HOST: GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
GUESTS: REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA); SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. With Congress heading for this year's homestretch, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi --
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (From videotape.) Thank you all very much. Good morning.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- is plowing through a pile of unfinished business and mounting a PR campaign to reverse Congress' dismal approval ratings.
REP. PELOSI: (From videotape.) Wonderful to see you. Welcome.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When we spoke at the Capitol the late Friday, Pelosi conceded the Congress did not deserve high marks on Iraq and hinted about a new way to break the stalemate on children's health insurance. But we began with the late-breaking controversy over a House resolution on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It has enraged Turkey, and the Bush team pressed hard this week to stop Congress from voting on it.
SEC. OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (From videotape.) The passage of this resolution would be very destabilizing to our efforts in the Middle East.
SEC. OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) Access to air fields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would be very much put at risk.
PRES. GEORGE BUSH: (From videotape.) This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there anything the president can say to you to block this vote?
REP. PELOSI: I've never heard from the president on this subject as a matter of fact.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No?
REP. PELOSI: Never. We've never had a conversation about it. I've heard from the secretary of state and the others in the administration, but I've never heard from the president. Maybe some members have, but I as speaker have not. But this resolution is one that is consistent with what our government has always said about what has happened at that time. Our diplomats in 1915, thereabouts, whether it was the ambassador, the consuls general in the area said it was a planned elimination of a race -- the Armenians. When Stalin wanted to go into Poland and people cautioned him, he said, does anybody remember the annihilation of the Armenians? Ronald Reagan in 1981 when he established the commission to build a Holocaust museum said we must never forget the Armenian Genocide. So this is a restatement, and it's a timely fashion because many of the -- at the time -- the time is important because many of these survivors are very old -- (inaudible).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, many say that the timing is exactly wrong. Secretary Gates says this could harm our efforts to resupply our military, could even put our military at risk. And your own Chairman of the Arms Services Committee, Ike Skelton, said it could complicate efforts to redeploy forces out of Iraq.
REP. PELOSI: There's never been a good time. Certainly, our first -- force protection of our troops is our first top priority when we are engaged in conflict, so that is an issue of great importance to all of us here. When I came to Congress 20 years ago, it wasn't the right time because of the Soviet Union. Then that fell and then it wasn't the right time because of the Gulf War I. And then it wasn't the right time because of over-flights of Iraq. And now it's not the right time because of Gulf War II. And, again, the survivors of the Armenian Genocide are not going to be with us. I think it's a House resolution. It is nonbinding. It's a statement made by 23 other countries. We would be the 24th country to make this statement. Genocide still exists and we saw it in Rwanda, we see now in Darfur.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So there's no question -- you're bringing this to a vote this year.
REP. PELOSI: I said, if it passed the committee that we would bring it to the floor.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But if the president or Secretary Gates or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs call you in and says, we are just certain that this is going to put our military at risk, is it still worth going forward with the resolution?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I don't know what -- the president hasn't called me on it, so that's a hypothetical. He hasn't called me on it. I did get a call from the secretary of defense and then he said never -- that he pulled the request for the call, so I don't know if he will call again. But I tell you this -- some of the things that are harmful to our troops relate to values -- Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture -- all of those issues about who we are as a country and I think that our troops are well served when we declare who we are as a country and increase the respect that people have for us as a nation.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Several times this year in the House you've passed resolutions, bills to set a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. Are you done with that for this year, though?
REP. PELOSI: We don't know. The point is is that every week we have more than one resolution holding the administration accountable for the conduct of the war in Iraq. This week, this past week and next week we'll be dealing with profiteering, about corruption in contracting and the rest. The cost of the war is now astronomical. It would be a $1 trillion war if it stopped today.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But there are signs now that the surge is starting to produce some results on the ground. General Petraeus said just yesterday that violence is at an 18-month low. Our own reporters are seeing the similar things in Iraq.
REP. PELOSI: The purpose of the surge was to create a secure environment in which the political change to end the sectarian violence could succeed. So God bless our troops. Anytime that they are engaged in military action, we pray for their success. They have succeeded in everything they have been asked to do, but even with the secure environment, if you grant that, the government of Iraq has not used the opportunity to make the political change necessary to bring this war to an end. Why should our troops be risking their lives in a civil war of that even when we intervene and create the room for them to make change they refuse to do?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are complicating the lives of our troops in Iraq right now. According to the military, they are supplying militants, they are arming those who are attacking American forces.
Are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group?
REP. PELOSI: Whatever Iran's impact is on our troops in Iraq should be dealt with in Iraq. I'll just go to say that.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?
REP. PELOSI: Well, it means that deal with them militarily in the country that you're engaged in. There's never been a declaration by a Congress before in our history, before the Senate act that declared a piece of a country's army to be a terrorist organization, so I don't know. But if they're engaged in those activities, deal with them militarily.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you going to bring that resolution up, the Carl/Lieberman resolution in the House?
REP. PELOSI: No.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I'm not going to bring it up. It could be brought up, but I'm not bringing it up. It's a sense of the Congress, as I say. This has never -- what is the point? This has never happened before that a Congress should determine that one piece of somebody's military is that. And if it is a problem to us, to our troops, a threat to our troops in Iraq and they are in Iraq, we should deal with them in Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama says it's a reckless resolution, and his point is that it could be used to justify military action.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): (From tape.) We've learned with the authorization of the Iraq war -- when you give this president a blank check, you can't be surprised when he decides to cash it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that your fear?
REP. PELOSI: Well, not the passing of the resolution per se, because it's a nonbinding in one House resolution. Creating an atmosphere of suspicion against Iran, perhaps it could contribute to that, but of itself, it has no authority.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But for you, you believe that if the president wanted to take military action in Iran, he must come to the Congress.
REP. PELOSI: That's what I believe.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And he hasn't yet.
REP. PELOSI: No, and we don't believe that any authorities that the president has would give him the ability to go in without an act of Congress. Let me just say, though, that any president, if we are attacked, if our country is attacked, has even under the War Powers Act very strong powers to go after that country. But short of that, he must come to the Congress.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but a big vote is scheduled this week to override the president's veto on the Children's Health Insurance Program. Your counterparts in the Republican side here in the House guarantee -- guarantee -- that you're not going to override his veto.
REP. PELOSI: Isn't that sad for America's children? That doesn't mean we aren't working hard. Throughout the country, governors, mayors, people who deal with children on a regular basis, every organization from AARP, AMA to YMCA and everything alphabetically in between -- Catholic Hospitals Association -- they are appealing to members of Congress to support our compromise bipartisan legislation. I'm so proud of Senator Hatch and Senator Grassley for their courageous leadership and, of course, our leaders as well on these committees who have brought this compromise together. I wish the president had signed the bill. We'll try very hard t override it. But one thing's for sure -- we won't rest until those 10 million children have healthcare.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He says once you go through this override vote and the administration says the same thing, he wants to sit down with you and he's willing to talk.
REP. PELOSI: He's never made that call. I haven't heard from him on that score.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You guys got to get on the phone.
REP. PELOSI: We do. We talk about other things, but that hasn't been among them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You haven't talked about children's health insurance?
REP. PELOSI: We talked about children's health insurance when I called him to ask him not to veto it, and I told him at that time that I was praying for him, and he said, well, your prayers aren't being answered. And I said, well, I haven't finished praying, but I'm praying for the children and so I'm hoping that at the end of the day we will have this bipartisan compromise bill. Think of it this way -- 10 million children -- for 40 days in Iraq -- for 40 days in Iraq we can insure 10 million children for one year in America. At the time as the president is asking for $200 billion more in a supplemental for Iraq, he is saying we can't afford the money to take care of America's children.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you willing to consider a lower number?
REP. PELOSI: No lower number than 10 million children. Who wants to decide that? The president says he is the decider. But Mr. President, you want to decide which child gets healthcare or not? Why don't we just do the right thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But that means you have to pass the legislation, doesn't it?
REP. PELOSI: We have a plan. We have a plan. We'll take one step at a time, and again, we maintain our bipartisanship and our fiscal -- (unintelligible). Did I say all of this is paid for? No new deficit spending. Pay as you go.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Republicans say, though, and Senator McConnell on the Republican side has said this, that by refusing to sit down, by not sitting down, by instead continuing to pursue a vote that the president's already vetoed that you're playing politics with the children.
REP. PELOSI: Of course, I reject that. Let me say this. The president has never talked about a compromise. A compromise to the president means -- and all due respect to him and I have great, shall we say, respect for the president -- compromise to him means do it my way and I prefer to go the congressional way -- bipartisan, responsible, paid for. And we'll talk to the president at the right time when he makes an overture to do so, but not an overture that says, this is the only thing I'm going to sign.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Last year, you criticized the Republican Congress as a do-nothing Congress, and one of the points you said was they hadn't passed any of their appropriations bills by the fall. Democrats haven't passed any either.
REP. PELOSI: In the House we've passed every one of our bills.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not a law yet though.
REP. PELOSI: Well, they will be, and we're on schedule, but what we have done is kept our promises that we made in the campaign to keep America safer. We passed the 9/11 Commission recommendations. We passed legislation to give the biggest increase in veteran spending in the 77-year history of the Veterans' Administration, to grow our economy -- and the 9/11 has been signed by the president -- to grow our economy, we passed our innovation agenda to keep America number one, our Competes Act, and it has been signed by the president. We passed the minimum wage to have more people participate in that economic success.
REP. PELOSI: (From videotape.) Is today a good news day for America's workers?
REP. PELOSI: And it has been signed by the president.
To make our families stronger, we passed the biggest package for helping kids go to college since the 1944 GI Bill of Rights and it was signed by the president. And then coincidentally now with the great honor bestowed Al Gore to preserve our planet, we passed energy security legislation to reverse global warming, which we hope the president will sign. We did this all in a fiscally sound way -- no new deficit spending, pay as you go, living up to the highest ethical standards by passing our Ethics Reform Bill signed by the president.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time. The congressional approval rating has taken a hit this year. A lot of that, as you know, is because of disaffection in the Democratic base -- anti-war activists. Cindy Sheehan is running against you.
CINDY SHEEHAN: (From videotape.) And not only am I going to run against her, but I will beat her in California. (Cheering.)
REP. PELOSI: I respect the dissatisfaction with the war. I myself would not give Congress high marks on ending the war. We don't have the pen to sign or not to veto, but we are doing all we can to change the debate. But I do think that many of the things that we've done, again, that I mentioned and I won't go over again about the safety and security of our country and strengthening our families and protecting our environment are very important to our base and to the country, and for that reason we are double digit in every issue you can -- practically every issue you can name, would you vote for Democrat or Republican in relationship to health, education and the economy, the environment, et cetera. So I'm not sad about our Democratic numbers. They're excellent. Turning the opinion of Congress around is a big task and we're working on it. And you're right. Much of the dissatisfaction is from the Democratic (base ?).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How strange is that for you, though? Your entire career you get attacked as a San Francisco liberal and now your most vociferous opponents are on your own side.
REP. PELOSI: Well, I'm one of the most vociferous opponents of the war and so that is even more ironic, but I can't obviously advocate myself. By their nature, they are dissatisfied, persistent, and just keep fighting, and I respect that. It's an important part of our democracy and I wish this war would end as well and we will continue to pass legislation to make that point. We happen to be blocked by a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate, but the public doesn't care about that. They just want us to end the war.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Barney Frank says this is a moment of truth for liberals. Is he right?
REP. PELOSI: It's a dynamic. I don't know if it's a moment, but it is a dynamic and it is -- any issue you can name, we wanted more for S-CHIP, that's for sure, we want to end the way faster -- almost every category you can name. We would have rather had a higher minimum wage and -- well, in almost every category you want to do more and the legislative process is you do what you can pass, but you don't settle for anything that isn't bold enough and so I'm very proud of our caucus. The consensus we have, the bold agenda to take us in a new direction. And, again, sometimes our base is not happy with that, but I think in the long run, we will prevail in next year's election with even a stronger majority and a Democrat in the White House and I look forward to that.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Madame Speaker, thank you very much.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you. My pleasure, George.
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