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Rachel Maddow interviews Senator Harry Reid: Full video and transcript

The full video and transcript of Rachel Maddow's interview with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Senator Reid, thanks so much for your time today.  Thanks for being here.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER:  ...pleasure to be here.

MADDOW:  I have to ask you about the glasses.  How's your injury?  How's your recovery from that?

REID:  Well, I hurt myself on January 1st and I'm making a recovery.  I'm sightless in my right eye at this time, probably not going to much to correct that. So I have to do everything at hand to protect my left eye.   But Rachel, I tell everybody's that watching, things happen but   this was a freak accident and  I'm now blind in my right eye.  I'm so grateful that it didn't brain - damage to my brain. I almost got smacked in the temple there.  And I accept where I am and I'm just out there.  I look around, it's easy to do, people are always - have a few more problems than you have.

MADDOW:  The injury is obviously such a surprise.  It came out of nowhere.  It ended up being a very serious injury with long-lasting effects.  Did that have an impact on your decision to not run for reelection?

REID:  No.  Landra and I made that decision before that.  Well, we made the decision thinking about the long term and - we'd already made that decision.  And I had made the decision previously, went to the election numbers for the stock (ph).  The main problem with of suddenly being unable to see out of one eye the main problem is it takes a while for your brain to adjust.  So I have trouble with depth perception here and there.  Right now, I stumble a little bit once in a while, but I'll get over that.  Your brain will adjust to that.  I'll be fine.

MADDOW:  We were in Nevada when you were running for reelection in 2010 and one of the things I remember about that was -- I think not just because you were the majority leader at the time, but because you are Harry Reid - you attracted conservative activists from all over the country.  People left their homes and moved to Nevada to try to unseat you.  You became a national cause.  Beating Harry Reid became a national cause.  I think back to the Tea Party rally that they held in your hometown, Searchlight.  Sarah Palin headlining a Tea Party rally against in Searchlight.  And you still see some of that  now even with you not running again.  An NRA board member this past week told the crowd from the stage of the NRA convention about how much he wanted to shoot you.  The right really, really, really is very energized in their hatred for you.  I wonder if that gives you energy or how you feel about that.

REID:  Those people who most rely on politics and have everybody like them, haven't done anything (ph).  And I feel comfortable with what I've done.  Do I make mistakes?  Of course.  But I have always tried to do what I think is right on the occaion and I may not have the public choice awards every time, but I always tell people how I feel.  Even Nevada accepted me.  I have a little less than fifty percent of the people who don't like me in Nevada.  I always manage to get over that 50 percent margin, so I have more like me than dislike me.  And I think one reason that's the case is people know how I feel about things.  I've never - I don't say I need to think about it.  I don't do that.  I try to let people know how I feel and so I've developed lot of people who don't like me, and I wish that weren't the case.  I wish I was - there were a lot of adulation out there and people have said to me that I'm this perfect person but I'm not. I'm but they, they know that I have worked hard to do something about renewable energy.  They know that I've worked hard to make sure that women are protected.  I've done a lot of things to do my very, very best to make a difference.

MADDOW:  In terms of thinking about your home state of Nevada, you have been involved in politics for a very long time.  You've been - this will be your fifth term in the - fifth term in the Senate, but before that you were in the House.  You were very active in Nevada politics including serving as Lieutenant Governor, and you loom large in Nevada's Democratic politics. u were in the House.  You were very active in Nevada politics including serving as Lieutenant Governor, and you loom large in Nevada's Democratic politics. Right now, Nevada is both an early deciding state in the presidential primary process, and also a caucus state. Right now, Nevada is both an early deciding state in the presidential primary process, and also a caucus state.  Should we think of Nevada as a blue state going forward in national politics?  Or is it in flux?

REID:  I think Nevada's a blue state.  We have had like a lot of states this last a terrible cycle. We had some damage done.  But the party organization I've helped develop is still there, and one of the things I'm happy I was able to work toward is having nevada the third state in the union that's going to decide who should be president.  I'm happy about that, going to be the case this time but  And Nevada's a blue state and Hillary Clinton likely will prove that without any doubt.

MADDOW:  In terms of Secretary Clinton and her candidacy, obviously it's a historic candidacy if she even just becomes the Democratic nominee; there's never been a woman who's been a major party presidential nominee.  If she's elected president, all the more historic. One of the things that you've talked about in the Senate is that you said the greatest change in the Senate over the time that you've been here is the increasing number of female senators, that they have improved the institution.  What's different about female senators?  What do you like about them?

REID:  There are two things that I want to talk about in my experience here in the Senate.  One is really positive and one that isn't.

I've said when I came to the Senate with Barbara Mikulski, she was it, she is a great senator from Maryland.  But now we have lots of senators.  And I've said and I repeat here on your show, the Senate is a better place because of women.  Men and women aren't different.  I'm so impressed with how women appear to me to  be more patient.  They're less inclined to do things like war, like - I just - I mean, I just am - I wish I could articulate I really feel over how much better the Senate is because of women.

MADDOW:  In terms of women's leadership in the Senate, things like Senator Schumer is going to be replacing you as Democratic leader, there are women, Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski and others, who have played leadership roles in the party over time.  Would it change the Senate to have a woman as majority or minority leader?  Are we ready for that now or sometime soon?

REID:  I'm so happy, gratified, that during the time I was majority leader and now at the the time that I am minority leader, that we have women who lead these committees.  I mean, we had  Feinstein, head of Intelligence.  Boxer and Brown, public works.  Patty Murray, Budget.  She's going to move to Labor HHS.  Maria Cantwell, Small Business.  On and on with these women who are just so dynamic. And prior to Mikulski and I coming here, they weren't around. So the answer is yes.  The country is ready for a woman to be President of the United States, and of course the Senate's ready for a woman being leader.  It's just a question of time until they will replace Reid and Schumer.  There will be leaders that come from the ranks with women serve so adequately here in the Senate.

MADDOW:  In terms of I guess - in terms of women and men being different, women and - female and male senators having different styles, you said something to my colleague John Harwood (ph) at CNBC in a recent interview about John McCain.  Senator John McCain, you told John Harwood, had threatened to kick the bleep out of you. And he said it at one point about something that had happened in the Senate. Was he kidding?  Or was John McCain actually threatening to beat you up?

REID:  You know - this is so timely. Yesterday, on the Senate floor, John McCain came to me (ph), he told me, he said that little incident we had together where I said, as you did this, I'm going to kick the shit out of you.  And I said to him, John, if I were in your position, I would do the same thing.  He said, you know, I got so sentimental to hear you say that (ph).  That's what he said.


REID:  John McCain and I are friends.  I understand - you know, we came to the House together.  We came to the Senate together.  And so -

MADDOW:  So there's no actual threat of violence.  This is just the way you guys talk to each other.

REID:  No.  It's how we talk to each other.  And I would like be able to tell everybody here that also my female colleagues haven't said something comparable to that (ph).  They have.


MADDOW:  It would mean in the end they're (ph) not all that different.  At least on that score. I was talking to friends - not work friends, but friends in my non-news life about the opportunity to talk to you and what they would be interested in hearing about from somebody who's had the career that you ave had thus far in the Senate.  And what I heard more than anybody else is - what I heard more than I heard from anybody else was that they want to know how things got so nasty in Washington?  Whether we've just lost perspective and they've always been this nasty?  Whether there is genuine anger and personal friction among people up here or if it's just partisan showing off?

REID:  People who ask this question -- it's a good question, mind - get my answer.  I served for six years as the Democratic whip.  I ran the floor (ph) and the bench.  I came home when the Senate opened and I was here when it closed.  I was here all the time, literally.  And I was patted on the back.  People said things publicly about what a great guy I was.  Republicans said this.  Because I always protected them. But something strange happened in the lay (ph) of Capitol Hill.  And an African-American, a man by the name of Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States.  A brilliant man.  And the Republicans led by Frank Lunts I'm told had a meeting here in Washington after he was elected the first time.  And they made - they spent a couple days here and they made two decisions.  Number one: Obama would never be reelected.  It would fail miserably here.  He was reelected.  But the one thing that they stuck with was that they would not allow him to accomplish anything he wanted.  They would oppose everything that he wanted to do.  And they did that.  They've done that from now, four years, and now moving in soon to be the sixth year some degree of six years after we finish this year.  They have rejected and blocked everything.  That made it very difficult.  It created some real, intense feelings.  And that's where it came from.  It wasn't that way before  when Trent Lott ran the Senate and Bill Frist ran the Senate.  And we are ruling majority and minority.  There were not those kinds of feelings that have developed as a result of their opposing everything this good man, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has tried to do.

MADDOW:  But you didn't feel the same way in the Senate with George W. Bush as president.

REID:  No.

MADDOW:  That it was your responsibility to stop him at every cost.

REID:  George Bush - I have - I wrote a book saying he was the worst president we've ever had, and I really feel that way, still.  But George Bush, we worked together.  I - excuse me.  COUGHS. I worked here as the Democratic leader.  I helped him.  He helped me get the bailout done for Wall Street.  I - I was an advocate for that.  I worked with him on a number of issues.  We didn't do things just to oppose George Bush.  We opposed him on things we thought were wrong.  And that same - I find myself in the same capacity today.  I'm not going to oppose what Mitch McConnell, my Republican counterpoint, wants just because it's him or it's them.  I'm going to oppose things that I think it's ridiculous that they've done.  Now I think that this stage and the history of the Republican leadership here in the Senate, I think they've been absolute failures. I think they've run the the ship of state into the rocks  several times because we've done nothing to help middle class America.  We've done nothing to help with these steering (ph) student loans that are more debt than credit cards.  And nothing to help equal pay for men and women.  Minimum wage.  All these middle class things they've simply ignored.

MADDOW:  Do you think those are things in which Republicans and Democrats have legitimate policy disputes, or do you think those are things on which there could be bipartisan progress made, had there been this day 1 of the Obama presidency pact to oppose him?

REID:  Take for example Obamacare.  We could have made that such a much better plan if we'd had just a little bit of cooperation.  But we've gotten nothing.  No one was willing to work with us on that.  The Wall Street bailout.  We got the really hard stuff done during the Bush years, but we had to come and do the real long-term legislation with Obama.  We could have made that so much better than what we did, but they refused.  They were -- they weren't willing to do anything that the big banks didn't and big business didn't want to do.  So --



REID:  Pardon me.  So to answer your question about whether we can -- should be able to work together on some stuff, the answer is yes.  Of course, we should be able to work together on stuff.  And that's why with this doc fix, this SGR, we were able to get it done because we worked with Republicans to get it done.  We should've gotten it done years ago.  They wouldn't allow us to do it.

MADDOW:  So at least that's a ray of hope because it's a small and specific thing, but it does show that change is possible.

REID:  Yes, well, change is...We want to work with the new Republican leadership in the Senate to try to get things done.

MADDOW:  One thing that has not been done and that is now approaching a historic delay is the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General of the United States.  What is going on there and is she ever going to get a vote?

REID:  The first part of May - I don't know if it's first or second -- she will have been in limbo, in purgatory, for six months.  This is a woman no one, no one can question her qualities, her educational background, her experience.  In fact, we had Republicans -- McCain, McConnell, Lindsey Graham -- saying what a good woman she was.  Suddenly, they're not allowing her to have a vote. And they're basing it on such shallow evidence.  We're here trying to have a woman confirmed as Attorney General of the United States and they're off on some abortion issue someplace.  It's ridiculous.  And I want to say this to all your viewers.  We've put up with this far too long.  And we're going to need to have a vote on her very soon that's created by Mitch McConnell, or I'll create one.  I can still do that.  I know parliamentary procedure around here, and we're going to put up with this for a little while longer, but not much.

MADDOW:  You have a way that you think that you can force a vote even McConnell won't have that?

REID:  Absolutely. I'm going to force one.  If we don't get something done soon, I will force a vote.

MADDOW:  What would be the trigger for that happening?  Just more time happening or more time passing?

REID:  We are –COUGHS- I had a conversation today with a number of Republicans, and told them that either they get her done or I will make sure they have an opportunity to vote against her.

MADDOW:  OK.  May I ask if you believe that the delay on Loretta Lynch has been about her?  Or if you believe that it is just because she is an Obama nominee and this would've happened to anybody?

REID:  I hope it's because she's an Obama nominee, not because of some other things that people are talking about.

MADDOW:  Senator Reid, I have to ask you about Senator Bob Menendez.  In the recent action that's happened in the Senate about trying to get involved in the Iran deal that's been negotiated by the administration. I was struck and surprised to read reporting that Senator Corker on the Republican side had negotiated the bill over this past week, with Senator Cardin of Maryland, but also with Senator Menendez of New Jersey. And the reason that is awkward is, of course, because Senator Menendez is under multiple felony indictments - under indictment on multiple felony charges right now. Is there more that you could do or that you should do to sideline Senator Menendez while he's facing these charges?

REID: What we've done here in the Senate -- (COUGHING) I'm so sorry - in the past, is if someone is a chairman or a ranking member of a committee, they step down. Bob Menendez did that. Cardin became the acting ranking member of the very important Foreign Relations Committee and when Bob Menendez is acquitted or found not guilty or however that works out, he will become now the again chairman or ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. We live in America and we have a Constitution, and rightfully so. Bob Menendez is innocent until proven guilty. The mere fact that someone is indicted doesn't mean they're guilty, and I think he did the right thing by stepping down from being the leader of that committee, but I'm not about to judge him guilty of these crimes until a court and/or a jury finds him guilty. In the meantime, I think people should understand he's innocent until proven guilty.

MADDOW: If he is found guilty and he refuses to resign -


REID: No, at that time, of course. There is precedent for that, that he would no longer be there.

MADDOW: Do you think that he should be expelled from the Senate if he won't go voluntarily if he is convicted?

REID: No. Of course, he wouldn't. He's a fine man and he understands the rules around here and I wish him the very best in the trials here.

MADDOW: On the issue of judges and nominees, you made a change as when you were majority leader to change the filibuster rule so that nominees including judges, can be confirmed by a simple majority and as such, you were able to confirm a lot of nominees for the administration - the administration post - but also a lot of judges after that happened.  When you considered making that change, you're weighing the risks and the benefits of that. We see the benefits already with all the people you were able to confirm. The risk, of course, is that if there were a Republican president right now with a Republican Senate, we'd have an entire judiciary full of Antonin Scalias. When you made that decision, were you calculating that you think the Democrats will hold onto the White House for a long while yet?

REID: The answer to that is yes. But I also felt that we protected the Supreme Court, they were not part of the 50-vote threshold that would take the regular votes that we had before. And I felt comfortable with that. Cabinet officers also require 60 votes. So I think that what we did is absolutely the right thing. I do not believe that what was going on there where we had scores and scores of people held up just because Obama was president. That was wrong. And I would also say this about the filibuster. It was used very sparingly in the past. But during the years we've already talked about here as Republicans,they used that done everything -- I had to file cloture hundreds of times, hundreds of times and that's wrong. And as I said, I want to keep saying as I said because I know I cut and slice (ph) all this stuff.  We should not be using this filibuster just willy nilly. It's used in the past very sparingly and that's the way it should have been used. We have an agreement here, it wouldn't be used every time and want to say it was anything the writing (ph)? Of course not. But the future, we have to be very careful of the future and I support the filibuster as it now stands, but if things continue the way they are, somebody is going to change that. They cannot run a government where the people in the majority have to file cloture hundreds of times. It just doesn't work that way. Now my friend Senator McConnell has been very well-protected by me because we have allowed him to get on bills. They wouldn't allow us to get on things they supported. The objected, we had to file cloture on - they filibustered their own bills. We're not doing that.

MADDOW: Last question for you, Senator. You're not running for reelection, you've been here in Washington for a very long time. If you could wave a magic wand --  in this case maybe you kind of can -- and decide anything for your post-Senate life, you could work on anything, you could have any job, you could live anywhere, what would you do?

REID: Well first of all, I talked about what I thought is good in the Senate since I've been here, and that's women. What I think is bad since I've been here is the Supreme Court making this horrible, rotten, awful decision with Citizens United. It has changed this country dramatically. We have about 15 people in the country who are making major decisions for all of us with hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. The Koch brothers, an example, have already agreed to spend a billion dollars in this election cycle. Is that America? I don't think so. So if I can wave a magic wand and say here is what I want to happen, I would say I want the Supreme Court to reverse that decision so that there are control set on how much money can be spent in these campaigns.

MADDOW: Is - without the magic wand available for you, what can be done? I mean, I was surprised to see Senator Clinton put that issue that you just described right at the forefront of what she says she wants to do with her candidacy. If that is part of what she runs on, that puts it right at the center of American politics, right at - as a point of focus for a national debate. What could be done? Does it have to be a constitutional amendment?

REID: Well, we try and - you can change the law and help things a great deal and we did that. When we had 59 senators, we had a vote, it's called the Disclose Act and it made it so that people had to disclose the money they get and right now, a lot of us getting money, you never know where the money is coming from and we lost that. Not a single Republican, not a single Republican voted with us. We got 59 votes, every Democrat voted for it. So there would be disclosure. The best would be a constitutional amendment. Short of that, if we have a law passed, if these people who give all this dark money would come out of their hiding and tell us who they are, that would be a big help.

MADDOW: Senator Harry Reid, thank you so much for this time today. It's really good to see you, sir. Thanks.