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Public Statements

Weekly Press Conference with Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)


Location: Washington, DC

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning.

Q Good morning.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Next week our nation will observe five years of engagement in Iraq. This morning House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to honor the contributions and the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform not only in the Iraq war, but in Afghanistan and other areas of service to our country.

Our troops have performed excellently. Our entire nation thanks them for their service and sacrifice they and their families are making. The cost of the war is staggering, and we all mourn the loss of the nearly 4,000 young men and women we have lost in Iraq. Almost 30,000 of our troops have been injured, thousands have been permanently. Our military readiness is at its lowest since the Vietnam war, thereby weakening our ability to protect the American people and to fight the war on terror.

Our reputation in the world has been seriously diminished; tremendous, tremendous cost of this war. In terms of dollars, American economist Joe Stiglitz has calculated that the war will cost $3 trillion. We know it's over $2 trillion already. Iraq is not only the second longest war in U.S. history, it is the second most costly, surpassed only by World War II. The war in Iraq has come at significant cost to the American economy. It has led to a spike in oil prices, result in massive deficit spending and has diverted funds that should have been invested here at home. Clearly we need a new direction in Iraq.

As we go into the Easter break, it is important to note major strides Congress has made, what is it, 10 weeks that we have been in session since the beginning of January. We passed in record time a stimulus package to help avert a further downturn in our economy. Those checks will be going out in May. We did this in a strong bipartisan way, as you know. In a bipartisan way, we passed an historic mental health parity bill. We look forward to conferencing that bill and having it become the law of the land. From now on, mental illness will be treated. Disease of the brain will be treated the same way as any disease in any other part of the body.

The energy bill we passed again -- once again; we passed in good bipartisan support. The repeal of the subsidies for big oil and using that money to invest in renewable energy resources: wind, solar, biomass, fuel cells, the list goes on.

Unless we can get this passed into law, 160,000 jobs will be lost immediately that depend on the actions taken in the legislation. These are jobs that exist now that will no longer exist unless we can get the president to sign this bill. The president is reluctant to sign the bill because it repeals subsidies for big oil at a time when ExxonMobil -- we've had this conversation before -- ExxonMobil released its corporate profits for 2007, $40.6 billion -- one year, $40.6 billion profit, the biggest corporate profit in history of our economy. And so we said for the top five oil companies, for the top -- for big oil, we should repeal those subsidies and spend that money on renewables.

The ethics reform bill that we passed yesterday is historic, making this institution more accountable to the American people. And today we will pass a budget that will bring us into balance by 2012, the great budget statement of our national values: tax cuts for the middle-income people, protection of our country, growing our economy, the education of -- health of our children, the innovation energy initiatives. It's a good budget, and I'm very proud of what Mr. Spratt has done on it.

Today we will also keep America safe by passing the FISA legislation that protects the American people and protects the fundamental constitutional rights we cherish. As members of Congress prepare to spend time -- this holy time in our districts, in our districts, we're proud of our accomplishments on behalf of the American people.

Thank you. Any questions? No questions?

Q On the issue of Iraq, can you -- you have just laid out a case of why things are going very slowly in Iraq. Can you address the -- I mean, I think that a lot of people have great perception that the surge has been a military success and do not measure reconciliation, but there has been a reduction in violence -- (off mike).

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't think this is any -- the political progress, which -- of course, it goes back and forth. They pass a bill, and then it doesn't make -- go to the next stage. Political progress is -- what, five years we've been there. March 19th is the day, I see, the Feast of St. Joseph, that we've been there five years. The day after that, we will be in our sixth year in Iraq with all the loss that I just described. And the -- as generals here have said, the biggest obstacle to peace and reconciliation in Iraq is the government of Iraq for not taking the necessary steps to make the political -- (audio break) -- necessary. What they have done is unworthy, unworthy of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform.

Yes, sir?

Q Madame Speaker, have you had any -- what kind of conversations have you had with your Senate counterparts on advancing the FISA legislation? And do you have -- are there any prospects for the bill before the House actually getting to the president?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We had a very positive response from our colleagues in the Senate -- Democratic colleagues in the Senate about the bill that we put together. It's a very good bill, and it, again, strikes the balance between security and liberty.

I know I tell you this all time. I -- in my 16th year in service on the Intelligence Committee and as speaker now, but as a member for 10 years -- and I know full well the value of intelligence to protecting the American people. I would no more send our troops in battle without the proper intelligence than sending them in without the proper equipment. The president was willing to do that.

The president has said that our legislation will not make America safe. The president is wrong. This legislation -- again, recognizing the value of collection of intelligence to our safety, this legislation does so under the law. It says that the intelligence may be collected, but with a court order, except in cases of emergency. It -- the provision for exclusivity is very important. The FISA law is the exclusive authority under which we collect intelligence, does not give the president a free hand to say, "I am the authority. I have this authority from the Constitution." He does not.

And it talks more specifically about not changing the definition of -- one of our disagreements with the Senate bill is that it changes the definition of surveillance, of what activities are included under surveillance. So it would exclude from the law some activities that should be under the law.

And of course we have a difference in terms of immunity. These companies may have immunity, depending on their -- what they have done and what authorities they did it under. And that gives them the -- our bill gives them the opportunity to have a court decide that, rather than just us granting it.

Q But is that fair to force them to go through millions of dollars of litigation over the course of the years, probably arguing the case up to the Supreme Court, in order to prove that they did what they did legally in order to defend the United States after the attack of 9/11?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Is it fair? They have a responsibility, and they -- this is not a big thing. What we're saying is the court will decide -- isn't about litigation in that respect. It's about having -- just as the court decides, under the FISA Court, how the government goes forth to collect intelligence, a district court -- doesn't have to be a FISA Court -- a district court can decide whether, under the law, they should have immunity. And it may be different from one company to the next, but it is our responsibility to make sure that our constitution is followed.

And this -- I can't talk too broadly about what my view is of what the administration did, because it's -- for reasons that you're well aware. This is a very fair outcome, which just says you may have immunity; the court will decide; that Congress cannot give it to you blindly, but a court may review the facts and the law and tell you if you had immunity. And that would be the end of it.

Q Madame Speaker, on some of the tactics we've seen by Republicans, trying to, you know, follow up different resolutions and things over the past couple of days, where we hear they're going to try to move the House into a rare closed --

SPEAKER PELOSI: If I just may, on the intelligence bill for a moment --

Q Sure.

SPEAKER PELOSI: -- and then we'll go back to that. Again, when the president says that the legislation we are putting forth will not make America safer, the president is wrong. He knows full well that he has -- the existing FISA law gives him the authority he needs -- his administration needs to collect. Also, the existing orders that he has put out under the Protect America Act are in place for at least another six months.

If the president didn't think that that was the case, he would most certainly have joined us in an extension of the law -- the bill until we could come to terms. So any contention that he makes, it doesn't stand up under the facts.

The president says Democrats in Congress should not be deceived. They're not deceived; they know the law, they know the Constitution. We understand our responsibility to protect the American people. What the president is trying to do is something that we think should be stopped, and that's why we're not supporting the Senate bill.

Q Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: (Inaudible) -- that question.

Q Republicans have employed a lot dilatory tactics over the past few days in relation to FISA. Today, they're going to make an effort to try to put the House into a rare closed session. What do you make of that, and is there any merit in trying to debate this actually in closed session?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It depends on what the closed session is about. We've had closed sessions before where the administration has come in to present their point of view. I don't know if that's what the request is. I've asked them -- (audio break) -- to find out what the intention is, the purpose of this is, because one of its impacts, intended or not, will be to delay the consideration of the FISA bill, and we want to take up the bill. And so I don't know if that's intentionally dilatory or an honest wish for us to have information brought to this member's attention. Until we know that, it's hard to see why we would go forward with what might be a dilatory tactic preventing us from passing a bill to keep America safe.

Q Follow-up. Is that -- does that mean that there might be some merit in actually discussing this if that could potentially yield moving the FISA bill forward?

SPEAKER PELOSI: What it depends -- may I say it again? It depends on what the purpose of a closed session is. From our standpoint, a closed session is something of such seriousness that we would do it in advance. You know that you're going to have to clear the chamber for hours before so that it can be swept, and what is the purpose of that. And then we have the session for we don't know how long, and then again pushing back. They did this in the Senate, too, so they could delay taking up their bill. So it's not a new tactic.

But again, if there's a -- some merit to having a closed session that is worth pushing back consideration of the bill, let's hear what their purpose is.

Q Madame Speaker, following up on your statement yesterday about Colombia's free trade agreement, do you possibly see consultations with the administration leading to possible passage of that agreement this year?

SPEAKER PELOSI: When it comes to the Colombia free trade agreement, there's a rumor -- I don't think that's what will happen, but there have been soundings coming from the administration that they're going to send this bill over. And I would say this, that we have a consultation process that I think should be honored. But apart from that, I think they should send the bill -- they should not send the Colombia free trade bill over until we have passed into law a trade adjustment assistance act and other economic measures to address the concerns of people who lose their jobs because of trade or the ripple effect of that.

And until and unless we have a robust trade adjustment assistance bill to help the people affected, then I don't see any chance for a Colombia free trade agreement.

Our concerns are twofold. We're concerned about the violence against labor organizers, workers' organizers, in Colombia and we want to see progress made in that direction. But on the homefront, until there is a robust trade adjustment assistance act, I don't see any reason for --

(Cross talk.)

Q (Off mike) -- House-passed version of TAA, or is there a compromise --

SPEAKER PELOSI: We can talk to them about it, but it would have to look like -- it would have to be robust, addressing not only income but health and other, training and other considerations. But we have a real opportunity here.

I think that our country knows the value of trade. But there's a concern and uncertainty among American workers that their financial security is threatened by it. Let's try to take us, move us in a direction that says as we move forward the trade agenda, let's bring everyone forward. And until that happens, I don't see a climate here for passing any trade agreement.

Q How can you explain that vote the other night? How do you say that was not a major violation of your own rules -- the extended vote?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It was 10 minutes. It was 10 minutes. We were talking about keeping the bill open all night as an egregious violation of the regular order.

Q Your rule says a record vote by electronic device shall not be held open for the sole purpose of reversing the outcome of such a vote.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we had some people who weren't present. We had to get them to the floor as well.

Q So you violated your own rules.

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't see it that way. I do not see it that way. I see it as an attempt on the part of the Republicans to resist ethics reform. They will go to any length, and you see it now, because this is about FISA; it's also about ethics reform.

(Cross talk.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: We are draining the swamp, and that's exactly what we did.

I feel very confident about what happened the other night. I think it's a giant step forward. I'm proud of the history that we made to help restore the confidence of the American people in this Congress. I think that the Republicans are making a serious error -- they didn't ask me for any political advice -- in coming down against ethical reform in the Congress.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Regarding the budget, Republicans have a provision for a moratorium on earmarks.


Q It's safe to assume you're not going to vote for that, but I'm wondering if the Democrats will have some other alternative down the road aside from just not putting earmarks in spending bills this year.

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't know that that is an alternative, not putting earmarks in a spending bill. We'll just see how the -- what I would like to see is the regular legislative process to proceed, to take up our priorities, which are the appropriations bills. Hopefully, the conduct of our legislative business as Congress works its will will be such that we can have some legislative discretion exercised in those bills. But I reserve the right to say that if this turns into a mess, I don't see a scenario in which there would be earmarks. I hope that is not the case.

Q So you do not support the ban at this point?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I reserve the right to use whatever tactics at my disposal to have an orderly legislation of our appropriations bills.

Yes, Michael.

Q Earlier in the week you were quoted in Boston as saying that a Clinton-Obama or an Obama-Clinton ticket was impossible.


Q Why do you think that?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I think it's impossible. By the way, let me just say, Mike, that I do think we will have a dream team. It just won't be those two names. Whoever our nominee is -- whoever he or she is and whoever he or she chooses will be a dream team as the Democrats go forward to win this election to take our country in a new direction. I don't think it's politically feasible.

Q Why?

Q Why?

Q Why? (Laughter.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: You asked my political opinion. I gave it to you.

Q Well, give us the -- (off mike).

SPEAKER PELOSI: It's up to you to interpret. (Laughter.) I just speak; you interpret.

Q (Off mike.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: I just don't think it's going to happen. They asked me, did I think there was going to be a dream team? I mean, yes, there's going to be a dream -- they asked me specifically about those two people being on the ticket together. I said I thought it was impossible. Now, do you want me to go through a lifetime of political gut to tell you why that is the case? (Laughs, laughter.) You don't have the time. (Laughs.) There are not enough hours in the day.

Q Speaker, are you at all --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Take it from me; that won't be the ticket.

Q Are you concerned about the tone of the campaign between the two of them from this week? And are you worried that one of two or both important constituencies, black voters or women voters, could end up being alienated?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I think the constituency for these candidates goes well beyond those two groups. What I am pleased with is the vitality of the campaign, the whole dynamic that has happened; that many more people are attracted -- record numbers of young people; certainly the participation of women in this race because of the pride that we all would take in having a first lady -- I mean, excuse me, a president who is a woman; and also the pride we would take in having an African-American.

But I would not confine either of their support to the two groups that you mentioned, the black community and women. But what I'm saying is, whether it's young people who are attracted to the process on both -- for both candidates, whether it's many people who have not participated in the political process before but want change in the country, whatever their age, that's very positive about it.

I don't like to see disagreement among candidates, but when you set your cap to run for president, you make a decision to go. And sometimes, in the enthusiasm of all the people you attract to the process, some of the exchange is not at the highest level. I think it by and large has been and will return to that level.

I think everybody understands full well what the Republican administration and leadership in this Congress when they controlled it has done to our country -- taken us into a war without end, taken us deeply into debt, challenged the very civil liberties that are in our Constitution, an energy policy that increases our dependence on foreign oil. The list goes on and on.

There is no doubt that they've had their disagreements with it between the two candidates. There is -- and they are minor. There's a chasm between Senator Clinton or Senator Obama and Senator McCain, and that's the difference I would like to see them dwell on.

Q (Off mike) -- the criticism?

SPEAKER PELOSI: You know what? I'll tell you the truth, I was working very hard the last couple of days, and I guess weren't not attuned to the nuance of who was saying what.

But I think that it's important that perceptions be understood by campaigns and whether it was -- whatever was the intention and whatever the good thoughts that people may have had about this statement, we have to remember how they are perceived by others. And I think that the Clinton campaign moving to show us they've put some distance was very important.

Q Madame Speaker?


Q (Off mike) -- FISA bill. And part of that was he made the case for immunity for telephone companies. He said they absolutely have to have it. Do --

SPEAKER PELOSI: I know when you came in. You all know when he came in, don't you? (Laughter, laughs.) I saw you come in. (Laughs.)

Well, let me say again, when the president said that the bill that we are considering would make -- would not make America safer, the president was wrong and the president knows it. He knows that our bill protects the American people, and we all understand our responsibility to do that. It does so under the law. It does so without granting immunity, but recognizing that these companies can go to a court to determine whether they had immunity or not, which is completely separate from any litigation about it. That would dispose of the issue. I think that's the proper way to decide whether they should have immunity or not, not members of Congress voting to give immunity to someone when they haven't the faintest idea what that immunity would be for.

Q Are you saying the president is lying?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Am I saying the president is lying?

Q Yes.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Interesting question I got from 19 -- 2001 when they asked me -- when I said, the intelligence on Iraq does not support the threat, a (numinous ?) threat to our country that the administration is contending. That's what they said to me then. They said, are you saying the president is lying. I said then and I say now, I am stating a fact: The president is wrong and he knows it.

Thank you all very much.

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