Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Titus braves remark’s fallout

Nevadan’s frank words misconstrued, she assures Sen. Reid in telephone call

Dina Titus

Dina Titus

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

When word got out that Democratic Rep. Dina Titus had said in a closed-door meeting that she thought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s career is “done” — and dropped an F-bomb in the process — the Nevadans quickly got on the phone to each other.

Titus and Reid have had their differences, behind-the-scenes boxing matches stretching back half a decade, if not longer.

Titus always felt miffed that Reid did not support her in the Democratic primary when she ran for governor in 2006. She lost that race after a difficult campaign. But the hard feelings seemed to evaporate when Reid tapped Titus to run for Congress in 2008, throwing the power of the Reid machine behind the campaign that swept her into office.

When word of Titus’ remarks got out, she and the senator got on the phone Tuesday night, and the senator was not pleased. Within hours Politico would post a story quoting comments Titus made about the majority leader’s electoral chances during a closed-door meeting of House Democratic freshmen. “Reid is done; he’s going to lose,” Titus said, according to Politico.

Reid asked Titus: “How could you say that?”

The conversation was short. Titus insisted her quotes were misconstrued, taken out of context.

What Titus recalled saying at a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and freshman Democrats following the Republican victory in Massachusetts, went more like this:

“I said, ‘If we don’t get the message, we’re (expletive),” Titus said Wednesday. “I said, ‘That’s everybody. Half of us in this room could be gone. You could lose the majority. Harry Reid could lose. The president may not get a second term unless we get a handle on this.’ That’s what I said.”

Reid accepted Titus’ explanation and on Wednesday, several House Democrats backed up Titus’ recollection of events.

“They have had a good relationship for years and he takes her at her word,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

But the frank talk is sure to add a new dimension to the Reid-Titus relationship and introduce Washington to the freshman congresswoman who dared to drop the F-word on Pelosi.

“Dina didn’t say anything that all of us weren’t thinking,” said Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly, president of the freshman class. Connolly called her a “gutsy lady.”

The tough, profane talk comes as no surprise to Nevadans who have watched Titus’ sharp-elbowed career in state politics. But in Washington, Titus has presented a more collegial image.

Titus has done well for herself as a freshman by following protocol. In her first term, she has kept her head down and her mouth mostly shut. She has shown deference in a world where seniority matters.

“She’s very select and discreet about when she chooses to speak and about what, so it carries weight,” Connolly said.

Freshmen Democrats meet every Wednesday with Pelosi and had gathered during the glum morning hours after the Republican victory in Massachusetts. Pelosi went around the room asking the first-term Democrats what they thought of the results.

As she did, one person who was not present but had been told of the meeting said the freshmen were restrained in their criticisms. Titus, however, was fuming.

Tuesday, as voters in Massachusetts were casting ballots to turn the seat held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy over to Republican Scott Brown, House leadership called a meeting to discuss the minutiae of changes considered to the health care bills. Titus thought Democrats were in “self-denial” about what was happening at the polls.

When it was Titus’ turn to speak, she let it rip — right there amid the doughnuts and muffins.

First there was silence. Then nervous laughter. The person who was not in the room said Titus got a standing ovation, but those who were present said the approval did not go that far. (In fact, Titus never rose from her seat to speak.)

Pelosi expressed surprise at such language coming from the Nevadan. Titus apologized to the speaker for swearing.

Asked whether Titus succeeded in making her point and catching the speaker’s attention, Connolly said: “Oh yeah, and sympathetically so.”

Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia, another freshman who was in the meeting, issued a statement vouching for Titus’ version of events.

“She did not single out Sen. Reid,” Perriello said. “She said that all Democrats would be in trouble if we didn’t learn from the Massachusetts election.”

What Washington saw was the sharp tongue that Titus can use when she wants to assert herself.

Titus explained Wednesday that she wanted to bring the concerns of her Southern Nevada district — joblessness and foreclosures — to the fore. She does not apologize for the foul language.

“You can’t pussyfoot around,” Titus said. “I was expressing their frustrations in kind of the boldest, simplest, strongest way I could to get the speaker’s attention.”

Titus faces a potentially difficult re-election this fall as voters have soured on Democrats. She won with less than 50 percent of the vote in the 2008 Democratic sweep in a district where independent voters have played a decisive role. November’s election will surely prove more trying.

But Titus made her point in a way that could damage Reid — the leader of the Democratic Party in Nevada and a figure whose influence can make or break careers.

Reid faces his own difficult campaign, perhaps a defining race in a state where his stature in Washington has not translated into affection among voters.

Titus is aware that her comments have caused Reid “temporary grief,” but her perceived attack could damage to her own campaign. Titus was Reid’s “top priority following Obama,” said a Democratic strategist about the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. “The base knows how hard Harry Reid worked for her. This could be something that could backfire on her.”

Titus is aware that Reid’s backing helped send her to Washington and place her on influential committees. She dismissed talk of any past disagreements between the two saying “in politics, you’re always looking forward to the next election. You don’t look back.”

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley said she thinks the Reid-Titus relationship will survive the latest flap.

“He was the one who brought up Dina,” Berkley said. “He’s not going to turn around and louse her up. To the contrary.”

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