A routine meeting of liberal Democrats grew heated on Wednesday when Rep. Alan GraysonAlan Mark GraysonFlorida Rep. Val Demings officially enters Senate race against Rubio Demings raises Democrats' hopes in uphill fight to defeat Rubio Demings planning to run for Senate instead of Florida governor MORE (D-Fla.) confronted Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) over the ethics charges dogging Grayson as he vies for the Senate.
Reid was a guest at the weekly gathering of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) when Grayson went on the attack, denouncing Reid’s previous calls for the Florida Democrat to resign over allegations that he violated House rules by running hedge funds through his congressional office.
“Shame on you. It’s not true,” Grayson said, according to sources in the room.
“It is true, and I want you to lose,” Reid fired back.
Grayson’s confrontational approach was derided by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the leader of the CPC.
“Why are you doing that?” Ellison asked, according to sources in the room. “This is so stupid.”
Another source said other CPC members shared Ellison’s sentiments.
“All the members were appalled” by Grayson’s behavior, the source said. “It was embarrassing for him and embarrassing for us that he behaved that way.”
Grayson, a liberal firebrand, is embroiled in a primary battle against Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) for the swing seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMilley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R-Fla.), who had vied for the White House before bowing out of the race in March. Reid has endorsed Murphy in the contest.
Reid’s office issued a statement after the meeting confirming the confrontation, saying the Democratic leader “was honored” to address the CPC but that Grayson “decided to be disruptive, to the embarrassment of his fellow colleagues.”
“Senator Reid took the opportunity to express his low opinion of Congressman Grayson to his face and
remind him that the reason Senator Reid has said that Grayson is under ethics investigation and appears to be running a Cayman Islands hedge fund from his Congressional office in order to line his own pockets is because these things are true, as established by seventy-four pages worth of evidence from the Congressional Ethics Committee,” the statement said.
Grayson — who has dismissed the ethics complaint as “frivolous” and “politically motivated” — defended his conduct at the meeting, saying his motive was “very simple.”
“I wanted to find out why Harry Reid lied about me a couple of months ago, when he smeared me. ... I wanted to try to get to the bottom of it,” Grayson told reporters. “What he said was profoundly untrue, and even allowing for the fact that I am the anti-establishment candidate in this race, it was a very low blow.”
Grayson said he repeatedly pressed Reid to produce evidence that the ethics complaint has merit, but Reid couldn’t do it.
“When you say something bad about somebody you ought to have some basis for saying it. And he had nothing,” Grayson said. “I asked him easily, easily three or four times — maybe more — ‘What’s the basis for saying that? What’s your evidence?’ And all he could come up with is, ‘I want you to lose.’ And that is deeply disturbing. I mean, he’s a smear-monger.”
Grayson also questioned Reid’s timeline, noting that the minority leader urged him to resign months before the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) report became public.
“So that would be rewriting history to say that the OCE report had anything to do with the statement he put out,” Grayson said. He accused Reid of drumming up charges to sink his campaign on behalf of establishment Democrats, who have largely rallied around Murphy.
“The establishment wants somebody who is a callow tool, OK? They want somebody who they can boss around, somebody who they can order around,” Grayson said. “As far as I can tell, the only criteria that the Democratic establishment has among Senate candidates this year is obedience, OK? And in that regard, perhaps I fall short.”
Still, critics of Grayson’s confrontational approach said Wednesday’s meeting was the wrong place to air his grievances against the minority leader.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus with Ellison, missed the testy meeting because he was traveling back from a trip to Puerto Rico. But the Arizona liberal said that, based on the accounts he heard, Grayson was out of line.
“I think it’s embarrassing for the caucus as a whole,” Grijalva said. “The leader’s there at our behest and working with us on legislative issues and budget issues. And for us to forgo that opportunity so that one member can bring his deal with Reid is inappropriate. You handle that different ways. You handle it one-on-one, you handle it through [the media]. You don’t bring that to that meeting.”
Grijalva also said Grayson is “not a regular attendee” at CPC meetings, and when asked if he thought Grayson appeared Wednesday for the sole purpose of confronting Reid, he didn’t hesitate.
“Of course,” Grijalva said.
Florida’s Senate primary is slated for Aug. 30.
—This story was updated at 7:37 p.m.