WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's advice to reporters who don't get his energy agenda: Check your hearing.
Reid, D-Nev., may look like a mild-mannered man, but when he's backed into a corner, this former boxer comes out swinging. On Thursday, the object of his ire was the Fourth Estate as he lashed at reporters quizzing him over stalled Democratic energy proposals.
At a "pen and pad" — a more casual, off-camera chat with reporters — Reid attacked and scolded correspondents in attendance, telling them he's "really disappointed" in how they have been writing his energy plans, which include a bill to reign in speculation in the energy futures markets.
According to two Senate Democratic aides, Reid and other Democratic leaders were particularly stung by an article Thursday in The New York Times. It followed on several other reports that have highlighted Democrats' attempts to fend off defections from their ranks to GOP-sponsored amendments, measures that would permit new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf and in the West for oil shale.
Democrats have been hard-pressed not to join such measures with oil and gas prices at record levels.
Reid has offered Republicans only two amendments to his anti-speculation bill. He required one amendment to be a GOP alternative to his speculation bill — the other was to be a recently-introduced GOP energy bill that included OCS-drilling and oil shale measures.
On Thursday, Reid told reporters he offered Republicans "separate amendments" as well on oil shale drilling and on OCS drilling, although a review of floor proceedings this week shows no such specific offer.
Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told reporters in a separate off-camera briefing that Reid is "incorrect. If he actually said that, there's a misunderstanding."
Kyl said it was "very clear" to him that only two amendments would be permitted for Republicans, which is leading to a complete breakdown of floor action on the Reid bill.
Kyl pointed to a speech this morning by the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who echoed Reid's position that two amendments would be offered to Republicans on this energy debate.
Reporters tried to pin Reid down Thursday on the amendment issue.
In the exchange, Reid told one reporter she should "watch the [Senate] floor more often. ... You might learn something."
Another reporter explained she had watched the Senate proceedings and said it was not clear he was ... offereing separate amendments, to which Reid asked the reporter if she "spoke English."
"Turn up your Miracle Ear," Reid added.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley later told the reporter his boss's comments were a show of "frustration," not desperation.
Republicans clearly feel they finally have the wind at their back on this issue — noting public opinion polls increasingly are showing Americans favoring drilling in areas currently under moratoria, among other ideas for bringing down sky-high gas prices.
The House No. 2 Republican, Roy Blunt of Missouri, told reporters today, "Clearly we've built a fire on energy that they're feeling the heat from."