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Special Event

Senator Reid Speaks Out in Support of McCain-Feingold Bill

Aired March 19, 2001 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: As we reported at top of CNN LIVE TODAY, the Senate debate over money and politics surrounding the McCain- Feingold campaign finance bill. The debate has begun in the United States Senate.

We've heard from Senator John McCain. Now, we are hearing from Senator Harry Reid, who tried to interrupt McCain at the very beginning of his introductory remarks.

Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada, is now addressing.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: (JOINED IN PROGRESS) It's gotten worse every year. I have now been through two reelection cycles. And it's gotten worse.

The state of Nevada in 1998 was a state with less than two million people, about a million-and-a-half people. In that race, my good friend John Ensign and I spent over $20 million in the state with less than a million-and-a-half people. $4 million with our hard money, our campaign money. And then each about $6 million to issue advocacy ads by the State Democratic Party and the State Republican Party.

A state, a state as small as Nevada, $20 million. That doesn't count the independent expenditures that were made.

Madame President, in the state of Nevada, then, probably about $23 million in the race between Senators Reid and Senator Ensign. Neither spent more money than the other. We both spent a lot of money. The independent expenditures were run against John Ensign, were run against me.

So I say to my friend from Wisconsin -- and I am depending on him to try to work through all of this. I think I understand the law a little bit, what is being done. But he has been a master of this. And I admire and appreciate very much what he has done.

But I've said to my staff, and I've said to my friend, It can't be any worse than it is now. Change the law. Do whatever you want. I don't think it can be any worse, because how in the world could you spend in the state of Nevada more than $23 million?

And people don't like to acknowledge it, but of course, we are involved in raising the soft money. Going to people and asking them for these huge amounts of money.

So I command and applaud my friend from Wisconsin. I admire his tenacity, his courage. I admire his ability to persevere through big obstacles.

But I also -- he should recognize that we as Democrats have stuck with him through thick and thin. I was here when Senator Byrd -- I think we hold a record for attempts to invoke closures, seven times on campaign finance. Senator Byrd, when was the lead leader, tried to that.

And I also say that I am glad to see some Republicans coming aboard now. Previously, it was basically Senator McCain alone on campaign finance, the lone Republican. And now, there are others.

So I know that there's a lot of talk about, Do we really need campaign finance reform? I want this record to pronounce to everyone within the sound of my voice, Things cannot be any worse than what they are now.

We need to change the law, get soft money out of this. Get back to the way what it used to be, where you had to go out and raise money from individuals. And they will would give you money. It was listed, what their occupation were.

This present system is not working, in my opinion, and should be changed.

WATERS: That was Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as speaking even directly to Russ Feingold, one of the co-sponsors of the McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill, who's sitting right behind him. Speaking out in support of the bill.

There is some alternative to the McCain-Feingold bill in the Senate. That would be the Chuck Hagel bill that limits but doesn't ban soft money contributions.

So you're going to see many arguments for and against McCain- Feingold. For and against the Chuck Hagel bill. And for reforming the system over the next couple of weeks, you're going to see many amendments added to both Hagel and McCain-Feingold.

So it's going to be complicated. It's going to be a firing week. It's going to be, actually, two weeks of debate on this bill before a vote is taken.

And Senator John McCain, he expects, on a scale of one to 10, a six chance of the McCain-Feingold bill passing. So we'll continue to follow that as it goes along.

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