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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Let’s hope that we will be less divided’: Longtime Coeur d’Alene Democratic leader optimistic about potential Biden presidency

Vice President Joe Biden and his chief of staff, Bruce Reed, are seen on a balcony of the Old Executive Office building on the White House complex in Washington, D.C., in October 2013.  (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Mary Lou Reed has been around to see plenty of division in American politics, but she had never seen a president like Donald Trump. The Coeur d’Alene resident, former Democratic Idaho state senator and environmental pioneer is optimistic that a Joe Biden presidency could unify the nation, set a good example for a new generation of political leaders and restore civility in Washington, D.C.

As Biden appeared to be closing in on the 270 electoral votes needed to reach the White House on Friday, Reed spoke with The Spokesman-Review about what a potential Biden presidency could mean for the nation and the Inland Northwest.

“Joe Biden is just exactly what he appears,” Reed said. “He is a thoroughly kind, generous and outgoing guy. He’s just a fine fellow and a true American. He’s been working all his life for a better United States.”

Reed has gotten to know the Democratic nominee through her son, Coeur d’Alene native Bruce Reed, a longtime Biden aide who served as the vice president’s chief of staff in the Obama administration and is now a senior campaign adviser, likely in the running for a top White House post. Reed said she was unsure what role her son may take should Biden win.

“That is all in the future,” she said. “You don’t say no to the president, but I have no idea what he’ll do.”

States may take weeks to certify official election results, but as of Friday evening, the Associated Press had projected Biden winning 264 electoral votes and Trump 214. Biden would need to win just one of the four remaining undecided states – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina – in order to win the election.

In congressional races, Democrats have less reason to celebrate. After polls predicted Democratic gains in both the House and Senate, GOP candidates fared better than oddsmakers expected. With votes still being counted Friday night, it appeared Republicans would retain their Senate majority and gain at least five seats in the Democratic-controlled House.

“It certainly will hamper what the president wants to do, not having a Senate majority,” Reed said. “It just means that Biden, with his experience, is going to have to be once again a mediator and a unifier. That’s what he’s promised, so let’s hope that we will be less divided in the future.”

Two Senate races in Georgia appeared to be headed for a runoff election in January that could give Democrats one more chance to draw even with Republicans in the upper chamber. If Biden wins the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris could break a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

As vice president, Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran, took a leading role in the White House’s relations with Capitol Hill. He has promised to unite the country and framed the campaign as a “battle for the soul of the nation,” though it is unclear whether Democrats and Republicans in Congress are interested in uniting.

“I’m hoping that a Biden presidency will actually represent a chance for the country to become less partisan,” Reed said. “I think he will interact very well with Congress. He’d been in it for a long, long time … and he will do what he can to do the best thing for the country and not just for the party.”

Reed, 90, co-founded the Kootenai Environmental Alliance in 1972 and Idaho Conservation League in 1973 along with her late husband, Scott. She said one of the most tangible effects of a Biden administration on the Inland Northwest could come through a restoration of some of the environmental protections the Trump administration has rolled back over the past four years.

“The Trump (administration) has been very, very hard on the regulations that were meant to clean up water and air,” she said. “They’ve taken away a lot of the environmental safeguards that have taken years to establish. So I hope that will be, early on, one of the things that will help our area. And certainly, the salmon situation is a serious one.”

Bruce Reed, 60, has quietly been one of the most influential Democratic operatives of the past three decades. After graduating from Coeur d’Alene High School, he went on to study at Princeton University and at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar before becoming a key player in the centrist New Democrat movement.

The younger Reed served as a speechwriter to then-Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee before following Vice President Gore to the White House, where he worked closely with Biden, then a Delaware senator, to help craft a landmark 1994 crime bill that progressives – and even Trump – have blamed for ushering in an era of mass incarceration. Biden has said parts of the bill were a “mistake” while defending other elements.

Political pundits have made hay of the divide between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party – led by presidential hopefuls like Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont – and more moderate Democrats like Biden, but Reed said that rift is overblown, as evidenced by Biden’s primary opponents stumping for the party’s nominee throughout the summer.

“I’ve been in the Democratic Party for a long, long time and I don’t hear all those things,” she said. “There was a very united team of all of the people who ran for president. They all chipped in to help Kamala (Harris) and Joe Biden win.”

Reed said she is hopeful a Biden presidency could help soothe the partisan rancor that has brought most major legislating to a halt in recent years.

“If we’re all trying to unify, a lot more can be done,” she said. “Certainly the Senate and the House are both capable, they’re all politicians. They know how to be nice to each other. I think they can work together. They’ve done it for centuries. It’s not a new concept.”

“Generally, somebody who is elected has in mind getting things done, and I think that it’s very possible to get a lot done if you’re all working together.”

She said she also hopes Trump’s departure could restore a spirit of bipartisanship that has been missing from national politics since the former reality TV star came on the scene.

“I think we’re all suffering from the impact of Trump. He’s very one-sided,” Reed said. “In my lifetime, I have never seen that kind of situation, where the president acted partisan. You’re president of the whole country, and Biden has been very clear that’s what he wants to be. He won’t be perfect – no decision is going to please everybody – but I think that he will be as fair as possible.”

Biden, who would be the nation’s oldest-ever president at 78, has called himself a “transition candidate” and said he sees himself as a “bridge” to the next generation of Democratic leaders. Reed said a post-Trump White House could also help pave the way for a new wave of Republicans.

“If you take Trump out of the situation, there are a lot of outstanding young people who are getting involved,” she said. “Certainly, the candidates the Democrats had are an outstanding sampling from around the country, and I’m sure that this is true with the Republicans, too. Because Trump takes up all the oxygen, no other Republican has gotten that much attention.”

“I think that there certainly is a future ahead for some excellent young people on both sides, and I would encourage anybody who’s interested in government to pursue a career (or) to volunteer.”