WASHINGTON >> Harry Reid knows off the top of his head that 351 is the DirecTV channel for C-Span coverage of the Senate at his home in Nevada. But he says he rarely turns to it.
“I never look,” said Reid, who then grudgingly offered, “OK, maybe every couple of months.”
But Reid, who couldn’t get enough of the Senate floor during nearly two decades in the Democratic leadership, doesn’t need to follow the Senate obsessively to be certain that he doesn’t like what’s going on in Washington these days.
“I just shake my head is all I can do,” said Reid, who has been spending most of his time in Las Vegas. “I feel sad,” he said, grappling to describe his sentiments, particularly about what he sees as a Republican refusal to directly challenge President Donald Trump on an array of troubling subjects.
“I can’t fathom the Republicans doing what they do — nothing, nothing, it doesn’t matter what he does,” he said, referring to Trump. “Why would they be afraid of him? It should be just the opposite. I don’t expect them to be nitpicking him on every little thing he does wrong. But shouldn’t somebody be saying something about something?”
Reid emphasizes that he is not angry or bitter. But he says he feels so disconnected from Washington that he is selling his apartment in the Ritz-Carlton here and plans to be in the nation’s capital only infrequently.
“I don’t want to be here,” Reid said. “My life’s not the Senate anymore.”
To some, that is no doubt good news. Reid was a tough adversary, an acerbic foe always ready to slug it out with Republicans, and he left behind many detractors when he retired at the end of 2016.
Now, like previous Washington figures who either exited voluntarily, as he did, or were unceremoniously shown the door, Reid is discovering that once you are out, you are really out. Of course, there is always sticking around to lobby — “I would rather be taken to Singapore and caned” is his quip on that line of work. But absent a job that requires a major presence here, those who have been at the political top are often surprised to find the Capitol — and the capital — don’t hold the same allure once they step down.
Plus, he said, there is no one to hang out with.
“Nobody lives here anymore,” said Reid, who served as both the majority and minority leader. “When I came here, people lived here, they had their families, but not anymore. It wasn’t that way before. We made friends not only of the members, but of their families, their children. It is so changed.”
To get a last bit of that old-home feel, Reid organized a luncheon Thursday for about a dozen of his fellow former colleagues, at the MGM National Harbor casino resort outside the capital. It was a who’s who of former Senate Democrats, including Tom Daschle, Christopher J. Dodd, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Robert Torricelli, Ben Nelson, Joseph I. Lieberman, Paul Sarbanes, Ken Salazar, Max Baucus, Mark Pryor and Russ Feingold.
Long an advocate for his state’s gaming and tourism industry, Reid is a consultant to MGM. The company also supports a public policy institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, that Reid oversees with John A. Boehner, a Republican and the former House speaker with whom Reid both cooperated and clashed during their time together in Congress. Reid is also a fellow at the university’s law school. He says those roles have proved more gratifying than anticipated.
“When I left here, I said I was going to live in the future, not the past,” Reid said. “But I didn’t believe it.” As it turns out, he said: “I love my job. I am so satisfied with what I am doing.”
In his final years in the Senate, Reid had to cope with the consequences of a terrible accident at the start of 2015, when exercising with a resistance band in his home. He suffered multiple serious injuries and lost sight in his right eye. As he tried to recover and simultaneously run the Senate for two challenging years, Reid at times struggled physically. But his time away from Washington has reaped benefits and he appears much more fit and steady on his feet.
“I’m doing fine, better than I was, for sure,” he acknowledged.
Even before Trump won the election, he and Reid had traded caustic barbs, like when Trump dismissed the then Senate leader with the crack that “he should go back and start working out again with his rubber workout pieces.” It was not the sort of comment Reid was likely to let pass.
“I may not be able to see out of my right eye, but with my good eye, I can see that Trump is a man who inherited his money and spent his entire life pretending like he earned it,” Reid said, among other digs.
But this week, he reserved some of the strongest criticism for his former Republican colleagues led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He noted that they remain largely mum as the president’s conduct is under wide-ranging scrutiny, including his possible relationship with a pornographic film actress, the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the surrounding turmoil in the administration. Reid also noted that Trump has undermined federal law enforcement officials and disrespected “wonderful, wonderful people who serve in the bowels in the State Department.”
“Pick any one thing you want,” Reid said about the president. “No one says anything. They have become acolytes for Trump. Can you imagine if Obama had done any of this stuff?” Reid asked, asserting that the former president’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate would never have remained quiet.
Reid said Senate Republicans had forgotten the view of one of the institution’s staunchest protectors — Robert C. Byrd, who used to remind his colleagues, “I don’t serve under the president, I serve with the president.”
“Think of how Senator Byrd would look at this,” Reid said. “I can’t understand it. I guess the Senate is not what it used to be.”