Remarks After Meeting with House Speaker John Boehner

By:  Hillary Clinton
Date: Feb. 14, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that I just came out of a very productive meeting and lunch with the Speaker. I greatly appreciated his gracious hospitality and the opportunity we had to cover so many issues on the minds of members of Congress, the Administration, the American public, and indeed the world.

As we discussed, this has been an historic several days. All of us have been inspired to see the Egyptian people lay claim to their own future. It's also clear that Egyptians have a great deal of work to do in order to get the full promise and potential of their efforts realized as they look toward a future that will give each Egyptian the right to fulfill his or her God-given potential. And we look forward to working with the Congress in the coming days to ensure that we have the funding and the authorities necessary to support the Egyptian people.

Events in Egypt show how important it is that we have a global diplomatic presence, a presence that will be ready to handle crises, prevent conflicts, protect American citizens overseas, and protect American economic and strategic interests.

Now, you see this not just in Egypt, not just in Afghanistan, not just in Yemen, but in Mexico and so many other places around the world where our diplomats and development professionals are working every single day to promote America's security, interests, and values. The State Department and USAID are on the front lines of just about every national security challenge we face, and we are promoting American jobs and advancing economic opportunity for Americans as well. To be successful at these vital tasks, we need the resources to do the job. Otherwise, we will pay a higher price later in crises that are allowed to simmer and boil over into conflicts.

I was very clear with the Speaker about the deep concerns we have regarding the FY 11 spending bill moving to the House floor this week and what those funding levels would mean for the vital work done by State and USAID.

State and USAID would face a 16 percent cut from FY 10. We would be forced to scale back significantly our mission in the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where we work side by side with the American military. We would also be required to roll back critical health, food security, climate change, border security, and trade promotion efforts abroad as well.

We certainly understand the tight budget environment. I had the privilege of serving here for eight years in the Congress. And we have undertaken, over the last two years, our own sweeping reform effort to put taxpayer dollars to work more effectively.

But the scope of the proposed House cuts is massive. The truth is that cuts of that level will be detrimental to America's national security. And I shared with the Speaker a letter I sent today to Appropriations Chairman Rogers which lays out our concerns about the FY 11 bill.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will be meeting with members of Congress and testifying on the Hill to highlight the President's 2012 budget. How we reach 2012 is just as critical. We need to ensure that 2011 and the process surrounding it doesn't pull the rug out from under the civilian experts that are working in every corner of the world to pursue America's security and interests.

I thanked the speaker for his leadership on Egypt and in the very constructive advice and counsel that he has provided to the Administration. I remain hopeful that when members consider the national security and economic consequences of these cuts, they will chart a different course. It is somewhat frustrating when what USAID and the State Department are doing in these frontline states is not classified as security. And there is a different category for security discretionary funding than what is called non-security discretionary funding. And of course, you talk to any member of a PRT in Iraq or moving in with the Marines in Kandahar, and they clearly are part of our national security efforts in those countries.

We can still reach a reasonable bipartisan consensus and move forward together. We worked closely with the last Congress to protect our security and advance our values and interests, and I'm confident we can work with this one as well.

So Happy Valentine's Day, and I'd be glad to take a few questions.

Okay, all right, one at a time, one at a time. All right, let me start here and -- well, let me start here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. When you were First Lady 16 years ago, we had a Republican Congress that imposed some very deep cuts, particularly in the diplomacy and foreign aid sectors. Is this reminiscent of that? And did you communicate that to the Speaker in your meeting today?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that what we learned -- and certainly I think the lessons from the "90s are very important today -- is that we cannot recede from our presence anywhere in the world. What we're living through is a historic period where all kinds of changes -- some of them in support of American values and some of them directly opposed to American values -- are occurring. And I think it's important not to have to keep learning those lessons.

One of the reasons we're in Afghanistan today is because we left after the Soviet Union left and fell. And we learned that lesson. And it is expensive. It's particularly painful when we see young men and women losing their lives, being injured in the pursuit of Americans security, interests, and values. But we can't go back to where we don't have a strong American presence in order to assert American leadership and influence the course of events.

So I'm hoping that we will be given the resources that we need in order to fulfill the missions. I'll just give you one quick example. In Iraq, as our troops leave, there will be a savings in direct military expenditures that will total about $45 billion. We're asking for about 4 billion to make sure we have a civilian presence to continue working with the Iraqi Government in order that the enormous sacrifice that our men and women in uniform made and that this country made to try to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart their own democratic future is not lost, because we are not the only country that is going to be in a position to influence what happens to Iraq in the future.

So I give that as one example, because I think it's a stark one. We will be saving many billions of dollars, and in return, we need a commitment and investment of far fewer billions of dollars in order to establish the robust civilian presence that is required.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we're receiving reports -- NBC News is receiving reports there's thousands in the streets all around Iran right now, the opposition party headquarters is possibly under siege. There are thousands of protestors. Internet lines are being jammed. The phone lines are being jammed. Can you comment on the situation in Iran, and what's your message to the Iranians in the streets tonight?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me very clearly and directly support the aspirations of the people who are in the streets in Iran today. All through the crisis in Egypt, we had three very consistent messages: We were against violence, and we stated it often and we communicated it directly to Egyptian authorities. Secondly, we supported the universal human rights of the Egyptian people. And third, we stood for political change that would result in positive outcomes that would give the Egyptian people a better economic and political future.

We believe the same for Iran. We are against violence, and we would call to account the Iranian Government that is, once again, using its security forces and resorting to violence to prevent the free expression of ideas from their own people. Secondly, we support the universal human rights of the Iranian people. They deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and that are part of their own birthright. And thirdly, we think that there needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran, to hear the voices of the opposition and civil society.

And I would add that what we see happening in Iran today is a testament to the courage of the Iranian people and an indictment of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, a regime which over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt, and now, when given the opportunity to afford their people the same rights as they called for on behalf of the Egyptian people, once again illustrate their true nature. So our message has been consistent and it remains the same, and we wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, can you tell us what the Speaker said to you when you told him that these cuts would hurt national security and that -- and the State Department's operations abroad?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the Speaker -- because he has traveled to many of these places over the course of his career in Congress and has kept up to date by consulting with our military leadership -- knows that we have to support our government's efforts in our frontline states, and those efforts are both military and civilian. Our strongest supporters, as the Speaker mentioned to me, are the leaders of our military and our Defense Department -- Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Cartwright, and so many others. Why? Because they understand that if we don't have a robust civilian presence in these frontline states, we cannot make the progress that we are seeking. The strategy in both Iraq and now refined and furthered in Afghanistan -- clear, hold, build, transition -- the military is responsible for clear. We're both responsible for hold. We're responsible for build and for transition. So our colleagues in the Defense Department have been our strongest supporters, and the Speaker is well aware of that.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, on Egypt, could I have a question, please, on how the U.S. is going to keep the military from getting too comfortable and forgetting about democracy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: One of the most important relationships that we developed over 30 years with Egypt is the relationship between our military and the Egyptian military. Many of the officers have been educated in American military schools. There have been close collegial relationships built up over this period of time. I think the Egyptian military demonstrated its very strong commitment to the people of Egypt in its restraint and its support of their right to demonstrate.

They are now being asked to assume a responsibility that wasn't in the guidebook for young officers: How to lead a country through an orderly, peaceful, meaningful transition to a democratic future. The steps they've taken so far are reassuring, but there's a long way to go, and the United States has made it clear that we stand ready to assist in any way appropriate. The ongoing dialogue between our defense and military leadership with theirs has been very fruitful, and I expect it to continue.

But this is a very challenging moment for the Egyptian military. I would say thus far they've demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and a commitment to pursuing the kind of transition that we hope will lead to free, fair elections, but also in addition to elections, a broad buy-in to what democracy really means. Because, as I've said many times before, democracy is not just about one election where whoever wins it never wants to have another election. You need an independent judiciary, a free press. You need an independent support for minority rights. And there's just so much else that goes into what democracy represents.

But we're going to continue working not just with the military, with civil society, with a broad range of representatives from across Egypt's full breadth and depth on the economy, on academia, the professions, and every other aspect of their very exciting commitment now to a different future. Thank you all very much.