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Washington (CNN)Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a new assessment of President Donald Trump as “a very, very smart man” who won’t be easy for Democrats to defeat in the 2020 election.
“I used to think that Donald Trump was not too smart. I certainly don’t believe that anymore,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat who served in Congress for decades until his retirement in 2016, told “Axe Files” host David Axelrod in an interview airing Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.
The former Democratic leader had criticized Trump in harsh and colorful terms, calling him a “spoiled brat,” “a con artist” and a “human leech who will bleed the country” in comments on the Senate floor in 2016.
But Reid — a savvy political operator whose moves to reshape Senate procedures, like his elimination of filibusters for most nominations by presidents, were criticized by Republicans during his time in Congress — acknowledged in the interview Trump’s strategy in discrediting Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry into his actions with Ukraine.
“I don’t think he’s, intellectually, a powerhouse but he is basically a very, very smart man. No matter what the subject, any argument he involves himself in, it’s on his terms. You’re always arguing against him. He never, never, is willing to debate an issue on terms that aren’t his,” Reid told Axelrod.
Asked how he would advise a candidate running against Trump, Reid warned, “Anyone that thinks Trump’s going to be beaten easily should have another thing coming.”
Reid also argued that the “evidence is very clear” that Trump was withholding foreign aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine, on a July phone call, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed the foreign aid was withheld so European allies could contribute their fair share. Democrats have accused Trump of a quid pro quo and abusing his power of office.
“All you have to do is have a basic understanding ofwhat the law in America:You can’t do what he did and go unpunished,” Reid said.
As Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump, Republicans have either defended the President’s actions or sidestepped the question whether it’s appropriate that Trump asked a foreign government to investigate his political opponent.
Reid said he’s “disappointed” in what the Senate has become, mainly criticizing his former Senate Republican colleagues for not speaking out.
“And we have these Republicans who are afraid to speak out against things that he does that are absolutely wrong and they know they’re wrong,” Reid said. “The only person we’ve gotten to say anything is Mitt Romney, and (Ben) Sasse has said something out of Nebraska. Other than that, they don’t say anything.”
He chided Sen. Lindsey Graham for his changed views of the President, going from one of Trump’s most vehement critics to one of his most vociferous defenders. The South Carolina Republican was close friends with the late Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, who had a contentious relationship with Trump.
“It’s amazing what happened to him when John McCain died,” Reid said of Graham. “He suddenly was no longer a John McCain Republican. He became a South-Carolina-I-want-to-get-reelected Republican, and he is a tote and fetch guy for the President.”
He added, “I had such admiration for him. I’m so disappointed in what has happened to him. His whole personality has changed since John passed.”