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Harry Reid Confident of ‘Substantial’ U.S. Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan

June 17, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Jim Lehrer Friday that he's confident that President Obama will soon announce a "substantial" withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He also stood by the president's assertion that the War Powers Act does not apply to the mission in Libya and thus, does not need congressional approval.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And to our newsmaker interview with the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada. I talked with him a short time ago.

Senator, welcome.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-N.V. Senate majority leader: Thank you very much for allowing me to be on the show.

JIM LEHRER: Well, first on the Libya military operation, do you believe the War Powers Act requires authorization of further action by…

SEN. HARRY REID: The War Powers Act has no application to what’s going on in Libya.

JIM LEHRER: None?

SEN. HARRY REID: I don’t believe so. You know, we did an authorization for Afghanistan. We did one for Iraq. But we have no troops on the ground there, and this thing’s going to be over before you know it anyway, so I think it’s not necessary.

JIM LEHRER: Well, as you know, there are some of your Democratic colleagues, including Senator Durbin, your number two, who feels very differently about it, feels very strongly…

SEN. HARRY REID: He feels very differently, so.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Why do you think it — the fact that U.S. troops — U.S. troops are not on the ground, but U.S. military hardware and equipment and personnel are being — are involved, why the difference?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, I think you can see what the problem is. Speaker Boehner, they did something in the House, and Gadhafi wrote them a letter and said thanks. I mean, I think very clearly that what we’re doing there is the right thing to do. I’d much rather have Gadhafi gone. I don’t think the War Power Act when it was drafted was meant to take this into consideration. That’s how I feel. And if we arrange a vote, that’s how I’ll vote.

JIM LEHRER: There is going to be a vote on it?

SEN. HARRY REID: I don’t know about that, Jim. With the Senate, there’s never anything very definite about votes. I’ve had some long conversations with the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry. I’ve talked to John McCain, who has strong feelings about this. And we’re working to try to come up with a way to move forward on this.

JIM LEHRER: Well, you know, Speaker Boehner says that if they don’t do something like this in the House, he may try to keep the money away from being spent on the Libya operation.

SEN. HARRY REID: (Chuckles.) I don’t think John really believes that we should stop our actions in Libya. I mean, this madman is just that: He’s a madman. The sooner he goes, the better off. And I don’t think people should play around with this. We do not want Gadhafi running Libya, and so I think the speaker should be very careful about these threats.

JIM LEHRER: Just so I understand, you support the president’s position that was put out in that statement, 30-some pages here, a few days ago, right?

SEN. HARRY REID: Yes. We’ve talked about it and I agree with the president.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

Now, on Afghanistan, the president is due to announce very soon a — the schedule for an Afghanistan troop withdrawal and the size of these — of the withdrawal.

Where do you come down on this?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, the American people have war fatigue. It’s been going on for a long, long time. I think the president was right when he said July 1 there’s going to be a drawdown. He said that a long time ago. And there’s going to be a drawdown. I am confident that it will be one that’s substantial. I certainly hope so.

JIM LEHRER: You’re confident it will be?

SEN. HARRY REID: Yeah, I think he’s going to — I think he’s going to draw down, and I hope it’s a number that is substantial.

JIM LEHRER: You know, there’s a report today in The Wall Street Journal which says that the military, U.S. military, is urging the president not to do a substantial…

SEN. HARRY REID: This is more, though, than the military. Much of what we’re doing in that part of the world is done through a diplomatic corps, through intelligence operations. And that’s — I had met with General Petraeus yesterday. We didn’t go into a lot of detail about what he’s recommending to the president, but this is more than what the military wants; it’s what the American people want, what they need; it’s what the intelligence community believes should happen there, and certainly our diplomatic corps led by Secretary Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: What about the idea, though, of the so-called fighting seasons that are required in Afghanistan and that they — the military says, looks, let’s keep our strength really strong until we get to the fall of 2012? That will assure a better military outcome in the long run et cetera.

SEN. HARRY REID: I’m a strong supporter of the military, but let’s be realistic. In Afghanistan — Afghanistan the fighting season is 12 months a year. It may get a little less when the snows come, but that — it’s 12 months a year. We’ve got provinces now in Afghanistan that have been turned over to the Afghanis and we should continue along those lines and start bringing our troops home. They need to come home.

JIM LEHRER: Now, you said this to President Obama? Is he aware of your position on all of this?

SEN. HARRY REID: I’ve talked to people in the administration. The president knows how I feel. I have told him that I hope that there’s a troop withdrawal, one of significance.

JIM LEHRER: And you expect that to happen?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, I hope so.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t have any inside information?

SEN. HARRY REID: No, I have no inside information.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any — do you have any idea when it’s going to be announced?

SEN. HARRY REID: I think it’s going to be very soon. You know, it’s a couple weeks till the first of the month, and that’s the date we have. And I think — I would — I would guess the week after next.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

The — let’s go to domestic things, the Biden negotiations on deficit reduction and the debt ceiling. Where do they stand as we speak?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, I have served with Joe Biden. He does a terrific job at whatever he’s involved in, and he’s been very good. People like him.

I have one big complaint, and that is, they shouldn’t be taking breaks. They should be meeting every week, multiple times each week. And all these congressional recesses, that should have no bearing. Our country is at a very important time in the history of our country. We must reduce our debt. We must increase the debt limit. And there’s no vacation during this period of time. We’ve got to move forward.

JIM LEHRER: So if there’s — this — if there’s no agreement by the 4th of July recess, you’re saying, go ahead, don’t – do not — do not do the recess, keep talking?

SEN. HARRY REID: What I’m saying is, right now, there’s a process where the House is in two weeks, they’re out a week. I’m saying that when the Senate is in recess, we should be working on this. When the House is in recess, we should be working it. The mere fact that one of the bodies is out of there should not top — stop the Biden group from going forward.

JIM LEHRER: What is your understanding about how close they are to coming to an agreement?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, there’s progress being made. But until it’s done, it’s not done. There’s still some bridges to cross. I of course believe that the debt is extremely important. We’ve got to focus on that, reduce that debt. We’ve got to make sure it’s done fairly, though. It can’t all be done on the backs of the old people, as the so-called Ryan budget wants to do — the Republicans want to do. It can’t all be done with domestic discretionary spending. There are certain things we have to protect.

And the Republicans seem to be very determined to protect the billionaires and millionaires. They don’t want the oil companies, even though they made $37 billion profit last quarter. But they’re still getting the subsidies, which even most of them say they don’t need.

JIM LEHRER: Republicans also say they will not go along with any tax increases. But is it possible to do what needs to be done without tax increases, in your opinion?

SEN. HARRY REID: According to Grover Norquist, 34 Republicans in the Senate broke that pledge yesterday when we voted to get rid of the subsidies on ethanol. So this is — we’re not working on a math problem. We’re working in the Senate of the United States, working in the Congress. We’re trying to come up with something that will help lessen the burden of debt on the American people. And there are things that we can do on revenue.

I think, of course — I believe that people making more than a million dollars a year should pay their fair share, as Warren Buffet and others believe. But they’re obviously locked in there. But I think even Grover Norquist, who’s been criticizing people like Coburn for breaking the tax pledge — there are ways we can do this. There has to be something done with revenue to make this fair.

JIM LEHRER: So when Vice President Biden says, OK, we had some agreement here but the hard part – the hard parts are still to come, what is he talking about?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, I’m sure the president is going to be making some of those decisions, what the hard parts are. And I’m pretty sure that Speaker Boehner and I will be called in and McConnell to speak, I’m sorry she’s not the speaker now, but my friend Nancy Pelosi to find out where we should go on this. Joe Biden has done the heavy lifting. There’s still a lot more to do. But in the end, as you know, the president will have to step forward.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s going to be done?

SEN. HARRY REID: Oh, we have no choice.

JIM LEHRER: No choice?

SEN. HARRY REID: We have no choice.

JIM LEHRER: Why do we not — have no choice? And, from your point of view, why is there no choice?

SEN. HARRY REID: I have to say that I am very troubled with some of the — I wanted to use a word I shouldn’t use — these people in the House, these tea party folks who say — and they’ve said publicly — we’re not willing to raise the debt under any condition. So I’m a little concerned about that. But I think cooler heads will prevail. We cannot let the full faith credit of the United States go down. If we do, it will not only hurt our country, it will hurt the world.

JIM LEHRER: But in order to do that, $2 trillion — at least according to what has been proposed, $2 trillion in some form has to be, either through tax cuts or revenue increases, has to be accounted for.

SEN. HARRY REID: I personally believe it should be more than $2 trillion.

JIM LEHRER: You do?

SEN. HARRY REID: Yes, I do. I think it should — if we could get to three that would be terrific, but at the least $2.5 trillion.

JIM LEHRER: And that, of course, would be plenty — plenty enough to handle what the debt limit would be.

SEN. HARRY REID: Oh, yes. We — I hope that we can do more than the debt limit. We should do it so — I would like to do a long-term: five, six years. But at least we need to do multiple years.

JIM LEHRER: But it can’t be done without revenue enhancement, in your opinion?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, it can’t be done without revenue enhancement, unless it’s a take a big hammer to a situation that needs a scalpel — it is fair. I mean, the American people know that it’s unfair to have oil companies — five of them made $37 billion last quarter and we’re paying them billions of dollars in subsidies? That’s not fair. That should be part of the mix.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, let me ask you this, senator. There’s a new poll — Gallup had a poll in the last 24 hours about the approval rating of the Congress of the United States. Seventeen percent, according to this poll, 17 percent of the American people approve of the job you all — you and your colleagues are doing. This is the lowest that rating has been since 1974. What’s going on? Why do they feel this way about the Congress?

SEN. HARRY REID: We had the most productive Congress in the history of the country, most pundits say, last Congress. My counterpart, Sen. McConnell, has said his number-one goal is to defeat President Obama. Well, that has put the Senate in a real slow process. He has basically, and his Republican colleagues have stopped everything we’ve done. Well, almost everything. We were able to push through, early in the session, a patent bill which is 60 years overdue, and reforming that is worth 300,000 jobs. We were able to reauthorize in the Senate FAA bill — Federal Aviation Administration. That’s so important to do that; that’s another 280,000 jobs.

Those are lost over there someplace in the House. They haven’t done anything with those that amounts to anything. They’re talking about all of these cuts, all these things dealing with women that are unnecessary, and nothing about jobs. We’ve tried to bring up a couple other jobs bills, small business innovation that is — that’s where the electric toothbrush came from, through a very small grant — creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. They stopped that.

We — We now have — we’re going to have a cloture vote next week on the EDA bill, started during 1965. That — in the last five years, 314,000 jobs for $1.2 billion we invested because there’s a seven-to-one multiplier there because the private sector comes up (inaudible). They’ve stopped that, it appears.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s all the Republicans’ fault?

SEN. HARRY REID: Well, you know, I don’t like to say, poor me. But the fact is they’ve stopped everything. They are filibustering by amendment and when they can’t do it by amendment they just stop the bills by real filibusters.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Senator, thank you very much.

SEN. HARRY REID: My pleasure.