Youre like the only former staffer who hasnt written a Harry Reid tribute, was a DM I woke up to from the editor of this publication on the morning of New Years Eve.
He was right. The tributes had been pouring in since the giant of the Senate passed away on December 28. In the last few days, I have been sharing some thoughts sporadically on social media. Part of me wanted to put something together, but whenever I tried, my mind immediately started wondering about my parents.
I lost my mom two weeks ago, and went to her funeral just last week. And just three years ago, I lost my Dad suddenly, after he got hit by a speeding car during his morning walk down in Southern California. In fact, the last time I went to Vegas was specifically to meet with the senator to talk about my dad and how I was still figuring out how to move on without him in my life. More on that visit a bit later.
I was thinking about both my mom and dad on the afternoon my texts and DMs began lighting up about the news of Sen. Reid. I still feel discombobulated when it comes to processing this news about losing people in my life whom I loved unconditionally. I still havent completely come to terms with the process of death and grieving after losing my dad. And in a stretch of two weeks, when I lost my mom and then the boss I fell in love with years ago, its hard not to start crying when you try to sit down and write stuff like this. But here I go.
THE FIRST TIME I really heard a personal story about Reid was from my friend Mike ONeil, my last roommate before I got married over a decade and a half ago. Mike shared a story with me about how Reid knew the starting lineup of every single player on the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians, his favorite team. Its a story he shared on Twitter a few days ago, explaining how a soft-spoken, understated Reid got the attention of Democratic donors in Cleveland at a DSCC fundraiser in 2005, while providing them a specific plan of how he was going to help the Democrats win back the Senate in 2006 by winning six seats. Which he did. The story came in extremely handy a couple of years later, when I had my first formal introduction to him as his new staffer.
I started in Sen. Reid's office in late winter/early spring of 2007, when he was just taking the reins as Senate majority leader following the 2006 triumph. It was not going to be an easy gig. The Democratic majority in the Senate was fairly thin at 51-49, and there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm and demand in the progressive base (and rightfully so) for the Democrats to mount an all-out counterattack against George W. Bushs failed presidency. It was Ari Rabin-Havt, one of Reids key hires after he became Senate Democratic leader in 2005, who recruited me for the position, which back then had the title of Director of New Media but was essentially a senior leadership staffer position, synthesizing the interaction of tech, legislative policy, and political engagement with the progressive netroots.
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Ari brought me to essentially my first one-on-one with Reid, formally introducing me as someone who was going to try to do Aris job. You are following the Babe Ruth in your world, Reid responded. I took a deep breath and said, I sure am, Senator. My goal is to be hopefully as effective as Paul ONeill. He gave me that wry smile, and I had a feeling we were going to be OK from there on.
When Reid rose from the ash heap to become Democratic Senate leader after the Bush blitzkrieg of John Kerrys milquetoast presidential campaign in 2004, there wasnt a lot of excitement in the progressive base. Bush and the Republicans smoked the well-funded Democratic campaigns with textbook right-wing hate against LGBTQ communities, and playing up the fear of terrorism despite taking the country into a pointless, bloody war in Iraq based on lies and corporate media manipulation. The nascent netroots, rising out of the blogosphere, MoveOn.org, and Gov. Howard Deans presidential campaign, had good reason to be skeptical of the Democratic leadership.
But Reid had a plan. Susan McCue, his brilliant chief of staff, deployed every available tool to go to war against the Bush presidency. McCue created the first modern multichannel war room, before the concepts of digital media had even emerged. She brought in sharp and fiery progressive staffers like Rebecca Katz and Ari, who understood that fighting Republicans required not just deploying shiny tools, but leading with substance.
Sen. Reid recognized the power of digital communities, and the creation of a real progressive media infrastructure.
There is a lot to read about the rise of the netroots, but Reid was a central figure in its maturation. He recognized the power of digital communities, and the creation of a real progressive media infrastructure. He gave us, his media staffers, the green light to treat young reporters like Nico Pitney, Sam Stein, and Amanda Terkel from Huffington Post with the same reverence as regular communications flacks treated traditional corporate media outlets. It is not a stretch to assert that HuffPost would not have transformed from a blogger-centric startup into what it is todaya progressive-leaning media giant with fancy offices in the power center in D.C.without the early support of Sen. Reid and his team.
#TeamReid pioneered concepts like blogger calls and meetings, honestly and substantively engaging leaders of digital communities with more than just talking points. It was not a superficial move for Reid to show up in the first Yearly Kos (today known as Netroots Nation) in Las Vegas in 2006. He didnt show up there for the adulation, but to be a genuine partner to a community looking to build power.
HE WAS A CONSUMMATE LEADER who was willing to listen. In the summer of 2010, Reid was scheduled to appear at Netroots Nation when the conference was once again in Las Vegas. It was going to be tricky. As recounted by Joan McCarter on Daily Kos, we were in the middle of two big political fights: justice for Dreamers and ending Dont Ask, Dont Tell, the Clinton-era policy that forced LGBTQ service members to stay in the closet. We knew Lt. Dan Choi would be there, and we knew he was intent on making his point. I was engaged in the negotiations between the netroots and Sen. Reids communications team, to figure out the best way to empower the activists while also having a meaningful engagement.
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Well, Lt. Choi followed through with a direct action, jumping on the stage during Reids appearance. Reid promised him that he would lead the Senate to repeal Dont Ask, Dont Tell. Lt. Choi gave Reid his West Point ring, saying that Reid could only return it if he succeeded. Reid kept his promise.
What endeared Reid to the left was more than his willingness to take on the Republicans and beat them in strategic legislative combat. It was his genuine engagement, guided by his moral compass and anchored in a progressive vision for this country.
People forget how much of the left was skeptical of Reid in his early years as Democratic leader. When I started in his office in early 2007, his approval ratings at Daily Kos were in the teens, and there were calls for Chris Dodd for majority leader. He overcame that, not just with tactics but with strategy and vision around engagement.
Speaking of bloggers, after Reid passed away I tweeted about sharing with him clips of Elizabeth Warrens posts on the liberal blog Talking Points Memo, back when she was blogging about the 2005 passage of the heinous bankruptcy bill. Reid saw Professor Warren as another tenacious fighter and a visionary who was well ahead of her time in terms of her grasp of the zeitgeist of progressive populism. He loved her for it.
It was Reid who asked Warren to come to Washington to oversee the TARP bank bailout; he also encouraged her to run for Senate. Leader Reid also championed Sen. Warren while in office, and especially had her back when she was taking on President Obamas Wall Streetfriendly positions and personnel. They were perfect partners.
He cared just as much about writings of Joan McCarter and David Waldman (Kagro X) from Daily Kos; Jane Hamsher, Marcy Wheeler, and Christy Hardin Smith from Firedoglake; Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis from AMERICAblog; Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers, and Scott Shields from MyDD; Digby (Heather Parton) and David Dayen from Hullabaloo; John Amato and Karoli from Crooks and Liars; Atrios (Duncan Black) from Eschaton; Steve Benen from The Carpetbagger Report; and so many others.
Reids magic was that he foresaw the power of new media as being more than just a medium. He knew it was a real community. He cared about those approval polls on Daily Kos, even when he was under 10 percent. He empowered us to tell him the truth about why folks were mad.
The author, left, with Sen. Harry Reid in 2019
LET ME TELL YOU about the time when I thought he was going to fire me after I told him the truth. Perhaps one of the hardest points of Reids interaction with the left was during difficult springtime 2007 deliberations around a $120 billion bill to continue to fund Bushs war in Iraq.
By this time, Reid had expressed regret for voting for the war, calling it the worst foreign-policy mistake in our history and observing correctly that America essentially lost in Iraq. Yet Reid ended up voting to continue to fund the conflict for the sake of supporting the troops, after failing to push the Bush administration to withdraw.
After much back-and-forth, Reid ended up voting with 79 other senators to fund the war, while 14 senators (including thenDemocratic presidential candidates Clinton, Dodd, and Obama) voted against it. The vote took place on Thursday, May 24, 2007. The very next day, Ari and I had a weekly check-in with Sen. Reid, during which we got to debrief him on reactions and thoughts from the progressive online world to the news of the week. I got right to the point when he asked for our thoughts on the vote. I told him that while I understood his arguments that he did his best to push the debate and had to vote to fund the troops, I still believe he made the wrong decision, going against the wishes of not just the base of the Democratic Party but also his base in Nevada, who were sick and tired of the war. I told him that in his heart, he knew the war was wrong, and it was immoral to continue to fund it.
I remember how scared I felt; I thought for sure he was going to tell me to get out of his office and never come back. After I was done, he sat back a little in his chair. He then told Ari and me, Boys, lets make sure to keep this meeting every week during which its just the three of us. I appreciate it when you honestly share your thoughts without worrying about what makes me happy.
I came out of his office in disbelief that I hadnt gotten fired, and got a taste of what it felt like to gain Reids trust and also feel empowered.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF GREAT PIECES out there detailing how Sen. Reid became a legislative champion for the working class who was always guided by a moral compass, which often led to subtle confrontations with a Democratic president. Social Security remains intact and strong because of Sen. Reids successful fight to stop the Bush privatization scheme. He was ahead of his time and ahead of the rest of his peers in realizing the threat American democracy currently faces from the extreme right-wing conservative ideologues who have taken over the modern Republican Party. It is why he took the first step to kill the filibuster, to fix what he thought was becoming an undemocratic and broken Senate.
He also had thoughts about the Supreme Court.
In early September 2020, we were going through one of the toughest early stretches of the pandemic. I decided to drive down to Los Angeles to visit my ailing mom. I wanted to say hi to her from outside the window of her nursing home, because I wasnt sure how many more times Id get to see her. Afterward, I was getting ready to drive back to the Bay Area. Right as I was about to get on the 405, I got a call in my car. It was Sen. Reid.
Murshed, I heard you are working these days to fix the Supreme Court, he said. I was just done seeing my mom and in a different headspace.
Yes, thats right, Senator.
Well, tell me why we should be thinking about adding seats to the Supreme Court.
I took a deep breath, and then went on for five minutes, laying out the arguments for expanding the Court. He then asked how he could be helpful. All I said was Senator, itd be amazing if you consider talking about this as something we all should take seriously. Thatd be huge.
All he responded with was OK. Drive carefully, and then gave me the infamous Reid hang-up.
Just a few days later, an article came out in The New Yorker in which Reid reflected on the stolen seats in the Supreme Court. [T]he Supreme Court is not a static body, Reid said in the article. Its not always been nine membersthey have had five, eight, different numbers I think its time that we did something after the election, something very publicly. We should hold some hearings, educate the public about this history. We should show that weve changed the number of Justices in the past, and we may have to do it again.
As I said, the leader has always been ahead of his time.
What endeared Reid to the left was his genuine engagement, guided by his moral compass and anchored in a progressive vision for this country.
THE LAST TIME I saw Sen. Reid in person was in May of 2019. The conversation was mostly about our families. Its the first time I had seen him since my dad had passed away about a year earlier. I was telling him how my dad used to tell me that it was beyond his imagination that Id end up working for someone like Reid when he decided to migrate to the U.S. back in the late 1980s.
Near the end of our visit, he motioned me to come toward him and then asked me to give him my phone number, so he could give me a call on the spot. He then said, Now please text me every few days and share with me whatever is on your mind. Keep in closer touch.
Yes, sir. You got it.
There have been countless remembrances of Sen. Reid and they are all worth reading, but it is worth underscoring how at the end of the day, the deep relationships he built with his staff were based on the F wordour families. His superpower that enabled him to generate such intense devotion and loyalty came from his sense of comfort in his own skin, derived from his own family and upbringing.
I dont have a lot of regrets in life. But there is one I will never live down. After the historic 2008 election, Sen. Reid called me into his office and personally asked me to stay on with him for another two years. I didnt listen, and left for a job that offered more money and supposedly more responsibilities. That was a mistake. Lesson learned.
I did promise him that Id never leave his side and be there for him no matter what. And I put in countless hours organizing for #TeamReids re-election victory in 2010, one of the only key Democratic wins in a brutal midterm year. Like many others, even after I officially left his office, I never left him.
The pain we feel at times like this reflects the strength of the love we shared with those we lost.
I know how incredibly blessed and fortunate I am to have had the chance to serve the country under his leadership and as part of his team. I know how lucky I am to have been able to develop a relationship with him, one that I felt was as deep in terms of devotion and love as I had with my late parents. And I know he is up there smiling at all of us, with the decency and love he showed in his own ways to every member of his team.
So I am not going to write goodbye to the senator, and I am not going to talk about how much I love him in the past tense. I plan to be there for him again, whenever that time comes.
I love you, Senator.