JIM LEHRER: Now four of the leaders who attended this morning's White House meetings: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic Whip of the Senate; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic Whip; Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama; Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Senator Reid, you attended both meetings -- did you not -- the White House meeting and then the meeting with the Secretary Rumsfeld?
SEN. HARRY REID: Yes, I did.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have answers to the questions that we just heard Senator Daschle say he wanted answers to as a result of today?
SEN. HARRY REID: Well, I believe the president met with us. I think everyone felt good about the fact he is going to the build a case. I don't think anyone felt, after leaving that meeting, felt the case has been built. I think the president indicated that he had a lot of work to do. He's going to meet with Prime Minister Blair on Saturday at Camp David; he's going to meet Jacques Chiraq on Monday.
He is going to make some calls internationally. There's a lot of work to be done to make a case that hasn't been done yet.. It's a start. I think it's a very important first start.
JIM LEHRER: What about the second meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld?
SEN. HARRY REID: Well, he was there, of course, some of us are always a little disappointed in those secret briefings. We seem to get more watching your NewsHour or reading the Washington Post. We don't seem to get a lot of out of that. I was frankly terribly disappointed in that meeting myself.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Shelby, do you agree with Senator Lott that the meeting at the White House that you attended was an important meeting in this process?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I do, Jim. I believe it's important for several reason reasons. One: the president was very clear that he was going to seek the support of Congress. And I think that will help strengthen his hand in dealing with Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime.
Secondly, that he was going to consult with his allies and he was going to try to seek support there, and moreover he was go to speak to the American people next week and to the world using the United Nations as the forum. I believe that the president has the information out there and will make his case. And he will make it with clarity.
I think what we've got to remember is, Jim, if we fail to act here, we could make a situation much worse in the future. But, I believe that although the president has not spoken yet, not like he will next week, a lot of the information has not been debated and sifted through yet in the Congress. It will be and at the end of the day the support of the Congress will come.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel you have enough information, Senator Shelby, to make a decision on this?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I do myself. Of course, I have been the Chairman and now the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I have been following this a long time. But there's a lot of information that will be made available to other members of the House and the Senate that aren't privy to this information every day. And this should be part of the case and I believe it will be.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Pelosi, where do you come on down on what information you have now and what more you still want?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, first let me say that I think what the president did today was commendable, that he recognized that it was necessary to have the approval of Congress before planning -- launching an attack on Iraq. I too, am a senior member of the Intelligence Committee and I would say that I do not believe that I or other members of Congress have the information necessary to make this decision.
The president took a good first step today in saying that he would seek the approval of Congress. What he also has to do now is share the intelligence with Congress. Congress has at least as much right, if not more, because we have the power to declare war, to have that intelligence. The Administration controls the intelligence. The president needs to share it with us. If he makes a case based on intelligence, bases on plans and intentions of Saddam Hussein on prospects for mission success with the viable political alternative to Saddam Hussein, once we have regime change, you have to have something to change to.
We can end the regime, but what will we change it to? And we have to recognize that there'll be a long occupation of Iraq in any event. So, there are many challenges in all of this -- information and intelligence are central to decision making on it. And I don't think any members of Congress -- with all due deference to my distinguished colleague, Mr. Shelby, I as one of the gang of four, of which he is one as well, have not received any information that would take me to a place that would conclusively say that an attack from Saddam Hussein is imminent.
JIM LEHRER: Did you get the impression at the meeting with the president today that the president was going to do what you want? In other words, you may not buy it in the end but that he is going to tell you and the public and all other members of the Congress everything that there is to know about why he believes there should be a regime change?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't think that he can share, because some of this information would jeopardize sources and methods and strategy on our part as we plan whatever it is -- even a diplomatic offensive against Saddam Hussein, which I hope we would exhaust every diplomatic remedy before we went forward. But I do think that the Administration, if it has information that would be dispositive of this issue that would help members make their decisions, then he should share that with members of Congress.
I don't think he can share all of it with the general public. But to the extent that we can have more openness, including the public in that debate, when we're going to put our young people in harm's way, I think that that would only strengthen the president's hand if he shared as much of the information that it was wise to do.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Hunter, what is state your of knowledge or your confidence that you know enough at this point to make a decision, if you were forced to make one?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: Well, I have seen enough in classified briefings to establish a couple of things. One thing is clearly that Saddam Hussein, while he may not have a nuclear weapon produced at this point, does have a strong program going forward, well resourced, well paid for to develop a nuclear weapon.
I might add that it's impossible for any of us, and it will be impossible after 50 briefings to say precisely when he is going to acquire that weapon because a lot of that depends on how fast he is able to move things like the plutonium or the highly enriched uranium through a fairly porous protective shield that we have now in certain places around the world, where we have a lot of this stuff available.
So just as in 1991 when we went into Iraq the first time, we found out after we had gotten there that Saddam Hussein was eighteen to twenty-four months away from having a nuclear bomb according to the United Nations. We then destroyed a lot of equipment and a lot of the machinery that he needed need in that apparatus. But the point was we were at that time talking about sanctions that would on for four or five years. Obviously that would have been a bad decision at that time.
I am confident, at least having looked at the information that I've seen, the classified material that I've seen, that he is going to have a nuclear weapon at some point in the future -- two to five years depending on how fast he was able to pull some of this important technology from other regions of the world.
Now, there's only two ways to divest him of that technology and of that nuclear weapon program -- to have him voluntarily give it up or to take it from him. It's fairly clear right now that he is not going voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons program. And that narrows the option. The president is looking at that very carefully.
I think if you have enough members of Congress sit down and look at the classified information, I don't think they have to have somebody tell them precisely when that acquisition is going to occur, when he is going to have enough material to move or to tell him precisely what the political outcome of all this is going to be if Saddam falls.
This is obviously a very dangerous world. A lot of things can happen. But the one thing we have to do is act in our supreme national interest. Our national interest right now is not giving to future generations an Iraq with nuclear systems. And that is what is the president is concerned about.
SEN. HARRY REID: Jim, could I say something?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEN. HARRY REID: This is Senator Reid.
JIM LEHRER: Yes sir, Senator Reid.
SEN. HARRY REID: I think it's very important the president continue to make his case to us on Iraq. We're waiting to hear that case. But in the meantime we have an economy that is in turmoil. The stock market is up and down, it's down, mostly down. We have to do something about prescription drugs, pension reform of. We have a bankruptcy conference we have been waiting to finish for two years. Terrorism insurance - we've got to do something about that.
We can't take our eye completely off of the domestic agenda the country must face. And I hope that the Administration understands this. I'm willing to listen. I was the first Democrat to support his father going into Iraq. I have no second thoughts about. But let's become realists and understand we have problems here at home that we have to address at the same time that we're concerned about Iraq.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Jim, f I can just add something to it.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I don't disagree with Harry Reid my friend and colleague because he raises a lot of other questions that we have to deal with in the Congress. But to get back to Iraq, this is a present danger a growing danger that we're going to have to deal with.
And I think the question is going to be before the president, before the Congress and before the world. Are we going to wait, are we going to wait; are we going to defer it, or are we going to deal with this man five years from now, ten years from now? We know his record. He can't be trusted. I think it would be folly and very foolish of us to believe that we can trust this man and trust this regime; it has to go.
JIM LEHRER: Beginning with you Senator Shelby and then going to Congresswoman Pelosi, when the president spoke today -- he did publicly, we just ran it -- of approval of Congress, how did you interpret that? What does he mean? Is he going to submit legislation, a resolution? What form is that likely to take?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I think it will be in a form of resolution similar to what we did in '91, Senator Reid alluded to -- '91, I believe it was -- January of '91, where we debated it. I believe at the time -- if my memory is right -- we had two resolutions; had the Nunn-Mitchell and we had the Dole resolution. We adopted the Dole resolution and supported President Bush's father at that time. I thought it was the right thing to do. I did it then; I plan to do it soon.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Pelosi is that what you anticipate as well?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: My understanding is similar to Senator Shelby's that the Administration would be submitting a resolution. I would just like to add -- for approval - I would just like to add to the litany of concerns that Senator Reid expressed, another one, which is related to this issue of Iraq, and that is the war on terrorism.
That is the war that we are engaged in now. It is deadly serious. And I think that has we make a judgment about the wisdom of going into Iraq and certainly nobody trusts Saddam Hussein -- let's remove all doubt about. No one trusts him; this isn't about trusting Saddam Hussein, this is about what is the best way to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But it also comes at a time when we're engaged in a war on terrorism. We cannot take our eye off that ball. We can jeopardize our ability to execute that war successfully.
And I would say the timing presents an excellent opportunity for us to say that the United States has as a pillar of its foreign policy stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- that in our relationships with other countries we expect them not to be proliferating the technology or the delivery systems of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, and that we're deadly serious about this.
So I would hope that as we exhaust every remedy that we demand that every country in the world come together and demand there be inspections in Iraq -- that we also at the same time assert our seriousness and join together with other countries to say that we will stop the proliferation because it will be Saddam Hussein today -- some other tyrant tomorrow -- as long as they have this deadly technology. So I hope we don't miss that opportunity.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Congressman Hunter to pick up on Congresswoman Pelosi's point. Do you agree with her that there's a danger here that all of the action, all of the attention towards Saddam Hussein and Iraq could detract from the war on al-Qaida, finding Osama bin Laden and the war on terrorism, generally?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: No. I think we have the ability to focus in two areas at the same time. In some cases you have got some fairly common ground. I think one message that comes to us loud and clear is that we need to maintain a robust military with broad military capability -- that is the ability to move out and take on conventional forces like those he threw at us in 1991 -- and at the same time handle terrorists operations like the ones we're conducting in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
So I think the message is very clear to the American people and to my friend Senator Reid who said we have this broad domestic agenda that we have to get through. I think it's very clear to us now that you have no Social Security without national security and unless we have a stable environment for this economy to grow. And that stability is very much affected by the issue of Iraq. We can't anticipate doing well economically.
So this is I think meeting this question of what we do with Iraq now that Saddam Hussein is moving ahead with developing nuclear weapons. He has kicked the inspectors out - I think shows the quality of the Bush Administration. This was the Administration that took on the ABM Treaty and said we're going to have to at least meet it, deal with it, work with Congress, but we're going to have to deal with it. He is not going to push this question of Iraq off to a future generation where we have to face a Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon. I think that's good quality.
JIM LEHRER: Did you get the impression, Congressman Hunter, after that meeting today that this is going to happen sooner rather than later, in a matter of weeks, months?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: Well, I think that's up to the president. Obviously, logistically it depends on what type of operation you have. If you have a surgical operation like Israel utilized against you - a reactor in 1981 - it can be very limited. It doesn't require a big logistical build up. If you have to go in, it takes a lot of time.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Jim, may I just add one thing?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Because I certainly do not think that our military is incapable of dealing with the situation in Iraq and the situation in Afghanistan. My point about the war on terrorism is the cooperation that we need from other countries in the region, in the Arab world in particular in the war on terrorism.
I don't know but I think that there's a question as to whether it would jeopardize some of the cooperation we need there and the stability of the regimes in those countries should the streets rise up against any military action in the United States would take there.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Shelby, do you have the feeling that action is imminent?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I don't know - by imminent, is it going to happen next week? I'm not sure. That would be ultimately the call of the president. But I believe it will happen and I believe the Congress will support and I believe we will be successful and success will be a great thing in the Middle East. But I agree with everybody that it will not just be a military action. We will have to stay there and we will have to build just like we're going to have to build in Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Coming soon, Senator Reid?
SEN. HARRY REID: I don't think it will come real soon. He may come with some resolution that we support, action in Iraq. What action that will be I don't think he is going to have the time to be real definite. There is going to be hearings held starting next week by the Armed Services Committee.
Senators Warner and Levin said they would do that. And we need to go ahead and do that. But I repeat, Jim, it's important that we keep -- we're talking about being able to conduct two battles. We can to that in Iraq and we can do it in Afghanistan. But we also to have conduct this battle at home. The economy is in deep trouble and we can do that and handle the situation in Iraq at the same time but not Iraq alone. We have to deal with this economy.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you all four very much.