Speaking for themselves

Veteran groups say Harry Reid has been good on troop issues

Democratic senate candidate Harry Reid waits while he is introduced at a Reno campaign rally.

Democratic senate candidate Harry Reid waits while he is introduced at a Reno campaign rally.


Republican U.S. senate candidate Sharron Angle has been attacking her Democratic opponent, Harry Reid, for failing U.S. troops.

But organizations representing the troops give the Nevada senator high marks.

Early in her campaign and after she won the GOP nomination, Angle was critical of Reid’s comment that the war in Iraq was lost. She included it in a litany of what she considers his gaffes, as in a June interview: “I feel like I’m more mainstream than the fellow that said tourists stink, this war is lost, and light-skinned no-Negro dialect.” She has also said the remark undercut U.S. forces.

Since Angle took on a new team of handlers, she has taken a different tack, trying to identify herself with Gen. David Petraeus—once leader of U.S. forces in the Middle East, now commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan—and to pit Reid against Petraeus.

“Senator Harry Reid has spent years openly mocking General David Petraeus and his strategy for success in Iraq,” she said through a spokesperson. “Reid declared the Iraq war lost, claimed General Petraeus was a liar, voted in support of MoveOn’s assertion that his nickname was ‘General Betray Us,’ and from his bell tower at the Ritz-Carlton, claimed the four-star general was out of touch with reality in Baghdad.”

Angle has demanded that Reid apologize to Petraeus. But she has offered no Iraq or Afghanistan plan of her own.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), however, has given Reid its highest ranking in its most recent assessment of congressional votes—an A-plus. That’s for the last full Congress, which ended in 2008. In its 2006 ratings, IAVA gave Reid an A-minus.

For comparison, Reid’s Republican colleague from Nevada, John Ensign, received a C from the group. U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican, received a B.

In the introduction to the organization’s rankings, Reid was singled out as one of 13 congressmembers who had done duty that was, in IAVA’s view, “above and beyond.”

“These legislators showed a consistent commitment to the support of our troops,” the forward reads. “In particular, we’d like to recognize the crucial work of Senators Jim Webb (D-VA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Warner (R-VA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Harry Reid (D-NV); and of Representatives Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Peter King (R-NY), David Obey (D-WI), Chet Edwards (D-TX) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). These lawmakers went above and beyond, not just voting in support of our veterans but also working behind the scenes to bring crucial veterans’ legislation to the floor.”

The IVAV rankings include battlefield issues, such as making it easier to get interpreters and treatment for traumatic brain injuries, and home front issues, such as veteran suicide prevention.

In a second set of rankings, these by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Reid received a rating of 80 percent in the group’s most recent rankings. By comparison, Ensign received a 40.

In addition, DAV has a set of congressional votes on issues it considers important that run from 1998 to 2006. On DAV-supported measures, Reid voted in favor 27 times and against once. Ensign voted against DAV 12 times and in favor nine times.

The greater support for veterans organization-supported issues by Democrats is not surprising. Democrats have routinely received higher such rankings. In 2006, DAV gave then-Sen. Barack Obama an 80 percent rating compared to a 20 percent rating for his opponent in the presidential race, John McCain (“McCain and veterans,” RN&R Newsview blog, Sept. 26, 2008). Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D compared to Obama’s B-plus.

On April 19, 2007, Reid told a news conference he believed Bush administration officials knew the Iraq war was lost but were not leveling with the public about it. He said, “I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense—and you have to make your own decisions what the president knows—that this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday.”

That’s the statement that became known as his “war is lost” statement, which conservatives like Angle have repeatedly criticized.

But in an interview with Ray Hagar of the Reno Gazette-Journal this month, retired Gen. Wesley Clark said Reid’s comment was warranted.

“I was one of the people who was against going to Iraq in the first place,” Clark said. “I just thought it was unnecessary, but of course, we all support our men and women in war. It is up to the president to provide the leadership and convince the American people and set the right strategy, and I think there were a lot of Americans that felt the same way Harry Reid did because we did not see the results on the ground in Iraq and the way it was conveyed and the strategy, it didn’t work.”

Angle responded to Clark’s statement through a spokesperson: “Harry Reid is not even willing to secure our own borders here in America. And concerning the statement he made in 2007, making statements like [that] has already put our soldiers at risk.”

But Reid said in 2007 that it was soldiers themselves who pushed him in the direction he went.

“And I went there [Walter Reed Army Medical Center] today for lunch and met with staff and some of the soldiers who are wounded and some who weren’t wounded,” he said on the PBS NewsHour. “And without exception, when I said, ‘You know, we’re doing everything we can to help you, appreciate your service, but I want to get the troops home.’ And without exception, they said, ‘Get them home as fast as you can.’ ”

In a May 7, 2005, in an appearance at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Reid also faulted Bush planning for the war, saying that soldiers lacked “proper equipment and body armor.”

In an interview, he later elaborated, saying, “It was us, the Democrats, who realized that parents shouldn’t be buying armor and sending it to Iraq for their sons and daughters, so we pushed, and we got body armor. We’re the ones that pushed for up-armoring the Humvees and other vehicles.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion do not have congressional vote rankings.