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House Minority Leader Reacts to GOP Torture Compromise

September 21, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Our Newsmaker interview with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. We have also extended an invitation for a matching interview with House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner.

Congresswoman Pelosi, welcome.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House Minority Leader: A pleasure to be here.

JIM LEHRER: Today’s deal that was announced late today between the White House and the Senate on military tribunals and interrogation rules for terrorists. What do you think of that?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I haven’t seen the particulars of it, but the principles that we have heard in the news report sound very much like legislation proposed by the Democrats last week in the House Armed Services Committee, which was an approach that would enable to us get the most reliable intelligence to protect the American people, that will enable us to prosecute those responsible for 9/11, and bring them to justice, and would do so in a manner that was consistent with the Geneva Conventions so as to protect our American soldiers should they come under questioning.

That was rejected in the House Committee, so I’m not surprised that Chairman Duncan Hunter is holding back his approval.

JIM LEHRER: Well, do you expect him to finally give in on this or do you know?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I don’t know. He’s not fond of deals that are made between the Senate and the White House without the House participating.

JIM LEHRER: I see. But just based on just the rough knowledge that we all have of this, it looks to you, at least, as if the president and the White House blinked on this?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, indeed. I think that the authority that Senators Warner, and Senator McCain, and Lindsey Graham, and others, and certainly Secretary Powell, for obtaining reliable intelligence to protect the American people, as I said, to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice and do so in a way that protects our troops, has finally — they impressed that upon the president and persuaded him.

JIM LEHRER: And so, unless Duncan Hunter and others who feel the way he does rise up in some way, you think this will be enacted into law before you all adjourn next week?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I don’t know. It may come to the floor of the House and Senate, if it has time to go to conference and back. I don’t know if that can be done before the election. But, again, we haven’t seen the particulars of this and, as you know, the details are very important.

One week left to act

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
U.S. House Minority Leader
This is really a do-nothing rubber-stamp Congress for the president. In a few days, we'll reach the end of the fiscal year, and this Congress has still not passed a budget.

JIM LEHRER: What else do you expect the Congress to do before you all adjourn next week?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, they haven't done much. This is really a do-nothing rubber-stamp Congress for the president. In a few days, we'll reach the end of the fiscal year, and this Congress has still not passed a budget.

Democrats are proposing our Six for '06. We think that we could pass before we leave here the initiatives to make America safer, for example, to pass the 9/11 Commission recommendations; to make our economy fairer, by passing an increase in the minimum wage; to make college more affordable, as students are going back to school now, by making tuition tax deductible; to move toward energy independence.

All of these are simple, discrete bills that are in the hopper to guarantee a dignified retirement and, of course, to make health care more affordable by giving the administration the power to negotiation for lower prices.

JIM LEHRER: But none of that's going to be enacted into law between now and next week, is it?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, it could be, but instead we are doing bits and pieces of an immigration bill without approaching it in a comprehensive, bipartisan way, which is necessary in order to manage the immigration issue. Again, we haven't passed a budget; we haven't even passed all of our appropriation bills. So there's much unfinished business.

JIM LEHRER: Were you surprised by the lead story in the New York Times this morning about their new poll which said that only 25 percent of the Americans they polled, at least, had approved of the job the Congress of the United States was doing?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I would be among those who would not approve. I was pleased that that same poll said that, if the election were held today, that 50 percent of the American people would vote for a Democrat and only 35 percent would vote for a Republican, a 15-point spread. But that's today, and today is not Election Day.

A "new direction" for Congress

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
U.S. House Minority Leader
Our new direction. It's what our founding fathers had as their vision. It's what our soldiers sacrifice their lives for. It's what the aspiration of our children are about. Whatever we do, we should do in a way that is very democratic.

JIM LEHRER: So all the problems of the Congress are the Republicans fault?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think that the Republicans have taken great pride in saying that they control everything. They had the mandate, the House, the Senate, and the White House.

We're proposing a new direction, a new direction with our Six for '06 that I told you about, but also that starts with integrity, where if you cut off the link between special interests and legislation, and are there really for the people, where we have civility, bipartisan administration of the House, where the voices of the minority are heard no matter who is in charge, and fiscal discipline.

We haven't had that. If we have it, then we can move quickly into the people's business. We are, after all, the people's House.

JIM LEHRER: Are you serious about this...

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: ... that, if the Democrats win control of the House in November, that you will bring the Republicans in and operate in a bipartisan way?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Absolutely. And we've put it in writing in our New Direction for America. It's in writing in here, and it's available at HouseDemocrats.gov.

JIM LEHRER: But what would be your motivation? The Republicans have -- you're claiming that the Republicans have not involved the Democrats in the leadership.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: That's right.

JIM LEHRER: Now, what would be your motivation for allowing them in?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Our new direction. It's what our founding fathers had as their vision. It's what our soldiers sacrifice their lives for. It's what the aspiration of our children are about. Whatever we do, we should do in a way that is very democratic.

It doesn't mean we have to agree on all issues; we won't. We'll try to find our common ground. We owe that to the American people. But where we don't have it, we stand our ground, have the debate on the ideas, have the transparency and the openness, and let the people decide.

JIM LEHRER: Do you want to be speaker of the House?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I want to have a Democratic speaker, yes, and I think that coming in with, again, integrity, civility, and fiscal discipline, we can do what the American people want in their interest.

JIM LEHRER: As you just said a moment ago, the Election Day isn't -- this isn't Election Day. What do you see when you look ahead to Election Day? Are you optimistic at all about Democratic control of the House?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I'm optimistic one day at a time. I evaluate one day, one week at a time. In 17 days, we're beginning the absentee balloting, the early voting. And, of course, in 47 days, we will have the election.

I'm optimistic because of our issues of a safer America, fairer economy that I mentioned. I'm optimistic because of the caliber of the candidates that they have. They're talented. They have law enforcement, national security, fiscal discipline credentials, and they care about the future of our country.

Changing the situation in Iraq

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
U.S. House Minority Leader
We've been in Iraq longer than we were in Europe in World War II. The president still doesn't have an exit strategy. It's just not right; we need a new direction.

JIM LEHRER: All the polls show that Iraq is the major issue going into this election. First of all, do you think it should be? And what is the choice between Republicans and Democrats on Iraq?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the Republicans are proposing stay the course. And since we went into this war on a false premise, a wrong premise, we went in with the expectation that we'd be received differently -- wrong again -- that the reconstruction would be paid for by the Iraqis and soon -- wrong again -- we were wrong on every score.

And the president says stay the course? Wrong again. Stay the course? No.

We're proposing a new direction, where we want to work with the president in a bipartisan way to urge the Iraqi government to disarm the militia, to amend their constitution to involve people in some of the civil strife, to engage their neighbors in diplomatic initiatives, and to begin the responsible redeployment of our troops out of Iraq beginning no later than the end of this year. That's different from the course that the president is on.

JIM LEHRER: But he's still going to be president, whether you're the speaker of the House, whether the Democrats are controlling the House or not?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, but I think he'll have to answer for -- half a trillion dollars have been appropriated for this war, much of it unaccounted for, many of our troops without the equipment that they need, without an end in sight.

We've been in Iraq longer than we were in Europe in World War II. The president still doesn't have an exit strategy. It's just not right; we need a new direction.

JIM LEHRER: An exit strategy is what the president needs, and you, as the Democratic majority in the House, could come up with an exit strategy and force him to accept it?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, no, what I'm saying is we should be working together. It's very unusual that the president has taken this very lone approach to it, that he is conducting this war without the involvement, quite different from what has happened in the past when we have been a nation at war.

And we have to change direction, too, because this is the wrong war. This isn't the war on terror. This is diverting our attention and our resources away from the real target. We should never have left Afghanistan in the manner that we did.

Our troops have done a magnificent job in Iraq. It's time for a diplomatic and political remedy there. But at the same time, being there has taken its toll on our military readiness. Don't take it from me; experts on the subject have said we don't have one combat ready unit in the U.S. to be deployed in case of another threat to our national security.

The target is Afghanistan. They harbored the terrorist. We took our attention away from there, and we should return the focus there, hunt down Osama bin Laden, bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice, defeat the terrorists, and the war in Iraq is deterring us from doing that.

Focusing on the '06 elections

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
U.S. House Minority Leader
It's going to be a more bipartisan Congress. It's going to be a more productive Congress. It's going to be a Congress that is about the future. And, yes, that will be a new direction.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, as you know -- I'm sure you know -- the Republicans running in these congressional races in November, you're a target of a lot of this -- speaking of focus -- and they say, "Do you really want to turn the House of Representatives over to a liberal Democrat from San Francisco?" How do you respond to that sort of thing?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: An Italian Catholic mother of five, grandmother of five, going on six. The focus is the president of the United States. It's him and his policies and that of the rubber-stamp Republican Congress that are the issue.

I think targeting me -- most people don't even know who I am -- is an act of desperation on the part of the Republicans. We're going to keep the focus in a very optimistic way on our new direction. We know it's possible, if elected, for us to achieve these things and, in the spirit of optimism and hope and confidence of the American people, build a better future for our children.

JIM LEHRER: But just in shorthand terms, it is correct to say, is it not, that if the Democrats do take control of House, whether you're speaker or not, it's going to be a more liberal House of Representatives than there is now, correct?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It's going to be a more bipartisan Congress. It's going to be a more productive Congress. It's going to be a Congress that is about the future. And, yes, that will be a new direction.

JIM LEHRER: And, for instance, to be specific, for instance, if the Democrats were in charge of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee would be a Democrat. And he would not be saying probably what Duncan Hunter said today about this new deal, correct?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It would be Ike Skelton, who's a very conservative Democrat from Missouri, who has impeccable national security credentials, has the respect of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and, in fact, the administration. He's revered.

I visit him at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and at Fort Leonard Wood, and he has the respect of the military community, that is at home and in Washington, D.C. So he would be in great chair of the Armed Services Committee, because our national security shouldn't be about partisanship.

It should be about working together to make America as safe as we can be, with a military second to none, with diplomatic alliances based on that strength to stop terrorism, to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to have real homeland security that doesn't get D's and F's and incompletes from the 9/11 Commission, but A's and which honors our responsibility to our veterans when they come home.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Leader Pelosi, thank you very much.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much. New direction.

JIM LEHRER: Got it.