National Journal's Linda Douglass sat down with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for the April 18 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: I'd like to welcome the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Harry Reid. Welcome, Senator.
Reid: Very happy to be on this interview.
Q: Well, thank you so much for joining us. So let's start by talking about what's going on with the Democrats in Congress these days, as you continue to tussle with the Bush administration over what to do about the war. You've been trying -- Democrats, you as the Leader, and your party -- in many, many ways to get the president to wind down the war in Iraq, and have not been successful yet. And the latest tactic you are taking now is tying the Iraq war to the country's economic distress. Tell me a little bit about why you've decided to pursue that strategy.
Reid: We've arrived at a point where we have to start talking about the cost of Iraq -- not only the cost of blood, but the cost of treasure. This all came to me so clearly when Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said the war in Iraq is going to cost the American people $3 trillion. Right now, we're spending in Iraq $5,000 every second of every day, with no weekends off, no vacations -- $12 billion a month. With that money, we could do so much for putting more police on the street, doing something about health care, doing something about having our kids be able to go to college that's affordable, and with long lists of things that we could do -- $5,000 every second of every day.
It even is more pronounced when we come to the realization with gasoline at $114 a barrel, and Iraq having, this year, a surplus -- people estimate from $80 to $120 billion. If Iraq has all the problems it apparently has, shouldn't they be paying for this? Especially when we've found, within the past week or so, the Iraqi police just giving up. We found the Iraqi military was also incapable of fighting -- had to call in the British artillery and the American troops and airplanes, and just yesterday we learned that Iraqi soldiers fighting alongside Americans just walked away.
So they're able in Iraq, with our money, to build roads, highways, bridges -- they are building schools, hospitals, and over here we can't afford it. So that's why we're starting to talk about the actual cost of the war, and what it is doing to our national treasury.
Q: Have you as the Leader and the other Democratic senators pretty much given up on trying to get anything passed this year that would force the administration to start pulling the troops out of Iraq.
Reid: No, we are going to continue to fight this battle. The one thing that we feel good about is that we have certainly tried. Our majority is certainly slim -- it's 51-49, and for much of last year with Tim Johnson, senator from South Dakota, ill with a very bad bleed on the brain -- unconscious for five weeks, out of work for ten weeks -- our majority was 50-49. With Joe Lieberman voting with we Democrats on everything except the war, my majority didn't exist. It was 49, with them having 50.
But we were able, still, to focus attention on what's going wrong in Iraq. We've held hearings, which the Republicans never did during the time they were in power here. And we have had the Republicans have to, in effect, belly up to the bar, and vote to keep the troops there with no change of course, and we think that is not good for the Republicans. It certainly has not been good for the country. So we have given it a try. We are going to continue to focus on changing course.
Q: So yesterday, John McCain laid out his economic plan, which I'm sure you saw. It had many new tax cuts and different kinds of tax breaks. How would you, the Majority Leader of the Senate, handle that legislation if President McCain sent it to you?
Reid: Well, I think one only needs to look at John McCain as being the new George Bush. He's supported George Bush on virtually everything that he's asked for -- all of his financial standards, and look where that's gotten us. In fact, John McCain has said the market should control what goes on for housing. Well, he's a very, very small minority in that regard. So I don't think John McCain's fiscal policy is going to do anything to get him elected to anything. His fiscal policy is that of George Bush, which I don't think you can find many people who say that's what our country needs more of.
Q: Would John McCain, who says to independent voters that he's one of these people who can cross party lines, heal partisan divisions -- would he face something of a brick wall with the Democratic majority on his economic proposals?
Reid: Of course. We don't need more of Bush. I think it's fair that John McCain, during his 26 years in Congress, on maybe three occasions has crossed over. But where was he the rest of the thousands of times that we needed some help from these Republican-driven policies that have caused us to have no health care, the war in Iraq -- which he thinks he should be there another 50 or 100 years. I think as soon as we get this problem worked out between Obama and Clinton, there will be a spotlight focused on him and all you're going to see is a George Bush clone.
Q: You represent the state of Nevada, a state with many rural voters, and obviously there is this controversy over the remarks that Barack Obama made about how sometimes economically distressed voters who feel the government hasn't heard them or listened to them might cling to their religion and their guns. How do you react to that statement, and how do voters in your state react to that statement by Obama?
Reid: First of all, I'm not taking sides in that battle between Obama and Clinton. But I do say this: I think that -- and I heard him say this in the faith debate that they had the other night -- that he didn't say very well what he meant, and I think that's probably true. We know that these rough times that we are going through with this Republican-driven Congress and presidents we've had, where millions of jobs have been shipped overseas -- we're still outsourcing jobs under this administration, George Bush won't help us. We have all these trade deals that are driving people out of jobs. And I can tell you very honestly that people in Nevada are very, very concerned about this. They don't like it. Now, does that mean that they may focus on an issue out of their frustration? Perhaps so. And Obama and Clinton, who are both so articulate -- even they make mistakes as to how they say things, as I've done on an occasion or two.
Q: Do you think that what he said might have offended rural voters?
Reid: I -- you know, I think that it's really a mixed bag. I think, as we've heard the last few days, a lot of people agree that what he's saying is valid. Some don't like it. When you're in the business that I'm in, it's very hard to please everybody. Obviously, in his statement, he didn't please everybody.
Q: So you're a superdelegate. You are one of those who has not taken sides. What do you think should be done, what will you recommend should be done -- and you are one of those party leaders who many believe will have to step in at some point -- so you get to the end of the primary process, neither one of these candidates has a majority of the delegates needed to get the nomination -- what should be done then? What should happen?
Reid: Well, I think people are going to have to make decisions, and we're going to do that. I've had a number of meetings with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi as to how we're going handle this, and I think we're going to handle it very cautiously. We're looking to see these primaries end. We have one ending very soon in Pennsylvania. There's going to be one in Indiana, North Carolina -- and go through the rest of the states very quickly. I have said people should not panic. The first time President Clinton was elected he did not get the nomination until June 2. We're quite a ways from June 2, and I think we're going to have this thing resolved in early June, or late June -- middle of June at the very, very latest.
Q: But again, if nobody has enough delegates to get the nomination outright and you have to make the decisions -- both the superdelegates and you, specifically, as one of the leaders that people will be turning to, what do you make the decision upon? What do you look at?
Reid: Linda, you are really a pro reporter-journalist. I'm not going to answer that question.
Q: Well, I can always try, Senator. Thank you so much for joining us, Senator Reid. It's really a pleasure. I hope you'll come back and join us again.