Federal News Service September 9, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: WEEKLY MEDIA AVAILABILITY WITH HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA)
LOCATION: H-206, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
REP. PELOSI: Welcome back. It's been a while; nearly seven weeks. I hope you had an enjoyable, productive time away. I know it wasn't the six-week break, but never mind.
Here we are today, this week observing the three-year anniversary of 9/11. As we once again extend our sympathy to the families of 9/11, we must renew our resolve to make the country safer. The 9/11 commission has issued its report. I'm concerned that there isn't a sense of urgency in the Congress to move the legislation quickly enough. We've had a six-week break-six-week break. You know the terrorists didn't take a break in that period of time. And now we have a proposal that we could bring to the Congress and act upon, but again in the House the Republicans are talking about constructing their-starting from scratch on their own legislation. No one is saying that they should accept the 9/11 commission without value added from the Congress, Congress working its will, but we should take up the 9/11 commission recommendations.
I was pleased to submit yesterday the legislation that leg counsel wrote up for the 9/11 commission recommendations with over 100 cosponsors. Unfortunately, it was only 100 Democrats; I was hoping it could be bipartisan. There is a bipartisan bill that is similar that we could all get on as a starting point, and I would urge my Republican colleagues to seriously consider that route.
This same week, we observe sadly the loss of over 1,000 of our troops in Iraq. It's a tragedy. The number-any one of them is a tragedy; a thousand is an overwhelming tragedy for our country. I think it's very important for the American people to take stock of the situation in Iraq, to hold the policymakers accountable. We know from the Department of Defense that their own report said that 25 percent of those who were killed or injured could have been saved if they had the right equipment. How many more could have been saved if they had the right training? How many more could have been saved if they had had the right intelligence to know who the adversary is? How many more could have been saved if the administration had heeded the advice of its own State Department as what to expect in postwar Iraq?
So it is tragic loss of life, which we all mourn. We salute the valor of those men and women. That cannot be-ever be diminished. But we would hope that the policy would take a turn that would make-truly make America safer. The president is fond of saying that America is safer because Saddam Hussein has been captured. I think there's a question about that. Certainly those 1,000 Americans who died are not safer. The 7,000 who were injured are not safer. Iraq has turned into a hotbed of terrorist activity, focused on our troops, and I don't think that we're safer at home because Saddam Hussein has been captured. The American people have to hold the president accountable for his statements, for those deaths, for that quarter-of- a-trillion dollars that it's costing our country, and for the cost in reputation that it's costing us around the world.
With all of this, with the need for us to move with the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, with the need for us to take seriously what is happening in Iraq and not mislead the American people about what's happening there, with no domestic agenda moving in this Congress, no highway bill, no budget-here is is, three or four weeks out from adjournment; no budget, no highway bill, many of the appropriations bills not passed-now the leadership is talking about perhaps a lame-duck session. That means that instead of making the tough decisions so the American people know where the Republicans stand on issues, they want to go home and come back after the election so that they can not have to reveal themselves before the election.
Six weeks we were off, and now they're saying we don't have time before the election to get our work done; we'll have to come back after the election.
So I think that this Congress has been a failure in many respects-in not getting its own work done; without meeting the needs of the American people. We're at war and we can't-and we can't-to make our country safer, the president says, and yet we won't advance the 9/11 commission recommendations. People are out of work. People need health care. Our children are-need better education. And yet none of this work has been accomplished by this Congress.
Not only have we been a failure, we've become irrelevant in the lives of the American people. We can do better.
Now I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q Madame Leader, were you personally offended by any of the comments by Mr. DeLay yesterday? He said you had no credibility on issues of intelligence, defense. He called your plan laughable. I'll stop there. There's plenty more there! (Laughter.)
REP. PELOSI: Sounds like a man who's pretty desperate. I thought it was a desperate statement.
But I-he knows, I think, that I don't take anything he says seriously. I suppose if I were Zell Miller, I'd challenge him to a duel! (Laughs; laughter.) But the fact is that I'm not. So why don't I just challenge him to a debate? I'll debate him on matters relating to intelligence, defense, jobs, health care, education, the environment, budget-fiscal soundness in our budget. I'll debate him on any subject anytime, any place.
I served for 10 years on the intelligence committee. As leader, I-and the speaker does too-get briefed every week on matters of intelligence. So my connection there continues, as the leader of the Democrats in the House. So my support and admiration for our men and women, who risk their lives in the intelligence field, has been stated over and over again.
So why don't we just have a debate on the subject rather than have him say-question my credentials when his are negligible on the subject, A; but I don't-what do I know about his credentials? Maybe he stays up nights reading all these reports. I simply don't know. It doesn't matter. What matters is that we have an open and fair debate about these issues, and not have accusations which refer to the 9/11 commission recommendations as irresponsible and laughable. I don't think they're laughable to the families of 9/11. I don't think they're laughable to the bipartisan members of the commission who worked very hard to put it all together.
But he knows I don't take him seriously.
As a matter of fact, he called me yesterday afternoon and said why don't we join together in inviting Condi Rice here tomorrow and invite members to a meeting with the national security adviser for those members and ranking members who-chairmen and ranking members who were not at the White House in the morning. He didn't make any mention of his outrageous statement --
Q Was it a personal conversation with you?
REP. PELOSI: Yes. Yes.
Q What time of day was it?
REP. PELOSI: (To staff) What time of day was that? It was well into the afternoon-well after the-I was well aware of his comments at the time.
Q Is that meeting going to happen?
REP. PELOSI: Yes, today. So we sent out a joint e-mail-Nancy Pelosi and Tom DeLay-at his suggestion-to the members to join us for a meeting with Condi Rice this afternoon.
You have to understand, this is a very rough place, and so-personally offended? No. But politically furious? Yes. Again, why don't we take this debate challenge back to Mr. DeLay and say anytime, any place, any subject.
Q On the assault weapons ban -- (off mike) -- since you've come back from recess, but it seems to be somewhat pulled back from what we once heard from supporters of the ban. Is there a degree of Democratic hesitation or political expediency going on here?
REP. PELOSI: No, I think that people who supported the ban still continue to support the ban. And I count myself among them. The president has said that he supports the extension of the assault weapon ban. If in fact he truly does, he only need pick up the phone and call Tom DeLay and the bill would be on the floor, as the law enforcement officers who have been lobbying on Capitol Hill for the ban have requested. So, I don't see any-you have to watch-there's a limited amount of time left in the session. It's going to require that level of intervention from the White House to get this bill on the floor.
So I think the time has come and gone when the president can be "good cop"-no pun intended-on this, to go out there and say, I support the extension of the assault weapon ban, but I can't influence Congress to take it up.
Q Mr. DeLay yesterday said that even if the president did request, that he thought there would not be movement on the issue.
REP. PELOSI: Well, let's see. The president-well, why don't we just put that to the test. Let's see if the president is sincere about-and I assume he is. I grant everyone their sincerity and don't question their motivation. But if it is something the president is truly interested in, then he should just call-ask the members of Congress to put it on the floor.
Similarly with his now conversion to supporting the 9/11 commission's suggestion of a national intelligence director with full budgetary authority. Interesting change of heart and mind, but let's say to Congress, pass this bill. That's what a Congress-a president does, he leads.
Q (Off mike) -- Democrats, though, don't want to get too far out there on the assault weapons issue prior to this election because of the power of the NRA, because of pro-gun constituencies within their congressional districts?
REP. PELOSI: I think members will be voting their districts and where they've always been on this issue, and those who have supported the ban continue to support the ban, those who have opposed it will continue to oppose it, would be my read on the situation. I don't think there's much more to it than that.
I do think the burden, though, is on the president of the United States, who wants to be non-menacing to suburbia and say, I support the extension of the assault weapon ban but yet I'm not going to put the moral suasion of my office or my political clout behind asking Congress to-it's about the Republicans. They have the White House, they have the Senate, they have the House of Representatives. So it's about want they want to do on it. And if it doesn't pass, it's because the president didn't want it to be heard.
Q One of the things the 9/11 commission called for is congressional reorganization of the oversight. The Senate working group on that is meeting on Tuesday. What's going on in the House on that front?
REP. PELOSI: You're just going to have to ask the speaker. I think that it would be very important for us to do something like that. I had a conversation with the speaker at the White House on this subject. This is about our national security. Congress must strengthen its oversight or else abdicate its responsibility. But Congress must have a stronger role. And as I mentioned to the president, we can't do the congressional side of it without cooperation from the administrative-the executive branch, because there's so much about exchange of information to the Congress in order for us to exercise our oversight.
So I would hope that we would have a similar body that would come together in a bipartisan way. Intelligence is a place where politics absolutely has no place. This is about gathering, analyzing and disseminating information to protect the American people and to protect our forces and our interests wherever they are.
Q In terms of retaking the House -- (off mike) -- how big of a setback is it to have President Clinton laid up for some time now with his surgery? And what was the latest you've heard from his advisers about his availability maybe next month or later this month?
REP. PELOSI: First and foremost, we're concerned about the president's health and don't want to add any pressure to his recovery about when he could be available to go out on the road.
And you give me an opportunity to extend publicly to President Clinton all of the good wishes, certainly of my family and my constituents, but as I've traveled-I think I was in 10 states in the last two weeks, leading up to the time people were anticipating seeing President Clinton, then they heard that he was sick, and so in these last few days sent so many good wishes to him. He has an enormous following in our country. Right now everyone is concerned about one thing, his speedy recovery, however long a speedy recovery takes in the situation that he's in.
There's no question that President Clinton is a tremendous asset on the road.
We had hoped to have him for an event or two in California, but we'll make up for it. And again, all we're interested in is his recovery.
Q And so how much of an impact do you think it will have, though, given that he'll be missing events there; and he had events in Pennsylvania; he was going to be working both for House members and Senate candidates? I mean, how do you measure that?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I think that it's certainly not a plus. But again, you can't-I don't want to-I said I don't want to add to the pressure of President Clinton by saying but for his being sick, we could have succeeded in other ways. We'll just have to work harder, inspired by him and what he has done for the country, and to make him feel better. We'll just have to make up for it.
He would be-he's a tremendous asset. There's no more articulate-well, he's been president of the United States. Nobody-it's very hard to match that credential. So it certainly is not a plus for us, but again, inspired by him and as a gift to him, a get- well present to him, we'll just have to make up for it.
But it is-you know, we've gotten to where we are in the House races-just us kids. You know, we just haven't had a lot of -- (laughs) -- we don't have the White House. We don't have the Cabinet offices and that. So it's just been our own effort up until now.
President Clinton appeared for us in Silicon Valley about-maybe May, I think it was-and it was a tremendous success. People were thrilled to see him. So he would be a tremendous plus on the trail, but we want him well. First things first. Let's put it in perspective.
Unless there are no-any other questions? Oh, yeah?
Q Madame Leader --
REP. PELOSI: Oh, yes.
Q -- (off mike) -- on the overtime provision --
REP. PELOSI: Oh, yes.
Q-do you think Democrats will prevail? And can you talk a little bit about the politics of it, the significance of winning that vote?
REP. PELOSI: The overtime legislation that the Republicans are trying to squelch in the Labor-HHS bill, the amendment to stop the enforcement of the regulations-this action represents the biggest tax cut for middle-class families in America, ever. About 6 million families -- 6 million people will be affected by this. It's huge. And it has tremendous impact and resonance, and especially in suburban America. This is a place where making ends meet happens because people have overtime pay.
The Republicans cannot grasp that. They live in a different world, I guess. I don't know. I don't know why they don't understand why. And for some families, this is 25 percent of their pay -- 25 percent of the pay. It's how they qualify for a home loan. It's how they send their children to college. It's how they get-they make ends meet.
Q (Off mike.)
REP. PELOSI: Hm? Excuse me.
Q (Off mike.)
REP. PELOSI: A pay cut, yeah. Pay cut. (Chuckles.) I said tax cut. Ben is correcting-it's the biggest pay cut-thank you, Ben-for America's working families, for middle-class families. This is a real punch, a sock in the teeth, to middle-class families. Again, it's how they qualify for that home loan, buy that house in suburbia, send their kids to-make life better for their families.
So what's happening is that, as I understand it-and it may have changed in the last 15 minutes-is that the Republicans will try to have a gutting amendment to our amendment. And we will have to of course try to defeat that.
I think we'll have a solid Democratic vote for our amendment and our motion. I don't know if the Republicans will persist in putting forth a gutting amendment.
But the fact is, at the end of the day, this is a very potent issue in middle-class America and in suburbia. In some families-in the case of some families, as I said, 25 percent of their income is-it is 6 million people affected, the biggest pay cut that anybody can ever remember.
So it has-and (to answer ?) your question, I don't know if they'll allow-what the course of action they're going to take. That's the latest I heard before I came in here. They might have a gutting amendment. We're putting a full court press on to win this vote. And then it will have won in the Senate and in the House. In that case, it should be non-conferenceable. But we know that even something that passed both houses of Congress, in the dark of night, they disappear around here.
I might add that this is the same thing that happened last time. The bill passed the Senate, and then-last year it passed the (Senate ?). We prevailed on motions to instruct the conferees to agree to the Senate language, and of course they did not.
So we're hoping to win the amendment on the floor today, and we'll have good, solid vote to do that. We'll just see if there are any Republicans out there who want to support the living standards of middle-class Americans by not giving them this drastic pay cut.
Q Ms. Pelosi, you said today that politics had no place in intelligence.
REP. PELOSI: Yes.
Q Tom DeLay said much the same thing yesterday, using the words "national security" to talk about the same issue. If both of you believe that, then why hasn't anything been done on the 9/11 recommendations?
And why doesn't politics have a place in the intelligence debate? Shouldn't voters know which party is best to lead?
REP. PELOSI: Well, first of all, the Republicans control everything here-in the House, the Senate and the White House. So if they wanted the 9/11 commission recommendations to go forward, all they would need to do is say take the bill to the parliamentarian, refer it to committee, and we will act upon it. We may change it, we may improve it, we may delete some things, but we will act upon it.
So it's not a question of what we support and they support. This is the House of Representatives. The awesome power of the majority, the awesome power of the speaker, or whoever speaks for him, makes the-in the Senate it's a little bit of a different arena, but in the House, that's what it is.
So the reason that we are not moving forward with the 9/11 commission recommendations in any form or to subject them to any scrutiny is that the Republicans do not have enthusiasm for that and have no sense of urgency of getting that job done.
That's a different issue than when you collect, analyze and disseminate information. That's the place where it has to be-as much objectivity that the human mind is capable of. And they say no one is objective since birth; we all bring our subjectivity to it. But nonetheless, it is a place where there has to be objective information that is supplied so that our president, whoever he is, has the best possible intelligence, without analysis that is slanted to support a point of view or without using intelligence in a way that would be used as a political tactic against the policy of one president or another, of either party.
I've spent 10 years up there. It's almost like joining the military. You go up, you read, you read, you read. You're thinking-you start thinking in another way because you have to be thinking in terms of technology that is involved. There's so many different areas to it. And it requires, again, as clean a slate as you can bring to the table.
Q What is your sense about the CBO report on the nation's fiscal situation?
And secondly, and relatedly, how do you see the budget process unfolding? Do you expect the Republican leadership to put the 12 remaining bills into one package and effectively try to move that through?
REP. PELOSI: It's my understanding that Senator Stevens is very concerned that there's not going to be enough time between now and the end of the session, whenever that might be, to do the 9/11 commission recommendations and the appropriations bill.
There isn't much time. We're now practically to the end of this week. Next week is a half a week because of the holy day. And the week after-it isn't a-there aren't many legislative days left. So I don't now what they will do because they will determine that and they haven't shown their hand, except for Senator Stevens, Chairman Stevens, making the point that he doesn't know how we're going to get that done if we persist in wanting to do the 9/11 recommendations or some version thereof.
I think that the CBO statement about the budget speaks volumes. Here we are with record budget deficits-historic budget deficits-and yesterday in the Budget Committee the debate was, is this the biggest budget deficit in history or is it the biggest budget deficit adjusted for inflation, or is it the biggest budget deficit in relationship to GDP? Whatever it is it's a disaster, a disaster for the American people.
In 1993 the Democrats, with that one Republican vote in the House, and in the Senate with the vice president breaking the tie, passed a tax bill which took us to fiscal soundness in 1999. The deficit was zero. President Clinton left office -- (aside) hope you're feeling better. President Clinton left office -- $5.6 trillion-on our way to $5.6 trillion in surplus. 1999, I remind you, zero deficit.
Under the reckless economic policies of the Republicans, we go into a situation where we go instead of approximately $5.6 trillion in surplus, we're going nearly $4 trillion in deficit and growing, a swing of about $10 trillion, and record deficits approaching a half a trillion dollars for this year alone.
If that isn't enough reason to reject the Republicans, I don't know. This election should be a referendum on that: management of our fiscal affairs and what it means to our economy, what it means to our people, what it means to their future. It also should be a referendum on that conduct of this war, and it should be a referendum on how they have failed our workers as far as jobs are concerned, our consumers in terms of their need for health care, and our children in terms of their need for education.
So I think that that budget deficit speaks so-speaks volumes about our misplaced priorities. The budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us should be reflected there: how we allocate our resources, to invest in our children's education, to invest in infrastructure. We're never going to be the economic leader of the world unless we invest in education and infrastructure. That is a fact. It isn't only an opinion, it is a fact. And we're not doing it in this budget. Instead we're giving tax cuts to the highest end, where they have not stimulated the economy to the extent that the return to the Treasury warrants them.
So I think that they're under the illusion of just trying to find some way to characterize it to say, oh, it's not quite the biggest deficit in history if you adjust it for inflation and percentage of GDP. But the fact is it's five times-well, infinitely bigger than '99, when it was zero.
Thank you all very much. Nice to see you.