Harry Reid on the sequester, NSA spying and dealing with Republicans
When Rachel Maddow sat down with Senator Harry Reid, D-NV, Senate Majority Leader, they covered a lot of ground. Including the Senator’s take on regulation of the NSA, the republican party wanting to hold its next convention in his backyard of Las Vegas and if he sees any hope of getting rid of the sequester any time soon. Take a look.
Here, again, is the full, uncut interview, followed by the text transcript.
RACHEL MADDOW: Senator Reid, thank you so much for this time. I really appreciate it.
SENATOR HARRY REID: It's my pleasure.
RACHEL MADDOW: So-- we are about two weeks out from the shutdown and-- the-- the White House and the Democrats-- to my mind, just sort of refuse to go along with what the Republicans want-- were trying to do there. They wanted policy talks, where reopening the government-- was contingent on them getting what you want. And you and the Democrats and the White House just said, "No" and you weren't gonna do it. You held firm and they ended up getting nothing that-- of what they wanted in the shutdown. W-- were y-- were you the author of that strategy? Was that your idea?
SENATOR HARRY REID: Oh, I think there were a lot of authors. But I certainly (THROAT CLEAR) did my best to put my arms around my caucus and to make sure that the president and I were on the same page. We've all had experiences of bullies. You know, you are bullied, they want $0.50. The next time it's $1.50. (MIC NOISE) And we had had too many $0.50, $1.50s. W-- the-- we had-- we had had it with all this.
"Gimme this and we'll do this." W-- we were through doing that. We came to the decision that it was unfair to the American people for us to keep trying to work something out with these people who-- they were unworkable. They threatened to shut down the government and make-- these bullies were gonna make us respond 'cause they were gonna shut down the government.
And then they were gonna default on the debt of the United States. So we did the right thing. It worked out well. We hung together and we have to do that in the future. We can no longer let a small number of people, and that's what we have in the House, who are running the House of Representatives. I said on the floor on Monday, "My disappointment in all this is not the 80 or 90 people are in-- live in some other political world that I don't understand. But my disappointment is the so-called moderates who went along with this vote, after vote, after vote."
These people voted t-- to terminate Obamacare 45 times. And as (LAUGH) Einstein said, the s-- pure definition of insanity is someone who keeps doing something over and over and over again and expect a different result. So that was my number one concern, is that these so-called moderate Republicans went along with this crazy stuff.
RACHEL MADDOW: I don't know that any Republicans would allow themselves to be called moderate anymore. It's become-- such a form--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Sad, but true.
RACHEL MADDOW: --of (UNINTEL). So what's gonna happen in January and February? Do you think we will be back on the verge of a shutdown or a debt ceiling collapse again?
SENATOR HARRY REID: The Republican party is staggering right now. You-- any poll-- have Rush Limbaugh run a poll. They wanna know who did the poll. This has really hurt Republicans, what they've done. But they-- in the years past they've offended African Americans. Now it's Hispanics, it's Asians, it's women, it's-- the LBJ-- LBG-- gay, lesbian community and others-- fairness. That wasn't good enough. Then they took after the poor-- lately in cutting food stamps by $40 billion. They've gone after everybody. The Republican party is staggering. I don't know who they can expect to have a vote for them. I just-- I don't see it. (NOISE)
RACHEL MADDOW: Coming out of the shutdown the b--
SENATOR HARRY REID: So they're not gonna do it again, is what I'm saying.
RACHEL MADDOW: Out-- out of the shutdown, the-- obviously Ted Cruz made a lot of money-- in that process. Senator Cruz-- was able to lead in a way that attracted b-- a lot of attention to him, made him a household name-- and raised a lot of money for his PAC and for associated outside groups that is s-- th-- that he's with.
I don't know that that increases his power within the Senate, but it certainly I think brightened his political prospects. Other than that, it seems like the only person who emerged from that whole crisis having accrued political capital, in part because you won, but in part of the strategy that you pursued-- is-- is you. It seems like you have more political capital now after that shutdown because of what you did. Does it feel that way to you?
SENATOR HARRY REID: Well, with Ted Cruz-- some aisles have determined that. I'm not gonna say what my political capital is 'cause I really don't know. But with Ted Cruz, I'm-- I'm sure this will help him raise more money. If I didn't care so much about our country, I would hope he would get the Republican nomination for president 'cause that would be the end of the Republican party.
RACHEL MADDOW: In what sense?
SENATOR HARRY REID: He stands for everything America doesn't.
RACHEL MADDOW: I have to ask you about-- while we're talking about senators on the other side of the aisle, t-- Tom Coburn at a fundraiser in New York this week-- cursed your name. Called you an absolute thing I can't say on television. I-- I'm-- I mean, you-- you're a guy who's used unpolitically correct language before and sharp terms to-- to criticize people who you disagreed with before. But I gotta ask, what's-- what's goin' on with Tom Coburn?
SENATOR HARRY REID: I don't know. I'm sure he didn't mean it.
RACHEL MADDOW: (LAUGH) Okay. He'd said that he wanted to meet with you thereafter. Has that meeting-- there's--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Oh, we've had a meeting. It's all over with.
RACHEL MADDOW: Okay. You announced this week that you would-- before this-- the end of this work period, so before Thanksgiving, you'd bring the employment non-discrimination act to the floor, which is-- would be landmark gay rights legislation that has languished for more than a decade, I think. It would big news--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Since 1997.
RACHEL MADDOW: And you were-- you were an early supporter of it in the '90s.
SENATOR HARRY REID: One of the things I f-- look back on with-- part of my education here in the Congress, a person came to me from L.A. He was-- a big shot in the human rights campaign. And we met in my office. He said, "You know, you're a moderate." He said, "If you would join as a sponsor of ENDA, we could pass that." Said, "You think so?" He said, "Yeah 'cause if you agree to sponsor it-- we'll get other people to join." And so, I did. And we did. We got lots of sponsors. We brought that to the floor in 1997. And it failed by one vote.
RACHEL MADDOW: Wow.
SENATOR HARRY REID: So I've been a supporter of this for a long time. And as I look back at my-- as I repeat my education-- we've done some really important things for fairness in our country. I went to a play this Saturday at the Ford Theater. It was so good. It was called The Laramie Project. It's played all around the country. And it's the story of a y-- boy, small, gay man, laramewy-- Laramie, wyoning (SIC)-- Wyoming, who was terribly tortured because of his sexual-- identity.
Because of his sacrifice-- he was murdered, we were able to pass the hi-- hate crimes act. That's part of my education. The marriage amendment. I feel so good. I really don't feel always good about me, but I felt so good that day when I cast a no vote. So-- we have more to do. Why in the world should someone in a modern day America be allowed to be fired or have their employment in any way discriminated against because of their sexual orientation?
They shouldn't be. We are calling for fairness. And so, I hope we can get this passed and I feel comfortable we can do that with Cory Booker, who will be here-- tomorrow. We feel we're up to 55 Democrats. Every one of them, every one of my Democrats support this legislation. Two that didn't came out today. They support it. I'm proud of both of them. And so, I think without a lotta question, we're gonna get at least five Republicans to pass this, send it to the House. If the House, again, has-- any sense, and I hope they do, that they'll pick this up and pass it.
RACHEL MADDOW: Th-- your home state senator-- on the Republican side, (SNIFF) Dean Heller-- is one of those Republican senators that seems to be sort of a maybe or at least an unknown on this issue. I wondered if you had any insight just in terms of Nevada politics and Nevada feelings on this issue, if it would be a very hard vote for him to take it at home--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Rachel, I--
RACHEL MADDOW: --as a Republican?
SENATOR HARRY REID: --I think we're beyond hard votes. Easy votes. This is fairness. I mean, (LAUGH) look around you. I'm saying that more t-- you know, look around you. I'm saying that to all your viewers. Why wouldn't we do this? Why wouldn't we do this? So it has nothing to do with the hard vote, it's just the right vote.
RACHEL MADDOW: In terms of your own-- evolution on that issue, you talked about your sorta education on it. And, you know, er-- early on you had-- you had a different voting record on this. You voted for DOMA, you voted for Don't Ask, Don't Tell. You voted for your own state's-- marriage equality--
SENATOR HARRY REID: I forgot to tell you about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's one of my proud accomplishments in that w--
RACHEL MADDOW: Well, you voted for it in the first place--
SENATOR HARRY REID: --in the w--
RACHEL MADDOW: --and then you were k-- you were-- you were a key man in terms of repealing it--
SENATOR HARRY REID: The lame duck, we got that done, yeah.
RACHEL MADDOW: How did you-- what-- what was your personal evolution that caused you to change your mind on those issues over time?
SENATOR HARRY REID: I have a friend, very, very conservative woman in Nevada. Her name's Sandy Jolley. She'd led the efforts against the equal rights amendment in Nevada. But Sandy and I have talked and talked and talked. And we have seen how individual lives are affected by this issue. And-- together, she and I have worked our way through the issues. And I-- she'd have to speak for herself. I know what (MIC NOISE) has caused me to reevaluate all my prior misinformation.
RACHEL MADDOW: Cory Booker-- as you mentioned, is gonna be getting sworn in here tomorrow. He'll be the latest-- addition to your Democratic caucus-- here in the Senate. There's been-- a number of very, very high profile Democrats who've come to the Senate in recent years, people who had national profiles before they got here. Senator Clinton-- Senator Franken, s-- Senator Warren from Massachusetts.
SENATOR HARRY REID: Oh yeah, she's terrific.
RACHEL MADDOW: And you were part of recruiting her to run for that seat, I know. Cory Booker is another of those high profile Democrats. I wonder if you feel like there is a sort of-- template or model for Democrats coming to the Senate and being successful when they-- when they bring all that star power with them.
SENATOR HARRY REID: You know, it's interesting to note those that come with star power. They're independent. Frankly, they're a little progressive and they're unafraid. And-- the people you mentioned. Think what Hillary Clinton did. Think what this great woman did. She was first lady from Arkansas. She moved to New York, was elected senator from New York. I still remind her of how much courage that took.
Elizabeth Warren. She had a job that she created for herself in the administration. The Republicans wouldn't give that to her. I'll be today they wish they had (LAUGH) because she fought back. So I think that the profile of those two women and this good man, and for your viewers that may not know this, he's an African American with stunning credentials. Stanford-- bachelor's degree, master's degree, student body president. Tight end on their football team.
RACHEL MADDOW: And a good one.
SENATOR HARRY REID: Rhodes Scholar. Yale Law School. I w-- what a record. And then as mayor, this man who came from an-- upper middle class family has lived in a mobile home most of the time in part of the slums of Newark, the city he runs. That's the kinda people we need in the Senate.
RACHEL MADDOW: When you-- what-- I w-- I will confess that-- when I'm covering Washington, I talk a lot more about Republicans than I do about Democrats be-- and-- and that is because recently the-- the Republicans' failures and challenges have been flamboyant and hard to turn away from. I wonder as the leader of the Democrats in the Senate and as majority leader in the Senate, when you look at your own party, what are you worried about with your own party? What do you think Democrats' big challenges are now and ahead?
SENATOR HARRY REID: The American people are really suffering. Now, I say that because the rich are getting richer. They're not suffering. The poor are getting pooran (SIC)-- poorer. They are suffering. The middle class is being squeezed. And the sad part about all this, and what we as Democrats have to realize is that rich people in America are willing to pay more. The only people that don't want 'em to pay more are the Republicans in Congress. They're in a different world.
So we as Democrats can't be afraid of going forward on the issues. That is, we need to build highways, roads, bridges, dams, water systems, sewer systems. It creates jobs. For every $1 billion we spend, we create 47,500 high paying jobs and thousands of other jobs that spin off from that. We have to do things that help people out there. Like the minimum wage. We have to do things that are-- to protect social security, to protect Medicare and be-- and I am gonna apologize to no one for what we've done with the deficit.
The Bowles-Simpson commission, they s-- their goal was $4 trillion. Well, we've cut spending already $2.5 trillion or $2.6 trillion. If we passed immigration reform it's another $1 trillion. Think about that. $3.6 trillion. We have $400 billion to go over the next eight years. We could do that easy. So d-- I don't want any lectures on Democrats paying for big spending. We have sacrificed a great deal-- for the good of our country. And I'm happy to have done that. But let's get back to doing what we should be doing as a country, creating jobs, becoming more competitive around the world.
RACHEL MADDOW: Do you see any realistic hope of-- I know the-- the-- the budget dis-- the budget group met today, the budget group that was set up during the shutdown process. Do you see any realistic hope of getting rid of the sequester any time soon? I mean, it is-- it definitely cut spending, but it cut spending in a way that everybody acknowledges is pretty stupid.
SENATOR HARRY REID: One of my favorite senators-- and I'm sorry to show my prejudice, is Patty Murray. She is so good. I selected her to be head of my super committee that we tried to do something that was really important. She's head of the budget committee. If anyone can work their way through this labyrinth, she can.
So here's who I feel about it. I'm willing to get rid of-- sequestration if it's fair. I'm not just gonna bail out the defense industry. What I'm gonna do, if we're gonna do something for defense, we're gonna do something domestic discretionary. And we're gonna do it, we have to have revenues. Let's not play around with this. We have to have revenue. Whether it's taxes or whatever, we have to have more revenue. I would hope we could do what Romney talked about doing, closing tax loopholes. I mean, we got a lotta things we could do there. (SNIFF)
RACHEL MADDOW: Judicial nominations fight-- is due to start again tomorrow. The DC Circuit Court-- which a lot of people think of as sort of the second highest court of the land under the Supreme Court-- has three vacancies. The president has nominated-- nominees for those vacancies. And the Republicans, again, are threating to filibuster those judges, not on the basis of the qualifications of the ju-- the would be judges, the nominees, but just because they don't want anybody in those jobs. Are-- are we about to get back into a standoff over whether or not they should have the right to filibuster nominees?
SENATOR HARRY REID: We're sure gonna find out. This court-- we have two important votes-- are gonna happen next 24 hours. Number one is a man by the name of Mel Watt, a congressman from North Carolina, been there since 1992. He's been on the financial services committee over there. I got to know him quite well during the-- time he was head of the congressional black caucus. Graduated first in his class at Yale Law School.
The Republicans say he's not qualified. So that's an important vote. We also have this woman who has a stunning record of success to be on the DC Circuit. I believe frankly that it's-- it's as important as the Supreme Court because many of the most complex cases that come to any of our circuit courts, they come here because of all the government regulations that we have to sort through. We have vacancies there-- because of deal we made, and I was part of it and I'll take responsibility for a lot of it.
We-- we put on some bad people in that court to try to alleviate the nuclear option some years ago. We have three vacancies. We had four. We f-- got one. Now some of my Republican colleagues are saying, "President Obama's stacking the court." I talked to the president earlier today. I reminded him and it was easy to get him to agree. We're not stacking the courts. What he's doing is-- f-- fulfilling his presidential responsibility. There's-- vacancies here.
This is a court that needs to have everybody on it. These are the most complex cases that come to any appellate court. So if they wanna turn this good woman down, I've got two more they're gonna have to look at. And I'm go-- I'm not gonna stop with her if they don't approve her. And by the way, this is the second woman they've turned down. Caitlin Halligan. They turned her down twice. She is so well qualified. But now she's off-- law practice. So I-- we're gonna proceed forward. I'm not gonna be issuing any threats to anyone. But this is something that I'm gonna watch very closely.
RACHEL MADDOW: Do you-- (SNIFF) you and I-- spoke right before your reelection in 2010. We spoke in Nevada. And we talked about the same issue, about Republicans making the filibuster a standard part of doing business in Senate. And you said at that time that that-- that the filibuster rules had to be changed because the senators on the Republican side were abusing it. Do you regret having not changed the rule--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Well, we have--
RACHEL MADDOW: --yet?
SENATOR HARRY REID: --we-- no, we have changed-- quite a bit. I commented on the floor today. For example, when we get cloture on a non-- cabinet spot or a non-- circuit judge-- they only have eight hours-- four (MIC NOISE) of which is ours, so we can get rid of four of 'em real quickly, instead of the thirty hours. We have done a number of things to streamline things. Now, have we done enough? Time will only tell. But we have made some changes
RACHEL MADDOW: Do you think that th-- it is becoming-- because this standoff over-- standoffs over nominations keep happening, do you feel like the threat that the filibuster could actually be done away with on nominations is becoming kind of an empty threat? Is it--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Oh, I don't think so because we've gotten some things done as a result of that. And I would just indicate how things have changed. ENDA, we talked about that. It failed last time 49 to 50. Not 60 to f-- 40. We didn't-- th-- th-- this is something the Republicans have invented.
W-- we didn't f-- there w-- there was no filibuster of everything. So-- things have changed. Lyndon Johnson, majority leader for six years. I've been the majority leader now for six and a half years or thereabouts. He had one filibuster he had to overcome. I'm now up to about 430 or 440.
RACHEL MADDOW: Don't you wanna undo that? I mean, if they're--
SENATOR HARRY REID: We-- we've--
RACHEL MADDOW: You-- you've streamlined--
SENATOR HARRY REID: Rachel, we've--
RACHEL MADDOW: --the process.
SENATOR HARRY REID: --we've already-- we've-- we've changed things. And time will only tell whether we change it some more. (SNIFF) Stay tuned.
RACHEL MADDOW: (LAUGH) Okay. On-- policy matter that was being-- (SNIFF) discussed today in Congress-- about intelligence collection-- is the NSA not adequately overseen as an agency? Th-- I mean, the chair of intelligence in the senate, Dianne Feinstein-- says she is-- her quote was, "Totally opposed-- to the United States spying on allied leaders." Which, of course, implies that she didn't know that we were doing that. The White House has implied that maybe even the president didn't know that we were doing that. Is-- is the NSA not being overseen well enough?
SENATOR HARRY REID: First of all, we live in a new world, a world of-- people trying to blow up this building where we're doing this interview and doing so many evil things. So-- intelligence gathering is different than it used to be. And I'm not sure we've got our arms around it so we fully understand it. So I support members of the Senate, a number of-- m-- you know, my friends, saying we need more transparency, Mark Udall, Ron Wyden, Pat Leahy.
I-- Senator Feinstein's looking at parts of that as head of the intelligence committee. And I support them. Look more. G-- let's get our arms around this because I think it's clear that we don't quite understand it. Now, I don't know what the facts are when they finally are proven. But we have head of the agency said that-- Merkel and all the leaders were not s-- no one was take-- getting their information.
So I don't know. But it's good that we have people looking at it and I'm gonna continue to be as briefed as I need to be. And I hope all of them are-- if s-- if there's a member of the Senate who feels they don't know enough, they can call one of these agencies. And if they can't get a return call, I'll make sure they do.
RACHEL MADDOW: One of the-- (SNIFF) one of the things that senators and members of Congress involved in intelligence oversight-- sometimes complain about is that they sometimes can be briefed as individual members. But then they can't talk to anybody about what they've been briefed on. They can't have their staff there to help them understand and sort through the information.
And they feel like they're at-- at an asymmetrical information disadvantage with the people who they're supposed to be in-- to be overseeing. Are there structural reforms that need to happen so that oversight of intelligence is more like the normal oversight of other functions of government?
SENATOR HARRY REID: We cannot have the intelligence committees and the people that d-- do the briefing-- I mean, I'm an expert at senators talking about stuff they shouldn't be talking about. I try in my caucus-- you know, everything we talk about in here is in here. And it-- works most of the time, but not all the time.
So-- I would say if somebody feels they need-- more information, ask for it. Don't-- blame it on-- "I don't have my staff here." So I wanna make sure all these agencies give any senator that feels they don't have enough information, they get that information. But we're not-- we can't have open hearings on-- statutorily--
RACHEL MADDOW: Stupid stuff?
SENATOR HARRY REID: --which is supposed to be just a few people. Understand.
RACHEL MADDOW: One last question for you-- on-- on politics, and that is that-- Republicans in your home state of Nevada are now lobbying for Las Vegas to be the site of the Republican National Convention-- in 2016. And obviously, it's very early days, but they are competing-- competing for that honor. That's-- you're gonna be up for reelection then-- if you're running against in 2016. I wonder if you took that at all personally, that they (LAUGH) might wanna bring the whole Republican party sort of in your face in the middle of your reelection effort?
SENATOR HARRY REID: Oh, I've learned over the years not to take too much personally. Some of my friends have spent a lotta money-- trying to defeat me, defeat my senators. But I haven't-- I honestly haven't-- had it-- affect our friendship. Sheldon Madison and I still meet and have conversations. He has a problem, I try to help him, Steve Wynn.
So they have to make a decision whether they wanna come to Las Vegas or not. As far as I'm concerned, it would be good for business if they wanna come. We as Democrats have, on a number of occasions, have had that opportunity. We decided not to for a number of reasons. But the Republicans are gonna have to decide that on their own.
RACHEL MADDOW: Senator Reid, thank you very much for your time.
SENATOR HARRY REID: You bet.
RACHEL MADDOW: It's nice to have this time with you. Thanks. Good luck to you, sir.