RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The full Senate votes today on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, and the focus has already turned to the next fight: Who will replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor? We spoke with the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, to find out what he's looking for.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I think the court would be better if we didn't have all these appellate judges continually come to the Supreme Court. I think we need people who are either trial judges, trial lawyers, people who have seen the light of day recently.
MONTAGNE: In other words, please don't give us a second John Roberts?
Sen. REID: John Roberts--now no one could question his legal brilliance, but the fact is, he's never taken a deposition, never voir dired a jury, never argued a case to a jury. I think that that's not what I personally am looking for in someone going to the Supreme Court.
MONTAGNE: Senator Reid, you opposed confirming John Roberts. Many Democrats are supporting his confirmation. If a conservative like John Roberts can get through your caucus, who can't?
Sen. REID: Well, I think that depends on who the president gives us. I have told him there are certain people that if he selected them, it would be a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, and I'm not sure that that person would ever get out of the Senate.
MONTAGNE: So, were he to nominate one of these people that is on the list of who you will not accept, what are you going to do to stop it?
Sen. REID: The Senate's an interesting body. Things here are done in many different ways. There are many different procedural restrictions getting things done, and I know the procedures of the Senate. If I thought that there was somebody that was really bad for the court and the country, we would use whatever procedural avenues that are available to us to stop that person from going on to court.
MONTAGNE: One avenue is a filibuster.
Sen. REID: Certainly that's one avenue. Everything would be on the table. We think the stakes are enormous in replacing Sandra Day O'Connor. On a closely divided court, she's repeatedly cast the decisive votes to protect individual rights and freedoms, and we have to keep that in mind.
MONTAGNE: And, of course, even talk of a filibuster brings us back to an argument that has been made that Republicans could invoke the nuclear option.
Sen. REID: Nuclear option's over. They've tried to do that. It was decided at the time that it wouldn't work, and so I think people should speak with some amount of realism. The president, with the numbers that he has that are the lowest numbers in modern history for a president, it seems a little strange that he would break rules that have been in effect for more than 200 years to put somebody on the court. It seems there would be a cloud on that person going to the court.
MONTAGNE: President Bush's approval ratings are, in fact, low. Does it make it easier for you to oppose this nominee? Have you been given a gift, in a sense?
Sen. REID: Well, I don't know if we've been given a gift. I hardly think so. I think that we have an intractable war in Iraq. We have this situation that developed in the Gulf that showed the incompetence of this administration. We have other problems that are so apparent.
MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the war in Iraq, which you just brought up. Members of your party, Democrats, have suggested everything from a plan to set a timetable for withdrawing troops to increasing the number of troops. At what point is the party going to take a party-wide stance on this issue?
Sen. REID: I don't think it's necessary that there be a party position on Iraq. What we're saying is, the president got us into this mess and we're going to make sure that we keep him on the mark. We're now approaching nearly 2,000 dead Americans, a war that's costing us about $2 billion a week, and I think the American people are demanding that the president set up some benchmarks to get us out of there.
MONTAGNE: Senator Reid, thanks very much for joining us.
Sen. REID: Bye-bye.
MONTAGNE: Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, is the minority leader of the Senate. We reached him in his office on Capitol Hill.
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.