Federal News Service
HEADLINE: WEEKLY MEDIA AVAILABILITY WITH HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA)
LOCATION: H-206, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
REP. PELOSI: Good morning. As you know, this morning, President Bush came up to Capitol Hill to twist Republican arms on the budget. Even the House and Senate Republicans cannot agree on this reckless budget. The House Republican conference report that came to the floor last night was like one hand clapping. I haven't seen a final conference report ever that was not agreed to by the other body. That's what a conference report is.
The House Republicans' so-called budget makes a mockery of the pay-as-you-go rules and puts us on a path to $5.6 billion (sic) deficit -- 5.6 deficit. It is-also rages with hypocrisy by hiding the vote to raise the debt limit. They railed and ranted and railed when President Clinton was president, that if you are not open about the debt limit. They even threatened to impeach Bob Rubin when it was time to lift the debt limit, which was the responsible thing to do. And now, due to their reckless policies, they are hiding the lift in the debt limit in the bill. The American people deserve much better.
Again, as you know, the theme of the week for us is, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" The answer for middle-class Americans, clearly, is no. Seniors are not better off. Drug prices are up 44 percent in the last four years. All they have to look to is a hoax of a prescription drug bill, which is chaotic by the description of most seniors who've tried to participate in that program.
Consumers are not better off. Average prices of gasoline-unleaded gasoline today is $2.01. This is 27 percent more than one year ago, a gallon of unleaded gas was $1.58.
Workers are not better off. Over 2 million jobs have been lost since President Bush took office, and wages fail to keep up with inflation.
With all this increase in the price of gasoline over the past month, and all this boasting of economic growth, the average wage went up one nickel since March.
Clearly, most Americans are not better off than they were four years ago for a list of reasons that goes well beyond this. But I just wanted to touch on those this morning.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q Madame Leader, what is your evaluation of the president's competence as a leader-his judgment, his experience and his knowledge or his depth that he has brought to the office? (Laughter.) What? (Inaudible.)
REP. PELOSI: (Laughs.) You speak for many here today. The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader. These policies are not working.
But speaking specifically to Iraq, we had a situation where, without adequate evidence, we put our young people in harm's way. Next, not heeding the advice of his own State Department, the president preferred to accept a rosy scenario instead of the reality that would face our troops. Rocket-propelled grenades, not rose petals, greeted them. And instead-you've heard me say this before-of Iraq being a country that could readily pay for its own reconstruction, and soon, which were the words of the administration, we're up to over $200 trillion (sic) in cost to the American people. We're going to approach a quarter of a trillion dollars in cost to the American people.
Bad enough that the post-fall-of-Baghdad transition did not heed the advice of the State Department, we're now going into the phase of transition to so-called sovereignty for the Iraqis.
Hundreds of Americans have died since the president said major combat had ended, "mission accomplished." Whether you agree or disagree about going into Iraq, it is clear that if we had a leader with better judgment, which could only be based on knowledge and experience, his judgment has to spring from some place, instead it came from the advice of colleagues of his without the judgment to discern what was in our national interest, what we could readily accomplish with the minimum loss of life and the minimum cost to the taxpayers, and with the maximum cooperation of allies throughout the world.
I think the time has come to speak very frankly about the lack of leadership in the White House, the lack of judgment. People say that the president has great resolve, and they admire that. But resolve must be accompanied by judgment and with a plan to succeed. In the case of Iraq, it was not.
Q I'm sorry, to follow up. Obviously we are all aware of the fact that you were quoted as calling him an incompetent leader. Do you stand by this comment? Is the president competent?
REP. PELOSI: I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment, and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.
Let my say one thing about that. While some may question the quality of the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, there was never any doubt about the intelligence that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there would be a very difficult situation to face. The president's father knew it, the secretary of Defense at the time, Dick Cheney, knew it, and this president should have known it.
So when you take an action, when you decide to go to war, you have to know what the consequences of your actions are and how you can accomplish the mission in a way that brings security to the country, safety to our troops, and a soon end to the conflict.
So this just-there was plenty of intelligence to say that there would be chaos in Iraq following the fall of Baghdad. That's the intelligence side. On the diplomatic side, the State Department was eerily prescient when it described the situation that would follow the fall of Saddam Hussein. None of that was heeded by the president. I think that speaks to incompetence.
Q Do you hold the president responsible for the deaths of those troops that you mentioned since declaring mission accomplished?
REP. PELOSI: Any one of us who decides to put our young people in harm's way carries a responsibility for the consequences.
And I believe that the president's policy of ignoring his own State Department about what would happen after the fall of Baghdad and ignoring the intelligence as to the chaotic situation that would exist after the fall of Saddam Hussein carries with it a responsibility for all of the cost of the war. And that is not only the president; that is all of us, any time we vote to send our young men and women into harm's way.
Any other questions?
Q Are you at all concerned that your harsh comments of the president undermine his ability to lead this war and undermine the troops in the field?
REP. PELOSI: Let me say this: the president has been the commander in chief since he took office and he has been the commander in chief of a conflict, a serious conflict for a good part of that time. His activities, his decisions, the results of his actions are what undermines his leadership, not my statements. My statements are just a statement of fact.
So as far as the troops in the field are concerned, part of my concern about the president's leadership spring from my concern about the troops. This is the same president who sent them into battle without Kevlar lining in their flak jackets; who sent them into battle without armor for their Hummers-for their vehicles; the same president who sent them into war ill-equipped with the jammers to stop the explosive devices from killing so many of our troops. This is the same president who did not, even after the war was supposedly ended, major combat was ended, did not put a request for that equipment into the $87 billion request. And, indeed, the troops would not have had that equipment had it not been for Mr. Murtha's insistence that it be in there. And even at that, the troops who are there still do not have the proper equipment.
And so the administration said the Kevlar only goes into the flak jackets of those who are on the front line. Well, pretty soon they learned that everybody in a guerrilla war is on the front line. But they knew they didn't have the Kevlar lining. And they had not intended to give them the Kevlar lining. Parents were sending the Kevlar lining from home.
So the concern that I have and why I'm speaking out so forcefully now is because of the troops, because they have been shortchanged in terms of the physical equipment that they needed and the intelligence they needed for force protection for them to be protected as they carried out their mission and for them to know about the enemy. They're only recently at DoD issuing-looking into who is the adversary.
You be the judge. We have our troops on the ground in harm's way who went in without the proper equipment or intelligence to protect them. You see the chaos of what's going on. What, did they raid Chalabi's house last night or something? This was our guy that we only recently stopped paying off.
So the emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back. Understand that when our kids are in harm's way, we are united-it is one team, one fight. But they cannot say that anybody who criticizes their failures to be not supportive of our troops. It is the very support of the troops that provokes the candor that we must have about what's happening with this war, and the cost in lives, first and foremost, the cost in dollars to the taxpayer, and the cost in reputation to our country.
Q Do you believe the war at this point then is unwinnable? And would you recommend that the United States withdraw from Iraq?
REP. PELOSI: I've never recommended that we withdraw from Iraq. I respect the opinion that Mr. Murtha expressed here about under the present plan-and what he said was, under the present plan, the war is unwinnable. It's not unwinnable with a better plan. And it certainly could have been won sooner with a better plan. I think the war will be won with a new commander in chief, with one who can command the respect of our allies so that we can have more allied troops' boots on the ground, more equipment from those countries engaged in the battle, because we are in the process of having equipment fatigue in Iraq.
This has taken a tremendous toll in human lives and in many other respects, including the reputation of our country. And as I said, it doesn't matter whether you are for or against going into Iraq, there was a better way to go about this-not by ignoring the intelligence, not by ignoring your own State Department, and not by saying that some kids should have protective equipment and some should not.
Q How do you feel about the House failure to have public hearings about the Abu Ghraib scandal and about Duncan's Hunter's criticism of Senator Warner for holding the series of public hearings?
REP. PELOSI: What you say speaks to a great problem that we have in this House. We did not have appropriate hearings before we went into Iraq. We did not have appropriate hearings here as we went along. Congress has-the House of Representatives, I'll just speak to that-has been delinquent in its duties in exercising its oversight. We should have had more hearings so the American-so we could level with the American people as to the risks that were involved, the costs that were involved, and frankly, what our goals were, so we knew when we achieved them.
So we didn't have them from the start, which I think was wrong, because they might have served to unify the country around a position that was-that had more consensus.
Secondly, we didn't have oversight in the course of the budget process for the tens of billions of dollars, over and over again, that the administration requested. So for over one year, we had no accountability for the policy and no accounting, really, for the funds. So what we will have today on the floor in the Department of Defense authorization bill is a motion to recommit that calls for hearings in the House-establishment of a Select Committee to investigate the situation in the prisons.
It's very hard. You know, people say, "What about this? What would you do about that?" We don't have a stipulation of fact as to what the situation is on the ground. That's what hearings do. That's why the Republicans don't want to have them, because they don't want the facts to be known. But it's time for the truth to be told to the American people, and we as their representatives have a responsibility to seek that truth and to make decisions based on it as to where we go from here.
I don't think getting out of Iraq right now is an option. Our goal has to be to make the world safer, to make people freer. And I don't think that is accomplished by cutting and running from the mess that has been created by George Bush. And, by the way, you saw his statement about his father last week that there will be freedom in Iraq if we don't cut and run as they did in 1991. He said that of his own father. He probably is going to cut and run soon, but -- (laughs) -- nonetheless, we have to be responsible. As Secretary Powell said, "You break it, you own it." And that's the situation that I think we're in now.
Q What was your reaction to General Ricardo Sanchez's revelation that there have been 75 investigations that have started since-on prisoner abuse since 2002 in Afghanistan and Iraq? He revealed this yesterday at the hearing.
REP. PELOSI: Right. Well, the general's statement speaks to the fact that the situation in the prisons was known before these photos were released. In fact, I think the investigation in the situation in the prisons, that is necessary, will reveal that the situation in the prisons was known at the highest level, and well it should have been. This is very important.
Again, I'm a creature of the intelligence community, as you know. You don't go into battle without having a constant appraisal of what your intelligence is and what the value of that intelligence is for force protection and for other reasons-in the case of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, all of the other questions that arose from our going into Iraq.
So it would be the responsibility of those at the highest level, and by that, I include the secretary of Defense, to know the status of the intelligence gathering, and that would include the methods of interrogation. So I think an investigation will lead to the highest levels. But this isn't-again, it's about making the situation right. So, I wasn't-I mean, it was a new figure to me. But I think more than being revealing to me, it spoke to the fact that this could not possibly have been unknown at the highest levels of the Department of Defense.
Q Are you saying that Rumsfeld, etc., knew or ordered these interrogation methods in the prison?
REP. PELOSI: No. I'm just saying that the secretary of Defense would have a responsibility to know what the level of intelligence and the caliber of intelligence his troops were operating on the basis of and that it would be no surprise to me that such a discussion would be part of their weekly planning sessions at the Department of Defense on the subject of Iraq.
Any other questions? No questions.
Q Thank you.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you all.