Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

By John King, USA - December 22, 2010

KING: The man even Republicans begrudgingly give a great deal of credit for all of the advancements in the lame-duck session of Congress, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada joins us now from his office on Capitol Hill.

Senator, I want to get to some of the specifics, but I want to start with what might be the ultimate irony. This was the lame-duck session and in this campaign year, Republicans had hoped to make you target number one.

Lame duck number one if you will. They tried so hard to beat you in that campaign. You won the campaign. You came back and you had what by all accounts was a very successful lame duck session. How?

SENATOR HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: The midterm elections proved to me, Democrats, and Republicans that during this lame duck session, what the American people wanted was for us to work together.

I think you saw in this very short congested work period we had is Democrats and Republicans were working together. We accomplished a lot of stuff and we did it because we worked together.

KING: Not everybody's happy about that. I want you to listen here to Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican, of South Carolina. He believes you took it to the Republicans pretty good. Listen to his choice of words.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: When it's all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch. This has been a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn't have passed in the new Congress.


KING: Did you eat the Republican's lunch? Get them to capitulate on things that would never have passed next time?

REID: Lindsey Graham and I are friends. I'm sorry he feels that way. I'm sorry he didn't join with us. He's an outstanding advocate and I'm sure we will work together in the future. Let's not talk about Harry Reid eating their lunch. What we were able to do together, very, very good things for our country.

KING: On the floor on Friday when you were fighting for the START Treaty, at a time when its future, its ratification was in doubt, you said of all the things done in this Congress, there was nothing, nothing more important than this START Treaty.

Those are your words. Do you really believe that? Health care reform was passed, financial reform, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Is START Treaty the most important or is that a bit of hyperbole at the moment?

REID: Well, you know, John, whatever I'm working on at the time seems the most important.

KING: In context, what do you think, looking back at the past two years not the past two weeks, what was the most important thing you did?

REID: Well, as I look back over this Congress, it was so many things we worked so hard on. I mean, something like the public lands bill. That was hard to get done. Lily Ledbetter.

For the first time in the history of our country, we now have the FDI controlling tobacco. Credit card legislation. We did health care reform. We did Wall Street reform. We did national service legislation. We did the HIRE act, Small Business Administration that was so important to stimulate the economy as much as it did.

So there isn't any one thing that I look back on as the thing that is the most important. I say everything that we worked on at the time was extremely important.

KING: One of the things that came up in the lame-duck session that you were forced to compromise on, was you tried to bring the 1,900 page on to the spending bill to the floor and there were a lot of complaints that it was loaded up with earmarks. You went to the floor and called the Republicans hypocrites. Saying they were criticizing that bill, but in a little bit of a wink that they cynically wanted it to pass, even though they were criticizing, because they wanted all their earmarks.

Then the Republicans did hold together, sir, and they forced you to pull that from the floor and instead negotiate what we call a continuing resolution, here in Washington, to fund the government through March. No earmarks. Do you owe those Republicans an apology?

REID: Oh, of course not.

KING: But how raw -- how raw did you feel personally, being essentially iced out of these negotiations in the end, when it was the vice president negotiating with Leader McConnell and the Republicans on the other side, a tax compromise deal that you and the leadership of the House knew nothing about at the outset?

REID: John, I was not iced out. I made a decision not to get involved in the negotiations. I was invited to many meetings. The president will tell you that. Joe Biden will tell you that. I made a decision that these negotiations were something that I thought the president should do on his own. I did not want to go to my caucus and tell the caucus I'd agreed to these tax cuts for rich people. I'm satisfied with the ultimate package. Think the president did an outstanding job of negotiating things for the American people. But I was not in favor of tax cuts for people making more than $1 million a year.

KING: As you know, you personally don't like that. Many members of your caucus don't like that on the House side. That you might say it is even a bit more intense. I want you to listen to Peter DeFazio who was furious at the president for negotiating this compromise.

He said, "The president has allowed himself to be blackmailed by the Senate Republicans and I will not support it. Compromise requires give and take, but once again, the middle class gave and the millionaires took."

Are you worried that this is -- in the Clinton days, we called it triangulation. Is this a new Barack Obama? Is he going to put himself ahead of what the Democratic base thinks?

REID: I know Peter DeFazio very, very well. I like him a lot. But he's wrong. The president did a very, very good job of making sure that the American people were taken care of. That the economy continues to grow; that people who are out of work can drawn unemployment benefits still. That the great middle-class programs that were destined to go out of business are now part of the law of this country, because of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They did an outstanding job. And even though I like Peter DeFazio. He's absolutely wrong. The president did a good job. He did a good job without me.

KING: Did the president do a good job when he said those who were criticizing him, including Mr. DeFazio, and many members of your conference, were sanctimonious?

REID: I've heard that term kicked around a little bit. But it is easy to take words out of context. I don't do much name calling, on purpose. So I don't know what that is all about. But I don't consider that anything that was directed toward me.

KING: You're auditioning for secretary of State here, it's quite admirable, Leader Reid.

I want to look ahead to the next Congress, because when you come back, you will have a Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner. You will still be a leader in the Senate, but you'll have a more narrow Democratic majority. Here's what leader McConnell said just the other day, to Politico.

"There's much for Democrats to be angst ridden about. If they think it's bad now, wait till next year.:

What do you think he meant? REID: I don't know what he meant by that. I think that now that we have 53 and not 58, I think that we're going to be obligated to make sure that Mitch McConnell believes he's part of the process. I'm going to do everything I can to work with Mitch. He and I have a very fine relationship. And I don't know why he made that statement. But I -- he's made statements to me personally that he wants to get a lot of things done.

We have an idea of how we can get things done. We're going to try to get our appropriation bills done. We are going to have a run at energy legislation. As you know, there's a number of Republicans who want to do comprehensive immigration reform. I look forward to working with them on that issue.

So I'm not going to be challenging what Mitch said, in whatever setting he was in, other than to say that my conversation with him had been very positive about the next year.

KING: You truly believe things of that size, scope and importance can get done when we come out to a new year with divided government in which, Sir, you know this as well as I do, the presidential campaign in 2012 will be starting even before we say Happy New Year?

REID: Some of the most important legislation has been passed with divided government. There's nothing wrong with divided government. I would rather that we still had 60 votes in the Senate, and we had the White House, and we had a heavy majority in the House. But that's not the way it is. Divided government does not mean you can't get things done. Legislation is the art of compromise. And when you have divide government, that's when you have to compromise.

KING: That's a nice place to stop and wish you a great holiday, Sir. Wish you a well-deserved break and send our best wishes to your wife as well.

REID: Thank you very much.

KING: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, thank you, Sir.


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John King, USA

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