The Quiet Power of Jack Reed

By IAN DONNIS  |  August 13, 2008

Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, who compares Reed’s ethical standing with that of the late John Chafee, says senators from smaller states typically have to make far fewer deals and compromises than their large-state counterparts. “He studies the issues and knows his stuff,” she says. “It’s very hard to attack him.”

Reed is “a workhorse who’s actually achieved national prominence without having to jump in front of a camera,” Schiller says. “He gets internal respect from the senators, and external respect from the media — respect for what he knows and how he conducts himself. He really has a tremendously important influence [in the Senate], and it’s his realm. People respect his character, and that’s a great accomplishment for someone who never really sought this influence.”

Will Obama call?
Close observers of Reed mostly take him at face value when he says he wants to remain in the Senate.

Providence lawyer Jack McConnell, a major Democratic fundraiser in Rhode Island, for example, says, “I can not imagine Jack Reed leaving the United States Senate for any position.” In having worked with many senators, “I have never met anyone who loves being a senator from Rhode Island as much as Jack Reed. I can conceive of no scenario that would have him leave.”

Of course, it’s hard to predict how things might change if Obama wins in November.

“If [Reed’s] asked to be secretary of defense, I believe he will say, “Yes” to the commander-in-chief,” says Schiller. “Just like Colin Powell, this is a guy who respects the chain of command.”

Jennifer Duffy, a Rhode Island native who follows the Senate at the Cook Political Report, says Reed is not poised to gain much seniority through the 2008 election cycle, but that he has forged a strong relationship with Obama and could potentially have the president’s ear even while remaining in the Senate.

“The future, politically, is all pretty bright” for Reed, says Duffy, “and if Democrats win the White House, it’s brighter. I think he is already part of the Senate Democratic leadership on a sort of ad hoc basis, because they do rely on him on national security and defense issues. This trip with Obama [in July] made a lot of people take notice of him who did not do so before,” both in the Beltway and beyond.

Considering his strong suit in national security, Reed might help Democrats to make an impact in that area, either in the Senate or as a secretary of defense.

Asked about how the US is faring in the so-called global war on terror, he offers a characteristic response, citing the need for a multilateral approach that makes better use of resources and changes the dynamic in the Islamic world, so that terrorists become marginalized there.

In the present, Brown’s Schiller says that Reed offers a more immediate lesson for Democrats. “Do what you say you’re going to do,” she says. “That’s what Jack Reed has always done . . . He never promises more than he can deliver.”
To read Ian Donnis’s politics + media blog, to He can be reached

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