January 9, 2007
Emily Lenzner, NPR



Washington, DC; January 9, 2006 – New Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sat down with NPR’s Robert Siegel today to discuss the Democrats’ agenda as they embark on the first 100 hours and beyond and their determination to oppose President Bush’s expected plan to surge troop levels in Iraq.

In the interview, airing today on NPR News All Things Considered, Speaker Pelosi calls the President’s Iraq policy “a pretty desperate cause” and says that he “has never defined victory” and that “we don’t even know why we went there” except, as she believes, to “control 75 percent of the oil production there.”

A rushed transcript of the interview is below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News All Things Considered. Audio of the interview is available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6768701


ROBERT SIEGEL: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, joins us from her office on Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the program.


MR. SIEGEL: Speaking shortly before the 100 hours are about to begin today, so thanks for finding time for us.

REP. PELOSI: My pleasure.

MR. SIEGEL: Can you begin by explaining for us what the posture of Democrats in Congress is going to be toward the president over Iraq, and what do you mean the president can’t expect any more blank checks about Iraq?

REP. PELOSI: I believe that the war in Iraq is the biggest ethical challenge facing America. Without going into what the public already knows about how we went in and how our troops were not equipped, and without a plan, we have a situation where the same people who were responsible for that poor judgment are asking us to trust their judgment.

So what we’re saying to the president is make no mistake; Democrats support our troops, and we will fund their needs for those who are in Iraq now. If you wish to make a case for an escalation for the war, note first that Democrats oppose the escalation; secondly that we will listen to your argument for its justification, but you must be prepared to justify.

This will be new to the president because the Republicans never asked any questions before. They just gave him a blank check.

MR. SIEGEL: It’s implicit in that demand for justification that if Democrats are not satisfied with the justification that they hear for a surge that the president in some way will not get approval from the Congress for what he’s doing. Is that a possible outcome?

REP. PELOSI: Remember that the Congress is not the only audience here; the American people are, and they have spoken out very closely for a need for a new direction in Iraq. They do not want a war without end, and that is what the president is proposing.

MR. SIEGEL: You believe that his proposal is open ended – an open-ended commitment in Iraq.

REP. PELOSI: It has been – what he is proposing has been proposed before by him, and it has not worked.

MR. SIEGEL: I’m going to read to you what Karl Rove told Time Magazine right after the November election when asked about the issue of Iraq in the election. He said Iraq mattered, but it was more frustration than it was an explicit call for withdrawal. If this was a get-out-now call for withdrawal, then Lamont would not have been beaten by Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate race. Iraq does play a role, but not the critical, central role in the election.

What do you think about that?

REP. PELOSI: I repeat: Iraq is the biggest issue facing our country; the biggest ethical issue facing our country, the biggest economic issue – what it does to our budget. Look, we have lost our children, our precious treasure – over 3,000 – in Iraq. The cost in lives, the cost in dollars – hundreds of billions of dollars, probably a trillion dollars by now – cost of our reputation in the world, cost in the readiness of our troops.

If Mr. Rove wants to view it politically, that’s what he does.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, his view was that, as an issue, the message of the electorate – the way he is reading it is, yes, the people want a new policy, but they don’t want to start right now getting out of Iraq. You read it differently.

REP. PELOSI: The American people want a change of course in Iraq. They have – when asked the other day in one of the national polls what is the most important issue you want the Congress to address, 47 percent said Iraq. Second was the economy at 7 percent.

So whatever – how we go forward with this, we’d like to go forward in a way that is positive, to work together with the president to change the mission there, to expand – to have military – not only military, but political and diplomatic initiatives at work there, but it is not about what Karl Rove thinks. It’s about what the president does and how the American people have rejected it.

MR. SIEGEL: But it does sound as though an increase in troops in Iraq is irreconcilable with the reading that the American people want to change course and get out. I mean, it doesn’t seem we can easily split the difference over that.

REP. PELOSI: You cannot. Even the generals who support the escalation – you know, some generals have been very clear: General Casey testified in December before the Senate that, in his consultation with General – excuse me – General Abizaid testified, with his consultation with General Casey and General Dempsey, they both said that increasing the number of troops there will not solve the problem. So the generals on the ground have said that.

But even some generals not on the ground who say they support the escalation have said this could work; it will take a few years. The American people have not signed up for that open-ended war.

MR. SIEGEL: So that’s not on the table as far as you are concerned – the plan for two years (out ?).

REP. PELOSI: It is – it is the – people have to understand the power of the president. He is the commander-in-chief, and his poor judgment has gotten us where we are today in a war longer than World War II – longer than World War II – and now he’s asking us to trust his judgment again.

MR. SIEGEL: Just a last point on Iraq – why not do what some anti-war legislators say, which is cut off funding, do what the Congress did deep in the ’70s with Vietnam; in that case, if it’s – if the whole policy is broken?

REP. PELOSI: Well, we – Democrats have been very clear. We are not willing to leave our troops high and dry in Iraq. Just because the president’s judgment is poor doesn’t mean that we are going to abandon the troops.

So what we have proposed – Senator Reid and I sent a letter to the president on Friday in which we called for a change in mission from combat to training. We’ve been calling for that for a long time; a mission that includes certainly the force protection of our troops who are there now fighting against terrorism, and also just the support that that need.

We also said that in addition to military initiatives we have to have diplomatic and political initiatives. The administration doesn’t seem to understand that, but you cannot send the military in, however excellently they perform – and they have – without other initiatives.

So this is what Senator Reid and I, speaking for the Democrats in the House and Senate, have sent to the president. We would hope that in his consultation with those who are advising him that he would take into consideration those terms under which we would like to work with him.

MR. SIEGEL: And if you don’t hear those terms expressed on Wednesday night in his address?

REP. PELOSI: Well, ever hopeful. I want to give the president a chance to make his case to the American people for what I think is a pretty desperate cause, and I would hope that the president would see the light. And again, I’ve always said he’s been digging a hole; he’s so far from the light he hasn’t seen it.

MR. SIEGEL: But the desperate cause would be achieving victory in Iraq as the president would see it.

REP. PELOSI: The president has never defined victory. We don’t even know why we went there. I understand one of the terms that the president – you know, one of the terms that they have that they want the Iraqis to live up to is that the U.S. oil companies will have control of 75 percent of the oil production there.

Now I don’t think that the American people sent our troops there to meet that standard, so we want to see what the president actually has to say and subject those criteria to very harsh scrutiny – the criteria he is establishing for the Iraqi government – and establish our own standards on what we expect.

We want to make the American people safer, the region more stable, and our military more strengthened. Right now, what he is – the president is doing is not doing that. In fact, what he is doing is a threat to our military readiness.

MR. SIEGEL: The desperate cause is a pretty – regards things as pretty bleak over there when you’ve described it as a desperate cause. I mean, it sounds not worth pursuing.

REP. PELOSI: What I’m saying is is that the plan that the president has pursued has not worked. Let me be clear: the president’s policy in Iraq is a failure. We’re asking the president for a plan to change course, to take us in a new direction.

MR. SIEGEL: Another point – when you start your hundred hours of –

REP. PELOSI: Right, which is soon.

MR. SIEGEL: Which is very – we’re speaking shortly after midday, and you’re about to go in there and start – well, doing – among other things, you’re going to end subsidies for big oil. What does that mean exactly?

REP. PELOSI: What it means is that we’re going to put forth legislation, we’re going to do what we promised: six for ’06.

MR. SIEGEL: You’re holding up a piece of – that summarizes everything that you’re doing on one piece of paper.

REP. PELOSI: Our card – this is a card that -- we promised the American people in the campaign that we would drain the swamp, that we would make this the most honest and open Congress in history, that we would be – conduct our work with civility and bipartisanship, and that we would be fiscally sound – no new deficit spending. That was – those were the rules of how we would proceed.

Today we begin our first 100 hours, our policy package. We will begin by making America safer by passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Among the other 100 hour – first-100-hour initiatives is the initiative you mentioned. We will repeal the subsidies to big oil and use the money for a fund for research for alternative energy resources.

MR. SIEGEL: How big are the subsidies for big oil? When you look at what you are about to repeal, how much money is liberated by that?

REP. PELOSI: We’re talking about $15 billion. We’re talking about a significant amount of money. Mind you, this money is there as incentives for oil to – oil companies to drill when they are making record, historic profits. They don’t need those incentives; we do need alternative energy resources. And by the way, this is a bipartisan initiative. It has passed the House two times already. It came out of the Resources Committee under the Republican leadership seeking bipartisanship and choosing those issues where we have a great prospect for success that will take us to energy independence.

MR. SIEGEL: What can you actually get done in this moment of divided government -- with Democratic majorities on the hill, Republicans in the White House and several members of the Senate lining up for presidential runs in 2008? What can you do in a bipartisan fashion?

REP PELOSI: We could do almost anything that the American people want us to do. So their attention to this is very important. Inside maneuvering: that’s what we do here. Outside mobilization: the involvement of the public makes all the difference in the world. And so what we're advancing are those issues that make America safer, make our economy fairer, make college more affordable, healthcare more accessible, take us to energy independence, and lead us to dignified retirement. All issues that are important in the lives of American people. So to the extent that they pay attention, to that extent we will hopefully get a presidential signature. But we will set a different agenda for America. We will have a bipartisan debate -- I didn't get elected to be speaker of the Democrats. I was elected to be speaker of the House, and I want us to have big, strong bipartisan votes on everything that we're putting forth, especially in the first 100 hours. MR SIEGEL: Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us.

REP. PELOSI: Thank you Robert. It was my pleasure.