Pelosi: Obama Needs Room To Make Afghan Decision

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she believes a health-care bill will pass, despite fierce debate over language about abortion. She tells Renee Montagne that when it comes to Afghanistan, she doesn't sense wide support among House members for a significant troop increase. Pelosi says she's asked members to give President Obama room to decide his Afghan strategy.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. And I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're going to spend the next several minutes talking about two issues that define the political agenda right now. One is domestic: health care. The other is foreign policy: Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is deeply involved in both. She's a leading voice in the debate over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. And a couple of weeks ago, she led her colleagues in the House in passing a bill to overhaul health care, with language on abortion that has upset pro-choice activists. When Speaker Pelosi talked with us from her office on Capitol Hill, we began with that.

You have said that you have concerns about the amendment to the health care bill that prohibits federal funding for abortion and that you hope to revisit that part of the bill at the table. You spent weeks trying to get a compromise before the vote. What can you do now that won't sink the bill?

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): I believe that there is plenty area for common ground. We all agree that there will be no federal funding for abortion - that's never been a question - that the bill would be abortion neutral. There will be no expansion or diminishment of abortion opportunity for women, and that we want to pass a health care bill. But let's say this: There are people who really do not want a health care bill to pass, and they use any excuse to not have the health care bill passed. And so if we can make a distinction between those who want to kill the bill - any excuse will do - and those who, in good faith, are trying to find a way to pass a bill which, again, does not increase or diminish a women's opportunity for abortion and does not provide federal funding for abortion, we can do that.

MONTAGNE: But is there something - some specific way in which you can bring your party along, given there are so many moving parts, this is so complicated and people have fierce opinions about what they want?

Rep. PELOSI: Yes, there is. But if I talk about it on the radio, then I�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. PELOSI: �I won't be able to make it happen. So I do believe that they want a resolution of this.

MONTAGNE: They want a bill.

Rep. PELOSI: They want a bill.

MONTAGNE: We're talking to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Let's turn to a very different but equally critical issue. President Obama is still mulling over what he wants to do in Afghanistan. He's taking in facts and opinions. What do you want the president to do?

Rep. PELOSI: I want to give the president room to make the decision that he needs to make. But I have asked my members that whatever their points of view on the subject are that we give the president room to make the decision. After he announces his decision, then we can react to it. I, myself, believe that there's not strong support on the Democratic side in the Congress for any big ramp up of troops going into Afghanistan, and I think that's a reflection of their constituents.

MONTAGNE: In early 2007, you and I sat down in your office just after you'd return from Iraq and Afghanistan. And at the time, you said the real fight was in Afghanistan, and to quote you, you said: "We need more troops." Given that things have gotten so much worse in the time since you took that position, what would be the reluctance to send in more troops?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, let's see what the president says. You know, since we spoke, we have added troops in Afghanistan. And�

MONTAGNE: Although those troops - the troops that have been added, have been added mostly by this president, and those troops have just gotten there the last couple, three months.

Rep. PELOSI: That's right. But here's the thing. We have a situation in Afghanistan. What we - you and I may have seen on earlier trips about the north being pretty secure and some of the foreign - international troops that were serving there were not really in the heat of battle, that's changed now. Military action is more pervasive than it was 2007, when we sat down. That says one of two things: Either we need many more troops so that we - this doesn't continue to happen, which I don't think there's any support for. Or we need to reevaluate what our approach has been for the past eight years. But we see also, over the course of that time, the president of Afghanistan has proven to be an unworthy partner. We cannot fund a mission where we don't have a reliable partner and where whatever civilian investments we want to make - which are so necessary - will be diverted for a corrupt purpose.

MONTAGNE: Does that, then, lead to the natural conclusion that if the U.S. cannot fund an effort in Afghanistan that needs a reliable partner, that then the U.S. ought to begin to leave? As you�

Rep. PELOSI: Well, it says that the partnership become reliable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Is it better, then, to begin to leave as you and others thought the U.S. should have done in Iraq before the surge?

Rep. PELOSI: I believe that we need to make sure that we do have a reliable partner and then make a judgment, if that is possible. How can we ask the American people to pay a big price in lives and limbs, and also in dollars, if we don't have a connection to a reliable partner? So, you know, the whole thing is let's not just talk about troops. Let's talk about what is the strategy and what are the resources that are needed in that regard?

MONTAGNE: Has the administration done a poor job of communicating this, even while the president is contemplating what to do?

Rep. PELOSI: I believe that the information that the president's receiving is not information that he can readily be sharing with the American people. He has met with the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, leadership in the Congress, as well as on the committees of jurisdiction. So, no, I think the president has done a good job. Now the president is going to make a pronouncement about the conclusions that he has come to, and I've asked our members to give him room to make that decision. And they will, again, not be shy about sharing their views on what he recommends.

MONTAGNE: Madam Speaker, thank you very much.

Rep. PELOSI: You're welcome. And we're very excited about the prospect of having our health insurance bill, perhaps as a Christmas present for the American people, but certainly as a New Year's resolution.

MONTAGNE: Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House. She joined us from the Speaker's Office.

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