By Selwyn Harris
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t often use anything but measured tones in public political fights.
He is known as a back-room mechanic, using a quiet voice but considerable influence to steer the Democratic party’s agenda.
One issue everyone in Nevada and in Washington, D.C. knows is close to Reid’s heart is Yucca Mountain; the senator’s opposition to it ever becoming a repository for spent nuclear fuel is quite entrenched.
So, it’s likely no surprise then that the public got a rare glimpse of the senator’s inner tiger this week in a story involving Yucca Mountain.
Reid is normally so soft-spoken that reporters who gather for his weekly press gatherings often strain to hear him speak. All the more surprising when he verbally lowered the boom on fellow Democrat Bill Magwood, who until recently was looking to become the NRC’s newest chairman.
During an interview with online news portal Huffington Post this week, Reid let his feelings be known about Magwood.
First, the senator took umbrage at what he said were outright lies that Magwood was imparting about the Yucca Mountain storage facility located north of Pahrump in Nye County.
While Reid made sure to keep his anger in check, he used descriptive words not often heard from such a measured and polished politician.
“You know, when you’re in this government, this business of politics, the only thing that you have is your word,” Reid told a reporter. “I can be as partisan as I have to be, but I always try to be nice. I try never to say bad things about people.
“Bill Magwood is one of the,” — Reid reportedly paused, deciding which adjective to reach for, before picking them all — “most unethical, prevaricating” — he paused again, this time for a reported 10 full seconds — “incompetent people I’ve ever dealt with.”
The senator went on to describe how Magwood lied right to his face.
“The man sat in that chair — right there — and lied to me. I’ve never, ever in my life had anyone do that. Never,” he told the reporter.
In Washington politics, it is said that some members of Congress can get away with lying to constituents; but playing fast and loose with the truth to colleagues is traditionally more than just frowned upon; it’s a good way to make lasting political enemies.
Reid garnered heavy duty support for keeping Yucca closed from President Obama, whom he backed during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Obama won Nevada during his first election, and has maintained the key presidential support necessary to keep Yucca shuttered.
Reid told the Huffington Post that he was assured by senior White House official Pete Rouse that Magwood would fall in line with the administration’s stance and oppose Yucca Mountain.
Turns out, however, that according to Reid Magwood actually worked against efforts to completely close the facility.
Magwood apparently was playing both sides of the debate as part of a political maneuver to win the NRC’s chairmanship.
“That man I will never, ever forget what a treacherous, miserable liar he is. I met with him because Pete Rouse asked me to meet with him. I said, ‘Is he OK on Yucca Mountain?’ Pete said, ‘Yeah.’ So I went through some detail with him as to how important this was to me. ‘Senator, I know this industry like the back of my hand. You don’t have to worry about me,’ [Magwood reportedly told Reid]. And the conversation was much deeper than that.”
The Huffington Post reported that Magwood was instead working with Republicans in an effort to oust NRC Chair Greg Jaczko.
Jaczko resigned in June and Magwood’s name quickly surfaced as a likely replacement. The Obama administration was well aware of Reid’s feelings toward Magwood, and so refused to name Magwood the NRC’s new chair.
The new chair, Allison MacFarlane, will serve until next year.
Reid suggested that Magwood’s political machinations have exposed him as a tool of the nuclear energy industry.
“He’s a first-class rat. He lied to Rouse, he lied to me, and he had a plan. He is a tool of the nuclear industry. A tool,” Reid told the reporter. “Magwood was a shit-stirrer. He did everything he could do to embarrass Greg Jaczko.”
Reid’s support for Jaczko even extended to the former NRC chairman’s legal bills — Reid donated $10,000 to help Jaczko defend himself against Magwood’s allegations.
Allegations that Jaczko was overly forceful with female NRC staffers as well as his push for new safety standards for American nuclear facilities in the wake of the Fukushima disaster helped bring down his chairmanship.
Reid had not been known as a strong supporter of Jaczko. But after discovering Magwood’s role in spreading the allegations changed his opinion.
He was “the first chair that has never been part of the nuclear industry,” Reid said. “That commission was a tool to the nuclear industry. Greg Jaczko, this young guy, he of course worked for me. He was against Yucca Mountain. But they knew that going in.”