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Reflections on covering Harry Reid

The former Nevada senator died Tuesday at age 82

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with CQ Roll Call about Nevada politics, the presidential race and baseball in his office at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in 2019.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with CQ Roll Call about Nevada politics, the presidential race and baseball in his office at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When you were getting close to the end of a scheduled interview with the late Sen. Harry Reid, it was always a good time to bring up baseball.

That was true even in the height of the political campaign season, like when CQ Roll Call Photo Editor Bill Clark and I met up with the longtime Senate Democratic leader in Nevada as he was campaigning for the Democratic ticket in 2016.

It seemed Reid loved the sport almost as much as politics. He actually grew up a fan of the team now known as the Cleveland Guardians. 

“Going back to 1949 and ’50, I’ve always been a fan of the Cleveland Indians,” the Nevada Democrat said in a 2016 interview. “My favorite team of all time, and I can give you the lineup for the world champion Cleveland Indians.”

The senator then proceeded to, well, do just that: He recited from memory much of the pitching rotation and starting lineup for that 1948 team, which had a pitching staff that included a trio of future Hall of Famers: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige.

Baseball would be a recurring topic of conversation with Reid, including in our last sit-down interview with him, which came at his office off the casino floor at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Reid, who died Tuesday at age 82, was always a particular fan of Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP and a Las Vegas native who was drafted by and reached the big leagues with the Washington Nationals.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, a native of Nevada, at Nationals Park in Washington before a game against Philadelphia on May 4, 2012. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Reid once went so far as to accuse a reporter (former CQ Roll Call reporter and editor Steven T. Dennis, who now covers the Senate for Bloomberg News) of asking a “clown question, bro” — just as Harper had done with a Toronto reporter in 2012. (The reporter had asked the 19-year-old Harper if he would be availing himself of a beer after a Blue Jays-Nationals game in Canada, where the drinking age is 19. Harper, like Reid was, is Mormon, a religion that forbids alcoholic beverages.)

That was one of many such exchanges between the congressional press and the former majority leader over the years. Reid rather famously once called me a “bully” for getting to him for so many questions during the Tuesday media stakeouts in the Capitol’s Ohio Clock Corridor, just off the Senate floor.

I got my first job at what is now CQ Roll Call in 2007, the year Reid first became majority leader, and covered him regularly from 2009 until his retirement.

The exchanges became common enough that our former video producer JM Rieger once compiled a highlight reel.

The senator was the kind of character for whom being able to take a punch and throw one back was a sign of respect.

Reid even once called me unexpectedly as I was wandering back to the Capitol from the Cups coffee shop in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building after rhetorical fisticuffs, I guess to make sure he hadn’t gone too far.

I assured him I could take it, we had a nice conversation and then the call ended, as it often would, when Reid hung up the phone.

But Reid would always take questions from the press — and maybe even answer them more directly than his communications staff or the Obama White House would like. In that way, more political leaders should be more like the senator from Searchlight.

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