The retirement of any top party leader in Congress will have tremendous ripple effects. But here are three reasons why Harry Reid’s retirement is especially notable.
1. This will be the first Senate change in leadership in more than a decade
For Democrats, when a new leader steps in in 2017, it will be 12 years since Reid took over. The former boxer became the top Democrat in the Senate in 2005, after Tom Daschle was defeated by immediate up-and-comer (and now No. 4 Republican in the Senate) John Thune. You can see one of Reid’s first news conferences as leader here.
For the Republicans, Mitch McConnell rose to become Republican leader in 2007, after Bill Frist retired. For the eight years since, McConnell and Reid’s approaches to leadership have determined the course of the Senate. And, with the chamber regularly positioned as the decisive body in U.S. government (by nature of its 60-vote threshold), the two men have determined the course of many of the major issues facing the United States.
And they have been in power longer than any two-term president.
2. Republicans just gained a big boost in the next fight for the Senate
Democrats have a numbers advantage in the 2016 Senate battle, with Republicans defending 24 seats compared with the ten Democratic seats on the ballot. But Reid’s retirement could give Republicans an increased chance of a takeover in Nevada.
The Democratic leader is known as a determined and tough-to-beat competitor with significant support in his home state. Two of his 2010 campaign ads are good examples: He ran a positive spot titled “Determination” and a pushback ad against opponent Sharron Angle titled “Pathological”.
Now with Reid off the ballot, Republicans’ general odds in Nevada (which were already significant) just improved. That said, it will depend on the candidates. And there is no clear frontrunner among Republicans for the Silver State Senate fight. Many Republicans would like to see Governor Brian Sandoval run, but it’s not clear that he is interested.
3. As a result, the operation of the Senate could change
The Reid and McConnell era has been marked by two leaders steeped in Senate tradition, and more importantly, Senate procedure. Both have wielded the Senate Rules as their primary tactical and political tools. That is not an original concept, but the Reid and McConnell decade has taken the procedural fight to a new level where rules and tactics have determined not just broad fights but day-to-day operations of the Senate.
While both parties have ably blocked each others’ legislation, Reid is known for particularly clamping down on the number of amendments allowed to reach the floor for debate and votes. His office has long argued that this was not entirely by choice and was in response to Republicans’ refusal to allow most bills to move forward.
This brings us to the possible change ahead. Reid’s top two deputies have long been Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Chuck Schumer, D-New York. Both are students of procedure and tradition, but it’s not clear if they would continue Reid’s approach should either take over his position. In recent years, Schumer has become a regular liaison with Republicans, organizing bipartisan talks aimed at compromise. Durbin is known as an issues and policy expert whose floor speeches tee up Democratic positions in easy-to-understand, engaging language.