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Federal News Service - Weekly Media Availability - Transcript

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service May 13, 2004 Thursday

Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

May 13, 2004 Thursday




REP. PELOSI: Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. It's warm in here. We'll have to figure out something.

This afternoon Democrats are having an event to commemorate the historic 50th anniversary of the Brown versus the Board of Education decision. When the Supreme Court declared that "separate but equal" has no place in our society, it empowered people of conscience throughout the land. We must do more, though, than remember the past today. As the theme of today challenges us, we must continue to fulfill the promise of Brown. One way we can do that is to fully fund the No Child Left Behind legislation, so important to the education of our children.

This week is "Cover the Uninsured Week," and Democrats are fighting for common-sense strategies to provide more affordable health care. Yesterday House Democrats, led by Ranking Member Rangel, Ranking Member Dingell, Sherrod Brown-Congressmen Sherrod Brown, and Max Sandlin of Texas, and Pete Stark of California, proposed an initiative that would cover one-half of the uninsured in our country. They would do that by the Medicare Early Access Act, where Americans aged 55 to 64 could buy into Medicare; by Small Business Health Insurance Promotion Act, which gives small businesses tax credits to provide health insurance for their workers-Mr. Sandlin's opposed that-and the Family Care Act, which will help working parents receive health care coverage through existing successful initiatives, CHIPS and Medicaid, Mr. Dingell's initiative.

These are all some of-these are among the initiatives in the Kerry health care proposal as well, to expand health coverage for the uninsured. So education, health care and jobs.

Democrats are fighting for jobs. We appeal to our Republican colleagues and to the White House to let us go to conference on a highway bill. Hopefully it will end up being one robust enough to grow our economy by creating jobs, moving people and product to work in a way that improves the quality of life and the quality of the air that we breathe, mass transit initiatives which would add significantly to that, and of course these are all homeland security issues and protecting our ports and waterways.

We are also fighting to protect overtime pay for millions of Americans. Like the Harkin amendment that passed the Senate last week, Congressman George Miller's motion would once again have put the House on record opposing the Bush regulations that will cut overtime pay. As you know, the Republican leader came to the floor himself yesterday to table that motion. They didn't want to have one word of debate on it. They are afraid of the debate. They were afraid of the vote. We'll keep pushing for that. They don't understand that families rely on that overtime pay to qualify a mortgage, to make the mortgage payment, to educate their children, and to put food on the table.

We had some good news last night in the Armed Services Committee. A Democratic initiative for survivor benefits-survivor benefit has been a unanimous consensus issue for veterans organizations. We've been working with them to be able to fund the survivor benefit and not cut back the survivor benefit. Democrats want to put this forth. We had ways to pay for it or put it off budget with no offset. Since none of the war in Iraq has been paid for, since none of the tax cuts have been paid for, we thought the survivor benefit could also fall into that, but there was a way for them to come together. We were so pleased we made this issue too hot for the Republicans to handle, at least so far in committee, and we are hoping that we can see this to the end for the survivors-mostly widows, but widowers as well-of our men and women in uniform are treated with fairness.

With that, I will be pleased to take any questions you may have.

Q Madame Leader, Congresswoman Waters-Maxine Waters yesterday said that she had some photographs that were sent to her office that appeared to be different and perhaps more stark in scope, if that's possible, than what has been released. She has not made a decision yet to release those. What do you think of members of your caucus or any member of Congress releasing what maybe come in independently or aren't coming through the Pentagon channels, regardless of what the Pentagon tries to do about releasing photos about the prisoners in Iraq?

MS. PELOSI: Well, this is the first time of hearing about any photographs that Congressman Waters may have, but I think I would apply the same standard to individuals, to Congresspersons and to our federal government. And that is, first, I would say that much of what we have seen-now, you're saying that she has different photos. Much of what we saw yesterday gave about the same impression as to the treatment of the detainees as is already in the public domain. So any further release of photographs, I think, should have to be-that decision would have to be weighed against law enforcement concerns, rights of privacy, people-detainees or U.S. personnel in the pictures, and the Geneva Conventions, which protects detainees from public insult, humiliation and curiosity.

So I would say that there are factors that I think have to be weighed before people release those photographs.

Now, as I say that, having no idea the difference in what substantively may be contributed to the discussion and what the congresswoman has, because I haven't seen, nor did I know, that she had photographs, I would suspect that there will be a proliferation of photographs, so I would hope that there would be a responsible way to deal with their release.

Q But is there a concern that possibly, if these photos-more and more photos start to come out, as Senator Warner said yesterday, that this puts the U.S. at a greater risk and possibly some sort of strike against the United States because of this? Does that put the United States in extra jeopardy if members or other sources start to put more and more photographs out?

MS. PELOSI: Well, I think we have to take a few steps back. The fact that there were these photographs which struck very deeply to certain sensitivities in the Arab world-nudity, sexual humiliation and the rest-while it looked to some from our perspective as undisciplined, unsupervised, untrained personnel running amok, to the Arab world it looked focused and hit them exactly at the place that would be the most humiliating. So it is a question of perspective.

But it takes us a couple of steps back to say when we made a decision to go to war, we knew we needed intelligence. We needed intelligence for force protection. We needed intelligence for political solution in Iraq as well. So the accountability for not having the planning, the training and the supervision of those who would be participating in any gathering of intelligence, whether that was conditioning people to be interrogated or being part of the interrogation, requires an answer. And it requires an answer up the chain of command. What was the command atmosphere that enabled this to happen? That is what jeopardizes our troops, that we didn't have adequate intelligence for force protection, and that we didn't set up a system in which this intelligence could have been gathered in a way that, again, would not endanger our troops.

Q Madame Leader, what's your reaction to Secretary Rumsfeld's trip to Iraq that just happened at the last minute? And it's been a week since you called for his resignation. Does it look to you like maybe he is going to survive this?

MS. PELOSI: Well, I said what I am going to say about his resignation. That's up to him and the president of the United States. It that standard of performance is one that the president approves of, then the president will be accountable for that standard of performance. I think it's long overdue for the secretary of Defense to know what's going on in theater in a prison that has stained the reputation of our country. And up until now they've said it just didn't rise to the level of importance for the secretary. Well, I think they found out that it does, and it's about time.

Q Ms. Pelosi, Republicans continue to criticize in very strong terms comments that you and John Murtha made here a week ago, and similar comments from other Democrats, questioning the sustainability of the war as it's currently being conducted and saying that this is harming the troops and that it's unpatriotic. And I was wondering what your reaction is to that sustained criticism of your approach.

MS. PELOSI: I think you were here last week, and I think you know that the statements that were made about the sustainability of the effort in Iraq were made by Mr. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran himself, a distinguished veteran, and a person who has credibility and credentials and standing on the issue that are unsurpassed in this Congress, and I think probably in this government.

I respect what Mr. Murtha said. I did not participate in any statements. He was speaking from his knowledge. That-all I said last week is that I would have a statement later in the day that Mr. Rumsfeld should resign. But what they're trying to do is say that Mr. Murtha and I said these things.

The fact is Mr. Murtha said these things, and they cannot diminish that in any way. A person with the highest standing on these issues, who is in direct communication with the troops and with the military, the higher-ups in the military, made that statement.

And so I think it speaks to the poverty of their justification of the course of action in Iraq that they would try to undermine a person of the standing on these military matters as Mr. Murtha.

Q Madame Leader, there's a group-you talked about separate but unequal. There's a group of residents who live in the District of Columbia who are separate and unequal. As you know, they have no representation. The last time there was a vote on this issue was the statehood vote in 1993, and prior to that it was 1978 in a constitutional amendment.

Tom Davis has offered a bill that many people in the District are not totally pleased with but they consider it a way station for representation in the House but not the Senate. There are supposedly going to be hearings on the bill. It seems to me that the Democratic leadership is against this bill because they want-part of the bill has to do with adding a seat to Utah, where Congressman Matheson would be jeopardized.

What is the position of the party on this bill? And why would you not allow a vote or be in support of a vote for representation in the House stating the fact that this is a start to full representation?

MS. PELOSI: I recognize that voice. (Laughs.) Thank you very much for your question.

I have always been a strong advocate for statehood for the District of Columbia. You don't know this, but when I was born, my father was a member of the House of Representatives. He was a member of the Appropriations Committee. And in his service there, he was the chairman of the District of Columbia committee-Subcommittee of the Approps for the District. In those days there was no mayor of the District. It was a long time before they had a mayor in the District. So he was in some ways considered an unofficial mayor of Washington, D.C., along with, of course, the authorizing committee chair. He was always a strong advocate for home rule-this is even predating home rule, this is really ancient history-home rule for the District of Columbia, and it is that spirit that I bring to my service.

And I can speak for myself. I support the District of Columbia having representation in the Congress of the United States, full- fledged representation: a full vote for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the floor of the House of Representatives, and two senators in the United States Senate.

I think that Congressman Davis is well-intentioned, but to start redrawing the map of the country in terms of representation now, I tell you, I have a list this long of members who say that their states are underrepresented and that they were not treated fairly in representation in the redistricting. And I think that that's a can of worms that the District of Columbia shouldn't have to get involved with.

But let's do it right. Let's have it. If people believe that the District should have representation and if taxation without representation is something that was the foundation of our republic, then so it should be rejected now. And so my position is that I call for full-fledged statehood for the District. I always have, and I've added my name and support to it in my entire service in the Congress.

Q Just a follow-up. Does this mean that if the Republicans have-I mean, they can actually-they're in the majority, as you fully know-if they can deliver a majority of those votes for representation in the House, stipulating that it is just a way station, that Democrats would vote against that bill?

MS. PELOSI: I don't know what Democrats will do. We haven't had a caucus position on that. We support Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's magnificent representation of the District and think she should have the full respect, and that the people of the District should have the full respect. So those who are sincere about representation of the District will want the District to have it wholeheartedly. I respect and do not impugn in any way the motivation of Congressman Davis. I think he's sincere about what he wants to do. It's just not realistic in terms of the approach that he would take to it.

Q I guess my final point is, you as the leader of the House Democrats, what would you advise them to do if this is the only thing that is offered for now?

MS. PELOSI: I think we can do better. I think we should do better. And we shouldn't settle for anything less than two senators and one member of the House of Representatives, if one is the number; see what the population is. But I think it should be full-fledged.

And I don't think that getting the District of Columbia involved in another fight-which is, "Well, if Utah's getting one, what about this state; we think we should have it"-you have no idea-well, you probably do-but many people do not have any idea the can of worms that would be opened up if you start redrawing the lines in a redistricting. Hopefully-I mean, the Republicans, as you indicated, have the majority. They could do this in a minute. They could bring a bill to the floor for statehood for the District of Columbia, and they would get tremendous support in the Democratic Caucus for it. Why don't we just go that route?

Thank you for coming.

Q I wonder if I could --

REP. PELOSI: A follow-up? Okay.

Q-turn just a minute to language about the war, if I could ask you to address the broader question about Republican criticism-again, in very strong terms-of those, regardless who it is, who question the wisdom of the way that the war is being conducted, and basically saying if you raise those kind of questions, you are undermining our troops and you are aiding and abetting the enemy, which is what they said.

REP. PELOSI: What I would refer them to a gentleman named Senator Taft, who would become the majority leader of the Republicans, and at the time of war, World War II, he said, "Disagreement in time of war is essential to a democracy." He was a Republican, I think you know that.

And I think that the fact is, is things are not going well in Iraq. It's a mess. And I don't know that the Republicans are saying anyone who disagrees with the course of action there is unpatriotic. If they are, they are wrong. I don't know that they're saying that. I don't hear everything they say. Mostly I hear about it from you all.

But the fact is that they-Iraq is a mess, and people of the standing of Mr. Murtha have the courage and the patriotism, I might add, to come forward and speak the truth, speak the truth from knowledge and experience and judgment. So I'd say to my colleagues that they are getting on thin, undemocratic ice if they say that we cannot speak in disagreement on the course of action in the war in a democracy.

And the fact is that much of the information that we're getting is from the troops. We support the troops. Every opportunity we get, we want to honor their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifice that they are willing to make. And that doesn't mean it has to be just in the form that the Republicans would put it. They have to answer for this policy. You know, 600 troops have died since the president declared mission accomplished, major combat operations over. They have to answer for this policy that they said would be paid for by the Iraqis, and soon, that is costing us now over $200 billion.

They have no answers. They have been unaccountable for the policy. They will not account for the funds. And all they can do is lob charges of unpatriotism against a person who served this country, received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam, and has dedicated his life to helping the troops and protecting our national security, and that would be Mr. Murtha.

Q Madame Leader, do you agree with his assessment that the war is unwinnable on the current course? Do you agree with that terminology?

REP. PELOSI: I respect Mr. Murtha's appraisal of it. I think that it-that the-it is clear that when a decision to go to war was made, it was not made with full knowledge of the consequences that are there. We have to win. So I would rather think of it in a different way. We have to win. It is unthinkable that we could not. But in order to do so, we need the resources there.

So far there is an indictment against the administration for not equipping the troops with what they needed to begin with; for not equipping them with the intelligence to provide force protection for our troops as we put them in harm's way; for ignoring the advice, the paper, the Iraq project paper of their own Department of State as to what to expect in the postwar period in Iraq; for having no clear plan that was immediate postwar period-having no clear plan for transition. And so three times as many people have died since the president declared the war over as died since the initiation of hostilities until the president's declaration.

So they have to-there is an accounting that has to be made for this policy there, and there will be a way that we can prevail, but apparently the leadership in place right now has not found out what that is. So it speaks to me that we need a new commander in chief.

Q Would you support sending many thousand more troops, which is what Mr. Murtha suggested, would you support that specific remedy?

REP. PELOSI: The remedy that I would suggest is one that will take some diplomacy to achieve, and apparently that didn't make it into the gene pool of this administration, the diplomacy to have more boots on the ground that are not strictly U.S. troops. You heard Mr. Murtha say that because security doesn't exist, it is going to be hard for us to get allies to come into the conflict. With the proper diplomatic outreach, we should be able to do that, to increase security by increasing the number of allies who are there, not just the number of U.S. troops.

We also have need for equipment that our allies, whether in NATO or other allies, can help supplement in this effort. So it's a-let's take-Mr. Murtha was speaking from a military perspective. I want to speak from an international diplomatic perspective. We must have the right kind of leadership that shows respect for other people, other countries; that says we all have a vested interest in bringing this to a peaceful and secure resolution. We cannot do that alone. We have to do it with the help of others, for political as well as military reasons, and we need to invite their support in a way that is respectful.

I return to my comment that I always make, and you're probably tired of hearing it, and I was, again, in school here and heard President Kennedy deliver his inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol. And he said-after he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you," the very next sentence was, "To the citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you, but what we can do working together for the freedom of mankind." That is the spirit that we have to bring to this, what we can do working together; not a spirit of condescension, but a spirit of collaboration and cooperation and respect.

I think that President Kerry, when he's president, will be able to do that. We need a change in leadership in order to have the change in policy to be able to attract the additional support that we need to provide the security that will enable the reconstruction and the successful-the success of our mission in Iraq, so that our troops can come home safely and soon, and receive the full measure of respect that they deserve for the excellent jobs that they did and are doing in Iraq.

Q Madame Leader, on the --

Q Ms. Pelosi, do you see yourself going to Iraq or Afghanistan any time soon?

MS. PELOSI: Well, I was there in March, and that was-it was a very instructive visit at the time. I had been there one year before, just before the initiation of hostilities the March before; I was in Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, visiting with the troops before they went in. This time I went to Iraq and Afghanistan and then to Germany to visit troops in a hospital there.

The-I believe that probably our military personnel in Iraq has its hands filled right now. I went in March at the invitation of General Myers. He said the timing was okay to go at that time, and he-with his invitation and providing the plane, I went at that time with Congressman Ike Skelton, the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and with Robin Hayes of North Carolina.

The-if the general thinks it is appropriate and not a burden on the military to go soon again, I would be pleased to do that at that time. But I do think that, again, they have a lot on their hands right now and that I'll wait for the invitation again to go.

Q Madame Leader, Tom Tancredo from Colorado has a proposal to ban cameras from hearings that deal with the Iraq photo issue. It is unclear or doubtful that this proposal will go anywhere. His idea, though-he said that members on both sides of the building, both sides of the aisle are posturing for cameras during these photo hearings and things like that. Do you think they are posturing in this event, that there has been too much of this?

MS. PELOSI: Do you think that members of Congress posture over time? Are we talking about something new that has come into the-no, I don't think people are posturing.

And let me just say that I would imagine that even you all, with the objectivity and the fairness that you bring to your jobs, would at some point have had enough of the sanctimonious statements of the Republicans about who's a patriot, who's hurting the troops, who's posturing and the rest. Every person that's here, Democrat or Republican, House or Senate, represents their constituents. They have been chosen by them to come here to speak for them in the interest of our country. They weren't chosen by Mr. Tancredo as to how they do on TV, as to whether our system should be open and democratic.

So again, because of the poverty of their ideas, they don't have a solution to the problem in Iraq. The lack of planning, training and supervision that created the situation in the prison in Baghdad is a taint on our country's reputation and an embarrassment, and it represents a failure on the part of this administration. So their attempts to diminish the public view of it are understandable. They are undemocratic.

But they have a right to say whatever they want to say. But if that includes shutting down transparency in our democracy, then I don't support it, and I don't respect it.

Q Madame Leader, your push for transparency --

REP. PELOSI: Did somebody-somebody who hasn't had a question yet.

Q Madame Leader --

REP. PELOSI: Now did you have a question?

Q Yeah, I'm sorry.

REP. PELOSI: Oh, you did.

Q You were mentioning transparency. I wanted to pick it up there. Then why do you not want to release these photos? Senator Boxer last night said she did not want the photos released publicly. This morning she gave a Senate floor speech saying overnight she thought about it, she's changed her mind. She thinks the public needs to know. In order to move on, these photos have to come out.

So why are you taking that position?

MS. PELOSI: Well, I served 10 years on the Intelligence Committee. This is not to say that the senator doesn't-I respect what she is saying. Senator McCain and other senators have said that we might as well release them all at once in a way that might be more appropriate than to have them dribble out to the press and have it be a sensation every other day. Plus, as was indicated by the first question, we have absolutely no idea how many more pictures are out there.

I have always in my whole time in the Intelligence Committee argued for transparency and declassification. The more the better. But there has to be a purpose. And would the purpose be-the decision I think, as I said before, would have to be weighed against the Geneva Conventions and right of privacy of the prisoners and the U.S. military-their right to privacy, being kept from public humiliation, insult and curiosity; the needs of the prosecution in terms of law enforcement.

So that's where I come down on it. It is a difficult-I'll be very honest with you-because if I thought-let me say it another way. If I thought that on the basis of what we have seen so far, which is all I can speak to-if I thought that on the basis of what we have seen so far that the public understanding and knowledge of this issue would be enhanced, I would say release them in a minute. I think the public-from what I have seen, the public has an accurate sense of what happened in those prisons-and that weighing them against the other considerations that I just mentioned, that I don't see the need to release them in terms of the public's right to know.

In terms of, is it better to do it in one fell swoop, well, that is an argument that others will have to make weighing against law enforcement, Geneva Conventions and the rights of privacy. But again, I respect what others have said, and they may be right. It may be controllable in terms of do it all at once and have the public know. I just found it very stunning to see-and, you know, I've been through a lot in 10 years on the Intelligence Committee. I found it just very tragic. And as I say, I don't know anything more coming out of the room than I knew going in, in terms of the treatment of the detainees.

Q Madame Leader, what can House Democrats do to move the highway bill forward? Are you going to start to lean on your Senate colleagues to allow that bill to move?

MS. PELOSI: Well, I think we are going to have to engage the public in this, because the country needs a highway bill. It needs a robust highway bill, but it needs a highway bill. And I'm very discouraged by the sounds, rumblings coming out of the Republican Caucus that we may not have one this year. We were supposed to have one last year. Jobs, quality of life, promoting commerce, homeland security-the list goes on and on as to why we need this bill and we need it now.

For every $1 million spent on the highway bill, 47,500 good- paying jobs are created. I know that the Republicans on the committee of jurisdiction and the House Infrastructure and Transportation support a strong, robust highway bill. In fact, they voted unanimously for the Democratic proposal of $375 billion, but the committee came out with a much lower number, as you know, because they were concerned about a veto. And now the president says he is going to veto their $375 billion bill.

So I think we have to-the bipartisan public-private coalition that has been built up around the highway bill is almost historic in its scope. It has nothing to do with party, nothing to do with ideology or anything else. It is business and labor, Democrats and Republicans, private sector, public sector. Everyone recognizes the need, apparently, except the president of the United States.

So I think we just have to keep working the coalition to bring pressure to bear. The outside mobilization on this issue is going to be much more effective, I think, than the inside maneuvering on it.

Q The Bush administration wasn't going to ask for more money. They're as of now going to ask for $25 billion. Will you be voting for that for the war?

And second, Congressman Rangel wants the reimposition of the draft. Do you think the administration will ask for that, and how would you vote on that?

MS. PELOSI: Let's get rid of that one right away. I recognize and appreciate the concern that Congressman Rangel has that the only thing that a person who decides to send our kids to war, the only thing they have to lose are other people's children. When it becomes their children, too, they may think a little more carefully about who they put in harm's way. And that, I think, is the point that he wants to make by calling for the draft, that why is it is poor urban center kids and poor rural kids without having it be something that we share the burden and responsibility of when we send our kids to war? Having said that, I do not support the draft flat out. Secondly-but I do think we should be more careful about when we put and whose children we put in harm's way.

What was your first question?

Q The money, $25 billion.

MS. PELOSI: Oh, yeah, $25 billion. (Chuckles.)

I think it's very important for the public to know the true cost of this war. And the administration wasn't even going to ask for this $25 million-billion until after the war was over because now we're getting into a fifth or a quarter of a trillion dollars as the cost of this war. It will be to a quarter of a trillion dollars by year end for the cost of this war, and all the opportunity costs that means for our own country domestically.

But the fact that they're asking for the 25 (billion dollars), it's about a third of what they really need. It's probably more like 75 (billion dollars) or $80 billion. And what Democrats want, and we hope that this would be bipartisan, is that we are talking about telling the public what the cost of this war actually is.

Now, depending on what's in this money, if it's to meet the needs of our troops to do their job, to have the equipment and the rest, certainly we'll all be voting for it. What the administration has said is, though, they want the $25 billion, they don't want to say what it's for, they just want the discretion over it. And I don't-I think even the Republicans will resist that. Senator Grassley made a very strong statement to that effect that was in one of the morning papers.

So, in any event, we-I think that the debate on the cost of the war will be a place where people will be saying we want some accountability for the policy that you're asking this money to fund, and we want an accounting of the funds, and want the American people to know that they're a quarter-a fifth to a quarter of the road to a trillion dollars already in cost in this war.

Thank you all very much for coming.


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