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updated 12/5/2004 10:49:49 AM ET 2004-12-05T15:49:49

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                    MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS

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NBC News MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, December 5, 2004

GUESTS:  Sen. Harry Reid (D - NV);

President Ghazi al-Yawar of the Interim Government of Iraq

MODERATOR/PANELIST:  Tim Russert - NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Iraq.  More U.S. troops on their way as the insurgency rages.  And is that country secure enough to hold national elections?  With us, in an exclusive interview, the president of the interim government of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawar.

Then, on November 2, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, lost his bid for re- election.  The Democrats have chosen their new leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.  And his first Sunday morning interview is right here on MEET THE PRESS.

And in our political roundtable, President Bush faces resistance from his own party on reforming our intelligence system.  With us, David Broder of The Washington Post and David Gregory of NBC News.

And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, we salute Tom Brokaw, who stepped down as anchor of "NBC Nightly News" after 22 extraordinary years.

But first, Iraq, and here with us is the president of that nation.

Mr. President, welcome back.

PRES. GHAZI AL-YAWAR:  Well, thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you some news on the wires as we speak this morning.  The "U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, said bluntly, `It is a mess in Iraq.'  Asked whether it was possible to hold elections under current conditions, Brahimi said, `If the circumstances stay as they are, I don't think so.'"

Your reaction.

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, we still have two months to elections.  We believe in Iraq that the main objective of these people who are committing these atrocities unjustifiably is to stop us from having our first chance to taste the harvest of liberating Iraq.  We still have two months.  We should still--consistent and we should keep the schedule according to what it is. That's the 30th of January.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if the United Nations cannot cooperate with you, can you have elections?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, the date was chartered by the United Nations Resolution 1546.  We are asking the United Nations, the whole international community, to help us.  We do not think that postponing elections or delaying it will solve the problem.  Actually, it will prolong the agony for Iraqis and you will have more resentment in the Iraqi society.

MR. RUSSERT:  Adnan Pachachi, who is a leader in the Sunni community, said this.  "The first reason to delay the Iraqi elections is that we should give an opportunity for those who are still reluctant or unwilling to take part in the elections in order to have a dialogue with them and to see whether we can address some of their demands and grievances and also to persuade them that it's in their interest to join in the elections. ... The second reason is the security situation, which...is still rather precarious and uncertain.  ...And therefore, a little" more time "would be much better."

You can't even secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad.  How can you possibly have free and fair elections?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  That's been made deliberately by these people who are fighting, the insurgents, in order to present this gloomy picture.  The challenge is to move ahead and get the election on time.  The problem, it's not the people are reluctant.  Yes, there is a problem in the security situation.  And people are scared of going and registering their names, of reprisals, atrocities of these armies of darkness.  If we can do something in these areas by enhancing the security situation, a lot of people are willing to join in now.  We are not talking about people want to be in or not. Everybody is committed.  But the problem is they are fearing reprisal of these people who are doing these bad actions.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the insurgency seems to be very widespread.  We now have more U.S. troops heading for Iraq and in Iraq than we had before the invasion.  Americans were told by many Iraqis that we would be greeted as liberators, with flowers and sweets.  Could this insurgency be as difficult and strong as it is without the support of many of the Iraqi people?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  I think it's strong without the support of Iraqi people. They are frightening people if you see Mosul City and the destruction and problems to these areas.  They fled the areas after they put the people in the cross-fire.  The thing is:  How are we going to talk to these people?  They don't have faces.  They don't have leaderships.  They don't have ideologies. They don't have any demands.  They are just there, wanting to bring the old regime back into Iraq.  And we are not going to go back to the time of the prewar era after all.  With all of the ups and downs, it's much better without having the old regime back.

MR. RUSSERT:  But could the insurgents--how could they live off the land? How could they be as organized as they are without the Iraqi populous tolerating them or at least not turning them in?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, people are passive, yes, because they have been held hostage by these people.  It's like hoodlums where they frighten people. People are innocent and law-abiding citizens, and they are just frightened, scared for their families, for their children, and these people are--most of them are kidnapping people and selling them to another gang, a third gang, then a fourth gang.  And this is a slavery.  This is what they are doing right now in Iraq.  I mean, the whole international community should understand that and should help us stop all these nonsense.

MR. RUSSERT:  In October, you said, "Yes, [the election is] scheduled for Jan. 31, but that date is not sacred.  ...If we see that elections held by that date without security or conditions favoring a fair and comprehensive vote and that that in turn will have a negative impact on our country, then we will not hesitate to change its date."  You were concerned and are concerned about the security.

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  How can you hold an election...

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...if vast numbers of Iraqis, like yourself, Sunnis in the Sunni Triangle, are not allowed to vote or are incapable of voting because of lack of security?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, what I said before I still believe in.  There is no sacred date, but the thing is this is a challenge that Iraqis have to take. And after reviewing the situation, I think the worst thing to do is to postpone elections.  This will give a tactical victory to the insurgents, to the forces of darkness.  That's why I have even established my own political entity after being reluctant for a long time.  This is to encourage a lot of people from all aspects of Iraq, from all faiths, to join in, and not to sit because we have a silent majority in Iraq.  We want this silent majority to say their word and I'm sure they are very capable and very influential.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why are they so silent?  If they didn't like Saddam Hussein and they were going to greet us as liberators, why are they still silent?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, first of all, these people have been living for 45 years in totalitarian regimes.  They are still rehabilitating out of that. We're telling them your vote is very valuable.  Cast your vote.  This is your duty and this is your right.  Don't forfeit it for any reason.  This is what we are trying to do.  We are trying to assist the people to come out of the shell of the totalitarian regimes and the oppressions of the past and this is very important.

MR. RUSSERT:  You said this a month ago.  "Whoever fights with the other on board this boat, will tip it over and make everyone fall into the river and get eaten up by the alligators.  Not a single passenger will survive."

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Yes, sir.  I did say that.  That is because I want all Iraqis to understand that we are one team, we have one choice.  It is to move along in tranquility to reach the shores of safety and build our prosperous country.  And I still believe in it.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is The New York Times today.  This headline:  "Sunnis vs. Shiites and Kurds; Mayhem in Iraq is Starting to Look Like a Civil War."  Do you believe that Iraq is on the verge of a civil war?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Never ever.  Iraq has been--if you look deep into our history, 7,000 years of history, we never, ever had a single incident of unrest built on ethnicity or sect or religion.  We never had that.  All this has been--all these stories and scenarios has been imported to Iraq, and it's time for Iraqis to understand themselves firsthand, not to listen to others telling them how they should behave.  I don't think--I'm 100 percent sure--and this is my intuition--we will never, ever have civil war or unrest based on ethnicity or belief or sectarian reasons.

MR. RUSSERT:  Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim.  You're a Sunni Muslim. You're a minority in the country.  If, in fact, the Shia elect a majority of the government and control the national government, can the Sunnis accept minority status?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, first of all, the Sunni Muslims--if we are talking about Sunni Muslims, Sunni Muslims makes about 50 percent of the Iraqi population, because the Kurds are Sunni Muslims too, most of them.  We do not have a problem.  In Iraq, we have a challenge of sectarian vs. civil-oriented people.  That's people who believe that the religion is more sacred to be involved in politics.  And this is a dimension we have in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about the--your comments about the silent majority.

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Yes, sir.

MR. RUSSERT:  Americans see their death toll passing 1,000 men and women; their injured and wounded, over 7,000.  And they say:  Why should Americans fight and die for Iraqi people if they are passive and they're a silent majority?  If you yourself don't want democracy, and aren't willing to fight and die for it and put down the insurgency and not in any way enable it, why should Americans stay there and die for you?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, first of all, our thoughts goes for the families of the people who lost their lives in Iraq.  But we in Iraq appreciate very much all the assistance and all the sacrifices that the American people are making for us in Iraq.  What we believe in--that by empowering Iraqis and helping us build our security forces and military on proper technical and moral backgrounds, this will be the solution for the Iraqi problem.  Myself is 100 percent convinced that the solution for the security situation is Iraq should be 100 percent Iraqi.  Until then, we need our friends to help us preserve our security.  But we have to work and expedite building Iraqi security forces from now.

When I mention the silent majority, I mentioned the people who were, out of fear of reprisals, of oppressive regimes, of the vicious dictatorship like Saddam--they were hurt.  They were being-- hibernating in caves.  And this is a moral and national and human duty, is to help these people come out of these caves.  And I think the United States, being the superpower, is destined to be helping all the people in the world to make the world a free world, really.

MR. RUSSERT:  Realistically, how long do you think American troops are going to have to stay in Iraq?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  As long as we can--I hope it will be as short as we can build our security forces 100 percent.  That is not impossible.  Iraq is very well-known in the Middle East for the human resources we have.  We have extremely qualified people.  We have to start revisiting the issue of the old army and try to screen of--the people and bring back some of the people who have never had bloodstained hands in the past.

MR. RUSSERT:  But that will take several years.

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  No.  I don't think it will take several years.

MR. RUSSERT:  You believe American troops...

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  It will take months.

MR. RUSSERT:  You think American troops could be out of Iraq in months?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Well, months--we're talking about months, probably; I don't know, six months or eight months or a year.  But I don't think it will take years.  Definitely not.

MR. RUSSERT:  And American troops can come home?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Yes, but after--when we build our security forces.  I mean, this is a job which has been done, and this is--America cannot afford to retreat at this time.  This will be bad for Iraq, the Middle East, and to the United States and the world.

MR. RUSSERT:  You will meet with President Bush tomorrow.  What will you tell him?

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  I will tell him:  "Thank you very much, Mr. President, for all the help we've had in the past."  I will tell him that we in Iraq are determined to build our own democracy, own Iraqi-style democracy.  But also, "We want you to help us empowering more Iraqis to assume responsibility, especially in the security forces arena."

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. President, we thank you for joining us with and sharing your views

PRES. AL-YAWAR:  Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, the new leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.  Then, insights and analysis: what lies ahead for George W. Bush's second term.  Our roundtable, with David Broder of The Washington Post and David Gregory, who covers the White House for NBC News.  They're all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  The new Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, after this station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back with the new leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada.

Welcome.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV):  Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT:  In 1994, when the Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress, this is what Senator Harry Reid said.  "We all have to swallow a little bit of our pride and go toward the middle."

Is that still your advice to the Democrats?

SEN. REID:  I think there's no question about it.  You know, we don't accomplish anything on the far right and the far left.  Things are accomplished in the middle.  We have to work toward the middle.  And I think that that's clear.  I feel no differently than I did 10 years ago.

MR. RUSSERT:  There were a lot of eyebrows raised across the town when the Las Vegas Review- Journal and The Hill newspaper reported this.  "Harry Reid, the incoming Senate minority leader, said he is forming a communications `war room' to promote Democratic messages and respond to Republican criticism."

Is creating a war room the prescription to try to solve the partisan problems we face right now?

SEN. REID:  Well, I think war room designation is something that comes from inside Washington.  What I've created is a communications center where we're going to take some of the resources that are already there and make sure that when someone comes to the Senate floor to give a speech, that talk radio stations know what that person had to say.  We're going to communicate with the American people to make sure that they understand the Democrats are in tune with millions of Americans across the country.  In fact, we represent the people of this country, and this communications center that we have will certainly be an indication of how we feel.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you're not going to war with Republicans the first week on your job?

SEN. REID:  No.  I hope we don't have to go to war.  As I said, Tim, I'd rather dance than fight.  But people have to understand that the president controls the White House, of course.  The House of Representatives, the Senate--if he wants to get something done, he has to come to us.  We are constitutionally empowered by the Constitution to have certain powers that are inherent in this body, and we want to work with the president.  But they can't jam things down our throats.  The American people wouldn't want us to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  You're a former boxer.  If you're punched, you'll punch back?

SEN. REID:  Sure will.

MR. RUSSERT:  When the president talked about Yucca Mountain and moving the nation's nuclear waste there, you were very, very, very strong in your words. You said, "President Bush is a liar.  He betrayed Nevada and he betrayed the country."

Is that rhetoric appropriate?

SEN. REID:  I don't know if that rhetoric is appropriate.  That's how I feel, and that's how I felt.  I think to take that issue, Tim, to take the most poisonous substance known to man, plutonium, and haul 70,000 tons of it across the highways and railways of this country, past schools and churches and people's businesses is wrong.  It's something that is being forced upon this country by the utilities, and it's wrong.  And we have to stop it.  And people may not like what I said, but I said it, and I don't back off one bit.

MR. RUSSERT:  The intelligence bill reforms which were recommended by the 9-11 Commission; now before the Senate and the House.  Being held up by two Republican congressmen in the House.  And now Senator John Warner, Republican from Virginia, said he has reservations.  Will the intelligence reform bill pass this week in Congress?

SEN. REID:  The Congress of the United States should not leave this town until we pass this.  Governor Kean, Representative Hamilton were appointed by the president of the United States to give us some ideas as to what should be done following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  They told us what should be done.  And we in the Senate and the House passed bills that were in keeping with what they wanted.  Now, it's being held up because the speaker says he wants a majority--the majority to approve everything before they will pass it.

This legislation has enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass overwhelmingly.  The president should intercede, as he I believe has an obligation to this country.  We have people that want to be safe in America today.  The secretary of Health and Human Service, Tommy Thompson, when he announced his resignation, said that the Americans' food and water supply is not safe.  How can we leave town and not have this most important legislation passed?  It may not be perfect, but no legislation's perfect.  It's something that we need to do, and the people of America are depending on us to do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Stay through Christmas if necessary?

SEN. REID:  Stay through the day before New Year's.  We must pass this legislation.  The people in Nevada want to be safe.

MR. RUSSERT:  What must...

SEN. REID:  The people in this country want to be safe.

MR. RUSSERT:  What must the president do?

SEN. REID:  The president, who controls both houses of Congress, should use his power.  And he has said that he has power.  He has a mandate.  Let him pull a few bucks out of that pocket of mandate and give it to the House and Senate and say, "Here's part of my mandate.  I want this legislation to pass."

MR. RUSSERT:  Republicans are saying they're concerned about the intelligence on the ground with our troops and they're concerned about driver's licenses that there are not a--without uniform standards, hijackers could easily obtain them from localities that did not maintain rigid standards.

SEN. REID:  Tim, we dealt with immigration in this bill.  This is not an immigration bill.  Immigration is covered as recommended by the commission, and we've done that.  This is a holdup.  These are people who have committees, Sensenbrenner and Hunter, and they want to maintain power.  Power--this is not about power.  It's about keeping the American people safe.  And the president, I repeat, should intercede any way that he can, and there are lots of ways he can.  He hasn't even sent a letter yet.  You know, you keep three or days--he hasn't even sent a letter to the congressional leaders saying he wants it passed.  This should be passed as quickly as possible.  Every day that goes by, the American people are not as safe.

MR. RUSSERT:  Private accounts for Social Security--the president has made that a priority of his domestic agenda.  Will you work with him in privatizing part of Social Security?

SEN. REID:  Tim, I can remember as a little boy my widowed grandmother with eight children.  She lived alone, but she felt independent because she got every month her old age pension check.  That's what this is all about.  The most successful social program in the history of the world is being hijacked by Wall Street.  Yes, Social Security is a good program.  And if the president has some ideas about trying to improve it, I'll talk to him, and we as Democrats will, but we are not going to let Wall Street hijack Social Security.  It won't happen.  They are trying to destroy Social Security.

MR. RUSSERT:  No private accounts?

SEN. REID:  They are trying to destroy Social Security by giving this money to the fat cats on Wall Street, and I think it's wrong.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, there are now 40 million people on Social Security.  In the next 20 years, there's going to be 80 million.  Life expectancy used to be 65 years old.  It's approaching 80.  If you have twice as many people on these programs for 15 years, you've got to restructure them in some way, shape, or form.  What is your solution?

SEN. REID:  Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  What is your alternative?

SEN. REID:  Tim, all experts say that Social Security beneficiaries will receive every penny of their benefits that they're entitled to--100 percent of them--until the year 2055.  After that, if we still do nothing, they'll draw 80 percent of their benefits.  I want those beneficiaries after year 2055 to draw 100 percent of their benefits.  But this does not require dismantling the program.  For heaven's sakes, they're crying wolf a little too regularly here.  There is not an emergency on Social Security.  We can do this.  The president should not try to jam this private accounts in an effort to destroy Social Security.

In the early--when Social Security came before the Congress, who opposed it? The Republicans.  And they have a long memory.  They've been trying to destroy Social Security for a long time and now they think they have an opening to do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you look at increasing or raising the age of eligibility? Would you look at means testing?  Would you look at any reform?

SEN. REID:  Of course.  There are reforms that probably can happen in Social Security, and we're not, you know, saying don't even touch it.  Let's take a look at it.  I said I want people after the year 2055 to be able to draw all of their benefits.  And, sure, we'll take a look at it, but don't give the ball to Wall Street.

MR. RUSSERT:  No private accounts of any kind?

SEN. REID:  Not as far as I'm concerned.

MR. RUSSERT:  You also said this back in 1994.  "I believe in a consumption tax.  ...The income tax is not working as well as it should.  I think we should do away with it."  Is that still your view?

SEN. REID:  Tim, there's no question that the Social Security system--I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  Back-- we're off Social Security, right.  The income tax code, as we know it, is tough, it's unworkable.  You know, we couldn't put the code on this desk.  And I think we should work towards simplifying it.  We had a pretty good program, Bradley-Gephardt, where we had three tax structures, but, of course, we changed that.  Congress changed that and now it's more complicated than ever.

What I am concerned about that's happening with the talk that's coming from 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue is that they're talking about having a consumption tax and an income tax.  That's the worst of all worlds.  That's what they have in Europe where you have an income tax and you add on that the value-added tax.  It's a terrible system.  So what I say is if we can figure out a way to make our tax less burdensome and if we could go to a consumer based tax, I think it would be wonderful.  But the transition rules of that are very difficult and I have looked into that.  It's extremely difficult.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the national sales tax or consumption tax is very regressive.  Poor people get hit very hard with that as...

SEN. REID:  No question.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...to a progressive income tax.

SEN. REID:  No question about it and I've learned a lot since the statement. I think if it's an ideal world, maybe we could work something out, but as I've learned in so many different areas, we...

MR. RUSSERT:  You're less enthusiastic about a consumption tax now.

SEN. REID:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  This was the Associated Press about Harry Reid.  "Reid voted with Republicans to ban a procedure that opponents call partial birth abortion.  In 1999, he was one of two Senate Democrats who voted against an amendment expressing support for the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion."

Would you prefer to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade which allows legal abortions across the country.

SEN. REID:  Tim, I have--my views on abortion are very clear.  I've never tried to hide them.  I think it's something that people understand about me. But I also understand that this is a very complicated issue, very difficult issue.  And, you know, in our caucus, our Democratic caucus, we have wide-ranging views.  My sister, as far--I don't have a sister, but as close as I have ever had to a sister is Barbara Boxer.  Her views and my views differ. But, you know, we don't have a litmus test in the Senate with Senate Democrats.  We don't do the so-called Specter test--"You have to agree with us or we won't let you be a chairman of the committee or subcommittee."  We don't do that.

And so I say that this is an issue that is not likely going to be resolved in the Congress of the United States.  I think what we should do is all work toward reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, unintended pregnancies.  I think we should do that.  That would, of course, lead to fewer abortions. That should be a goal we all have.  And I think that this matter will be resolved, as--the Supreme Court has wrestled with this for years and years. And, as you know, they're having a difficult time coming up with what should or shouldn't be done.

MR. RUSSERT:  But why did you vote against something that would express support for Roe vs. Wade?  Do you believe that Roe vs. Wade was incorrectly decided?

SEN. REID:  You know, you're asking me--I don't want to give you the Clarence Thomas decision here, but Roe vs. Wade is--I clearly oppose abortion.  And this was a Senate resolution.  It had no standing in law if it had even passed.  So I think that my views are clear, and I think that I have worked very hard with groups all over America to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and I'll continue to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  What would happen, do you think, in the country if Roe vs. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court?

SEN. REID:  Well, I think it would be a little--it would be pretty difficult for everybody, so I think that's why the Supreme Court has wrestled with it

MR. RUSSERT:  You are a Mormon.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had a statement on marriage:  "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors a constitutional amendment preserving marriage as the lawful union of a man and a woman."

Do you accept that message, the statement from your church?

SEN. REID:  Tim, we have in America today many, many states--I don't know the exact number; I think 11 or 13 in this last election cycle--said there can no--in our state, you have to have marriage between a man and a woman.  That's the law in the state of Nevada.  And within a couple years, even Massachusetts, that will be the law.  And we in Congress recognized there would be some controversy over this, so we passed the Defense of Marriage Act that says you do not have to recognize the marriage laws of another state. That's the law of the land.  And I think that we have to be very, very careful about how we tamper with the Constitution.  I have agreed reluctantly on several occasions to agree to constitutional amendments.  But frankly, in the history of this country, there've been over 11,500 attempts to amend the Constitution, and I want to approach those amendments very, very cautiously. I do not think it's necessary at this time to have a constitutional amendment in that regard.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will that upset your church leaders?

SEN. REID:  You'll have to ask them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to judicial nominations.  Again, Harry Reid on National Public Radio, November 19:  "If they"--the Bush White House--"for example, gave us Clarence Thomas as chief justice, I personally feel that would be wrong.  If they give us Antonin Scalia, that's a little different question.  I may not agree with some of his opinions, but I agree with the brilliance of his mind."

Could you support Antonin Scalia to be chief justice of the Supreme Court?

SEN. REID:  If he can overcome the ethics problems that have arisen since he was selected as a justice of the Supreme Court.  And those ethics problems--you've talked about them; every people talk--every reporter's talked about them in town--where he took trips that were probably not in keeping with the code of judicial ethics.  So we have to get over this.  I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy.  And I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reason for arriving at those results are very hard to dispute.  So...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why couldn't you accept Clarence Thomas?

SEN. REID:  I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.  I don't--I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Republicans have said that the Democrats have been obstructionist in terms of judicial nominations.  And one of the things that's being considered is the so-called nuclear option, where Vice President Cheney would preside over the Senate, and there would be a motion to say that a Democratic filibuster against a judicial nominee violates the constitutional duty of senators to advise and consent on the issue of nominations, and a majority, 51 senators, could uphold the ruling of the chair and, in effect, do away with the filibuster when it comes to judicial nominations.  What will you do if the Republicans exercise that option?

SEN. REID:  George Will wrote in last week's Newsweek magazine that he had originally thought it was a good idea.  He thinks it's a bad idea.  I agree with George Will.  We have a situation where during the four years that President Bush has been president, we've approved 207 federal judges and turned down 10.  We have an obligation under the Constitution to give advise and consent to the nominations of the president of the United States.

If you look at Orrin Hatch's autobiography, in that he talks about what President Clinton did.  He says that President Clinton came to him and said "Give me some suggestions as to who you think could be approved."  And he suggested--Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee--he suggested Breyer and Ginsburg.  And sure enough, they were submitted by President Clinton.  And with no problem, they were approved.  That's the same model that President Bush should follow, if in fact we have Supreme Court nominees come before us.  In the meantime, the president should be happy with what he's gotten, 207-to-10.  That's a pretty good record for him.

MR. RUSSERT:  You have written President Bush and asked him to consult with you about Supreme Court nominees before he nominates individuals?

SEN. REID:  Just like Clinton did with Orrin Hatch.  I wrote the letter Friday.  I'm not sure the president has it yet.  I hope he has.  But I think that's the model he should follow.  That would solve so many problems for us. We don't need a knockdown, drag-out fight on who should be approved on the Supreme Court.  It should be approved as easy as Breyer and Ginsburg.

MR. RUSSERT:  What if the president says, "Harry, I'm sorry.  I'm the president.  I was re-elected by this country.  I get to appoint--to nominate Supreme Court justices, and you don't have a right of veto."

SEN. REID:  Well, of course, if you read the Constitution, that's absolutely wrong.  We do have a right of advise and consent.  And I say to the president, he should follow what President Clinton did.  President Clinton didn't have Orrin Hatch approve who he wanted.  I mean, he gave him some suggestions and the suggestions were good.  Orrin Hatch should be commended for that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you going to be able to work with Senator Bill Frist, the Republican, and actually achieve anything?

SEN. REID:  I think Bill Frist is one of the finest persons I've met.  Here is a man how gave up a career in medicine--he was a transplant surgeon--to come here and spend some time in public service.  He's doing his very best.  His caucus is so much more difficult to deal with than mine.  I'm going to have a much easier time with my Democrats than he is with his Republicans.  But I look forward to working with him.  We have a good relationship now, and I think it will get better during the next couple years.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're down to only 45.  That's very few Democrats.

SEN. REID:  Well, we have three less than we had last time.  I think we have a pretty strong group of people, and we're going to do what we're entitled to do under the Constitution because we represent the American people.

MR. RUSSERT:  Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, the new minority leader of the Democrats in the Senate.  We thank you for sharing your views.

SEN. REID:  Tim, thanks for allowing me to be on your show.  It was such a breeze.

MR. RUSSERT:  Our roundtable is next with David Broder of The Washington Post and David Gregory who covers the White House for NBC News.  Then our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE.  Tom Brokaw on MEET THE PRESS 50 times.  Some highlights coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

The Davids are here, Broder and Gregory.  Welcome both.  The intelligence reform bill, Mr. Broder.  Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote this: "Loyal Bushites are newly candidate in criticizing the president's performance on intel reform.  They say a word from the White House is no longer sufficient because Bush's political fate no longer is paramount for them," meaning members of Congress.  "He never again must be tested by the voters, even as House members undergo that ordeal" every two years, "biennially.  The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution has rendered Bush a lame duck."

Is that what's going on here?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  It's partly what's going on here.  But I think there are also some real policy differences.  I think the president still has the opportunity to get this bill passed.  If he's willing to do what he has not done up to this point, which is to say directly to the Republican members of the House, "I'm saying to you as the commander in chief that I think our troops are as safe or safer under this plan as they are today," if he does that, I've been told by conservative Republicans he can still pass this bill.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Gregory, Chris Shays, Republican from Connecticut, said, "When President Bush wants something, he gets it done.  It's a mystery to me why we haven't seen a more forceful presentation to the public."

This is a Republican.  What's going on?

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  It's a mystery to some of the president's allies in his conservative caucus in the House as well, that they appeared at the White House to be flat-footed on this.  The president didn't use his political capital that he talked about having after re-election.  Indeed, it's House Republicans who feel they've got some political capital to spend as well.  And more important than the president, I've been told by some conservatives on Capitol Hill that it's Secretary Rumsfeld who really must carry the ball over the line now and convince those wavering Republicans that this is a bill that he can live with and, therefore, they can live with.  And that hasn't happened up until now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Last week on this program, I had Lee Hamilton, the co-chair, and Tom Kean, the chairman, of the September 11th Commission.  Governor Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, said something that got a lot of attention.  Let me share it with our viewers again.

(Videotape, last Sunday):

FMR. GOV. TOM KEAN, (R-NJ):  This bill will pass.  The question is whether it will pass now or after a second attack.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Pretty strong, David.

MR. BRODER:  It is.  And, you know, the point that David makes about Rumsfeld is fascinating, because, I mean, Don Rumsfeld, as we have all known, is a skilled bureaucratic infighter.  He does not want to lose any of the control that he now has over this intelligence budget.  But he works for the president.  And the president just this week said, "I'm going to keep Rumsfeld."  You have to believe that when they had that meeting that produced that comment from the president, the president certainly had an opportunity and presumably said to him, "Don, you've got to get on board, really get on board, on this proposal of mine."

MR. GREGORY:  What I think is interesting is how hard the president wants to fight for this before the term end, so he's only got a couple of days, or whether they want to start from scratch, as some Republicans want to do, come January.  The problem, you heard Senator Reid say, "We've got to stay through Christmas to get this done."  This is a campaign issue.  The president embraced these reforms because he didn't want Senator Kerry to have an issue. He felt he had to embrace the 9/11 findings.  And so it's a real question whether he wants to let it go that far to have a bill redrawn.  That could cost him politically.

MR. RUSSERT:  You saw Senator Reid saying the president should spend some of that political capital.  Is the White House sensitive to the criticism that the president's not doing enough?

MR. GREGORY:  They are sensitive to it.  Karl Rove was dispatched to a GOP retreat this week to lobby for this bill, and he did so very aggressively. But they're also sensitive about rolling the Republicans on this issue.  A top conservative in the House, who's very tight with the White House, said to me they don't want to use Democrats to get this bill done right out of the gate. It would really imperil some of the other reforms, Social Security, tax reform, where they're going to need conservatives down the line.

MR. BRODER:  I think that's right, but it's this last point that makes this so intriguing.  Because up to now, the president has not had to take on the conservatives in his own party on any major issue.  And this time, to get it done without depending on the Democrats, he would have to take on those conservatives.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Social Security.  You heard the leader of the Democrats in the Senate just say no private accounts when it comes to Social Security.  It looks like the president is going to have one big fight if he tries to reform Social Security in that direction.

MR. BRODER:  Clearly so.  And he's going to be searching for somebody or somebodies on the Democratic side who might be willing to take a more flexible attitude than Senator Reid.  This is--if--I mean, I think if the president is serious about Social Security reform, and he certainly appears to be, that will drive his tactics in terms of Supreme Court appointments and many other things where he will have to be prepared to give something to the Democrats in return.

MR. GREGORY:  He's also got to campaign for this around the country.  Newt Gingrich has been outspoken on this point, saying, "You can't just make deals with Congress on this.  You have to take this to the people."  There's a lot of people out there, including my own mother, who lives out in California, who wonders what's going to happen to her Social Security checks.  People are worried.  They don't understand what private accounts would mean for their benefits today.  Even younger workers don't really understand what Social Security means for them down the line, so he's got some education to do, and he's got to make the case that you brought up with Senator Reid, which is the case of many, which is:  Is no reform more costly than reform?

MR. RUSSERT:  You also heard Senator Reid talk about judicial nominations, particularly Supreme Court nominations, David Gregory.  He has written a letter to the president, he disclosed, saying you should consult with us, the Democrats, before you send a name to the Senate for the Supreme Court.  What do you think the reaction of the White House will be?

MR. GREGORY:  Not very good.  I think that the president has got a real choice to make here.  Whether he--if he looks at the landscape and says, "Well, I perhaps have a few nominations to make in the course of the second term.  What do I want to do off the bat?  Do I really want to take the wood to the Democrats and nominate a conservative, which is going to be important to my base, or do I want to try to get somebody through initially?"  It's a choice I don't have a clear answer to what he'll do on, but it's going to be a tough one he's going to have to make as to whether he really wants to work with Democrats on this.

MR. BRODER:  And it also depends on what kind of--I mean, this country is full of conservative lawyers, able people, men and women, who could be easily confirmed...

MR. GREGORY:  Absolutely.

MR. BRODER:  ...for the Supreme Court?  The question is:  Does he pick one of them who already has such a clearly stated position on abortion and other social issues that he guarantees himself a fight?  This is like the war in Iraq.  This is an option for him.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. BRODER:  It's not a necessity for him to have this fight at the beginning.

MR. GREGORY:  But also bear in mind that Democrats know this is the one area where they can wield some real power, and it matters to their loyal supporters how they handle this particular issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Reverend Jerry Falwell was on MEET THE PRESS saying he has every expectation that this president must nominate someone to the Supreme Court who has advocated overturning Roe vs. Wade.

MR. BRODER:  That's Reverend Falwell.  We'll see whether that's also the president and Karl Rove.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was interesting to hear Senator Reid say that he thought it would be very difficult if Roe vs. Wade was overturned even though he himself opposes abortion.

MR. GREGORY:  That's right.  And it's not all together clear to me how hard the president is going to fight for a nominee for whom Roe v. Wade is a top priority.  The president has made it very clear, despite his stance as being anti-abortion, that he does not think the country is prepared for that.  He said that back to you in 2000, and he hasn't changed his view.  So as I say, as David points out, this is a real choice as to how the president wants to define this fight when it comes to his doorstep.

MR. RUSSERT:  Iraq:  David Broder, elections going forward.  The president says we must have them.  You heard the president of Iraq this morning say we must have them.  Although the president of Iraq acknowledges a silent majority that exists in Iraq, how patient are the American people going to be until the Iraqis begin to take control of their own country and their own destiny?

MR. BRODER:  I don't know the answer to that, but this daily reports of increasing violence in the cities across Iraq, I mean, we are dealing with something that is much more than a small band of insurgents as we first thought.  This is approaching the dimensions of a civil war.  And I'm afraid that even if we're able to have the election on January 31 that we will still be required to have large numbers of troops there just to keep the level of violence down to a halfway tolerable degree.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's your say on this?

MR. GREGORY:  I think it's important even if Iraqis want freedom, do they have the wherewithal and the institutions in place to pull off a new country.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the president's aware of that.

MR. GREGORY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Gregory, David Broder, thanks very much.

Next up, a special MEET THE PRESS Minute:  Tom Brokaw.  He retired this week after 22 years as anchor of "NBC Nightly News," but he'll still be doing reports for the Peacock Network.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

After 22 extraordinary years as the anchor of "NBC Nightly News," our friend and colleague Tom Brokaw signed off for the last time Wednesday night.

(Videotape, "NBC Nightly News," December 1):

MR. TOM BROKAW:  ...for this Wednesday night.  I'm Tom Brokaw.  You'll see Brian Williams here tomorrow night, and I'll see you along the way.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom has appeared on MEET THE PRESS more than 50 times as an astute questioner, guest moderator and trusted analyst.  Let's look.

(Videotape, October 21, 1973):

Unidentified Man:  We'll have the first questions now from Tom Brokaw of NBC News.

MR. BROKAW:  Mr. Laird, Let me briefly summarize all that has happened this weekend.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, January 6, 1974):

MR. BROKAW:  Mr. Vice President, did you agree with President Nixon's decision not to release presidential documents to the Senate Watergate Committee to reject the subpoena?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, September 13, 1981):

MR. BROKAW:  Mr. Prime Minster, Egyptian President Sadat appears to be in some considerable political trouble at home.  If you were to lose President Sadat of Egypt as a negotiator for Israel, would you consider that an irreversible blow to the chances for peace in the Middle East?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, December 22, 1985):

MR. BROKAW:  Mr. Speaker, let's talk a little politics.  It seems to me that about half of Massachusetts is lined up to run fur your congressional seat when you decide to retire at the end of this term.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, September 27, 1987):

Unidentified Announcer:  This is the first one-on-one interview that Premier Zhou has ever given to American television.

MR. BROKAW:  Premier Zhou, your election as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China is widely anticipated at the party congress in October.  Tell us, will the pace of change in China accelerate?  Will it stay the same?  Or will it slow down after the party congress?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, August 12, 1990):

MR. BROKAW:  Good morning.  I'm Tom Brokaw, and welcome to MEET THE PRESS: the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome, first of all.  It does appear that Saddam Hussein is prepared for a long siege.  Do you agree with Egyptian President Mubarak that there can be no peaceful solution to this crisis?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, January 17, 1993):

MR. BROKAW:  Senator, Bill Clinton was asked who he would like to have in the room, the one person, if there's a major decision to be made, and he said Hillary.  Does that mean when that big decision is made and her advice is in one direction and yours is the other, she wins?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, November 7, 1993):

MR. BROKAW:  Mr. President, do you think that there has been enough dialogue within the black community about this whole issue of families without fathers?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, June 5, 1994):

MR. BROKAW:  And they came back to America to build the greatest economy known to man and the greatest political system known to man without whining, without complaining, and now, 50 years later, they're coming back here to visit the graves of their fallen friends, to bring their family back as well. I think we owe them so much more than just D-Day.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, June 6, 2004):

MR. RUSSERT:  Tom Brokaw, you are the author of "The Greatest Generation." How has that book changed your life?

MR. BROKAW:  Oh, it's changed it profoundly, Tim.  You and I have talked about that at length.  I think at the end of my professional career, which has been spent mostly in television, I will look back and say that book and the two subsequent books are the works that I'm most proud of as a professional journalist.  And with Tom Hanks and with Steven Spielberg, I think the three of us have our own little band of brothers here, because our lives have been changed so much by our experience with these veterans.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, August 29, 2004):

MR. RUSSERT:  If, in fact, New Hampshire and West Virginia switched to Kerry, New Hampshire being his neighbor, West Virginia having voted...

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Democrat three of the last four times, it would be 269-to-269, dead even in the Electoral College.  The election would go to the House of Representatives.  And you couldn't retire.

MR. BROKAW:  Oh, yes, I could.  This election does not hinge on me stepping down.  I'm not—you know, we have to kind of restate that.  I'm not going off to the old anchorman's home with a lap robe and a drool cup, as I keep saying. I'm going to continue to be in the hunt, doing long-form programming and so on.  But it's time for a new generation.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And you will not see Tom every night, but he, in fact, will travel the world and bring us special reports for NBC News.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams.

That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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