Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

By State of the Union - March 11, 2012

CROWLEY: Joining us this morning, one of the lawmakers who spoke to the president's campaign team, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Thank you so much, senator, for being with us.

REID: My pleasure.

CROWLEY: I want to start out, though, in an entirely different place in the world, and that is in Afghanistan, where this morning we are learning that an American soldier went off base and opened fire on civilians, young, old. We're not sure at this point of how many -- CNN's reporting is that 14 people were shot. We don't know yet how many of them fatally. He is now -- he turned himself in, apparently, after this.

I know that you have supported the president's plan for withdrawal. I want to first get your reaction to this soldier going rogue, which is what it appears to be. And then ask you whether over time you have rethought whether we ought to speed up that withdrawal time.

REID: Well, of course, our hearts go out to these innocent people. One of our soldiers went into a couple of homes and just killed people at random. Very, very sad, especially following that incident dealing with the Korans, just not a good situation.

Our troops are under such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan. It's a war like no other war we've been involved in. But no one can condone or make any suggestion that what he did was right because it was absolutely wrong.

I think that we're on the right track to get out of Afghanistan just as soon as we can. There's a way we have stabilized some of the provinces there. There's conversations going on with Karzai now. We've turned over the big prison to them, in the next six months, we'll turn that over to them.

So I think -- I think our timetable is pretty good. We're moving out, as the president said. I think that's the right thing to do.

CROWLEY: Have you watched? There was -- or there were those riots in the street, Kandahar in particular was hit hard after the burning or the accidental burning of the Koran by American personnel.

Watching that, we don't know what will happen in the wake of this. Hopefully the commanders over there can calm things. But, nonetheless, have you ever thought, we need to do this more quickly? REID: Well, I think we're moving pretty quickly right now. And I think some of the things that are going on we didn't expect would happen this quickly. There's peace talks starting in Qatar. The Taliban have set up offices there. There's conversations going on. So, I think we're going to find out that hopefully we can get out of there as scheduled and things will be stabilized when we do that.

CROWLEY: Let me move you back to this country and domestic things, particularly domestic politics. You did have a meeting with some re-elect people for the president. I wonder what your takeaway was from that meeting. What did they tell you?

REID: Well, I had a meeting with Jim Messina, who is a wonderful friend, a Senate guy, spent a lot of time with him. David Plouffe, who is the brains of the campaign operation for the president. And we had a group...

CROWLEY: Did they tell you no money? REID: Well, there are many ways they're helping us. Everyone should know that. I'm pretty proud of my campaign organization I have in Nevada. I think people would recognize that the reason I was re- elected is because of the campaign operation I had on the ground.

Obama has that same campaign operation on the ground. That's important. And I don't know why anyone's concerned about the conversations that we had. It's the same conversation I've had with presidents over the years. They have to guard their money. I didn't expect them to bring their checkbook with them.

CROWLEY: Right. And I guess the reason this sort of becomes an issue is because if you talk to some of your Democratic colleagues on the Senate side, they will at times voice some displeasure thinking -- saying, listen, the White House, the president, just even on routine things, isn't in regular contact, sometimes isn't in semi-contact. This feeling that there's a detachment between Senate Democrats and the White House. Do you feel that same detachment?

REID: Well, I really don't. I've worked with a number of presidents. I've been fortunate to do that. Of course, my relationship with -- because of my being the leader of the Senate has made it a little closer than some of the other presidents. But I can place a phone call any time. It's returned immediately. He's got staff around him that I care about a great deal. Pete Rouse, his new chief of staff, is a wonderful man. Rob Nabors who works with him. We meet every week for at least an hour.

I feel very good about my relationship with the White House and the Senate's relationship.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I want to put up some numbers for our audience, the question, you've seen the polls, how is congress handling its job? The approval rating for congress right now is 10 percent. The disapproval rating is 82 percent. I wonder if you believe at this moment that you will hold on to the majority in the U.S. Senate on the day after the elections. REID: First of all, if they could poll me, I would have been with the majority here. I think -- I think congress looks bad. I think the obstructionism we've had over the last two congresses, but especially this one, has turned the American people. What the Republicans have done, stopping us from doing the most simple things...

CROWLEY: Is it all their fault?

REID: As I indicated, what you had when you introduced your show, why does everything have to be a fight? There shouldn't be a fight. We should be able to get things done that are routine. And we haven't been able to do that.

But we feel really good. We've had some tremendous -- we've had some good fortune in North Dakota, in Massachusetts, in Nevada, in Arizona. We have good candidates all over. And I feel very comfortable about where we're going to wind up in November. CROWLEY: You think you'll wind up with the majority?

REID: I sure do. And most of the pundits are saying so now, especially in light of the fact Snowe has stepped down. We have my friend Bob Kerry has been -- is going to run in Nebraska. So we have some good things going on around the country.

CROWLEY: Your friend Bob Kerry has dropped some pretty broad hints that you sort of put some sweeteners in this to get him to decide again that he would come into this race. What did you tell him you might be able to do for him if he would run for the Senate?

REID: Anyone that knows Bob Kerry knows you don't need to make a deal with Bob Kerry. He's running because he wants to run. He loved the Senate. He's coming back. Bob Kerry and I had conversations not over a few days, but over many, many months. And the things we talked about were between the two of us. But Bob Kerry was promised nothing.

CROWLEY; So, you didn't say I'll give you seniority, I'll put you on a committee, none of that was promised?

REID: No. And not only that, it's determined after the election when our steering committee meets. You know, I can make recommendations. But I've learned a long time ago -- for example, when Arlen Specter switched parties, he's writing in his book Reid didn't deliver what he thought he would do. I told Arlen I'm going to try to do something that helped you. But, hey, as things worked out, more senior members of the Senate didn't want to give him seniority.

So I learned my lesson then. Don't make any promises.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I want to get back, just backtrack a little to something you said. And that is that you do blame Republicans for the low rating of congress. Is there nothing that the Democrats are doing to add to this?

REID: Well, you know, there's a lot of things that...

CROWLEY: By this I mean the stalemate.

REID: Oh, sure.

We really tried. I mean, I'm there. I try. I try -- you know, why should we have right now more than 20 judges held up, many of them from the last year, reported out unanimously. These are things that have never been doing before.

So we've had - we have had on the most mundane, simple, routine matters, they've stopped us. And as I said, if I were being polled, how do you feel about congress, I would -- I would be with the 80% saying not very good.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, 11 of your Democrats defected and went over and voted for building the Keystone pipeline. What is the message to the White House from the Democrats as a result of that vote? REID: The message is pretty simple. The pipeline, half of it's being constructed as we speak. The owners of that pipeline have filed new applications to get rid of some of the contention that's in the original application. I think it's very clear that the amendment that we have, we'll vote on this coming week, says that if -- if they want to build it here, they have to sell the product here.

And so I think -- and many exaggerations about tens of thousands of jobs. Half of it's being built right now. So this is something that the Republicans have raised as an issue, to lower the price of oil. It won't lower the price of oil. It won't be -- construction won't be complete for a long, long time. And under the way it's constructed now, all the oil would be sold elsewhere. We can't have that.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you...

REID: When I say elsewhere, I mean to some other country.

CROWLEY: Right. Let me ask you something about -- something the attorney general said recently. He was giving a speech to Northwestern University Law School. And he was suggesting -- he said, you know, people are arguing that for some reason the president needs to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a U.S. citizen overseas who's an operational leader in al Qaeda.

He says that's just not accurate. That due process and judicial process are not one and the same. Do you have -- and this is creating quite a stir. Do you have any problem with that? Do you understand what that means exactly?

REID: No, I don't. But I do know this. The non -- the American citizens who have been killed overseas who are terrorists, and, frankly, if anyone in the world deserved to be killed, those three did deserve to be killed.

CROWLEY: And these were the three that were killed in Yemen. And I understand that. But just -- are you slightly uncomfortable with the idea that the United States president, whoever it may be, can decide that this or that U.S. citizen living abroad is a threat to national security and kill them?

REID: Well, I don't know what the attorney general meant by saying that. I'd have to study it a little bit. I've never heard that term before. But I think the process is in play. I think it's one that I think we can live with. And I think with the international war on terror that's going on now, we're going to have to make sure that we have the tools to get some of these people who are very bad and comply with American law.

CROWLEY: And you think that the president should be able to make that decision in conjunction with the folks in the administration without going to a court, without going to you all, anything?

REID: There is a war going on. There's no question about that. He's the commander-in-chief. And there has been guidelines set. And if he follows those, I think he should be able to do it.

CROWLEY: Senator Harry Reid, majority leader in the U.S. Senate, come back and see us again. Thank you so much.

REID: You're sure welcome, Candy. 

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