Reid on "This Week" talks immigration, guns and more

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a relatively rare appearance on a Sunday program today, interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on the "This Week" show.

The full transcript is below, with a few of my annotations sprunkled amid the colloquy in italics. Some of the highlights:

----Reid said it would be a "bad day for the country and a bad day for the Republican Party" if immigration reform does not pass the House after it "certainly" passes the Senate

----Reid said "gay folks" should be protected in the immigration bill.

----Reid says  on immigration reform, "Let's look at this with our brains, but also I think we need to look at it with our hearts.... My heart says we have to do this."

----On voting for the Fenstein assault weapons ban: "Oh, I don't know." On high-capacity magazines: "I think that's something we definitely have to take a look at."

----Despite crowing about Wayne LaPierre being at an event in 2010 with him, Reid said: "I've been supported by the NRA on occasion. I know Wayne LaPierre. He's always been extremely pleasant to me. We have a good relationship. So I -- I am not here to demean the organization."

---On the coming debt ceilign fight and revenues: "Without -- without any question. And there are some efforts being made to only get rid of the sequester as it relates to defense. I repeat: $2.6 trillion already, all coming from non-defense. If we're going to have a sequester, defense is going to have to do their share."

----On being part of the problem and being shunted aside in last go-round: "Joe Biden came here and spoke to us this week, had a good visit. I introduced him by saying, you know, sometimes there needs to be a good cop and bad cop, and I had a good time for a while being the bad cop. So it worked out well. We -- Joe Biden did not talk to Mitch McConnell until he talked to me. It worked out great."

----On Hagel's performance, Reid said, incredibly: "I thought he did pretty good."

-------On Menendez: "I have confidence he did nothing wrong"


STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. President Obama says that our headliner has the toughest job in Washington. Top Republicans complain that he makes it harder than it needs to be, and over the next year, no single senator will have more influence over the president's ambitious agenda than Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

When we met in the Capitol on Friday for this exclusive interview, he was feisty and confident, especially on this week's top issue, immigration reform.


REID: It has to get done. We have to work hard to get it done. It's really easy to write principles. To write legislation is much harder. And once we write the legislation, then you have to get it passed. But I think things are looking really good.

They're looking good for a number of reasons. One, it's the right thing to do. And, number two, the Republicans can no longer stop this. They've tried it; it hasn't worked. Look what they tried to do to me a couple years ago. Look what they tried to do with the president just this last time, and it just didn't work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it still does seem there's going to be a big sticking point. The biggest one I can see is this tie between border security and the path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants. Senator Rubio, part of the bipartisan group of senators, has said unless you have real enforcement there, real triggers, he's not going to support the bill.


RUBIO: That trigger is critically important. Otherwise, it will never happen.


REID: You are absolutely right. But every time I've talked about this, I say there are a few things we need. Number one is border security, southern and northern border security. We have to do that. We have to have a pathway to legalization. We have to make sure that the employer sanctions work. It hasn't worked in the past, and a few other things. But, sure, we have to have security, but it's not going to -- we spent -- we have spent billions and billions of dollars in security, and that's why the border is much more secure now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what does that mean exactly? Senator Rubio says that there has to be operational control of the borders. Can you meet that standard?

REID: I don't know what that means, and I don't think he does, either. (Classic Reid shot.)  The fact is, we have some metrics we're talking about, some numbers, and we can do that. But this legislation is going to pass. If people are looking for excuses not to vote for it...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Pass the Senate, pass the House?

REID: Well, it's certainly going to pass the Senate. And it would be a bad day for our country and a bad day for the Republican Party if they continue standing in the way of this. So the answer is yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other big issues, the president said he wants gay and lesbians to be able to have a family preference. Senator McCain has said we shouldn't gum up the legislation with what he calls "social issues."

REID: If we have gay folks in this country who have children or they come from some other place, they should be protected just like any other child.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the position the Republicans are saying that's too heavy to lift.

REID: If they're looking for an excuse not to support this legislation, this is another one, but the American people are past excuses. They want this legislation passed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a suspicion in the Republican Party that the president and Democrats are looking for an issue here, that they'd rather have the political issue than a policy achievement so they're going to lay out these principles and then not compromise at all.

REID: George, let's look at this with our brains, but also I think we need to look at it with our hearts. I mean, I have seen how things have changed in Nevada. When I was a boy there, we had very few Hispanics. Now more than 40 percent of the children in a school district in Clark County, Las Vegas, Nevada, of 330,000, over 40 percent of them are Hispanic kids. I've seen the DREAMers come to me and explain to me, "We're Americans. We know no other country." My heart says we have to do this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're also right at the center of the gun debate, which is also pulling on a lot of hearts in America, as well, and so many, including the National Rifle Association president David Keene, are wondering where you stand right now on the issue of gun legislation.


KEENE: He's under incredible pressure right now, so what -- where Harry Reid ends up in this debate is anybody's guess.


REID: Well, I think that's good. But let me just give you a little background here. I had guns from the time I was a little boy. I don't hunt anymore, but I did. I've got lots of guns. I keep them for sentimental reasons. But I'm a police officer, right over here is my badge. I was a police officer. I carried a gun. That's what I did to put myself through law school. My dad killed himself, shot himself with a gun, committed suicide, so I know a lot about guns. (Wow. Didn't see that coming. Personal used to define (or deflect?) the political.) And there are things that I think we need to do.

I have said to Senator Leahy, I want a bill to come out of the Judiciary Committee. I want you to hold hearings. I want to go through the regular process. I want you to have a bill that allows us, when it's brought to the floor, to start offering amendments. If Dianne Feinstein, by the time it's through the Judiciary Committee, if she doesn't have her assault weapons, at least let her have an opportunity to offer this amendment.(Ah, process from Prince Harry. Says nothing.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will you vote for it?

REID: Oh, I don't know.(Oh?) I frankly -- and she knows I haven't read her amendment. I didn't vote for the assault weapons last time because it didn't make sense, but I'll take a look at it. I think that we need to take a look at federal trafficking. I think that everyone acknowledges we should do something with background checks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Universal background checks?

REID: Yeah, I think we -- yeah, we need to increase that. I'm still a supporter of the Second Amendment, but you can do things like that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about restrictions on high-capacity magazines for ammunition?

REID: I think that's something we definitely have to take a look at. (Oh, yes. Look at it.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Take a look or vote for?

REID: Well, let's see what it is. Let's see what it is. You know, I -- I know that there are restrictions that people have had forever as to how many bullets you can have in a weapon. For example, if you want to hunt waterfowl, you have to plug that so you only shoot three times in a row. Sure, there are things we can do. And I'm happy to take a look at it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And on the assault weapons ban, you said the one you voted against didn't make any sense. But there have been independent studies which showed that, when that ban was in place, the number of crimes using military-style assault weapons went down and, when it expired, they went up.

REID: George, with what took place in Aurora, Colorado, where that man walked in and murdered lots of people, what happened in Newtown -- Newtown...


REID: Yeah, I always mess up that a little bit (Um....)-- to see those little babies on the ground, one little girl, 5 years old, shot more than 10 times, of course that's -- that breaks your heart, and I'm willing to take a look at it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've been supported by the NRA in the past. You support the Second Amendment, as you said, but one of your colleagues, Senator Bill Nelson, has said that they've become extremists, that they're more representing gun manufacturers than the majority of gun owners. Do you agree with that?

REID: George, I've been supported by the NRA on occasion. I know Wayne LaPierre. He's always been extremely pleasant to me. We have a good relationship. So I -- I am not here to demean the organization. (No, he'll only do that in private after the 2010 snub.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they are resisting almost everything you've talked about and we've talked about here, everything the president has called for.

REID: George, just because they resist it doesn't mean we can't do things. I mean, we have a lot of special interest groups that come and complain about things, and we don't listen to them. We'll listen to them and make the right decision.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But will you commit to getting something done?

REID: Yes, I definitely want to do something with immigration for sure, and I want to get something done on guns. (This is one of the all-time classic Reidisms. Notice the difference language on each subject. The use of "for sure" on one but not the other is telling.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then we've got the big issues...

REID: And, George, but let's not limit this conversation only to guns. There are other issues, very important in this issue, mental health. I mean, gee whiz, (Who says "gee, whiz" anymore?) we've got to do something on that. That's certainly the truth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about another huge issue this year, the sequester, across-the-board budget cuts supposed to hit on March 1st. You talk to leading Republicans in the House like Paul Ryan, leading Republicans in the Senate like Tom Coburn, they say the sequester is going to hit. Are they right?

REID: The American people need to understand that it's not as if we've done nothing for the debt. $2.6 trillion, $2.6 trillion already we've made in cuts. And all those cuts have come from non-defense programs. We need to keep our eye on the prize and continue doing something about spending, but I think that what we need to do is do some of the things that Mitt Romney talked about. He said there's some low-hanging fruit; there are a lot of tax loopholes that should be closed. I agree with him. We haven't done that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Like which ones?

REID: Well, oil subsidies. We -- we have issues dealing with shipping jobs overseas. Why don't we do some -- fill some of these...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, if my numbers are correct, if you do the oil and gas subsidy, I think that might save you something like $25 billion over 10 years.

REID: Oh, no.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's going to extend the sequester by a couple months.

REID: It's more than that, George. But -- but let's -- let's assume, because the debt ceiling doesn't kick in until August, I believe that's what we'll have, but let's add these together. Let's say you're right, it's $30 billion. But let's -- jobs overseas, we can dial that however we want, because it's a huge loss of revenue. Corporate jets, there are all kind of things that are low-hanging fruit that we...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've heard the Republicans across the board here. They're saying they're done with revenues for 2013.

REID: George, the American people are on our side. The American people don't believe in these austere things. We believe that the rich should contribute. We believe we should fill those tax loopholes, get rid of them, I should say. And that's where we need to go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's the debate that's been had, as you know, for the last several months, the last couple of years. It doesn't appear that that's going to get solved in the next month, so the sequester is going to hit.

REID: George, that's what they said two days, three days a week away from the fiscal cliff, "No revenue." Well, we got about $700 billion in revenue. There's still more that we can do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you saying that for -- to lift the sequester, first of all, it's going to have to include some new revenue, whatever you agree to?

REID: Without -- without any question. And there are some efforts being made to only get rid of the sequester as it relates to defense. I repeat: $2.6 trillion already, all coming from non-defense. If we're going to have a sequester, defense is going to have to do their share.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So your position on lifting the sequester, on avoiding a government shutdown, and on extending the debt limit beyond August is any one of those deals must include new revenues?

REID: And, yes, the answer is definitely yes. (So there you have it.) And I've got a pretty good fan base for that: the American people, Republicans, Democrats and independents.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hey, what do you say to the Republicans who say that you're part of the problem here? John Boehner, clearly you had words with him during the fiscal cliff negotiations. You called him a dictator; he said something I cannot repeat to you. And Senator McConnell, in the end of the fiscal cliff negotiations, seemed to go around you so he could work with Vice President Biden. Is there a breakdown here between you and the Republican leaders in Congress?

REID: Joe Biden came here and spoke to us this week, had a good visit. I introduced him by saying, you know, sometimes there needs to be a good cop and bad cop, and I had a good time for a while being the bad cop. So it worked out well. We -- Joe Biden did not talk to Mitch McConnell until he talked to me. (I will not be ignored, Joe!) It worked out great.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you still the bad cop?

REID: No, I'm a good cop now. But I -- I have a good relationship with Mitch McConnell. I really admire -- I think Boehner's -- has the best he can. He's had a tremendous burden. I mean, he's had those Tea Party folks, but even they recognize that they don't have the clout that they thought they had, and that's why we were able to get the debt ceiling extended.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chuck Hagel had a pretty rough ride at his confirmation hearings.


MCCAIN: Were you correct or incorrect, yes or no?

HAGEL: My reference to the surge being the most dangerous...

MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel?


STEPHANOPOULOS: He seemed to lose some of the Republican support he may have had. Are you still confident after that performance that the Democrats will stand behind him and he'll get confirmed?

REID: Sure. This is a short interview we have. But if you interviewed me for eight hours like they interviewed him in the Senate this week, we'd -- you and I would both flub up a little bit. (I will let my vision of Harry Reid being interviewed for eight hours and what might happen go undescribed.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's true, but...

REID: So, Chuck Hagel is a fine man. He was a good senator. I served with him. He's a Republican; that should be a plus. We need more -- and I think he will be an outstanding, terrific secretary of defense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of your fellow Democrats seem concerned, though, by what they saw as a shaky performance.

REID: This was eight hours. Give the guy a break. I thought he did pretty good. (No he did not!)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the Ethics Committee is now reviewing his relationship with a major contributor out of Florida. It appears the FBI is investigating that relationship, as well. Are you comfortable with him serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as these investigations continue?

REID: He was a leader in the House. He's been a leader in the Senate. He's chairman of that committee. He'll do a wonderful job. And he's also an integral part of what we do with immigration reform. So I have the utmost confidence in him. As to the rest of the investigation, that will have to be handled the way they're all handled around here, in-depth, and the Ethics Committee are in the paper today. They're taking a look at it. So that's -- that'll have to work...


STEPHANOPOULOS: There are some relatively allegations here. Are you confident he did nothing wrong?

REID: Oh, I have confidence he did nothing wrong (Really, senator, you do?), but that's what investigations are all about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're fine with him serving while the investigation goes forward?

REID: Oh, sure. He's -- he will -- he has been and will be a great member of that committee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question. How is this Congress going to be remembered?

REID: Well, we'll have to wait and see. It's really early. One way it will be remembered, we changed rules here in the Senate that are going to make the Senate a better place. And I think there's a better feeling that we can get some things done under what we call regular order, that is, stop the procedural gimmicks and to start legislating, voting on things we may not want to vote on, but that's what we're here for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks for your time today.