In an interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday's Early Show, co-host Harry Smith lamented possible gridlock following big Republican electoral gains: "...will there be that old-fashioned word we used to use once in a while, comity?...the Republicans say over and over and over again for the last two months, no compromise, no compromise, no compromise."
Reid responded by claiming he was all about compromise: "I'm a consensus builder, that's what my reputation is, I'm going to continue to do that....legislation is the art of compromise, consensus building. And I don't see why in the world we can't do that." Smith made no effort to point out Reid's history of partisanship. Instead, he remarked, "...it sure feels like the tea party folks are the ones who are pulling the wagon."
Smith did challenge Reid on one issue: "Was passing health care reform a mistake?" Reid recited talking points: "Oh, of course not....We did all these wonderful things that we had to do. The insurance industry was breaking America....we had no choice, we had to do this." Smith followed up by proclaiming: "But, you also understand that the Republicans' top agenda item to dismantle health care."
At the top of the show, Smith also interviewed House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and similarly worried about GOP efforts to repeal ObamaCare: "One of the things that the tea party talked about so much over the last couple of months is that their number one priority would be repealing health care reform. Is - are the Republicans and the tea party of one voice on that?"
Smith went on to highlight possible tensions between tea party candidates and the Republican leadership: "...one of the tea party folks last night - early this morning, I should say, was talking about the Republican establishment and he said 'we're not the ones who are on probation, it's the Republicans, it's the old guard who's going to be tested here.' They're on probation. Do you feel the heat?"
In addition, Smith seemed to discount fiscally conservative legislative goals: "So the equation then is lower taxes, lower the deficit, and the jobs will come flooding in?" Later, Cantor explained: "We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity to prove that we, as Republicans, are committed to a constitutionally limited government." Smith countered: "Wow, constitutionally limited government, would that include a balanced budget amendment?"
Here is a full transcript of Smith's November 3 interview with Reid:
HARRY SMITH: Joining us now from Las Vegas is the newly re-elected Senate Majority Leader, at least for a little while, Harry Reid. Good morning, sir.
HARRY REID: Hi.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Campaign 2010; Senate Majority Leader Fights Off Tea Party Challenge]
SMITH: Let's talk a little bit about why this race was so close, this was clearly the most difficult campaign of your career. Why was it? Why was it so hard?
REID: Harry, it wasn't the most difficult campaign of my career. I've had some tight races. This wasn't one of them. While it might not sound like very many votes by New York standards, my winning by 41,000 votes is a big victory in Nevada. So, I feel comfortable where we are. I'm confident that it's - the people of the state of Nevada have spoken and what they've said to me is, 'go back to Washington and continue working together.' I'm a consensus builder, that's what my reputation is, I'm going to continue to do that.
SMITH: Will that be possible? I mean, as you have looked at the political landscape, you've been a student of it for a long time, is that possible, will there be that old-fashioned word we used to use once in a while, comity?
REID: That is what we have to have. That's what the Senate's all about. That's how we get things done. And the House is a different body. The Founding Fathers set up two different programs. Our program is you've got to work together. We have rules that require that. I know Mitch McConnell, we've worked together for many, many years. I've worked with John Boehner. He and I are friends. And I see no reason in the world that we should not work together. This doesn't mean we have to capitulate on any of our strong beliefs, but legislation is the art of compromise, consensus building. And I don't see why in the world we can't do that.
SMITH: But, you know what you have heard the Republicans say over and over and over again for the last two months, no compromise, no compromise, no compromise. They want to reduce taxes, they want to reduce the deficit. Is there really, in terms of those kinds of issues, anything you can agree on?
REID: You see, we've done that. During the Clinton years, we balanced the budget, we reduced the debt. In fact, we were being criticized for reducing it too quickly. This didn't get out of control because of Democrats. It got out of control because of the eight years of the Bush administration. And that was all Republicans. I want to forget what went on with President Bush. I want to work together. But, we can do that. We've done it before. But, we don't need to be lectured on how to balance the budget, how to create jobs. We've done that.
SMITH: Well, you're going to get lectured, though, and you're going to - it sure feels like the tea party folks are the ones who are pulling the wagon.
REID: Well, they're not pulling it in Nevada and I was elected from the state of Nevada. I have great respect for our system. I'm going to Washington again. We're going to finish this lame duck and then we're going to start a new Congress and work together to move this country along.
SMITH: Was passing health care reform a mistake?
REID: Oh, of course not. Think about what we did with this. We have 50 million people that had no health insurance. What we did is reduced the debt by $1.3 trillion. We've extended the life of Medicare for 12 years. We've - the doughnut hole is basically filled. We did all these wonderful things that we had to do. The insurance industry was breaking America. Breaking America.
SMITH: Well, but-
REID: And so, of course, of course, we had no choice, we had to do this.
SMITH: But, you also understand that the Republicans' top agenda item to dismantle health care. So we shall see what happens. Harry Reid, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us this morning.
REID: You're sure welcome.
SMITH: Do appreciate it.
Here is a full transcript of Smith's interview with Cantor:
HARRY SMITH: Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, currently the Republican Whip, easily defeated his opponent last night. He joins us now from Washington. Mr. Cantor, good morning.
ERIC CANTOR: Harry, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Campaign 2010; GOP Rolls to Historic Night]
SMITH: It was interesting, I'm watching all these talking heads into the wee hours of this morning. And, you know, the big headline is the Republicans have taken control of Congress, at least the House of Representatives. But, I'm not sure if it's the Republicans or the tea party has taken control. As far as you are concerned, who is it?
CANTOR: Well, Harry, the people of this country spoke out loudly and clearly last night and what they said is they want a government that starts to listen to them again. And the first order of business has got to be a Congress that focuses on the number one priority, which is more jobs for more Americans. That's what last night is about, a rejection of the policies that have been going on thus far in this administration because it just hasn't done the job.
SMITH: So the equation then is lower taxes, lower the deficit, and the jobs will come flooding in?
CANTOR: No, the equation is certainly that people want to see results and they understand sustainable job growth comes from the private sector, from small businesses. They also - they also are seeing that this government has grown too big and they want to see Washington go on a diet just like they have.
SMITH: One of the things that the tea party talked about so much over the last couple of months is that their number one priority would be repealing health care reform. Is - are the Republicans and the tea party of one voice on that?
CANTOR: Yes, Harry. We want to repeal health care. But, let's remember for a second what tea party stands for, it's 'Taxed Enough Already.' Folks involved with the tea party are interested in seeing fiscal discipline restored in Washington first. They, like everyone else, want to see a limited government so that we can see the private sector kick back into gear and jobs grow again.
SMITH: Well, as long as we're still talking about the tea party, one of the tea party folks last night - early this morning, I should say, was talking about the Republican establishment and he said 'we're not the ones who are on probation, it's the Republicans, it's the old guard who's going to be tested here.' They're on probation. Do you feel the heat?
CANTOR: Listen, there's no question, there isn't a lot of confidence focused on the Republicans yet. And, in fact, last night's results are indicative that people in this country just are outright rejecting the agenda of the Obama administration. It isn't necessarily a vote of confidence for Republican leadership. So, we've got a job to do. We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity to prove that we, as Republicans, are committed to a constitutionally limited government.
SMITH: Wow, constitutionally limited government, would that include a balanced budget amendment?
CANTOR: Well, that would include, certainly, a commitment for us to get the budget balanced. You know, a constitutional amendment takes years and years to happen and I don't think the American people are going to wait that long. Because, you know what, they're not given that kind of time in their own finances around their own kitchen tables. So we've got to get right to work. and I think what you'll see out of a Republican-led house is a regular diet, every week, of bringing bills to the floor that actually begin to cut the federal deficit.
SMITH: Sure going to be interesting to watch. Congressman Eric Cantor. Congratulations. Thanks very much for taking the time to be with us this morning.
CANTOR: Thank you, Harry.
SMITH: You bet.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.