Obama's Nevada immigration speech may be early boost for Harry Reid

Obama's Nevada immigration speech may be early boost for Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), right, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) look on as President Obama discusses new immigration policies in Las Vegas on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

At the behest of some Senate Democrats worried about the political fallout, President Obama held off earlier this year from announcing his new immigration policy.

But as he rallied Nevada supporters around a plan to spare more than 4 million immigrants from deportation, some could not help but wonder whether an earlier announcement might have boosted Democrats' chances in this month's midterm election, when the party lost the Senate majority and seats in the House.


On Friday, the proposal looked certain to boost at least one prominent Democrat: Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Reid will lose the title of Senate majority leader when Republicans assume control of the chamber in January, but hopes to take it right back after 2016. To do so, he has to win a new six-year term of his own. And many on hand at Del Sol High School said that Obama's immigration speech was the kickoff event for Reid's reelection bid.

Reid flew to Nevada on Air Force One with the president, who later introduced him to the crowd as someone who's "been passionate about making sure America always remains a nation of immigrants."

A dismal election year for Democrats in 2014 was especially harsh in Nevada. The state's Republican governor was reelected easily, leading a clean sweep of statewide elected offices, and helping to oust one of the state's two Democratic congressman, Steven Horsford.

"We would have liked to have seen it sooner," the lone victorious Democrat, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), said of the president's new policy. "You can feel the excitement in the room. But now we're just looking forward and think it will make a big difference going into … 2016."

Asked if the new policy could have helped some Democrats in November had it been announced earlier, Reid said: "Let's look forward, let's not look back." Could it help him in 2016? Reid smiled and said: "We'll see."

Until then, Reid made clear that he intends to make a push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill a priority. He claimed he's spent more time on the Senate floor pushing for immigration reform than for any other issue.

Minutes after the president implored Republicans to "pass a bill," Reid said just any bill wouldn't do.

"Passing a bill isn't the question. It's passing comprehensive immigration reform," he said. If House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) brought the Senate-passed bill to the floor, "Democrats would vote for it and a lot of Republicans would vote for it," Reid said.

Reid said Boehner was hesitant to move "because he's got a very, very radical group of people who determine whether he's going to be the speaker or not."

Whether Reid becomes majority leader again or not will depend in part on whether Democrats can rally the same diverse coalition that helped twice elect Obama, and in 2010 helped Reid survive what many thought would be a losing campaign.

"Never underestimate the power of Sen. Reid," Titus said of the senator's fabled campaign machine. "Labor [unions] got a wake-up call. Now we will have the Hispanic community more energized as well as the Asian community. I think things will start to fall in place."

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