated his insistence that the negative narrative the White House has been fighting over the Obamacare rollout and other issues is changing.

“We’re always very honed-in on the races. We feel pretty good about how things are going,” Reid said.