Shortly after President Bush said he would nominate conservative Judge Samuel Alito for a seat on the Supreme Court, Senate minority leader Harry Reid spoke to reporters at a Monitor-sponsored lunch about the nomination.
The Senate's top Democrat is a soft-spoken man with graying hair and a dry but ready wit. During the meeting with reporters, Reid was caustic about the president's motives in nominating Alito, sarcastic about the level of White House consultation regarding the latest nomination, clear in his message that Democrats would take their time weighing Alito's nomination, and scathing about the general state of the Bush presidency.
Reid is a man of some contradictions. At first glance, he appears too retiring to be a natural politician. But Reid won his first election at the age of 28 when he was elected to the Nevada State Assembly. Two years later, he became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history. Reid was elected to the first of two terms in the US House of Representatives in 1982 and was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He has been minority leader since last November.
A lawyer by training, Reid was a skilled welterweight boxer as a young man. Thus the famous Reid quote: "I would always rather dance than fight but I know how to fight." Part of Reid's successful political dance has been the ability to climb the leadership ladder as a Democrat who opposes abortion rights, gun control, and gay marriage.
Reid told reporters that the White House nominated Judge Alito because "word is that they could not find a woman conservative enough to meet the demands of this radical right wing that this White House is so in tune with." As to the timing of the nomination, Reid said, the president "did it today to divert attention from the Karl Rove, Libby, DeLay scandals."
Reid's tongue was firmly in cheek when describing consultation with the White House about the Alito nomination.
"I really am impressed with the consultation of this nomination. Let me tell you what it consisted of. I was at the Rosa Parks event last night, which was a solemn occasion and very nice. [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card walked up to me and said I am going to call you at 6:30 in the morning. I said, "That is too bad," because I knew by then they had already picked someone.... He didn't call me at 6:30 [but at] about quarter to 7. The conversation lasted maybe 10 seconds. He said, "You have already heard?" I said, yup, and that was it. That is the consultation. With [Judge John] Roberts we had consultation, with [White House Counsel Harriet] Miers we had consultation, with Alito zero, nothing."
Reid continued, "I guess the president didn't have time with his busy schedule to meet with us and allow us to fulfill our constitutional obligation of giving advice. So now we are at the second phase of this, consent, and we are going to be very deliberative. We will see if during the 15 years that he has been a judge, that it is as bad as some of the writers say."
The confirmation process for Alito is likely to extend into 2006, Reid indicated. "I think it would be very, very difficult to finish this by the end of this year, whether it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, either one," Reid said. "He has been writing decisions for 15 years... I think it is a lot of reading to do, a lot of work to do, a lot of investigation to do.... I don't see anything happening very soon."
If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court. The Associated Press quoted his mother, Rose, as saying, "Of course he's against abortion."
On the abortion issue, Reid said, "People who feel strongly about the issue should have the opportunity to find out how Alito stands on the issue, and I am sure that will be part of the direction of the hearings. But I would say, I hope important as that issue is, that people will focus on other things. I am concerned about civil rights. I am concerned about human rights..."
Senate Democrats should be free to vote their conscience on the Alito nomination, Reid said. "These Supreme Court nominations are not subject to a political party's whip count. I think people should be able to vote their conscience.... I don't envision telling [Senate Democratic whip Richard] Durbin to go twist arms on this. I just don't think it is appropriate. And I feel twisting arms is appropriate on nearly everything."
Reid was scathing in his assessment of the Bush presidency. "In my opinion, I think he has done a terrible job as president," Reid said. "I think he is going to be known for being, perhaps, the Millard Fillmore of the last 100 years. I think he has a big hole to climb out of."
The minority leader said President Bush faces a choice of "whether he is just going to hunker down there and think that all those morning chats with Karl Rove will take care of things, or whether he is going to do what Ronald Reagan did and come clean with the American public."
Over the weekend, Reid called for President Bush and Vice President Cheney to apologize for alleged involvement of their aides in the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Reid argues that the American people will remember the indictment of vice presidential aide Lewis Libby when the 2006 election rolls around. "The American people are not going to forget about this. They are not going to forget about the high cost of energy. They are not going to forget about Tom DeLay," he said.