RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Later today, Senator Harry Reid will give his final speech on the Senate floor. He has served in Congress for 30 years and as the Senate Democratic leader for 12. Harry Reid joined us from his office on the Hill, and I asked him how he was feeling about the whole thing.
HARRY REID: Well, I, of course, have mixed emotions. I would have felt probably a little more happy and generous if Clinton had won and we controlled the Senate, but we picked up a couple seats. And I've learned to accept the Trump election. But the fact that we don't have a Democratic majority in the Senate will make it a little easier to leave, I think.
MARTIN: You've had a contentious relationship - I guess is a way we could put it - with some on the other side of the aisle during your tenure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, your counterpart, called you - and I'm quoting here - "the worst leader here ever." Senate Republicans in general have tried to define your tenure as one in which you made the Senate more polarized and limited debate. How do you respond to those critiques?
REID: Well, sometimes when people lose, they strike out and say things that probably shouldn't. Senator McConnell was, at that time, saying that because they had held up scores of judges - 98, to be exact. We had a National Labor Relations Board. They were going to put out a business, and he lost that. We changed the rules of the Senate so they couldn't do that anymore. So sometimes people, when they lose, say things they shouldn't.
MARTIN: But it's not even just when they lose. I mean, some of your other colleagues - Senator John Barrasso, for example, has said that you were a polarizing figure, that you were someone who was difficult to work with and that your leadership had been tainted by that.
REID: Well, Dr. Barrasso came to the floor virtually every day to berate the Affordable Care Act - lost. They tried over 70 times to repeal Obamacare. They couldn't get it done. I consider that kind of a loss, wouldn't you? And as a result of that, I'm sure he was frustrated with his coming to the floor and accomplishing nothing.
MARTIN: You did work so hard on passing Obamacare. Do you feel conflicted about leaving now and watching as - as a Republican-controlled Congress and President-to-be Donald Trump most likely work to repeal Obamacare?
REID: (Laughter). If they repeal Obamacare, they are in for a rude awakening. I don't think they want to get rid of health care for 21 million Americans. I don't think they want to be those who say that, if you have a disability, you can't get insurance - the way it used to be before Obamacare. We have now the highest insured in the history of our country. So they - they repeal Obamacare at their peril.
MARTIN: You know that the American public doesn't think too highly of Congress right now. Approval ratings are very low. There's a general sense that it has been an obstructionist kind of place, where there's been interminable gridlock and nothing is getting done. Do you think that Democrats, in light of American opinion, need to fight Republicans and President Trump the same way Republicans fought President Obama seemingly at every turn?
REID: First of all, I agree with the American people. I don't have a real high regard for Congress either because we're not getting things done. So no, I do not think Republicans should be treated like they treated us. However, I think we have an obligation to make sure that we use all the rules of the Senate to stop stuff that is really bad. If there's something they're going to do that is good, we'll work with them, and we've done them. And I think that's the attitude that should be used in the next Congress.
MARTIN: Where do you see the common ground in the first hundred days?
REID: Well, I have to say this - he's not as bad as I thought he would be. Some of his cabinet selections I'm not wild about because I'm not going to be able to vote on them. I've been very careful in not criticizing them individually.
MARTIN: Where has he impressed you, then? Where has he been not so bad?
REID: How about Dreamers? You know, he was going to deport all the Dreamers. That's 800,000 young men women who came here when they were little kids, so the president issued an executive order. And we heard from Trump the first - one of the first things he was going to do is repeal that executive order. In an interview he had with Time magazine in the last day or two, he said, no, I'm - I'm not going to do that. Those young people deserve to stay here. He's not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton criminally, as he said he would do. Obviously, he didn't believe in all the stuff he said, which is a step in the right direction.
MARTIN: After he was elected, you said in a statement, quote, "white nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump's victory while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear." Do you think that is no longer true?
REID: Oh, no, I think it's still true. You have Bannon, who's clearly a white supremacist - his number-one adviser. It's a scary thing.
MARTIN: Steve Bannon.
MARTIN: Those are strong words. Do you really believe Americans should be wracked with fear over the state of the democracy?
REID: They are. I mean, why have you had the Southern Law Poverty Center report hundreds and hundreds of attacks on people since the election - people of color, people of a different religion than someone wants them to be? So no, people are wracked with fear. Whether I think they should be or not, they are.
MARTIN: I hear you saying you are still anxious about the next president and...
REID: Well, that's - that's for sure.
MARTIN: ...The next administration, but you seem also hopeful. Do you think Donald Trump can be a successful president?
REID: I hope so. You know, it's not as if Donald Trump and I have been enemies our whole lives. You know, he's done fundraisers for me. When I was elected last time, he sent me a letter saying, you're awesome - a handwritten note. So...
MARTIN: Did it say exactly that?
REID: That's what it said.
MARTIN: You're awesome?
REID: That's right, yep. So it's not as if I have hate in my soul for Donald Trump. I hope beyond all that he does well. It's important to the stability of this great nation we have. And I'm hopeful - I keep using that word, but that's what it is - hopeful that he will lessen his rhetoric and work toward a safer, more productive America.
MARTIN: Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. He's retiring from the Senate after 30 years. Senator, thank you so much for talking with us.
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