In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.
Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:
“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”
Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.
On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”
So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.
In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”
Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.
Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:
Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.
Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”
The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.
Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.
So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?