Democrats in the ring

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info MORE (D-Nev.) was speaking barely above a whisper. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) could hardly be heard. Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Senate Democrats introduce legislation to limit foreign interference in elections MORE (D-R.I.) was not much better at yesterday’s newsmaker breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was speaking barely above a whisper. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) could hardly be heard. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) was not much better at yesterday’s newsmaker breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

And all three men were momentarily silent when Monitor Washington Bureau Chief David Cook asked what was the newest, most surprising element in the package of proposals they came to tout, the Democratic national-security agenda rolled out yesterday.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) jumped into the void as more than 50 reporters waited for some reply.

“You notice I have the mother-of-five voice,” she said, her perfect pitch cutting through the echo in the room.


“As my colleagues also chime in here, what is really important about what we are doing is we are all on the same page on this,” Pelosi said.

The Democratic congressional leaders booked the breakfast on this big day for them and added Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and Reed, on the Senate armed-services panel.

Indeed, as I looked down the table at the four Democrats, I thought about the different styles of the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders. I could hardly imagine that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) would agree to sit together for one hour at a joint briefing before a reporting crowd.

Reid and Pelosi make joint appearances all the time, but not Frist and Hastert. They have different strategies, different internal legislative constituencies and different personal political agendas, what with Frist mulling a 2008 presidential bid.

Reid, it turns out, is a former boxing judge. And he launched into a story about a big fight that taught him a political lesson.


“I could remember I had the opportunity to judge a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson. He fought a man by the name of Fred Hernandez, and he lost,” Reid said, referring to a July 12, 1965, match in Las Vegas.

“The great Sugar Ray Robinson lost a fight. I judged that fight. My card was clearly against Sugar Ray Robinson, as was the other two judges’.

“The reason I mention that is that Sugar Ray should have given up. The same thing didn’t work. He was too old. He was over the hill.” (Robinson, born in 1920, died in 1989.)

Continued Reid, “And the most surprising thing I have found the last month or so as we developed our real security program, like Sugar Ray Robinson [Republicans say] the same thing over and over again. They want this whole world to be seen through the eyes of George Bush and his great stand on security. People don’t accept that anymore.”

Reid later offered that “Democrats are just as patriotic as Republicans.”

I asked him how Democrats allowed themselves to get in a box where he was on the defensive over patriotism. This time Reid’s voice was strong.

Democrats were put in the box by Karl Rove, Reid said, “taking out” after Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry urges China and India to step up on climate change in WaPo op-ed Sunday shows - Trump's Ukraine call, Iran dominate Kerry: 'One way or the other' Iran was responsible for Saudi attack MORE (D-Mass.) over his war record. And after former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost his limbs in Vietnam.

Said Reid, “We’re not just going to sit back and talk about healthcare only.”

Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: