After Calls for His Ouster, Reid Adds New Leaders to Mend Fences

Jon Tester, Elizabeth Warren gain seats at more balanced leadership table.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: (L-R) U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) listen to questions from members of the media after a Democratic Senate leadership election at the U.S. Capitol November 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sen. Reid was re-elected as the leader in the election. He also included Sen. Warren, Sen. Tester and Sen. Klobuchar in the new leadership team with new positions. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Nov. 13, 2014, 2:46 p.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats gathered Thursday morn­ing for what was ex­pec­ted to be a quick meet­ing to reelect their lead­er­ship. What soon-to-be-Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id got in­stead was an ear­ful.

Fol­low­ing dif­fi­cult losses in the 2014 midterms that ex­ceeded even the most pess­im­ist­ic Demo­crat­ic pre­dic­tions, sev­er­al mem­bers of the Demo­crat­ic caucus on Thursday called for Re­id to step aside. What was sup­posed to be an un­con­tested lead­er­ship elec­tion-by-af­firm­a­tion turned in­to a four-hour talk­a­thon in which sev­er­al red-state Demo­crats stood up to cri­ti­cize Re­id’s lead­er­ship and the Nevadan moun­ted a strong de­fense of his work.

When the dust settled, long after the new Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity had se­lec­ted its lead­ers, Re­id held onto his po­s­i­tion, but in­vited both a red-state Demo­crat and a lib­er­al li­on­ess in­to the fold, bal­an­cing out his lead­er­ship team in a move that could pla­cate de­tract­ors.

Re­id se­lec­ted Sen. Jon Test­er of Montana to lead the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee and cre­ated a new lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion for Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts. The two sen­at­ors rep­res­ent op­pos­ite ends of the party ideo­lo­gic­ally and groups that haven’t al­ways been well-al­lied with Re­id.

On Thursday morn­ing, Sens. Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri and Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia led the fight against Re­id, after in­form­ing the lead­er earli­er in the week that they would op­pose his reelec­tion. The elec­tion was con­duc­ted by secret bal­lot, con­ceal­ing the iden­tit­ies of Re­id’s op­pon­ents, though Mc­Caskill, Manchin, and Sen. Mary Landrieu—who is still caught in an up­hill run­off elec­tion to re­tain her Louisi­ana seat—all copped to vot­ing against Re­id. Neither Manchin nor Mc­Caskill would say how many oth­er mem­bers joined in their move­ment. “There were a num­ber of voices that spoke out; it wasn’t just me,” Mc­Caskill told re­port­ers. “… People came up to me after the meet­ing say­ing, ‘I’m glad some of you said things that needed to be said.’ ” 

Demo­crat­ic losses in 2014 made it clear that the voters want change—not just in their in­di­vidu­al mem­bers, but in the way that the Demo­crat­ic caucus op­er­ates, both Manchin and Mc­Caskill said. “We’ve all had to make changes in our of­fices and had some dif­fi­cult de­cisions to make,” Manchin told re­port­ers. “It can’t be per­son­al. Harry Re­id’s a good man. I just felt—and I was very up-front and for­ward with every­body—I just felt we needed a lead­er­ship change.”

Demo­crat­ic de­tract­ors did not have an al­tern­at­ive choice for lead­er. Manchin said he had asked Re­id to delay the elec­tion for one week so that they could come up with a stand­ard-bear­er, but his re­quest was ig­nored. “This type of an elec­tion, this type of a mo­nu­ment­al switch needs time,” Manchin said after the vote. “And we should dis­cuss it and de­bate it. Harry could’ve made his pitch. If someone else would have come for­ward, we could have had her pitch.”

But Manchin and Mc­Caskill said that re­gard­less of the ef­fic­acy of their nay votes, the con­ver­sa­tion was im­port­ant.

“We need to work harder on mak­ing sure that what we’re do­ing every day is show­ing the Amer­ic­an people that we’re here to work for them and get things done—not to make the oth­er guy look bad, not to score polit­ic­al points, not to be ob­struc­tion­ist, but to get things done for the Amer­ic­an people that they’re hanker­ing to see us do,” Mc­Caskill said. “They want to see us work and do our jobs.”

And the in­clu­sion of Test­er and War­ren in­to the lead­er­ship could help to mend some of the frayed re­la­tion­ships between Re­id’s cur­rent team and the rest of a di­verse caucus.

On the Left, War­ren’s ap­point­ment could ease some fears among lib­er­als in the caucus, which will soon be forced to take a vote on the Key­stone pipeline. Sev­er­al mem­bers on the Left, in­clud­ing Tammy Bald­win of Wis­con­sin, Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut, and in­de­pend­ent Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, said that they did not blame Re­id for al­low­ing the vote, ac­know­ledging that the bill would come up for a vote soon­er or later giv­en the new Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity.

Non­ethe­less, they and oth­er lib­er­als have strongly signaled their op­pos­i­tion to the meas­ure. Hav­ing War­ren in lead­er­ship could give those mem­bers a stronger voice in the next Con­gress.

For mod­er­ates, Test­er rep­res­ents one of their own. The red-state Demo­crat called Thursday morn­ing’s air­ing of griev­ances a “con­struct­ive con­ver­sa­tion” and said he would “ab­so­lutely” bring his col­leagues’ con­cerns to the lead­er­ship table. “I think there was one mes­sage the voters sent out—a lot of them by not vot­ing—was that we need to work to­geth­er,” he said in a press con­fer­ence, flanked by Re­id, War­ren, and oth­er mem­bers of the Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship.

Asked after the press con­fer­ence about the con­cerns raised in the room, Test­er said: “I think that we’ve got a very tal­en­ted caucus, and those opin­ions that were put for­ward today are, I think, very valu­able if we’re go­ing to be able to win this cycle and next cycle.”

Mc­Caskill said that hav­ing a per­son like Test­er at the lead­er­ship table would be­ne­fit red-state Demo­crats like her­self. “Jon is one of my best friends in the caucus, and he does come from a state like mine in terms of polit­ics, so I think hav­ing him out there as one face of the lead­er­ship is im­port­ant for states that aren’t bright blue,” Mc­Caskill said. “But most im­port­antly, he’s smart, he works in­cred­ibly hard—I mean, this is a guy who goes home and re­pairs his own tract­ors on the week­end. He gets hard work.”

Mc­Caskill also praised War­ren’s ap­point­ment, not­ing: “We do our best work when we hear all dif­fer­ent voices.”

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