Reid: Dems need to edge away from left |

Reid: Dems need to edge away from left

Rick Weiss

WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid conceded Sunday that Democrats needed to edge further from the left in light of Republican victories in November, but he vowed that his party would vigorously oppose the privatization of social security, a proposed constitutional amendment against gay marriage and any effort to appoint as Supreme Court Chief Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Reid referred to as “an embarrassment.”

Speaking with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Reid conceded that with just 45 seats in the Senate 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 new judiciary chair, are holding up an intelligence reform bill that largely reflects the recommendations of the 9/11 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 the Republican 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,” Reid said.

Reid, a Mormon, expressed support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which ensures that states need not recognize gay 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 gay 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 legalizing abortion – sidestepped Russert’s question of whether he’d “prefer” to see Roe v Wade overturned, saying 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 could probably 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.” The president, he said, “should be happy with what he’s gotten.”