Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was just finishing up a discussion on collective bargaining during a Friday appearance on Nevada Public Radio when an unexpected fan called in. It was President Obama.
"Well, I'll be damned," Reid repeated several times after Obama greeted him on the air.
"Are you allowed to say that on live radio?" Obama quipped.
Reid's appearance on the radio program came just hours after his announcement that after 34 years in the Senate—with the last 10 as Democratic leader—he will not run for a sixth term in office. Obama called in to sing his praises.
Reid has "done more for Nevada and this country as anybody who's been in the Senate," the president said. "I could not be prouder."
Even the host was surprised at the president's dialing in. "Shut up," he said jokingly—and faintly—to someone off-mic before announcing the "surprise caller" on line 3.
During the call, Obama made mention of Reid's "curmudgeonly charm" and said he's "one of my best partners and best friends."
"Harry, I hope you don't mind me saying this, but there are a lot of folks who are slicker and give smoother TV interviews," Obama said, "but in terms of somebody who's got heart and cares about ordinary people," there's no one like him.
This wasn't Obama's first surprise call-in. During former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's last appearance on his monthly radio program on WGBH-FM in Boston, the president deadpanned a query to the governor after getting on the air: "Governor, this is Barack Obama, formerly of Somerville, " Obama said, referring to a city just outside the Massachusetts capital where he lived while attending Harvard Law School. "I've got a few complaints about service in and around the neighborhood, but I've moved down south since that time."
Before the president got on the line, Reid discussed his motivations to retire, assuring viewers that—despite his recent injuries, which some speculated could hinder his career—his health was not among his reasons for leaving the Hill.
"I work long hours," said Reid, who just hours before had been in Senate chambers for a daylong vote-o-rama marathon. "I finished working this morning at 4 a.m.—worked all night."
His electoral viability, he said, also wasn't a reason to get out of the political game. The host asked Reid what his polling numbers indicated about his prospects in 2016. But Reid bristled at the question. "Don't give me any talk about polls," Reid said, "because I don't believe in them."
Shortly after news broke of his plans to retire, Reid endorsed Sen. Chuck Schumer to take his place as the party leader. Reid said he vouched for Schumer—his "lieutenant" and a "brilliant man from New York"—because they've worked so closely together, and Reid wants to keep the Democratic Party on a cohesive path forward. Reid said he remembers there being "knock-down, drag-out battles" for leadership positions when he was a young senator, and he didn't want that for the party now.
"I think it's very important that we have continuity in our leadership, and I've done everything I could to avoid a fight for leadership," Reid said.
Reid's tough style has often been criticized by Republicans. During the interview, the host played a clip of Rep. Rand Paul, in which the Kentuckian asserts that "the Senate operates under the iron-fisted rule of one man—Harry Reid."
Reid didn't seem phased by that description.
"He's a super nice guy, and he's running for president, and he's trying to get a little attention," Reid said. "And if that's the worst thing that anyone says about me "¦ I can live with that."
Asked what he'll do to combat Republican assertions that he's now a lame duck, Reid said the criticism isn't anything new.
"They've been trying to denigrate me for all these years, and I'm still here, keep coming back," he said. "I have the total support of my caucus. I've got wonderful wonderful senators, all 45 of them support me. And I have to tell you that they're great to work with, and the next 22 months will be no different."
This story has been updated with additional information.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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