Juan Williams: What Reid got right

Juan Williams: What Reid got right
© Greg Nash

Let Republicans now praise Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.).

Since there is silence, let me help.

Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval MORE (R- Ky.), the new Senate Majority Leader, famously promised that once he won control of the Senate, the good old days would return — not just for his party, but for the institution. 


Republicans campaigned last fall voicing a constant refrain that voters should free them from Reid’s control of the Senate. McConnell promised that Republicans would prove they could govern once Reid’s hold had been broken.

As the cynics say, “How did that work out for you?”

Reid is now in the minority. He has announced he will not run again. But the GOP’s inability to get anything done in the Senate for three months and counting is leading to new appreciation for the much-maligned Reid. 

Compare Reid’s record to the GOP’s ongoing failure to pass legislation to stop sex trafficking, to approve highway trust-fund spending or to confirm an attorney general.

McConnell’s failure to produce winning ideas and legislation even with a GOP Senate majority recently led him to make an apology. He told the New York Times that the promised rebirth of the Senate has not happened because he had underestimated the damage done in recent years.

“The corrosion of the Senate took place over many years,” McConnell said in an e-mail to Jennifer Steinhauer of the Times. “So restoring the institution to allow members of both parties and their constituents to have a voice in the legislative process will take longer than three months. But we’re making progress.”

And who is responsible for that “corrosion”?

McConnell’s “progress” is slowed by the same political divisions among Republicans that gummed up the works when Democrats had the majority.  

Maybe Republicans will now acknowledge that Reid was never the problem. The real issue all along has been the GOP’s antipathy to the president. 

The mission statement of contemporary Republican Senate politics was issued by McConnell himself in 2010. "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he proclaimed.

In response, Reid limited votes on amendments to rein in the political circus and focus attention on legislation that could win passage.

"All I want to do is legislate," a frustrated Reid told me and a small group of columnists last summer. He complained that Senate Republicans had become captive to the threat of a primary challenge from far-right candidates who ran on the promise to be even more obstructionist and anti-Obama than any Republican incumbent.

In response to GOP tactics, Reid made strategic use of reconciliation in 2010 to avoid a Republican filibuster threat and enable passage of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), which is celebrating its fifth anniversary. He also stopped endless attempts by Republicans to use floor time for political grandstanding as well as endless votes on repealing healthcare reform.

Republicans don't like to hear it but Reid’s disciplined approach was also critical to keeping the American economic system from falling into a depression when he worked alongside President Bush in the fall of 2008. 

Reid went on to battle the GOP to pass the $800 billion stimulus package that helped revive the economy after the financial crisis. He also backed Dodd-Frank reform for Wall Street and an overhaul of the federal student loan programs.

Without Reid, there would be no new Senate rule allowing a simple majority to confirm most nominees for the courts and executive branch. Reid pushed that button, the so-called "nuclear option," after concluding, as he told me last summer, that "the Senate is not like it used to be."

He meant that, in the last few years, the nation has seen the end of the famous deliberative, collegial body that existed when legendary Senate majority leaders from Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas) to Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) focused on getting important work done by building coalitions across party lines. 

With Reid guiding the Senate, Supreme Court Justices Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSotomayor breaks shoulder, but won't miss work Sotomayor: Judges haven't become politicized, but society has Sotomayor calls for 'diversity' in Supreme Court, in several ways MORE and Elena KaganElena KaganTrump administration asks Supreme Court for permission to enforce asylum ban Michigan v. EPA and the future of Chevron deference Public health is more important than cost of compliance MORE gained confirmation despite the current partisan environment. The presence of those two abortion rights supporters on the court is the result of Reid's work.

Also, since Republicans gained the Senate majority in January, it has been Reid who has successfully held his minority caucus together to protect the president's executive actions on immigration reform.

"Never in the history of the country have we produced more for a president," Reid said during an appearance on a Nevada radio talk show after announcing that he would not seek reelection.  

"We've had a great run," said President Obama, who called in to join the same radio interview with Reid. Obama credits the Nevadan with being among the first people to advise him to run for president.

In an era of blatant GOP obstruction of any Obama-related legislation, nomination or regulation, it was Reid who redefined Senate rules to make sure Congress got something done.

That made him a target for the GOP. But to Democrats, Reid's work is synonymous with all the Senate accomplished during the Obama years. 

The Senate’s new Republican majority is coming face-to-face with the dysfunction they introduced. And they don’t have Reid to blame for it.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.