House Speaker Discusses Democrats, Iraq War
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JIM LEHRER: Madam Speaker, welcome.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: My pleasure.
JIM LEHRER: The Minneapolis tragedy, the bridge collapse, is there a role for the Congress to take a look at what happened and why?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: There certainly is immediately. Today, Congress will suspend the rules and vote $250 million from the Special Highway Emergency Fund in order to help rebuild.
But, first of all, of course, our prayers and our sorrow and sympathy go out to the families affected. Can you just imagine, as a parent and a grandparent, a family member leaving the house and not coming back for that reason? So rescue, recovery, that’s all important. Rebuilding is, too, and that’s what we want to help with.
JIM LEHRER: I know the facts are not all in yet, but is it your immediate impression that this was an isolated case or that there is an infrastructure problem that needs to be addressed?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: The chairman of our Transportation Committee, Jim Oberstar, is from Minnesota, and he has been beating the drum for taking inventory of the strength of our infrastructure throughout the country. This is not an isolated situation; however, it’s a very dramatic one that drives home the need for us to invest in our infrastructure.
Also, there is some issue here about other tragedies happening — I’m not talking about the loss of life, but other risks that have happened — where there’s proximity to a dam and the water undermining the structure of the bridge. So we have to look at that more than a coincidence, but see if the cause and effect is there.
JIM LEHRER: Congress is about to recess, of course. And is there going to be a House bill of some kind having to do with the redeployment of troops in Iraq?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Not in the next 48 hours. We will have legislation similar to that which was passed in the Senate, the Webb amendment. It will be — Ellen Tauscher is taking the lead in the House. And what that resolution will do is to say that, for troops who are in Iraq for 15 months, they would have the same amount of time at home, dwell time at home, to be retrained before they can go back.
This is beyond even what the standards of the DOD. They shouldn’t be in Iraq that long, we’re saying. If they’re there that long, they have to stay home at least that long, instead of having this quick turnover of sending our troops back. They’ve got 56 votes in the United States Senate. It didn’t meet the 60-vote barrier that the Republicans have put up there, but it was bipartisan, and it will be so in the House, as well.
JIM LEHRER: But there will be no move before the recess to pass a bill of any kind? For instance, one that’s been suggested it was discussed was one that would set a mandate of 60 days for the Pentagon to come up with a plan with redeployment of the troops. You’ve dropped that idea?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, we’re considering that, but that’s not a redeployment, a call for redeployment. Actually, what it says is we want to know what the status is of the redeployment and we want to know in 60 days. We may take it up now; we may take it up when we come back. If we do, it would be with a shorter timeframe on it, because it’s really important for us and the judgments that we have to make to know what the plans are that this administration has for redeployment. It passed almost unanimously in the Armed Services Committee.
JIM LEHRER: So you are going to do that today, I mean, today or tomorrow, before you recess?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Before we recess, we will do the Tauscher resolution on the dwell time at home for our troops, 15 months in Iraq, 15 months at home. We have yet to decide whether we’ll take up this other legislation before we leave. But if we don’t, we’ll take it up when we come back.
Setting deadlines for troop pullout
JIM LEHRER: Do you still believe that it is the job of the House of Representatives to pass legislation that would set deadlines for troop withdrawals or troop deployments in Iraq?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I absolutely do. And as I said in our last debate on the subject, or our most recent one, that this Congress will hold this administration accountable. We will take votes to pass judgment on the conduct of this war. And this dwell time at home is an important piece of legislation in that regard.
In terms of timetables, yes, I mean, that has passed in a bipartisan way in the House and in the Senate. The president vetoed it. He probably will see legislation of that kind soon.
JIM LEHRER: So you believe it's the legitimate role of the House of Representatives to set timetables for troop changes of any kind?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I believe that it is the role of Congress to hold the administration accountable and have oversight over the conduct of war, and that includes how it is in the interest of our national security, how it makes the region more stable, and what that engagement is doing to undermine the strength of our military.
I believe that it is the role of Congress to act in our national security interest. How we deal with a redeployment out of Iraq has to be judged by what vision there is for a stability in the Middle East. This conduct of this war is not making that region more stable; it is not making America more secure; and it is undermining the strength of our military to protect our interests wherever they may be threatened.
JIM LEHRER: From your perspective, what General Petraeus says in September about the surge is an irrelevant act on your part?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, General Petraeus is a respected general in the military, but let us remember what the purpose of the surge was. Let's, first of all, say that any time our troops are engaged in military activity we want them to have the maximum success. So it would be my hope that General Petraeus would say that this has been a successful endeavor.
Whether it is or not, though, the purpose of the surge was to create a secure environment in which political progress could be made. That has not happened. The president's own benchmarks are not being met. They weren't met in July by the president's own admission. It's hard to see how they will be met in September with the Iraqi government already on vacation there while our soldiers are fighting their fight.
So it's a political standard. The security -- the surge was to make the area more secure so that the political solution could take hold. General Petraeus himself said that there's not a solely military solution to this problem. And the measure will be, OK, did the surge achieve its purpose? Did the political progress occur, amending the constitution, calling for provincial elections, having a law for the fair distribution of oil in the region, reviewing the order on de-Baathification, some of the president's own benchmarks?
JIM LEHRER: So nothing will change, on your position, based on anything that General Petraeus says about the surge, correct?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, unless they can show that the surge's purpose was met, which was to have a political standard, a political standard as to what they have done politically. Economically, we know in Baghdad they have electricity for two to three hours a day. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein, it was between 18 and 24 hours a day. So there's some unrest among the people there.
A political change could serve to relieve some of the sectarian violence there so that our troops don't have to be engaged in a civil war. And so the question is, how much longer do our troops have to be engaged in a civil war in Iraq to try to create a secure environment for political progress, if the Iraqi government refuses to take any of these political steps, which as I say, are the president's own benchmarks?
JIM LEHRER: Some people have expressed outrage over the fact that the Iraqi parliament has taken the month of August off as a vacation. Do you share that outrage?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, while our troops are in harm's way there and the need for us to see strong political change, it seems they've left before their work was completed.
"I couldn't be prouder"
JIM LEHRER: You don't see any parallels between that recess and the recess of the U.S. Congress?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, not at all. And we have said we are not leaving until our work is done, and the work that was initiated on the first day of Congress, our six for '06 and the first 100 hours, have now gone through the whole political lawmaking process.
In the past week, we passed the farm bill. We passed a 9/11 bill. That was our first bill, H.R. 1. We make America safer with the 9/11 Commission recommendations. We passed lobbying reform legislation that is historic in its scope. We passed legislation addressing the Supreme Court decision about Ledbetter, the wage discrimination. Every woman in America who works should be very proud, and I'm sure they are, of that legislation. Yesterday, we passed an historic children's health legislation, historic.
I couldn't be prouder, especially as one who gaveled down the House the first day when I was elected speaker on behalf of all of America's children to have an expansion of health care for five million more children in America. Today, we're passing our innovation agenda to keep America number one, to innovate, to keep good paying jobs in America.
We did WRDA, the Water Resources Development Act, last night. It's a bill that, for seven years, the Republicans couldn't accomplish that we did in seven months. And later today, we will start taking up our energy independence package.
And before we leave here, we'll have passed all of our appropriations bills, everything that we promised about, keeping America safer, growing our economy, making college more affordable, a huge package on higher education tuition costs, and strengthening America's families, and doing so in a fiscally sound way, living up to the highest ethical standard with the most transparency. I'm very proud of what we've done in these first seven months.
JIM LEHRER: One of the things you've decided not to do was take a vote on raising gasoline mileage standards. What happened?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, that is in the Senate bill. That has already passed the Senate. And so, in the interest of having consensus on the bill that we pass here tomorrow, we decided that, since it's in the Senate bill, there was no need to have that debate in the House.
So let me say that the bill that we will put forth tomorrow will reduce emissions by more than all of the cars in America emit in one year. I mean, it is a radical, different change. This is a departure from the status quo. This is about asserting energy independence, which is a national security issue, which is an environmental issue, which is an energy issue, and an economic issue for America's families and for our economy.
So we're proud of the bill. We'll take it up in conference, and we'll have more bills to address this later. But since that was an area of consulate in our own caucus, and since it was already in the Senate bill, I thought it wasn't necessary. I support the Senate language very strongly.
JIM LEHRER: The conflict was between you and Congressman Dingell, correct, from Michigan, who was not in favor of raising the standard. So you just decided not to have the fight, is that...
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, it's not that. It's just when the Senate voted it, it no longer necessitated our doing it in the House. We put many more things in the bill that are not in the Senate bill, and we'll go to conference and hopefully come out with a most powerful, pun intended, energy independence bill possible.
Impeachment of Alberto Gonzales
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe Attorney General Gonzales should be impeached?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I called for Attorney General Gonzales' resignation. I think he should offer it, and I think the president should accept it. I think that's the proper route to go.
JIM LEHRER: Not to move to impeach him?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, there are those who think that that is a good use of Congress's time. I wanted to get through our legislative work. I think he should go. I think it should be clear to the president. It's as clear to me as Michael Brown in Katrina: This is the wrong person in wrong job at the wrong time.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a theory or a thesis about why he is still attorney general?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't know. There are all kinds of theories about it, but fact is, I don't know why he's attorney general in the first place, so I can't really tell you why he's still the attorney general.
JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, any impeachment against Attorney General Gonzales would have to begin in the House. And you're saying it isn't going to happen, correct?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: There are those who are introducing it. It's up to them to see what the prospects are for it. But as I have said with the President Bush, who there's a wide -- a big tide in the country for his impeachment, that it was off the table.
We had business to attend to regarding the health and education of our children, the economic security of their families, the national security of our country, the strength of our economy, and I wanted to focus on those issues.
JIM LEHRER: You leave here for this recess, as you say, very proud of what you have accomplished, correct?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: That is correct, very proud.
Low approval ratings for Congress
JIM LEHRER: It's interesting, we've talked about a lot of talk about public opinion polls and how low President Bush is regarding what his approval rating is. As you know, most polls show Congress's approval rating as low or, in some cases, lower. Why do people have such a low opinion of the Congress right now?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, Congress has always been an object of mockery in the public minds. But I take heart and I'm very proud of the fact that, in every poll, if polls are what we're being measured by, that the Democrats are double digit, in some cases, over 20 points ahead of the Republicans, in terms of the people saying, who would you rather have make decisions on the war in Iraq, health care, education, protecting the environment? You name it, on every issue, Democrats are double digit ahead of the Republicans.
In our polling also on our congressional races, our Democratic candidates are very, very secure. And so, again, if polls are the measure, there are polls and there are polls.
I would hope, though, that in the performance of our duties that when people see what we can do in spite of the obstructionism in the United States Senate, which has held things up -- but not to complain about that, but just to push forward when they see what we are accomplishing that that will begin to change. But I am very pleased with the polling numbers for Democrats, in terms of the issues that are important in the lives of the American people.
JIM LEHRER: So you see yourself as a leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I'm the speaker of the House, and many of the bills that I talked about had strong bipartisan support. Many of our appropriations bills are veto-proof. Several of our appropriations bills are veto-proof, which takes me to a place that we've made an overture to the president to say, "Mr. President, why you are threatening vetoes?"
We're so close, in terms of the expenditures on meeting the needs of the American people. Were we higher than you request? Well, over $6 billion more for the veterans' health, biggest increase in veterans' health in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration; investments in our children's education; investments in border security to help our country secure our borders; issues of concern to the American people.
So join us in those investments or let us find a place that we can come together, but it's sort of a waste of time to threaten vetoes that strike at the heart of issues that are relevant to the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Madam Speaker, thank you very much.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: For the record, we have requested an interview with the House minority leader, John Boehner.