JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Pelosi, welcome.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House Minority Leader: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Where do you come down on this immigration debate?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I come down on the side of the bill that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The McCain-Kennedy-Gutierrez bill is bipartisan; it's comprehensive; it's very tough.
It's strong on border control. It's tough on those who have been here illegally, but it manages the issue in a way that I think is appropriate.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it's going to become the law of the land?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think it's going to be very hard. The bill that passed the House, the Sensenbrenner bill is very, very harsh, and I don't see any...
JIM LEHRER: That's the one that passed last year?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Passed last year, but it's still in the same Congress, so it's the bill that would have to go up to conference with the Senate bill. Unless there is very serious intervention on the part of President Bush, I don't see how these two bills can come together in conference to produce the comprehensive bipartisan legislation that we need.
JIM LEHRER: So when the speaker, Hastert, said yesterday that there was some -- he believed that there was some room to negotiate, it's not that you don't believe him, you're just not sure that's going to happen, right?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I hope that he's right, but I think that negotiation is going to have to involve the president of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's go back to the beginning here. What is your explanation as to why there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants, people who came in illegally, still here living here illegally? What's gone wrong? Is it a broken system? Is it the result of what?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, all of them didn't come in here illegally; some did. Some came and their visas expired or they're on a backlog at the immigration service, when it was called the immigration service.
And so a number of reasons why people's documents are not in order, but many did come in illegally. And that is that we do have to strengthen security at the border; there is no question about that. Everyone agrees to that.
Now there are families who are mixed. One person came in, either legally or illegally, but undocumented at this time. They've married. They've had children. And so they're integrated into American life, and they're certainly a major part of the economy of our country; agriculture industry in certain states in our country just could not survive without that.
So it's a magnet on the part of businesses here that need that labor. No management of the issue to have an ag-jobs bill or a guest-worker program. And so the jobs are here. They find them, and we end up with 11 million people.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what do you say to House Republicans and others who say, "Wait a minute. We can't legalize people who are living here illegally. What kind of message does that send to everybody else who wants to violate a law?"
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, first of all, I think you say: We must strengthen the board, security. That's an absolute must.
JIM LEHRER: To stop it now?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: To stop it now.
JIM LEHRER: So no other illegals can come in?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: So no other illegals can come in, a.
B, the bill that is being proposed, McCain-Kennedy-Gutierrez, is a bill that is very tough on the people who are here now. They have to pay a fine; they have to pay back taxes; they have to work six years here and prove that they are committed, employed people here. And then they get in line behind all the others who have been waiting in line legally to become citizens in our country.
And I would say to them that: What are the alternatives, to manage the issue well or to put everybody in jail? Who wants to pay the price tag for 11 million people in jail in our country? Or you're going to send 11 million people back, leaving behind children that are American citizens, who are part of their families now.
So there's not a good solution, except to manage the issue well, in a fair way, secure our borders, unify our families, protect American workers, protect the rights of these workers coming into our country, and have a path to legalization for them.
JIM LEHRER: Do you not go along with the idea that, whatever you call it, whatever the process is, it amounts to amnesty?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No.
JIM LEHRER: It's not amnesty?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I'm not for amnesty. I don't think that there are many people in Congress who would support amnesty. This isn't about amnesty. It's about paying a price, paying a fine, proving, by working for six years, that you're here, and then getting in line behind everyone else for legalization.
JIM LEHRER: You're the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. It's the position that you outline -- should that be read as the Democratic position? If somebody out in the country say, "What do the Democrats think about immigration?" The one you just outlined, is it?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, what I outlined is strong borders, strong security at our borders, first and foremost. You can't go to the number two until you do that.
JIM LEHRER: But what I mean is, are you speaking, do you think, for your party, in addition to yourself?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I would say that I speak for a majority in my caucus, a large majority in my caucus. Not everyone shares the view that McCain-Kennedy-Gutierrez should be the way to go, but a large majority of our caucus does.
JIM LEHRER: Over 30 Democrats voted for that House bill a year ago.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: For the Sensenbrenner bill, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Do you think -- are they still on board on that or do you know?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, it depends on what comes back. You know, in other words, you cannot know how they're going to vote until we see what the product is that comes back. And I hope that what would come back would be some bipartisan compromise that is comprehensive, in terms of how it approaches immigration.
JIM LEHRER: Back to the beginning, where you said you're not sure that this big gulf can be breached here or can be covered -- now, you don't breach a gulf; you cover the gulf. What would be the impact of there not being legislation at all?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: There has to be legislation; it's just a question of when. It's long overdue.
But I do believe that, unless the president uses his authority and his good offices to intervene in this negotiation, that there's just too much distance between the Sensenbrenner bill in the House and what has come out of the Senate committee.
Now, that has not passed the Senate yet, and it remains to be seen what form that will take. But I hope that the president will -- because I know the president understands the issue is a challenge to our country, in terms of the fact that the people are here, that they are not legal, there are attempts to criminalize their actions.
And also the Sensenbrenner bill is problematic because it criminalizes churches, community groups, anyone who would assist any of these immigrant families. That's why Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles diocese has said that he is advocating that people not obey that law.
Well, let's hope that it doesn't become law and that we have something that makes sense, that manages the issue, that's bipartisan, comprehensive and takes us into the future, so that these people can continue to contribute to our economy in a way that brings them up, instead of hiding in the shadows.
JIM LEHRER: OK, another subject. Yesterday, you and others in the Democratic leadership released what you called a national security agenda. Is the overall message that you believe that Democrats can protect the national security of the United States better than the Republicans?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, indeed, it is. Our real agenda -- real means that something that's happening now isn't quite real -- security for America agenda is our Democratic plan. It states that we have smart and tough policies that will project American power to protect the American people and our freedom wherever and whenever they are threatened.
JIM LEHRER: On Iraq specifically, your agenda does not set a deadline of any kind for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Why not?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: What our agenda does do, though -- it says that, as far as our Democratic agenda, which is House, Senate, governors, mayors, state legislatures, across-the-board unified in saying that 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq, that the Iraqi people must take responsibility for their government and for their security.
JIM LEHRER: President Bush has said exactly the same thing. What's the...
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, he hasn't.
JIM LEHRER: Well, he's called for the Iraqi government to take over, there be transition. I mean, he's used similar words.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't -- I think that what you have here are two different things.
JIM LEHRER: OK.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: You have President Bush saying: Stay the course, and I'll leave it up to a future president to clean up my mess behind me. And you have the Democrats saying: 2006 must be a year of transition.
JIM LEHRER: But you're not saying...
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think they're quite different.
JIM LEHRER: But you're not saying 2006 is a year for the U.S. to get out? You're just saying -- the transition to what? Transition...
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think there has to be an accountability on the part of the administration, and Democrats will hold the administration accountable.
Our military has performed excellently. Our gratitude and appreciation for what our men and women in uniform have done, their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifices they're willing to make for our country is commendable and more than commendable.
But they can't do the job alone. And this administration has failed to achieve the political and diplomatic successes that are necessary to complement a military success; so there has to be a change.
As long as the plan is what the president has -- and we don't know if it's a plan, but it's a course that he wants us to stay on -- I think that has to be rejected. And we have to say serious transition, in terms of this.
It may require some strategic redeployment, but it has to be different than the course we're on. This war has cost us over 2,300 lives; 16,000 of our troops injured, half of them permanently; $300 billion dollars already. It's probably a trillion-dollar war all included, if it ended today, and a serious cost to our reputation in the world.
Stay the course? I don't think so.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to those who profess confusion over the Democratic view on this? Congressman Murtha has said, four square, set a deadline; get the U.S. troops out.
And you at first -- well, what is your position now? Do you support the Murtha position personally?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I do, but that is not the position of the Democratic Party. But let me be clear about what Mr. Murtha said. Mr. Murtha talked about strategic redeployment. Take our troops over the horizon so they can...
JIM LEHRER: Into Kuwait and places like that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: ... be there to help, in case there is a threat to our security. We will be present in order to address it.
What he did also say is that, as long as our troops are in Iraq, they are targets and they incite more violence, and the generals have said that, as well. They've testified publicly in Congress to that effect.
And what he did say, as long as we're there and they fall into civil war, we have no role to play in that.
JIM LEHRER: So back to my confusion question, how would you explain the difference between the Murtha position and the position in the national security agenda of the Democrats?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think that the national security agenda that the Democrats have put forth, our real security on Iraq, is that Mr. Murtha fits comfortably under that, but it accommodates other points of view that wish to make 2006 a year of significant transition in Iraq.
Hold the administration accountable. There's been no oversight on this war, why we went in. But let's put that aside for now.
The conduct of the war and the lack of a strategy. We say never again should we send our troops into war without a strategy, without the equipment, and without the intelligence they need to know the enemy and to come home safely and soon.
JIM LEHRER: For the record, do you believe that, if Democrats had been in charge, we would never have gone into Iraq in the first place?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I can only speak from my own experience. I was a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee when this vote came up. Senator Bob Graham of Florida was the senior Democrat in the Senate.
My statement at the time was the intelligence does not support the threat, and of course it didn't. I voted against the war. Senator Graham voted against the war.
We saw the intelligence as the gang of four. The two top Democrats, two top Republicans see a lot more than other members see, and we did not see an imminent threat to the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Assuming just for question purposes here that, whatever, the U.S. did go into Iraq.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: That's right. I agree.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that the Democrats could have conducted the war better than the Republicans?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: That's not the point. The president had a war of choice, timing that he chose, a preemptive strike that was -- if you're going to respond to a threat or have to -- you must move, you do the best you can.
If you choose to go into a war, you choose your own timing and the rest, you better have a plan; you better have the best possible consideration for our men and women in uniform.
It's President Bush's war. He's gotten us into it. He's digging a hole. I wish he'd stop digging and come out and see the light on this.
JIM LEHRER: As a matter of principle, do you and the Democrats reject his preemptive war concept?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: On preemptive war, well, I don't reject the concept of preemptive war. I don't think that the president's concept of preemptive war, though, meets the standard, which is that any time our country is threatened.
I'm a mother of five. I have five grandchildren. And I always say: Think of a lioness. Think of a mother bear. You come anywhere near our cubs, you're dead. And so, in terms of any threat to our country, people have to know we'll be there to preemptively strike.
But what the president did was, on the basis of no real intelligence for an imminent threat to our country, chose to go into a war for reasons that are still unknown to us. But I think that we keep everything on the table, as far as protecting the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, a political question: Are the Democrats going to make you the -- are the voters going to make you speaker of the House in November, do you believe?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think, if the election were held today, the Democrats would win the House. We're 15, 16 points ahead in some of the polls.
And now, as we're rolling out our positive agenda, our vision for America's future that addresses the kitchen-table needs of American people, jobs, the education of children, access to quality health care, real security for our country, fiscal responsibility, to keep our country safe in every way, that our message is going to be a clear one, that our candidates are excellent, and our prospects are very good.
JIM LEHRER: And I take it you wouldn't mind being the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think it would be exciting. I just want a Democratic speaker of the House.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you very much.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much, Jim. My pleasure.