Sharron Angle grilled on Social Security, Medicare and 'taking Harry Reid out'

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; 11:13 AM

In her first interview with a mainstream media outlet since winning the GOP nomination for Senate three weeks ago, Sharron Angle, who is challenging Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, softened her rhetoric Tuesday on ending Social Security and "taking Harry Reid out."

Angle agreed to the half-hour television interview, on the Las Vegas political program "Face to Face," after weeks of avoiding both national and local media requests. The appearance turned the spotlight onto her and off of Reid -- a dangerous gambit that potentially eclipses his unpopularity with an unwanted focus on Angle's more controversial views. But it also allowed her to move past the accusation that she is dodging reporters' questions -- an intentional pivot that will be followed, several Republicans said, with a series of new TV ads turning the subject back to Reid, the economy and the less popular policies that have come out of Washington in the past year.

Angle sought repeatedly during the interview to turn the subject to Reid, blaming him for Nevada's soaring unemployment rate and accusing him of "pillaging" Social Security and over-regulating private industry. She also sought to deflect interviewer Jon Ralston's questions about her more attention-getting views, including past statements that Social Security and Medicare should be privatized and her statement that "If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies." In the same appearance, Angle drew criticism for saying that "the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."

In her TV appearance Tuesday, Angle said that she now believes in protecting Social Security by placing the funds needed to pay for current obligations in a "lockbox" while also allowing some manner of privatization for future recipients. On the phrase "take Harry Reid out," Angle said she misspoke and has since changed her choice of words to "defeat Harry Reid."

"I was speaking broadly about the Constitution, and that was the context of that rhetoric," Angle said. "I admit that was a little strong, 'taking out,' but you know what I meant."

"I don't know what you meant," Ralston replied.

In the sometimes contentious interview, Ralston also grilled Angle for her recent statement that it is not the job of a U.S. senator to attract jobs to Nevada, which he said contradicted her attacks on Reid for failing the state's economy.

"Certainly the job of a U.S. senator is to create a climate conducive to creating jobs, which is lower taxes and less government regulation," Angle said. "What Harry Reid has been doing is putting forward those policies that actually put more regulation on business."

Angle did not waver from her opposition to extending unemployment benefits, which she said discourages those out of work to find jobs. But she denied having called those workers "spoiled," saying: "I said it has spoiled our citizenry; that's a little different. They're not spoiled. What has happened is the system of entitlement has caused us to have a spoilage with our ability to go out and get a job."

Angle also stood by past opposition to a school voucher program that, in deference to the Constitution's establishment clause, blocked private religious schools from participating.

"The tenet of the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine," she said.

"The separation of church and state arises out of the Constitution," Ralston replied.

"No it doesn't, Jon," Angle said. "Thomas Jefferson was actually addressing a church and telling them through his address that there had been a wall of separation put up to protect the church from being taken over by a state religion, and that's what they meant. They didn't think they couldn't bring their values to the political forum, and it didn't mean that people with religious beliefs shouldn't have that freedom."

The Reid campaign quickly seized on the exchange and posted the clip to YouTube.

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