WASHINGTON — A former boxer, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is not one to back down from a fight — even with a fellow Democrat. Neither is Rep. Alan Grayson, the combative Florida congressman running for the Senate.
The two engaged in an angry, in-your-face exchange Wednesday after Grayson interrupted Reid at a Congressional Progressive Caucus meeting to challenge the senator over his criticism and calls for Grayson to abandon his Senate bid.
Reid has endorsed Grayson's Democratic opponent in the Florida Senate primary, Rep. Patrick Murphy. He has assailed Grayson over an ethics investigation focused on a hedge fund that Grayson ran with operations in the Cayman Islands.
Grayson called Reid's comments untrue and shameful.
"I asked him more than once, 'What is your basis for making that statement?' and he couldn't come up with anything more than, 'I want you to lose,'" Grayson said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"He's bullying me and he's slandering me," Grayson said of Reid.
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said the 76-year-old senator "took the opportunity" of Grayson's interruption "to express his low opinion of Congressman Grayson to his face."
Reid reminded Grayson that he is "under ethics investigation and appears to be running a Cayman Islands hedge fund from his congressional office in order to line his own pockets because these things are true, as established by 74 pages' worth of evidence from the Congressional Ethics Committee," Orthman said.
Grayson's office quickly emailed a retort from the congressman: "I have a low opinion of Reid's low opinion."
A congressional review panel said last month there is "substantial reason to believe" that Grayson violated federal law and broke House rules in a number of business and legal activities and in managing his congressional office.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations centered on a hedge fund Grayson started when he was outside Congress and legal work done by others for which Grayson may have been paid while he was in office. The second allegation, if proven, would be a violation of federal law.
Grayson also faces allegations that he used his official congressional staff for purposes unrelated to his congressional work.
Grayson, 58, has denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations politically motivated and "utterly frivolous."
The ethics complaint was filed by St. Lucie County, Florida, Democratic Chairwoman Celeste Bush, a political ally of Murphy, Grayson's opponent in the Aug. 30 Senate Democratic primary.
Grayson and Murphy are seeking their party's nomination for the open Senate seat currently held by Republican Marco Rubio, who waged an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency.
Reid, who is retiring from the Senate, was a guest speaker at the closed-door caucus meeting. About eight lawmakers were in attendance, including Grayson, a caucus member.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the progressive caucus, was not at the meeting, but said the session "was not the appropriate place for Mr. Grayson to air whatever personal grievance he has against the senator."
Grijalva called Reid's comments "necessary and appropriate" given the confrontation started by Grayson.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the other co-chair, said he was "saddened" the argument erupted, but said, "We want to move on."
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this story.
Reach Matthew Daly: http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC