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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

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SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Hey, Ezra, nice to be with you. Thanks.

KLEIN: So tell me, how does your proposed reform work?

HARKIN: Well, basically, my proposal is, again, as you said, it would still allow the Senate to slow things down a little bit. But it would not permit the minority to actually stop something.

My proposal is very simple. That on the first vote, you would need 60 votes. If you didn`t get 60 votes, you would have to wait three days. You could offer it again. Then you would need 57 votes. If you didn`t get that, you`d have to wait three more days, during which time you could be filibustering. And then after that, you need 54 votes. And then you could continue to filibuster. And after three more days, you just need 51 votes.

So that after say about eight or nine days, 51 votes gets to decide what goes on the Senate floor. And that`s really the essence of it. That it can slow it down, but the minority can`t just stop something.

KLEIN: You propose this, and I really find this to be a fascinating part of your involvement in this issue you. You proposed it in 1995. Democrats were in the minority.

What made you believe, what makes you think now that you could live with this in the minority if you were in the minority?

HARKIN: I said at the time, Ezra, that -- and you can check the record on this. I said at the time that we`re like in an arms race. I had been in the minority and in the majority and then back in the minority.

And every time it changed, the filibusters kept going up. It was like if the Republicans did it to us 10 times, well, we`ll do it to them 2010, and then they`ll do it to us 40, and on and on.

I predicted at the time if we continue on in this path, that the Senate basically wouldn`t be able to function. Little did I know how right I was going too be.

And that`s what has happened, Ezra. In the last three Congresses, the minority, the Republicans, have basically made a power grab, a power grab
that basically says that you have to have 60 votes to do anything. It`s a
de facto rule. In order to get anything done, you need 60 votes. What they have done is they hijacked, they have hijacked the fundamental principle of our system of government. And that is that a majority decides what you do. They`ve hijacked that.

They have destroyed a tradition of the Senate. We had filibusters in the past, but they were used sparingly. During Lyndon Johnson`s six years as majority leader, he had one filibuster.

In the six years since Harry Reid has been majority leader, we`ve had 386 filibusters. The Senate has become totally dysfunctional because of this power grab by the minority.

KLEIN: And when it comes to protecting minority rights, people say, the one argument you often hear from folks about the filibuster is, look, you might think the filibuster is a good idea now.

But let`s say Democrats had not won the 2012 election. Let`s say they had lost it. Republicans had come in with the same 55-vote Senate majority you have now. Mitt Romney was president. Health care could be repealed, particularly in the absence of the filibuster.

So what do you say to them?

HARKIN: What I say to that, Ezra, is I`m not afraid of democracy.

I said that to Majority Leader McConnell on the floor this summer. He was basically saying that, you know, you Democrats better be careful. If we take over, we can repeal Obamacare.

My rejoinder to that is if that`s what the people vote for at the ballot box, then elections ought to have consequences. Now, I wouldn`t vote for it. I might try to slow it down, amend it, change it, but at least the majority ought to have the right to propose and get their legislation through. I think that`s what our system of government is all about.

Again, as you pointed out, I proposed this when I was in the minority. And I don`t think that the minority has anything to fear. You see, our Founders set up a very tough system to get a bill passed. Look at it. It has to pass the House. It has to pass the Senate. And exactly the same form. So if the House and Senate disagree, nothing happens. Then it has to survive a presidential veto. And then it has to survive court challenges.

This was all set up by our Founders. The one -- the one thing they did not set up was that you had to have a super majority in which to pass a piece of legislation.

Now you and I both know that the drafters of the Constitution set out five specific times when the Senate must have a super majority, five. It`s proving treaties, impeaching a president, that type of thing. So really, by inference, the Founders, or drafters of our constitution basically said everything else is 51 percent that passes legislation.

KLEIN: Well, we will see if it ever gets back there in our lifetime. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, thank you for joining us tonight.

HARKIN: Thanks, Ezra.

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