Reid Takes Center Stage, but He's Hardly the Star of the Show

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that yesterday was
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that yesterday was "a new day in Washington." Reporters seemed more interested in Bill Clinton's quest for a restroom. (By David Scull -- Bloomberg News)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, January 5, 2007

Harry Reid is often called the man from Searchlight, Nevada. Nobody has ever called him the man from Spotlight.

The soft-spoken Democrat became the most powerful figure in the United States Senate yesterday. But the newly minted majority leader was quickly eclipsed -- not just by the ascent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but even by Bill Clinton's trip to the men's room.

Minutes before Reid assumed power yesterday, the former president, in the building to see his wife sworn in for a second term, sauntered into the Senate press gallery in search of a urinal. Reporters swarmed, some abandoning their seats in the chamber where they had been waiting for Reid.

"They told me the closest restroom was in the press gallery," Clinton explained.

Reid was bound to be overshadowed yesterday. Pelosi was the first woman to become speaker in American history. Reid was merely the 20th man to become Senate majority leader since the position was created 87 years ago.

Pretty much everybody regarded the Pelosi ascent as momentous. "Historic event," said the Associated Press. "An historic day," admitted Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio). "An historic moment," claimed Pelosi herself. Only an article in Reid's home-state Las Vegas Review-Journal called his elevation "historic."

Part of the disparity, however, was less about history than style. Pelosi scheduled four days of parties for her installation -- a festival Republicans dubbed the Pelosi-Palooza -- including an extravaganza featuring Tony Bennett, and a street naming for Pelosi in her native Baltimore.

And Reid? "In Searchlight, we don't have street names," he said.

Reid, a mild-mannered Mormon, consented to not a single party in his honor this week. Instead, he assembled senators from both parties yesterday morning for a private moment of bonding in the Old Senate Chamber. Reid emerged with the minority leader, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, walking so close together their hands almost touched. "Senator McConnell and I believe this is a new day in Washington," Reid announced.

"I think Harry's got it right," McConnell answered.

After a couple of perfunctory questions, the reporters grew silent. "One more question?" Reid asked. Nobody volunteered.

"When we're not fighting, they're not asking any questions," observed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

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