Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid says 'not a chance in hell' Medicare for All would pass

The former Senate Majority Leader has chosen not to endorse a candidate.

February 19, 2020, 4:30 PM

Former longtime Nevada lawmaker Harry Reid has declined to endorse a candidate ahead of the state's Democratic caucus, but he did speak strongly against Medicare for All, the hallmark policy plan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign.

"I think the world of Bernie Sanders," Reid said in an interview for the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast on Wednesday, speaking highly of his former Senate colleague.

But Reid, who served as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, including as majority leader for eight years, said it didn't matter which candidate comes out in support of Sanders' signature health care plan: "I’m against it."

"It’s impractical ... There’s not a chance in hell it would pass," he told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein, instead advocating for strengthening the Affordable Care Act -- or Obamacare -- and looking to pass a public option.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- another presidential candidate -- has also been a major supporter of Medicare for All.

"One of the things that I feel very good about is that I discovered Elizabeth Warren, brought her to Washington when we had the Wall Street collapse," Reid said, adding "She became head of the oversight committee and did a really good job ... so I think the world of Elizabeth Warren."

ABC News Political Director Rick Klein interviews former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ahead of the Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, Feb. 19, 2020.
Chris Donato/ABC News

Reid spoke to Klein ahead of tonight's Democratic primary debate, the ninth in the 2020 cycle, which will feature six candidates. The lineup includes for the first time since he entered the race in late November: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

In the interview, Reid defended Bloomberg's past Republican party affiliation and praised the former mayor, despite the billionaire candidate skipping out on campaigning in the early nominating states, including Nevada.

He also reprimanded him for not filing to be on the Democratic ballot for the "first in the west" caucus.

"He has, like a lot of candidates, a lot of warts and pimples," Reid said. "But the one thing I have to say about him is no one in the country has done more in climate and guns than he has. So I respect him if for no other reason, those two things that he's done I think have been wonderful."

NBC and MSNBC are hosting the debate in partnership with The Nevada Independent. It airs live starting at 9 p.m. ET from the Paris Theater in Las Vegas.

Reid also weighed in on the Nevada Democratic caucuses, the third nominating contest for this cycle, which are set to take place on Saturday. While he conceded to Klein that he has a favorite in the race, he's chosen not to endorse ahead of the caucuses, preferring to "stay out of it."

"I want the caucus to go unhindered by anything that I'm doing wrong," Reid said.

Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid checks in to vote on the first day of early voting for the upcoming Nevada Democratic presidential caucus at the East Las Vegas Library, Feb. 15, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After a reporting snafu caused by a flawed mobile app on the night of the Iowa Caucus led to delayed and disputed results, Reid was confident the Nevada Democrats, who abandoned plans to use the same reporting app, would avoid the "debacle" that happened in Iowa.

"We have the best state party organization in the country -- no question about that," Reid told Klein. "We aren't using any of (Iowa's) software. We're using nothing that they had, and we feel very comfortable that we're going to have a good, respectable vote."

On "Powerhouse Politics," Reid touted the Silver State's diverse electorate, and he advocated for Nevada to move ahead in the primary calendar, taking the first contest position away from Iowa.

"Nevada is like the rest of the country. We're a diverse community," he said. "It should be the first state people come to test their viability."

The first two nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are predominantly white, but Nevada is a majority-minority state with a nearly one-third Latinx population and 10% African American population. It is also home to one of the fastest-growing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the country.

More than 13,000 Dreamers and more than 4,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients reside in the state. Nevada also has the largest organized labor presence of any early state, as 14% of its population are union members, according to the Nevada Democratic Party.

Voters line up outside the Culinary Workers Union Hall Local 226 on the first day of early voting for the upcoming Nevada Democratic presidential caucus, Feb. 15, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Saturday, Reid participated in the first day of the Nevada Democrats' early voting, which he told Klein was "really simple." He also applauded adding the new option for voters as "really the right thing to do."

"We had some long lines, but ... I’m not really concerned about that. Why? Because people are wanting to vote," he said, adding that over 60% of voters who participated were either first-time caucus participants or first-time voters in general.

Between Saturday and Tuesday, voters could go to any open early voting location in the county in which they're registered to vote and fill out a ballot, ranking a minimum of three candidates and a maximum of five candidates, in lieu of participating in the traditional caucus.

More than 70,000 Democrats participated in early voting, according to Molly Forgey, communications director for the Nevada Democratic Party. In the 2016 Democratic caucus, only 84,000 people total participated.

Staying true to not publicly favoring any one candidate, Reid ranked "uncommitted" three times on his ballot.

A total of 36 pledged delegates are at stake in Nevada on Saturday, and Reid said he thinks any of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination could beat President Donald Trump.

"Two months ago, Trump was amoral. Today he’s amoral," he told Klein. "He's a man who has done such damage to our country, and frankly, our standing in the world community. He is a man that is dangerous for so many different reasons."

However, the former majority leader cautioned that Democrats "can’t take for granted that Trump will lose."

He added, "He could win, and we have to be vigilant and make sure we do everything, and that the man is not reelected."

He said any of the Democrats running who want to be president will "thump Trump."

"I repeat, we will thump Trump," Reid said.

Powerhouse Politics podcast is a weekly program that posts every Wednesday, and includes headliner interviews and in-depth looks at the people and events shaping U.S. politics. Powerhouse Politics podcast is hosted by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.