Jetting to Vegas to Help Out the Senate's Leader
By Scott Wilson
LAS VEGAS -- Hours after announcing Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his choice to fill the impending vacancy on the Supreme Court, President Obama partied in Las Vegas on Tuesday night - or at least partied on behalf of his party's leadership.
Obama headlined a big-ticket fundraiser at Caesars Palace for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a favor for a powerful lawmaker who will be stage-managing the administration's health-care, clean-energy, and other legislative priorities this year.
"Hello, Las Vegas, it's good to be back," Obama began, joking that his room at Caesars this time around was better than his last. "Now that I am president, they upgraded me."
Reid welcomed the president to town, greeting his Air Force One at the airport ahead of an evening that featured singers Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler.
Reid said later that he expected 4,200 people to attend the fundraiser, and his aides estimated that it would bring in $2 million for Reid's reelection campaign. Tickets for the main event ranged between $50 and $250, but entry to a VIP reception with the president cost $2,400. A $2 million take would increase Reid's current campaign account balance by 40 percent.
After enthusiastic introductory applause for Obama, Reid told the high-roller crowd that he wished he had "the ability to explain to everyone here the pleasure it is to work with someone of your caliber."
"This man is extremely smart, he can communicate, but the best part of Barack Obama is his heart is bigger than any heart in the world," Reid told the VIPs.
Those words belied the fact that Obama and Reid have sometimes had a prickly relationship -- the senator made clear early on that he "didn't work for" Obama. Last week, Reid voted with a large Senate majority to reject the president's s funding request to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But Obama is taking the advice he frequently dispenses to the country, particularly when it comes to uncomfortable issues: He's looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. He needs Reid to see through his complex legislative agenda, and Reid, who polls show could be vulnerable in his 2010 reelection, needs the popular president.
"He is good-looking, he is charismatic," Obama said at the fundraiser, joking with the often-dour Reid. Then, shifting to a more serious tone, Obama said that Reid has "never forgotten that there are people out there who weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouths, there are people out there who are struggling."
He praised Reid for helping pass his $787 billion stimulus bill, children's health insurance legislation, and, most recently, a credit-card consumer protection bill.
"He fights for the dreams of the people here in Nevada, and he fights for the people all across America," Obama said. "I am grateful to him and I am grateful to you because you sent him in and you're going to keep sending him in."
Not everyone was as pleased as Reid to see Obama in Nevada, and so decided not to see him at all.
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons declined to meet with Obama, apparently still stinging over the president's warning months ago to companies that received federal bailout funds that they "can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime." Las Vegas tourism officials complained that hundreds of conventions were canceled in the city as a result.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in his daily briefing Tuesday that "I haven't seen many politicians meet anybody anywhere and not find it a convenient opportunity to press whatever case it is they're trying to make."
"I would suggest that, if the governor has a specific point that he'd like to make to the President of the United States, he's landing in a few hours in Las Vegas, and apparently has been invited to make that case," Gibbs said. "I'm having trouble reconciling the actions of the governor."
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