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Book: Reid used Kennedy’s brain cancer to beg for stimulus votes

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

Michael Grunwald’s “The New New Deal” details the $787 billion stimulus passed in the early days of President Barack Obama’s presidency, and offers the back story of Senate arm-twisting needed to secure the votes.

Among the revelations in Grunwald’s book is an anecdote recalling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attempt to push three veteran Republicans to vote for the bill — by guilt-tripping them over former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer.

Without vote commitments from the Republicans he had hoped to push his direction, Reid brought Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Thad Chochran of Mississippi and Mike Enzi of Wyoming to his office to appeal for their votes.

“He was basically pleading for our votes,” Grassely said, according to Grunwald. “He said: ‘You all know something needs to be done. The Democrats did TARP for Bush. You’ve got to look past the substance.’”

When his initial plea did not work, Reid reportedly told the three Republicans that he needed their votes so that he would not need to bring Kennedy — at the time battling brain cancer — back to work to end a filibuster.

“He said if you can’t vote with us, we’re going to have to bring Kennedy to the floor, and it really could kill him,” Grassely said. “We looked at each other like: Huh?”

According to Grunwald’s account, Reid then asked if there was a volunteer to vote on Kennedy’s behalf, as there had been precedent for “pairing votes” as a courtesy for ill senators of the opposite party. None of the three took him up on the offer, nor did Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who Reid also attempted to pressure with the Kennedy plea.

“They all said: ‘Sorry we, have to be voting no on this,’” a Reid aide told Grunwald. “These are people who profess to care about the man and the institution and all that. But he’s on his deathbed, and they wouldn’t pair their votes.”

The stimulus eventually did pass the Senate in a vote of 61-37 — Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine crossed over, as did former Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Kennedy died later that year.

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