Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that he expects the Senate next week to confirm Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal Reserve and to clear a budget agreement unless Republicans intend to commit “political suicide.”
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. Senator, thank you for being with us.
You got an agreement on Friday with Mitch McConnell, so you don’t have to have another all-night session over the weekend in the Senate. Does this, do you think, mark the end of this bitter rancor that’s transpired over the last couple days, which Republicans say are due to you, you know, steamrolling a new rules change?
HARRY REID: Well, the trouble has been not over the last few days. It’s been over the last five years. There’s never been a situation -- I know a little bit about history -- where a president’s been treated the way he has by the Congress. It’s no wonder that people feel about Congress the way they do. We’ve had untoward obstruction on everything. And the culmination was when the president couldn’t -- after five years, we recognized he couldn’t get a team together, which is really unfortunate. So, as you know, we changed the rules.
HUNT: Are those rules changes permanent, do you think?
REID: Oh, yeah. Oh, of course.
HUNT: There’s no - there’s no going back?
REID: No, no. It’s so important. And this is no matter who is president should have the ability to have his team in place. And I don’t know why people can complain about a majority. People talk about this filibuster as if it were something that’s next to the Ten Commandments. The filibuster is not part of the Constitution, and it was developed originally to help get legislation passed. I think it’s been very good for the country, too. And who can complain about majority voting?
HUNT: With this agreement with McConnell, you’re going to take up, as I understand it, the budget deal, at least the first vote, maybe cloture next Tuesday. Is that certain to pass?
REID: I think it would be suicide if the Republicans didn’t pass it. Here is one of the agreements that is a landmark agreement, not because of the massive size of it, but because what it does to the Congress or for the Congress and for the American people.
HUNT: And you have the Democratic votes you -- will all your caucus vote for it?
REID: Yeah, we’ll get our votes.
HUNT: So it just depends on whether Republicans -- how confident are you the Republicans will vote for it?
REID: Oh, I don’t -- that’s up to them if -- it would be political suicide. Here we have a situation where Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for vice president, chairman of the Budget Committee, worked over a period of many weeks with Patty Murray, the chair of our Budget Committee, and they did what we always used to do in a Congress. They both have fixed ideas. They are both very, very good legislators. They don’t agree on much, but that’s how it used to be. And we would work together and compromise and come up with something.
HUNT: How about will the Senate next week confirm Janet Yellen, and when?
HUNT: Do you know when?
REID: It’ll be toward the end of next week.
REID: To be honest with you, I don’t have the slightest idea. I read about it yesterday, and I don’t know. It sounds interesting, somebody who’s been in a Board of Governors of some other bank going to be now our bank. But, you know, I don’t know. That’s the least of my worries today.
HUNT: OK. Let me turn to another issue that may confront you in January. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez would like to pass a tougher Iranian sanctions bill that would be triggered if the interim agreement -- the interim nuclear agreement falls through. John Kerry and the White House say that would be a really bad idea and hurt the negotiations right now. Will there be a vote in the Senate in January, do you think, on an Iranian sanctions bill?
REID: We had a very good briefing this week with Kerry and Lew, secretary of Treasury, secretary of State; lasted for more than two hours. And, of course, Menendez was there. And what they’re working on is a bipartisan agreement to come up with some type of a resolution or legislation. He’s worked closely on my side of the aisle with Senator Schumer, who has been heavily involved in this, and I’m going to wait and see what they come up with.
HUNT: Would it be more likely to be a resolution than -- than legislation?
REID: It’s not -- I don’t -- I don’t know. A resolution is something that -- people started talking about a day or two ago. But, first of all, understand, it’s an important issue. Iran has been a real problem for the United States for almost 40 years now. And we cannot let them get a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s our friend. Israel is my friend. And I’m going to do everything I can to protect the administration and their negotiations, but I’m also going to take into consideration the fact that bipartisan legislation is never bad and that, if we can come up with something that satisfies my people -- that is, Menendez and Schumer and the other folks -- and it’s a bipartisan basis, we’ll take a look at it.
HUNT: And it satisfies John Kerry, too?
REID: Well, you know, we -- this country we have is three separate branches of government.
HUNT: But if Kerry -- if Kerry were to say to you, this could really impede those negotiations, wouldn’t that be a concern?
REID: Of course it’s a concern. But that’s why, before Thanksgiving, we made sure there wasn’t anything on that. And so, you know, this -- we can’t go on forever by not doing something. And so we’re taking it into consideration. I’ve talked to the president personally about this. I’ve talked to John Kerry on many occasions.
HUNT: Let me turn to Obamacare, which has cost the president, but it’s cost Democrats, too, when you look at polls. Charlie Cook, the great congressional expert, now says there’s a 50/50 chance Republicans could win back the Senate. How permanent is this damage? And do you think it’s going to cost you the Senate?
REID: Well, maybe Cook will be right for once. But I doubt it.
HUNT: Do you think you’re going to keep control of the Senate?
REID: Oh, I feel pretty good. We’d have to lose six seats, and I don’t see that -
REID: Oh, no. No, I -- that -- I’m a traditionalist here, and that isn’t anything I’ve ever done and will not do.
HUNT: Would you help her raise money?
REID: Well, she’s -- I don’t think she needs much of my help. She seems to be doing pretty well.
HUNT: Let me ask you about the White House decision to bring back John Podesta, who was the Clinton White House chief of staff. Do you think that was a good move? Will it make any difference?
REID: When I was told this was going to happen by the president’s chief of staff, he could probably hear me yell over the phone. In fact, I know he did. John Podesta is going to bring some political savvy to the White House, and I think that’s so important. He’s such a good guy. John Podesta was a very wise choice. And in addition of that, they’re going to bring Katie Beirne as part of the political team. She will be the person now representing the White House here in the Senate. She was head of the DPCC. She’s just wonderful. Podesta and Katie Beirne, that’s going to help so much in getting good political judgment in the White House.
HUNT: Is this a realization by the White House that they had trouble with their congressional and political relations?
REID: I’m not sure what the calculation has been, but as far as I’m concerned, we have wonderful people in the White House. But, you know, we lose one of the all-time best White House staff people in the country, and that’s Pete Rouse. He’s reached retirement age, and we’ll miss him. Podesta will fill that void, as will Katie Beirne. So they needed somebody to replace Rouse, and I think the replacements are significantly important.
HUNT: Do you think Obama will have a better sixth year than he did fifth year?
REID: I think he’s going to have a good sixth year. I think we’ve done some things to team up to -- first of all, the economy’s going to be better. We don’t have to worry about the government closing and defaulting on the debt, and we can maybe start doing some good legislation.
HUNT: Do you think the Republicans still might make an issue of the debt ceiling in February?
REID: Well, we talked here about they’re committing suicide by not passing the budget, and it will be double suicide to default on the debt. I don’t think they’ll do either.
HUNT: Senator Harry Reid, a happy holiday to you. Thank you so much for being with us.
REID: You’re so welcome.
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