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Sen. Harry Reid: Biggest Regret Was Iraq War Vote

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AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks during during a ceremony to unveil his portrait, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Washington.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid service in Congress ends after 34 years on January 2.

No matter what people think of him, he has left an indelible mark on Nevada. He has all but killed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility 90 miles north of Las Vegas. When the chips were down during the Great
Recession, he fought for the state's main industry, gaming.

And while in office, he became a standard bearer for environmental protection: the number of acres of protected land in Nevada has grown from 67,000 acres to 4 million acres.

At the same time, his visceral wit and verbal jousts with foes have drawn both praise and scorn.

He talked with KNPR's State of Nevada about all of that and more.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On why he is retiring:

Landra and I had talked about not running before my injury, but after I was hurt, it culminated in this decision that we had no choice but we announced we weren’t going to run again.

Even though I was able to fulfill my responsibilities in the Senate as the leader, I couldn’t have done a campaign because I’ve had the Koch Brothers after me for years… I didn’t have the physical ability to do what I’ve done in years past. 

On what he liked about his job:

I had a different view than most people who serve in elected office. I never tried to be friends with everybody. I don’t mean that to be negative, but I knew I couldn’t be.

Support comes from

I made the decision a long time ago that if someone asked me a question in Elko that I would give an answer in Elko. I came to Las Vegas, they ask the same question, I give the same answer. I knew in giving those two answers that I wasn’t making everybody happy but as it turned out my goal was to make sure that I satisfied enough people that I got elected and re-elected.

My feeling has been for a long time that if you’re honest with yourself and I’ve tried to be I don’t have to worry about going to sleep at night wondering, ‘Did I say something to somebody in Reno that was different than what I said to somebody in Winnemucca?” 

On President-elect Donald Trump:

Here’s how I feel about this. I am like my 10-year-old grand-daughter: tense. I’m tense. But I do feel that American wants a change and they’re going to get one let’s just hope that it’s keeping with our constitutional duties.

Caller Sandra wanted to thank Senator Reid for the help his staff has given her and friends of hers over the years:

One of the things I have some pride in… I have worked really hard to put together good staff. One of the things I learned from my friend Mike O’Callaghan is this: you’re going to be in a position to go out and find the best resume… someone with tremendous education, you can find someone who is good looking, you can find someone with experience, but the one thing you can’t find and you can’t buy is loyalty. So, I’ve tried to develop with my staff loyalty and they go the extra mile for me. So, I try to do for them.

Any success I’ve had whether it’s been with the work I’ve done with renewable energy, with the water problems in Northern and Southern Nevada… with all the things I’ve devoted my life to I could not have accomplished any of it without my wonderful staff. 

Caller Ryan wanted to know if the “brazen lie” he told about Mitt Romney not paying his taxes has in anyway contributed to the fake news we now find ourselves in:

First of all Ryan, there were no brazen lies what I said was the truth. Mitt Romney has refused and still refuses to show us his tax returns. He gave us the main part of two tax returns. This is when he is running for president. That is not a true sign of what he had done.

The guess the new plan we have to look at is Donald Trump, who shows us nothing. Prior to Trump it was standard procedure going back many, many decades that presidential candidates would give us 10 years of tax returns. Mitt Romney has never done that.

So, there was no brazen lies. I did what was necessary. He fought even giving those two years that were meaningless because he was already running for president and all of his financial dealings where he became an extremely wealthy man. We were unable to see any of that. You can brand it anyway you like but it was no brazen lies, it was the truth.  

On President-elect Trump and his relationship with Russia. Do you know as a fact that the Russians played an important role in who was elected here?

Of course. You don’t need to get an intelligence briefing from the CIA to figure that one out. Open press now that’s clearly the fact that there’s been meetings take place in all parts of Russia with his underlings. He’s been there recently. ‘He’ meaning Donald Trump. ‘Recently’ meaning the last four or five years.  He’s had business dealings with Russian individuals and banks.

It’s clear. It’s very clear that Russian…everyone knows that they hacked into American political operations. It is interesting to note that they were filing to Wikileaks, which is also a foreign entity. Information they would leak out in kind of a drip, drip, drip to embarrass Democrats.

Why?

Because first of all Putin, his number one credential for being president of Russia is that he was head of the KGB.

This is perfect for a spy guy like Putin to go see if he could mess around with America. That’s what they’ve done. 

Should Congress do something about the whole hacking incident?

Of course they should, but whether they’ll do it or not, [Mitch] McConnell, my successor, Republican leader has said he believes it should be handled in the intelligence committee. That’s a buzzword for bury the damn thing because it will go no place.

What they should do is do open hearings on involvement of Comey, the FBI director, and what his involvement was and also they should do a 9/11-type commission, bi-partisan in nature, with staff and resources to go really in deep to find out what really went on.

Whether they’ll do that I doubt it because a Republicans are pretty good at filibustering things to death. 

Caller Jack wanted to know about the Democratic Party’s chances in 2018:

I believe one of the failures of Democratic Party has been the Democratic National Committee, the DNC, has been worthless. They do nothing to help state parties. That should be the main goal they have. I developed everything in Nevada on my own. Their help was relatively meaningless.

So, I would hope that they would choose a chair of the Democratic Party who is a full-time person. Not someone like we had with that congresswoman from Florida, who was a full-time congresswoman and a part time chair of the DNC.

We need a full time DNC chair and what they should do – they can take my model if they want – it’s not rocket science. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to figure out what needs to be done. They should take a few states every election cycle, maybe three maybe four, and help them develop the infrastructure for good state party organization. 

On Future plans:

We’re going to come back to [Washington, D.C.] often but we’re going to spend the majority of our time in Nevada. My work I’m going to do hasn’t been firmed up yet. I have a number of offers, national in scope and Nevada based, and I’m going to make that decision in the next few weeks.

Caller Marty wanted to know what will happen to the Yucca Mtn. nuclear waste repository:

I think Yucca Mtn. has been grievously wounded. First of all, it was always a bad idea, but we didn’t have much clout in Congress. Democrats and Republicans were joined against us and pushed it. Got rid of Texas and Washington and all other states and gave it all to Nevada. That was wrong scientifically and wrong politically.

Republicans when they learned that Trump was elected they’re going to re-instate Yucca Mtn. The press asked me what I thought of that, I said, ‘Well, they better bring a big checkbook with them because to get it started again it’s going to take billions of dollars.

I think it’s gone – dead. They may play around with it politically but there’s not money to do that.  

Caller Mike wanted to know about the efforts to cut pork in Washington, D.C.:

I think one of the reasons Congress has failed in recent years is because they arbitrarily, The Republicans and I’m sorry to say Obama worked with them, and that is they cut out earmarks. We have a constitutional duty to have congressional directed spending.

I’m very proud of what I was able to do with congressional directed spending. I believe as someone who was born and raised in Nevada, been in government all these many years, I think I know has much about what Nevada needs as someone who works in the bowels of the Energy Department or the Interior Department.

I think the country worked pretty well for many generations when you kept the president from determining all the money that should be spent and we had earmarks.

The appropriations process doesn’t work anymore. Why do you think we’ve had these omnibus spending bills at the end of the year because Congress can’t agree on a spending bill. 

On his regrets:

One that comes right now: I was duped. It doesn’t speak very well of me because I was duped, that means I wasn’t very smart, in believing our Secretary of State General Powell and the people surrounding [George W.] Bush, the neo-conservatives in believing that Saddam Hussein was going to blow us up with nuclear weapons and poison us with gas.

I fell for that. I voted for the Iraq War. What a mistake. What a mistake. But I got smart really quick and became a tremendous opponent within months of that most disastrous foreign policy decision in the history of our country. It has done more to destabilize that part of the world and the world than anything that has happened in memory of America’s involvement.

That is the thing I have regretted more than any other one thing. 

Advice for Catherine Cortez Masto:

My advice for Catherine would be: Be bold. Don’t sit around and try to be everything to everybody. Do things that she thinks are important. Take positions on things. Don’t have the people of Nevada guess where you stand on an issue, be open with the press, be willing to meet with them.

The press have been really hard on me but I don’t care. I believe in the press. One of the most important institutions we have left in America is the press. I hope she’ll be open to them. She’ll answer their questions and come on programs like this. 

Guests

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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KNPR's State of Nevada