Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid said yesterday that Democrats would vigorously oppose the privatization of Social Security, a proposed constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage and any effort to appoint as U.S. chief justice Clarence Thomas, whom he referred to as "an embarrassment."
Speaking with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press," Reid (D-Nev.) conceded that with just 45 seats in the Senate (including independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont) his party is in no position to push a "far left" Democratic agenda. "We have to work toward the middle," he said. But he promised that the party would stick to its guns on a number of key issues, including the need to pass intelligence reform by year's end.
Reid said Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the Judiciary chairman, are holding up an intelligence reform bill that largely reflects the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission because, he said, those changes threaten to reduce the power of their committees. He urged President Bush to "intercede any way he can" to break the impasse.
Reid rejected a push to privatize a portion of Social Security, saying it was but the latest in a long string of Republican efforts to dismantle the program. "They are trying to destroy Social Security by giving this money to the fat cats on Wall Street, and I think it's wrong," he said.
Reid, a Mormon, expressed support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which ensures that states need not recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states. But he said he did not support the call by the Mormon Church and by many Republicans to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Many states are banning such marriages already, he said, adding that "we have to be very, very careful about how we tamper with the Constitution."
Reid -- who voted with Republicans to ban what opponents call "partial birth" abortion and was one of just two Senate Democrats to vote against a 1999 sense-of-the-Senate resolution supporting the Supreme Court's 1973 decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion -- sidestepped Russert's question of whether he would "prefer" that Roe v. Wade be overturned. Reid said he would focus on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Reid reserved his strongest remarks for the issue of the Supreme Court, which is expected to experience significant turnover during the coming term. He said he disagrees with many of the decisions made by Justice Antonin Scalia and remains troubled by recent "ethics problems" relating to Scalia's refusal to recuse himself from a case in which he appeared to have a conflict of interest. But Reid said he probably could support Scalia to be the next chief justice because, he said, "this is one smart guy."
But he offered no hope of support for a Thomas appointment. "I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court," Reid said. "I think that his opinions are poorly written. I just don't think he's done a good job."
Reid warned Republicans against any efforts to override the Democrats' right to filibuster against judicial appointments.
"We have a situation where, during the past four years . . . we have approved 207 federal judges and turned down 10," he said. The president, he said, "should be happy with what he's gotten."