This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Nov. 25, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Senator Reid thanks for joining us. Let’s start very close to the beginning. What does it mean to you and what should Americans gather about the fact you’re from Searchlight (search), a small-town boy, hardscrabble existence at least as a child. What difference does that make?
SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NEVADA: Major, you know, it took a while for me to accept really who I was, who I am. When I went to high school and lived with people I was almost embarrassed to tell them where I was from and that continued for quite a long time. It took me a while to understand that I was Searchlight. That’s who I was. The fact that I was born there, I grew up there and I developed slowly but surely a love for my place of birth. It didn’t come like that. Because you know we had no hot water, no inside toilet and I remember the first time I brought my wife to meet my parents and my wife had to go to the bathroom. Well she never knew that people had to walk out in the desert to go to the bathroom with no toilet so you know, that was something kind of embarrassing. But that’s who I am and I fully understand who I am. It’s made me a better person.
GARRETT: When you were a kid, were you envious of rich people?
REID: I didn’t know there were rich people. And when I got to high school, I went to Henderson, which was an industrial place, a rich person was someone who had a steady job. There were no rich people in Searchlight, there were no rich people in Henderson. So I didn’t know what rich people really were.
As I look back, my wife’s parents, I thought they were pretty well-to-do. My father-in-law, he was - he was a part-time chiropractor and my mother-in-law worked for the personnel department in the City of Las Vegas. I thought they were rich.
GARRETT: That felt like rich to you?
GARRETT: Do you remember your first experience brushing up against something that felt and looked and seemed like real wealth?
REID: No, I think it was kind of gradual. As I said before, there were some people in Henderson who had kind of a nicer home, bigger home, that like they had built an addition to it and I learned later they were foremen or superintendents at the plant but that was rich in my mind. Some of them had a car. A nice new car. That was rich to me.
GARRETT: Does that experience necessarily make you by definition a Democrat, a small guy person or does that develop later?
REID: I think that that kind of made me who I am. In our home, Franklin Roosevelt was a pretty powerful guy. He died before I was really - just a little tiny boy. But my parents thought so much of him. We had on our wall a little pillowcase my mother had as a decoration that she hung on the wall. Blue with yellow fringe, I can still remember it. And it said, "‘We can, we will, we must.’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt.’" That was on the wall of our home and so as I proceeded through school, college, that’s what - on my wall out here is a picture from President Kennedy and it is signed by him. We didn’t have autoprints in those days. Saying "Thank you for forming the first Young Democrat Club in the history of Utah State University (search)" and I had that out there dated, I think, 1961. So I have been involved in trying to identify with people I feel who had the same problems I had in Searchlight all my life.
GARRETT: Let me pick up on that. Some would argue you had problems, you overcame them, the federal government wasn’t standing by there every step of the way. You’re OK. You turned out fine.
REID: But the federal government was there.
REID: I can remember my grandmother. She is the only grandparent I knew. The others had died. Oh, she was wonderful. She was short and she was fat and she would cook so well and she was so nice to me. She would tell me stories. But one of the things I can always remember her being so proud of is she had eight children but she was independent from her eight children. At least she thought so. Because she had her old-age pension check every month. That’s what they used to call Social Security.
Her old age - that was federal government. And that made my grandmother feel so good and so independent and as I look back, Major, maybe we needed a few other things in Searchlight. It would have been good if kids in Searchlight had had some opportunity to see a doctor once in a while. It would have been nice if there was something like Medicaid. I bet everybody in Searchlight qualified for that. We didn’t go to doctors and hospitals and that’s not good. Crooked teeth are not good.
I can remember I worried so much, my mother had no teeth. My mother was red-haired, she was very pretty. My mother had no teeth. She got hit in the face with a softball as a young woman and her teeth - one would fall out and my mother would - and pretty soon she had no teeth. And it wasn’t until my first job, my first job, my first time where I could save a little bit of money that I bought my mother some teeth. I don’t think that’s such a good idea my mother had to wait until her boy could buy her some teeth. I can imagine what she went through. I can remember my mother - a TB-mobile came through Searchlight and they had took X-rays, chest X-rays, I guess that’s what it was. And I can remember my mother’s came back positive but they thought she had TB. We didn’t go to a doctor. I worried about that as a little boy, and I guess obviously it was a false positive. But she didn’t go to the doctor. We didn’t go to doctors.
I went to a doctor once as a little boy because I was dying. I had a growth in my intestine. Generally I think the federal government certainly shouldn’t interfere with people’s lives, but I think the federal government has a role to make sure people don’t - when they’re in poverty, have an equal opportunity. I mean, I don’t think a child’s ability to go to school should be determined by how much money their parents have and that’s what this country is coming from. That’s not right.
GARRETT: Do you see classism becoming more of an issue in this country? Division among classes?
REID: You can go to any university in America today and the economics department will tell you that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is getting smaller and smaller.
GARRETT: But is it your job to stop that?
REID: My job is not to stop that. My job is to recognize that we have a problem. The problem is we shouldn’t have a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I think we should have a country where we do our best to make sure that we have a society that is fair and that we do everything we can to make the middle class - It’s what makes America. Our society is built on all segments of our people. We need rich people. Rich people produce jobs and opportunities for people, but if you carry the free enterprise system to its nth degree, you have one car producer, you have one airline because competition wipes people out. I believe in the Sherman Antitrust Act (search). I believe that that came about as an absolute necessity for our country.
So I don’t have a - my role is not to determine who is going to be rich and who is going to be poor but it is, I think, to work for the millions of people out there who have no voice.
GARRETT: All right. Let’s put that into a few modern contexts after the election. Privatization of Social Security, even in a partial, limited sense, for or against? Whatever the costs be, what will you do?
REID: First of all understand that the president has talked about this and not given us anything of substance. He wants to do that because we all know even his own people say it’s going to cost probably $2 trillion, not $2 billion -- $2 trillion to do even the limited amount of privatization he wants to. You put that on the opposite side of what is Social Security doing for people right now? It’s doing a lot for people right now. It is the only money that a lot of old people get. And remember, Social Security is not only a program to help people in their old age but also to help the disabled and the widowed and the orphaned.
GARRETT: Your preference is to leave it as it is?
REID: Unless we can figure out a way not to bankrupt this country more than we’re already bankrupt. We increased the debt just a couple of days ago to is it $8 trillion? Yeah, $8 trillion. We increased it - until September, we’re going to have to raise it again. We increased it like $800 billion. We have to get this spending in check. It’s ruining our country.
GARRETT: Leave it as is.
REID: I think Social Security, I am willing to take a look at it and I think the caucus is willing to take a look at it but we have to figure out a way to pay for it.
GARRETT: Tax reform. The idea of maybe a national sales tax, a flat tax. Are those two devices to further separate rich from poor?
REID: First of all understand that the present tax system is broken and we need to fix it. There is no question about it. We shouldn’t have a tax system that has thousands upon thousands of pages.
GARRETT: For rich people, do you think?
REID: Well, it’s obviously for rich people. You wouldn’t have all the lobbyists with limousines and Gucci shoes coming here and working with us. So I really do believe that the system is broken but please, as some were talking at the administration, let’s not have what we have in Europe, that’s an income tax system and they pile on after that the value-added tax. That’s not going to do the trick. I think we have to take as we started to do with Bradley-Gephardt, that legislation in the early ‘80s where you had a way to make the tax program simpler and they did that we had only three tax brackets at the time.
GARRETT: Three brackets.
REID: And we’ve gotten totally away from that again. And in the 20 years since Bradley-Gephardt we have gone just the opposite direction, making the tax system more complicated rather than less complicated. So the president is right, we need to do something about the tax system, but please, let’s not have what they have in Europe.
GARRETT: Why did the 9/11 bill fall apart and is it dead?
REID: The 9/11 bill fell apart because there are people who are afraid to change. I learned a long time ago that in government and Washington is the zenith of government, that if it hasn’t been done before, let’s not do it. They want to keep doing everything the way we’ve done it in the past, especially the bureaucrats that we have here in Washington. And so 9/11, Congressman Hamilton and Cane(PH) they did for one year, 80 people, they’ve worked so hard to come up with this and they wanted to do two things. One was change the intelligence community and that’s what this legislation that failed would do. And we should do that. But the Pentagon in the background wouldn’t let it happen and they have a number of very powerful members in the House of Representatives who are ...
GARRETT: Spend a lot of money at the Pentagon? They don’t want to give it up?
REID: They don’t want to give up the power of money. Of course that’s what it is. They do not want anyone saying what they’re doing. In years past the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and appropriations waste billions of dollars every year and nobody knows what happens with the money and it goes to the Intelligence Committee. That should be changed.
Anyway, the one thing that the 9/11 Commission wanted us to do is this and it’s failed. The other thing they wanted to do is reform Congress. We have done that in the Senate. We’ve had the most far-reaching changes probably in the history of the Senate with our rules where we have changed committee jurisdiction and McCain(PH) came up and signed off on that. They also signed off on the legislation we passed which has failed in the House.
GARRETT: The House is to blame, the Pentagon is to blame. Is it dead?
REID: I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. I just do not think it’s going to happen. I think that they say they are going to come back and try again but that’s always a word for saying it’s failed. If they get it done, that’s fine. I just really, seriously doubt it. I agree with Mitch McConnell (search), my Republican counterpart, or was my Republican counterpart. He’s a Republican leader who said it’s not dead but it’s on life support.
GARRETT: Let me ask you serious questions about some important social issues. Tell me your position and a brief explanation as to why, if that’s OK.
GARRETT: Partial birth abortion.
REID: Well, I think partial birth abortion is something that has failed in many respects for those people who want to stop it. It keeps getting declared unconstitutional in the court system.
GARRETT: But you voted for the ban.
REID: I sure did.
REID: I voted for it several times. It keeps being declared unconstitutional. I think it was a procedure that is unnecessary.
GARRETT: OK. Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. What’s your position and why?
REID: Well, I supported that. I really don’t support many constitutional amendments, but I did that. I did it because I am not serving in the military, so vicariously I try to live through these people that I think are heroes. John Glenn, who I served with here in the Senate. Dan Inouye, a Medal of Honor winner with whom I served here in the Senate. My friend Michael Callahan, a very popular governor of the state of Nevada who lost a leg in Korea. These people really are what I believe is what true patriotism is all about. Who, they’ve given if not the ultimate then nearly the ultimate. And without - with some degree of disagreement, I should say, veterans, 90 percent of veterans believe this is the right thing to do and so I am here to support my American veteran community.
GARRETT: Gay marriage.
REID: Gay marriage, this last election, I think we had 11 states that did what they have a right to do on a state by state basis and declared that you can’t have gay marriages and that’s added to about 14 or 15 other states who have - for example the state of Massachusetts who has drawn so much attention. They are going to vote on it next year. Every state that has had a vote on this have turned it down. For 200 years we have had in this country the law that you don’t have to recognize other states’ marriage laws. Even though that was the case we passed the Defense of Marriage Act.
GARRETT: Which you voted for.
REID: Which I voted for. And I am personally opposed to same-sex marriage. I think marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I think all this constitutional amendment stuff is too political. We don’t need to do that. There is absolutely no reason to do that. You have states handling it on there own and they’ll continue to handle it on their own and until something goes wrong there I think we should stay away from a constitutional amendment. We have had in the history of this country more than 11,000 attempts to amend the constitution. We have done it just a few times, and that’s right.
GARRETT: I don’t need to tell you that your positions on these major issues are almost identical to the dominant positions of the Republican Party. How did you become leader of the Senate Democrats?
REID: Well, I think that you’ve named three issues. We as a party have interests in hundreds of different issues. We have a caucus that is very close-knit, held tight, but our views aren’t all the same. We have Ben Nelson from Nebraska, a loyal Democrat and governor of that state two terms. We have on the other side senators who are more liberal and that’s certainly in other states, like my friend Chuck Schumer from New York. But we work together. We have an umbrella that literally does include everybody. We don’t have rules where if somebody says something about abortion then you can’t become a committee chair as what’s happened on the Republican side. We stick together and I agree with the Republicans on issues where I think they’re right. I disagree with them on issues where I think they’re wrong. And I’ll continue to - and my caucus understands that. My views certainly haven’t been secret at all.
GARRETT: Last question. There’s a considerable debate among Democrats about values, faith, the role they should play in the public perception of the party. I know you are a man of faith. I know you also have drawn sort of a line around that aspect of your life personally. I invite you to go there if you choose to, but even if you don’t, I would like you to respond to some of the post-election conversation from Democrats saying we have to talk more about the role that faith plays and the way that the Democratic Party looks at the world. Robert Borosage said we all need to go back to Bible school. What is it, you think the Democratic Party needs to do and does it have a problem here and is your personal background and your relationship with faith in your own life instruct you in any kind of particular way.
REID: First of all, everyone should understand that Democrats are very, very faith-based people. Those of us who serve in the Senate. We have people of all different faiths. We have some who are Southern Baptists. We have people who are Jewish and Catholic and on and on of all the different religions. I do not know a single Democrat who doesn’t pray and pray often. How does that sound?
Now, I also say that I really do believe that the issue has been exaggerated. I think where we have failed as Democrats is in rural America. There is no question. I mean if you take all of the cities, we did extremely well. You take the state of Nevada as an example. Kerry carried Las Vegas and that’ Clark County. Reno, Washoe County.
GARRETT: Not exactly regarded as the religious Mecca of the United States having lived in Vegas.
REID: Surprisingly there we have very large denominations of Catholics and Mormons and Baptists. Everybody in Las Vegas. It’s really quite a religious place. Surprises everyone. Anyway, those two counties, Kerry got more votes than Bush by far. Rural Nevada we got killed. Rural Nevada that votes came in overwhelming against Kerry and so we lost the state by two percent. And that’s the way it was all over America. We have failed in carrying the message to rural America and part of that is that we simply have not paid enough attention to them. Some of that may be that they don’t think we, who spend most of our time here in Washington, are people of faith and maybe we fail in that regard. But I think that issue, again, with religion has been exaggerated.
GARRETT: Do you think Democrats have a hard time letting people know that they are - that faith does play an important role in their life?
REID: Major, I think - I can’t speak for all Democrats. For me it has always been very difficult to - and I believe religion is a very personal thing and I try to keep it as personal as I can. If someone wants to talk to me about my religion, I am happy to do that. But I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve. I am very happy with my family. We all go to church.
GARRETT: Mormon Church?
REID: Yes. And I just don’t talk about that very much. I think it’s something that’s very personal to me and I am going to continue being that way. I can’t be something I’m not. So I don’t want to talk about myself. Maybe I should politically talk about it more than I do, but I’m not going to do it for political reasons.
GARRETT: Harry Reid. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much. Great to see you again.
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