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D.C. Download: What does Harry Reid have in common with Andy Reid? More than you'd think

Those who knew the longtime Nevada senator say that he, like the best football coaches, was equal parts recruiter, tactician and communicator.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

Super Bowl Sunday is upon us! With Las Vegas playing Super Bowl host for the first time ever, I decided to combine my day job (reporting on Nevada politics) with my passion for football and convoluted metaphors to bring you a very special NFL-themed edition of D.C. Download.

For the non-football fan readers, I’ll do my best to explain any football terminology I use. But if you want to sound smart at your Super Bowl parties, just talk about how L’Jarius Sneed doesn’t get enough credit for the Chiefs’ success. Oh, and if you run into 49ers fans, be sure to mention “28-3” — a classic in-joke that they’ll be sure to love!

Reid the coach

Both men have decades of leadership experience, are Mormon, are natives of the West Coast and share a last name.

But the similarities don’t end there for the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the towering titan of Nevada politics, and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, among the winningest coaches in NFL history.

In his 30-year run as a U.S. senator, including 12 years as the Senate Democratic leader, Harry, like Andy, learned on the job as a deputy. Upon taking the leadership mantle themselves, both proved to be adaptable play-callers, tacticians and excellent managers of personnel. 

I asked some of Reid’s former colleagues and staffers to explain how Reid the politician, an avid athlete himself, might compare to Reid the coach.

Harry Reid became whip to then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in 1999. Reid, who had helped his close friend Daschle secure the leadership position, served as Daschle’s political partner in the years that followed.

Like an offensive coordinator, the whip is responsible for ensuring that the caucus is united when legislation comes to the floor, tallying the votes beforehand, talking to members and handling their concerns. When they take the field — in this case, the Senate floor — the whip ensures the team is on the same page.

Daschle said Reid did this by maintaining a constant presence on the Senate floor, making Reid a trustworthy source of information for Democrats and Republicans alike. And like a good offensive coordinator, he communicated everything he learned with the coach, going into Daschle’s office “a dozen times a day” to give updates on negotiations.

“He was deeply respected,” Daschle said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “He was really viewed as the legislative mechanic on the floor.”

Harry, like Andy, eventually got the leader/coach job full time; Harry in 2005, when Daschle lost his seat, and Andy in 1999, when he was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Andy Reid’s reputation has been as a master tactician, a creative play-caller and a talented recruiter with an eye for quarterbacks — drafting Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.

Harry Reid also developed a reputation as a legislative whiz, well-versed in the obscure parliamentary procedures that can derail or speed up a vote. 

He brought a tactic called “filling the amendment tree” to new heights, which (in what might be my favorite simile I’ve cooked up) is a bit like the screen pass — an Andy Reid staple. It’s a play design where the quarterback throws a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage and other players block defenders so that the pass-catcher can run forward. Andy Reid often masks these screens by having players move around before the snap — making a simple play design seem complicated and proving deeply frustrating to defenders.

That kind of misdirection was also used by Harry Reid in his position as majority leader to file tons of amendments, often dealing with minutiae, on Democratic bills to avoid allowing Republicans to offer unfavorable amendments of their own. Reid used the tactic 95 times during his eight-year tenure.

Like Andy Reid in Green Bay, Harry Reid had to pay his dues before taking the leadership mantle. Daschle described the notable episode in which the Senate was divided 50-50 in 2001, and he and Reid were looking for Republicans that they might be able to flip to their side. Kansas Sen. Jim Jeffries was open, but he wanted to become the chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee — a position Reid was in line to take.

Being a team player, Reid gave up the chairmanship to Jeffries, the Kansan switched parties, and Daschle became the majority leader.

“It was [the most] remarkable commitment to our caucus that, in all of my years in Washington, I've ever seen,” Daschle said. 

Andy Reid — while an offensive guru— has led some powerful defenses over the years, including the current squad manned by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

That commitment to defense was a hallmark of Harry Reid’s tenure as Nevada Democrats’ party builder-in-chief, and a reason he was able to hang on to his seat through so many close elections, according to Rebecca Lambe, his longtime lieutenant in the state and former Reid chief political strategist, said Reid’s style reminded her of another football team — the 2010s-era “Legion of Boom” Seattle Seahawks. 

“Defend every blade of grass — it doesn't matter where the ball goes on the field, you defend it,” Lambe wrote in an email. “That was Reid's approach to winning elections in Nevada and building the team to do it. He was the owner and the head coach.”

Lambe also noted Reid’s efforts as a recruiter — similar to a coach eyeing young players in the draft. He handpicked Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) to run as his replacement, and encouraged little-known synagogue president Jacky Rosen to run for a competitive House seat in 2016 and the Senate in 2018. 

“He financed the effort, called the plays and recruited the talent,” Lambe wrote. “It didn't matter that his name wasn't on the ballot.”

The Harry Reid-Andy Reid coaching tree

NFL coordinators are frequently plucked from the sidelines to become head coaches themselves, a relationship often described as a coaching tree.

Andy Reid has had 11 of his assistants become head coaches. Harry Reid’s tree, similarly, extends across Democratic politics — from staffers who now serve in high-level positions for other senators to his replacement Cortez Masto.

In the Super Bowl spirit, I’ve decided to equate a few of those who served on Team Reid to the coordinators who have worked for Big Red.

Coaching Trees - The Nevada Independent by Kristyn Leonard

Catherine Cortez Masto = Jaguars coach Doug Pederson

Despite Andy Reid’s record of success in Philadelphia, he was unable to deliver the Eagles a Super Bowl win in his 13-year stint as head coach from 1999 to 2012.

Similarly, when Harry Reid retired from the Senate, it was as minority leader. After eight years in the majority, Democrats lost the Senate in the 2014 midterms and weren’t able to get control back until the 2020 election.

Who served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chair that cycle? Reid’s replacement, Cortez Masto. She was able to helm Senate Democrats to victory that cycle much like Eagles Coach Doug Pederson, who in the 2017 season finally got Philadelphia their long-awaited Lombardi trophy — making Patriots head coach Bill Belichick the equivalent of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in this analogy.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) = Bills coach Sean McDermott

Perhaps no sitting senator spent more time with Reid than his successor as Democratic leader, Schumer. Despite differing styles, Schumer served under Reid in Democratic leadership for a decade, with both relying on deep knowledge of their members and constant communication.

“He took great care of the Senate as an institution, but he also knew that the Senate had to adapt to changing times,” Schumer said in a 2022 tribute.

On the football side, McDermott has been one of Andy Reid’s most successful disciples. Like how Schumer and Harry Reid had to navigate 50-50 Senates, working with narrow margins to achieve legislative success, McDermott overcame a 6-6 start to win five of the Bills’ final six games and clinch a playoff spot. 

Plus, Schumer is a member of Bills mafia!

Rebecca Lambe = Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

Lambe has continued to defend Nevada even after Reid’s passing, spearheading the effort to move the state up the presidential nominating calendar and remaining deeply involved with state campaigns.

As the chief defender of Reid’s gains, Lambe is like “Spags,” the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator who has won three Super Bowls and is going for his fourth tomorrow.

Lambe said she learned to emphasize defense from Reid.

“He shut down the opposing team before they could score for most major elections since 2008,” she said.

Around the Capitol

🏈Super Bowl predictions — I asked each of the Nevada delegation members to make a Super Bowl prediction. While no one was willing to predict the score — wanting to see the lines in true Vegas fashion — the delegation was ultimately split.

Cortez Masto and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) picked the Chiefs to win, while Reps. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Mark Amodei (R-NV) have the 49ers. Rosen and Rep. Steven Horsford, meanwhile, said the real winner is the Las Vegas economy — a Rob Lowe shield hat answer if I’ve ever heard one!

🛫It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … Rosen’s FAA priorities — The Senate advanced the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill out of committee late Wednesday — and the bill includes several provisions for Nevada’s airports introduced by Rosen.

The provisions include:

  • Allowing recently classified medium-size airports to remain classified as small hubs for five years to ensure continued access to funding, which would help the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
  • Requiring the FAA to consider the threat that nearby construction might pose to air safety at large airports such as Harry Reid International Airport.

Notable and Quotable:

“The number one question I get asked is, ‘Will you be able to meet Taylor Swift?’’’

— Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), on what she’s been hearing from colleagues about the Super Bowl. (For the record, she doesn’t know! And she might be stuck in D.C. voting.)

Vote of the week

H.R.815: Making certain improvements relating to the eligibility of veterans to receive reimbursement for emergency treatment furnished through the Veterans Community Care program

This is the vehicle the Senate is now using to reopen their original national security bill, which includes security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as humanitarian assistance to Gaza. This version of the bill contains nothing for border security, after Senate Republicans voted one down.

Cortez Masto: YES

Rosen: YES

Staffing announcements

Tai Sims is the new communications director for the Nevada Democrats. He previously worked for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). 

If you have a new position in Nevada politics, reach out and let me know! 


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