Pelosi on the Democratic Race, China and Tibet Superdelegates shouldn't decide the Democratic presidential nomination if it means overturning "the votes of the people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says. Separately, she says a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics should be considered in protest of China's crackdown on Tibet.

Pelosi on the Democratic Race, China and Tibet

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has a full summer ahead. Her party's presidential contenders - Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - are prepared to fight over the nomination all the way to the Democratic convention in late August. Also in August this summer, Olympics open in China - not normally a concern for an American speaker of the House. This year, however, the trouble in Tibet and talk of a boycott have brought politics to the Olympics. Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to the seat of the Tibetan government in exile in India two weeks ago. She joined us from the speaker's office at the Capitol. Welcome to the program.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Thank you, Renee. My pleasure to be with you.

MONTAGNE: What did the Dalai Lama say to you that struck you the most?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, personally, what he said to me is, I hope we can rid you of some of your negative attitudes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. PELOSI: But apart from that, he - in terms of the serious matter at hand, his holiness was, as always, advocating non-violence, deeply concerned about the violence that was happening with the oppression in Tibet, that there be an international monitoring of the events that occurred there and how they happened. He was not supporting a boycott of the Olympics, and - as is typical of him - he was still advocating in a peaceful way for negotiations between the Chinese government and his holiness, the Dalai Lama.

MONTAGNE: What precisely should the U.S. role be, in your opinion, in trying to resolve the conflict between Tibet and China?

Rep. PELOSI: I think what our policy has to be is that there be negotiations between the government of China and the Dalai Lama about the autonomy of Tibet. The Chinese government keeps insisting that his holiness is advocating for independence. I've heard him in person for over 20 years advocate for autonomy, not independence. The issues go beyond Tibet. Now we have the issue of Darfur, where if the Chinese government would use its good offices with the government of Sudan, we could have a much improved situation. So our position as a country has to be that the Chinese know that the relationship between the U.S. and China is dependent on their respect for human rights and human values.

MONTAGNE: You're talking about engagement with China.

Rep. PELOSI: That's right. We've always - advocate engagement.

MONTAGNE: But would you support a boycott of the opening ceremony, as has been suggested by France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy?

Rep. PELOSI: I certainly don't support a boycott of the athletic events themselves. The athletes have worked so hard, and it's important to go forward with them, I believe. But in terms of boycotting the opening ceremonies, I had been reluctant to go down that path as well. But I salute the courage of Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and the suggestion by President Sarkozy of France that this might be a possibility. And therefore, they have put it on the table, where I think it should be - should be something that is considered.

MONTAGNE: You know, as you are more aware of than most people, besides the Olympics, the other big event in August is the Democratic convention. You've said repeatedly that it would be harmful for the superdelegates to overturn the results of primaries and caucuses. You stand by that.

Rep. PELOSI: Yes. What I said is - I said it would be harmful to the Democratic Party and our prospects in November if the perception is that the superdelegates overturned the votes of the people. And I believe that. And I said it when Senator Clinton was ahead, and now the perception is that Senator Obama's ahead. Again, we have more elections to come. These two candidates and others who were in the race before attracted record numbers of new people to the political process, and I don't think that the success in November is well-served by saying to those people, you worked hard, you produced a result, but the powers that be in Washington, D.C., have a different view.

MONTAGNE: Some major party donors and supporters of Hillary Clinton appear to be sufficiently concerned that your position does favor Barack Obama - so much so that you got a letter a few days ago reminding you that they are big donors to the party, and would you please rethink tieing superdelegates to who's ahead in the delegate count. Do you plan to rethink that?

Rep. PELOSI: I said this when Senator Clinton was ahead, too. I don't remember seeing a letter from them at that time. But let me just be as clear as I can be. That letter is unimportant.

MONTAGNE: There are those who would say that the attention on the Democrats at this point in time is great for the party, having two candidates still fighting it out. Others says it is beginning to turn unhealthy, and that the attacks will be hurtful to the party, especially if this were to go to the convention itself. What specific thing can be done if both these candidates aim to go to the convention?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, let me say first of all that both of these candidates should be aiming to go to the convention. I don't think anybody should be discouraging anyone from continuing his or her quest. I just don't want to see John McCain have the field to himself unchallenged sufficiently by the Democrats because we're engaged in our own battle. It doesn't mean that the debate that is going on between the two candidates isn't healthy, it isn't constructive, and it isn't full of new ideas. It is. But, again, I think the sooner we get to a one-on-one on the presidential race, the more successful we'll be in November. And I say that very forcefully because I think it's very urgent that the Democrats prevail. We need a new direction.

MONTAGNE: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us.

Rep. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Renee.

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