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Representative Nancy Pelosi

February 7, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a newsmaker interview with Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi of California. She was sworn in yesterday as the House Minority Whip, the number-two spot in the Democratic leadership, thus becoming the highest ranking woman in congressional history. She is a liberal Democrat who has represented her San Francisco district in the House since 1987. She also serves on the House Appropriations Committee, and is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman Pelosi, welcome.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, Democratic Whip: Good evening.

JIM LEHRER: And congratulations.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: Last night on this program, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said he expressed much regret over the failure of an economic stimulus plan to come through the Congress. Do you share his regret?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I share his regret. But it’s important that the stimulus package be the right stimulus, that it be big enough, that it be enough of a jolt to the economy to stimulate it, and most importantly, that it not do damage to long-term stability of our economy. The Republican proposals in both the House and Senate failed on all three of those scores.

JIM LEHRER: He said that the Republican proposal would have created 300,000 new jobs. Do you disagree with that?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The way to create jobs is to create jobs, not to hope that any trickle-down effect will lead to the creation of jobs. The Democratic proposal was strong in rebuilding the infrastructure of our country, which would create jobs immediately, promote commerce, protect our environment, improve the quality of life and contribute to our homeland security. It would have invested in school modernization. We all know that children do better in smaller classes, indeed in smaller schools. So school modernization was very important, it would create jobs immediately by construction jobs. But in the next near term, it would give our children a better education.

There is nothing more dynamic for our economy than to educate our people, whether it’s early childhood education, K-12, secondary education and lifetime learning for our workers. So that investment in education would have returned money to our treasury, jobs to our economy, and it would have grown our economy, as well. So there is a way to do this where we had hoped to find our common ground instead of proposing a stimulus package which would have returned, for example, $250 million to Enron Corporation, which was the proposal that the Republicans made in the House of Representatives.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Enron, both the House and Senate are going full blast on these investigations of Enron. How do you see the significance of the Enron collapse overall?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think it’s very significant when the sixth or seventh largest corporation in our country, which was capitalized at what? Over $70 billion is now worth less than a half a billion dollars collapses. Obviously, we want to be careful about gathering the facts, but there seems to be indication that there was wrongdoing, perhaps criminal wrongdoing. But we know one thing is for sure, what is legal remains to be seen, we have to see the facts first. But what is ethical seems to be clear, and it seems that it was very unethical for management to loot Enron at the expense of the workers there and the investors.

JIM LEHRER: Are you concerned that there may be other companies out there cooking the books and doing similar things?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I am concerned from some of the testimony that we have been hearing from people who know about these things, that we have to be careful. Now, there aren’t many companies that are the sixth or seventh largest corporation in our country. But there are Enron-like situations out there, I’m afraid. And I think it points to a systemic problem in our economy, in our society, where profits at all costs for some at the top are the priority without, again, looking at the stability of the company, what it means for workers, what it means for employees, what it means for their pensions, what it means for their 401(K)’s, what it means for the investors in that company, as well, many of whom, many public investments throughout the country lost tens of billions of dollars as investors in Enron.

JIM LEHRER: But your hope, I mean the only thing anybody can do at this point is hope that Enron is an aberration and there aren’t others operating under the same kinds of ethical guidelines or non-ethical guidelines, et cetera?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I certainly hope so.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I mean this is so catastrophic that hopefully there is nothing like it out there, but there may be smaller Enrons out there.

JIM LEHRER: Now, one of the quote good things that supposedly has come out of Enron is, I’m sure from your perspective, is that campaign finance reform is finally going to get a vote in the House next week, is that right?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, indeed. Finally we will be able to take a vote on the floor to clean up the political system. I say of Washington it was built on a swamp and it’s swamp to swamp in two centuries. We absolutely owe it to the American people, they expect it, they deserve it, for us to clean the slate of this political system that takes their voices away. We take the voice from big money and give it to the grassroots.

JIM LEHRER: Now, one of your jobs, one of the jobs within your new job of course is to count the votes.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Are the votes there? Is this going to pass next week? Next week?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, we are working very hard on it. It’s going to be a close vote, and we were, last week, we were able to have the discharge petition get the requisite number, which is 218, so that happened last Thursday. That was cause for celebration for us. That meant that the bill would be coming up. So that was step one. Now we’re working on getting the number of votes needed to defeat the Nay Amendment, which is an amendment which would gut campaign finance reform pass Shays Meehan and ward off any poison pills which would undermine true campaign finance reform. We’re working very hard at it. We owe it to the American people.

You know, when we take an oath of office here, we all take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. And I really believe that one of the greatest enemies to participatory democracy in our country is the influence of huge of big special-interest money. We must wipe the slate clean. We must clean up the political system. We must end the alienation of the American people from the political process.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of huge contributions, of course Enron was a huge political contributor not only it only to Republicans, but also to Democrats, all through the political system. Do you see a direct connection between its largesse in these huge contributions and its problems as a failed company?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, that remains to be seen as the facts are unfolded. Certainly they had undue access. But you know, what is the worst part of it is, is the cynicism that it instills in the American people. People who see an Enron giving all that money to both parties, largely though, I have to say overwhelmingly to the Republican Party — we’ll all admit that, I hope. But it doesn’t matter. If people outside see huge sums of money being poured into the political system by a corporation on both sides of the aisle, they have to think they’re not doing this for nothing. It appears to them, I think, the price of doing business. And certainly they did get privileges, whether they’re connected to the contributions or not remains to be seen.

But the lack of regulation, the lack of insistence on disclosure, the way that they were treated in order to go forward, of course we in California, as a representative from California, have our own problem with Enron for the way they were gouging us during the energy crisis. So on every score, they have a bad reputation. And I think, again, getting back to campaign finance reform, that the American people have a right to be cynical about a system that sees a company get away with all that they got away with, with their close proximity to power resulting from their enormous contributions. So, yes, it gives us some momentum going in to next week that people have to think very hard and long about why they would want to vote to eliminate the influence, the corrosive influence of big special-interest money in the political process.

JIM LEHRER: Another subject: You are the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Do you see the 9/11 attacks as a failure of U.S. Intelligence?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The 9/11 attacks were failure on many scores. I think that that’s what we’re going to take a look at to make sure it never happens again. We did have good intelligence about what was happening in Saudi Arabia, what was happening with the Taliban, what was happening with the al-Qaida, what was happening with Osama bin Laden. We just didn’t have a day and a time. There was a report in August by the intelligence community that said that, in August of last year, that said that they were planning a strike imminently in the U.S. but again, we didn’t have time and place. So we have to see where the breakdown was in the system.

Was it in the collection and dissemination of intelligence? Was it a lack of communication among our law enforcement and intelligence agencies? Was it a breakdown in communication with the INS and the FAA because there are so many agencies that were involved. And I hope that we will have a review of all of the federal agencies, which had a responsibility, which could have prevented what happened on September 11.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have a view, based on your service on the committee, that the system is somehow seriously broken, in other words, the intelligence system, related to 9/11 or otherwise?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I don’t have that at all. Not to be a defender, I mean, people in the intelligence community are brave and courageous people, they work hard for our country. I’ve had my differences with them over time, so I’m not here as an apologist for the intelligence committee or community, but I do say this, that they have had many successes that no one can really talk about. They did know that something was imminent. They just didn’t know a time and place. And I don’t think that, as I said earlier, that it was necessarily a failure in intelligence. It’s always a failure of intelligence when we don’t know anything. But is it a failure that was predictable, or was it just one that was possible? I think that’s where the distinction lies.

JIM LEHRER: As I said in the introduction, as the Democratic Whip now, you are now the highest ranking woman in the history of Congress. How important is that fact to you?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It’s very important. I’m very proud of it. Yesterday I was sworn in, I had my ceremony of swearing in. Our guests were welcomed by the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. I was very thrilled that he extended that hand of friendship across party lines, enabling us to have the swearing in in Statuary Hall in the Capitol with his presence. I was very proud of that — to be there with Dick Gephardt and David Bonior and many, many friends. I was in that historic venue because it was an historic event. Over 200 years of our history, no woman has ever risen to these heights in the Congress of the United States. No woman has gone to the White House in the capacity of senior, in a senior position in the Congress to sit at the table with the President, to discuss the issues facing our country and the President’s agenda. And so it’s pretty exciting.

I had an event earlier in the day with all of the women members who had served or are serving in Congress now. We had a great turnout, and it was, I wanted to thank them for being the pioneers that they are so that my success was possible. And they were thrilled and delighted, and it seemed almost impossible to any of them that this could happen. It was a hard-fought fight, and I didn’t ask anybody to vote for me because I was a woman, but I didn’t want anyone to vote against me because I was a woman. And so I think I won as a good person to do the job, and I’m very proud that my colleagues have placed this confidence in me.

JIM LEHRER: Okay, well, again, thank you and congratulations.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much, Jim.