House Speaker Pelosi Rejects Troop Surge Plan
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JIM LEHRER: Madame Speaker, welcome.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: First, just going through some of these things, first on North Korea. You heard what the president said, it’s a breakthrough. It’s a good deal. Do you agree?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think it’s good news. It’s not new news. It’s pretty much what President Clinton had in place when he was in the White House that had been sort of set aside when the Bush people came in, but it’s fine.
I think it’s fine, and let’s just see where we go from here. It’s going to take some verification to make sure the North Koreans do what they have to do, but I commend the president. I think it’s a good — it’s good.
JIM LEHRER: OK, on Iran, he said today that he is not trying to form a pretext for war against Iran. Do you agree with him?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: The president has told us over and over on the subject of Iran that he is committed to robust diplomacy there. And I take him at his word.
We need to — we must prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state, but we have to do it in an international, global way, with all nations weighing in. And so I believe him when he says he is not looking for a pretext to war.
JIM LEHRER: What about the issue of these weapons that are going to Iraq, what the president said about some of these weapons are being used to hurt American troops? What do you feel about that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, there’s some question as to the provenance of these weapons. Are they state-sponsored or are they not — Gen. Pace said he thought they were not. The president said it’s an open question.
But I agree with the president, that if somebody is hurting our troops and there’s a supply of weapons coming to them, that that should be stopped. That should be stopped within Iraq, though, not in Iran.
JIM LEHRER: OK. And you support what the president said about that today, right?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, people are supplying weapons to hurt our troops, no, we want to stop that. But, again, this is an issue within Iraq.
The resolution's potential impact
JIM LEHRER: Now, on Iraq, the president questioned why you Democrats are voting to disapprove a plan before it's even been acted upon.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the president, on the one hand, says that this is just a resolution that doesn't really mean that much and, on the other hand, the White House is working very hard to stop Republicans from voting for it.
The fact is, is we've had four surges, four escalations, and none of them has worked. In fact, they have made matters worse. They've only escalated the violence in the region.
So I'm very proud of the debate -- in a bipartisan way, Democrats and Republicans alike -- speaking out to support our troops and disapprove of the course of action that the president is putting forth.
You don't have to wait to see that it's going to fail to know that the components for success are not there. The other escalations did not work because there was no political initiative, no diplomatic initiative to match the military initiative for success.
JIM LEHRER: He said he's concerned that your nonbinding resolution could flow in to becoming a binding resolution that would diminish the resources available to the American troops. Do you agree with that concern?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the fact is this: Democrats have said we will not cut off aid to our troops. They are in harm's way. We will make sure that they are protected and supported, as our resolution calls for.
Though the fact is, also, that we must set some benchmarks, some standards, for how we send these troops into harm's way. Supporting the troops is not to send them into a conflict against an insurgency in neighbors, urban warfare, without the training and the equipment that they need.
And that is what the president is doing, and that is what we will not support.
JIM LEHRER: What about his point he made today that the Congress supported the affirmation of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander of Iraq? At the same time, you all are about to pass a resolution that condemns the plan that he's going to enact.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, that's what it is. The president has made his appointment. The general has a fine record. Members of the Senate voted to confirm him, not all, some opposition from Sen. McCain, for example.
But that is a different issue. It's an interesting tact to take, but it's a different issue. And the escalations that we've had before have not been successful. They've only increased violence, and we oppose it.
JIM LEHRER: How do you think your nonbinding resolution is going to change anything?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: This nonbinding -- the motion of disapproval of the president's escalation of the war in Iraq is going to set the stage for a whole new debate on Iraq. We'll take care of this, this week...
JIM LEHRER: A debate among whom?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: In the Congress of the United States, and hopefully the president of the United States will hear what the American people said. They have lost faith in the president in his course of action in Iraq. In the election, they called for a new direction in Iraq.
Democrats are saying to the president: This is not the way to go. It has failed over, and over, and over, and over again. Now, let us make this statement, which is very powerful, which is very powerful, and set the stage for how we take up legislation, whether it's the funding or the policy legislation that relates to Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: So this is a setting of the stage?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: This in and of itself is not an action, it's not...
REP. NANCY PELOSI: It's an action, and it sets the stage. It changes the debate in the Congress of the United States. It's no small thing that the Democrats are united on this position and that Republicans will vote with us on it, as well.
The next step?
JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, though, do you expect the president of the United States, Gen. Petraeus, any military leaders -- Secretary of Defense Gates, the new -- I mean, Secretary of Defense Gates, the new secretary of defense -- do you expect anybody to do anything differently because of your resolution, assuming it passes on Friday?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I would hope that the president would be as forceful on diplomatic and political initiatives as he is on the military.
Our military has performed magnificently. They have done everything they have been asked to do. But the job cannot be done unless you have the political initiative.
For example, remember a year ago when there was the referendum on the constitution, and people were so excited, and they had purple fingers to say that they had voted?
Well, that passed because we were part of representing to the Iraqi people that this constitution, while it wasn't inclusive, had a process of amendment that would involve all sectors of the Iraqi people, and, therefore, it should be approved, and as soon as there was a government in place, they would amend the constitution to relieve the civil strife, because of being more inclusive.
They haven't made one move, and we haven't encouraged them to do so. And there's great disappointment about that. And so you see, not the civil strife lessening, but the violence increasing.
We have hardening of lines in the different sectors in Iraq. We have ethnic cleansing by neighborhood. We have thousands of refugees burdening other neighbors, neighboring nations there.
They have failed on a political basis, and it's very hard to succeed militarily if you're trying to referee a civil war where you don't have a political solution.
JIM LEHRER: You're not concerned about -- it was also raised in the news conference -- that the resolution, the passing of the resolution could embolden the enemies?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, no. No less a Republican than Robert Taft, Sen. Robert Taft, who would become the Republican leader of the Senate, said two weeks after Pearl Harbor, "Disagreement in time of war is essential to a governing democracy."
And the president has said, "I welcome debate in time of war." How many more times -- in another month, we will go into the fifth year of our engagement in Iraq, our fifth year, and the president said, "Give this plan a chance"?
We've been there for four years, over 3,000 lives, 30,000 casualties, hundreds of billions of dollars, loss of reputation in the world community, and damaging to our military readiness. How many more times do we have to do this before we learn that we need a new direction in Iraq?
JIM LEHRER: What would your position be, if, in fact, the Petraeus plan, as commanded by Gen. Petraeus, actually worked, the Baghdad security plan?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I pray that it does. Our young people are in harm's way there. We hope that it does work. But the fact is, we know we would increase the odds of it working if there were some sincere efforts to engage the other countries in the region in the diplomatic solutions that are necessary to stabilize the region, and do the political work, do the political work -- that is to say, amend the constitution, include the Sunnis and others into the civic life of Iraq.
That's where you go. You don't go into ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and say, "Now we're going to referee." But, again, we always wish for success in any maneuver or plan that our troops are involved in.
JIM LEHRER: But if I understand you correctly and clearly, you're saying this is -- this should only be seen as a first step, and if this, if the United States Congress is prepared to go further, involving funding or whatever it takes to get this thing resolved?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Let me remove all doubt in your question.
JIM LEHRER: OK, all right.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We will support our troops, as our resolution says. Our resolution is fewer than 100 words, and it's going to make a major difference when we pass this motion of disapproval. And it is bipartisan in its authorship and in the vote that it will get.
When that happens, there will have to be a different course of action. How many more years -- four years, we're there longer than we were in World War II, longer than World War II. The administration did not know what it was getting into, and we are paying a big price. They have to change the course, the direction in Iraq.
We will not -- as our resolution says, we will support and protect the members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have served and who are serving in Iraq. And we disapprove of the decision made by President Bush and announced on Jan. 20 to send an additional 20,000 combat troops into Iraq. That's the whole resolution.
Relations with the president
JIM LEHRER: The president said again today that he did not believe that disagreement, that you've just outlined again, very forcefully, between you and many Democrats and the president on Iraq is going to affect the way you and Democrats interact -- you and the president interact with the Democrats. Do you agree with that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I definitely do. But let me say this: This isn't about the president and the Democrats.
We are the elected representatives of the people. The people have spoken on this issue. They're way ahead of the Congress of the United States in their disagreement on the course of action in Iraq. So this is about the American people, not necessarily about the Congress, because the public is way ahead of the Congress.
In terms of the president, this is one issue. I hope that we can work in a bipartisan way with the president on issues like immigration, energy independence, an innovation agenda to grow our economy, create good-paying jobs for the future, health care.
Health care is probably the biggest domestic issue in our country. If it were not for the war in Iraq, I think that health care would have been the issue in the 2006 campaign.
So we have plenty of areas where we have common ground that we can work to find areas of agreement to get a job done for the American people.
JIM LEHRER: What's the record so far? I know it hasn't been that long since you've been speaker and the change has come in the Congress, but how do you feel about it so far?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I feel pretty good. In our first 100 hours, we were able to pass legislation to make our country safer, our economy fairer, college more accessible, health care more affordable, to give hope to people with our stem cell research legislation, and to bring us closer to energy independence.
Every one of those bills passed with bipartisan support, some with very strong Republican support, one of them with a majority of the Republicans voting with us. So we set down on a path that could get bipartisan support.
We continued with our budget bill, which received large Republican vote, as well. So from the standpoint of bipartisanship, I think we're off to a good start.
The issue of Iraq is a big issue. And we will have -- as you know, Sen. Warner and other leading Republicans have their motions of disapproval of what the president is doing, as well. So this is not a partisan issue.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that, if the House, as expected, passes the Iraq resolution on Friday that this will push the Senate into doing something, as well, eventually?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Oh, I'm absolutely certain of it.
JIM LEHRER: You're certain of it?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I'm certain of it. The American people's voices must be heard. And when we pass our resolution, I think it will trigger -- if that's the word -- action in the Senate. But you'd have to talk to Sen. Reid, the majority leader, about that.
But everything that I hear from the Senate is that, because of the simplicity of our resolution, "We support the troops; we disapprove of the escalation of the war," that it will have a good opportunity in the Senate.
JIM LEHRER: A specific domestic issue. Minimum wage, passed the House, different version passed the Senate. The Senate wanted some tax things in. The House does not want those in there. Are you going to be able to work this out or is this one that's going to just divide on partisan grounds and it's going to die?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to work it out. It doesn't seem fair that just to give a minimum wage to the American people -- we haven't had one for 10 years, an increase in the minimum wage. And now the Senate is saying, in order to do that, it's going to cost something like $8 billion. That just doesn't seem fair.
JIM LEHRER: These are these tax things involving small business.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Right.
JIM LEHRER: You don't want them connected, right?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We don't want them, but we will have legislation on the floor this week that will include some tax cuts for small business that also benefit workers.
And our champion, of course, is the chairman of Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel, and he will bring a bill to the floor. That will be about tax cuts for small businesses that are paid for, that don't add to the national debt, and that we'll go to conference with it. And I'm hopeful that they'll work it out in conference.
JIM LEHRER: One politics question. The conventional wisdom, as you know, right now, is the fact that you're being the first woman speaker of the House is helping Hillary Clinton's campaign to be the first woman elected president of the United States. Do you see a connection?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: What a nice compliment.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see a connection there?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I will say that becoming the first woman speaker of the House is a great honor. It is also -- I have received so much support and encouragement from people across the country, certainly women, but also the fathers of daughters -- you being one -- and there's quite an excitement about a woman having real power.
And I hope, in the performance of my duties, I will show that women are ready to govern, prepared to lead, and can wield power in a way that helps the American people. And so I hope that that helps all women candidates.
Senator Clinton is a political force in her own right, and I have every confidence that, regardless of who is the speaker of the House, that she will do very well. But there is an excitement, I have to say, about having a woman speaker of the House.
JIM LEHRER: Madam Speaker, thank you very much.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you. My pleasure.