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Weekly Media Availability with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service July 22, 2004 Thursday



REP. PELOSI: Good morning.

As you know, yesterday the chairman and the vice chairman of the 9/11 commission came to Congress and briefed the leadership of the House Democrats. The day before they had briefed the Republicans. We had hoped it would be a joint briefing, but nonetheless here we are. I want to congratulate the chairman and the vice chairman, Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, our former colleague, all of the commissioners, the staff and all who contributed to this excellent report.

The fact that it has been made available to the public for $10 a copy is really a breakthrough in transparency. No longer do they have to order it just through the Government Printing Office at three, four or five times the cost. So the work that they have done, the light that they have shed on this terrible tragedy in our country will be available for the public to make-draw its own conclusions about where we go from here. I have said many times that the work of the 9/11 commission or, previous to that, the joint inquiry in the House and Senate was hallowed ground. When we went there, we had to do so in the most bipartisan way. The purpose was not to assign blame, but to find answers for the families, to reduce risk to the American people, and to do everything we could to make sure that such a tragedy never befell our country again.

We should not only compliment the work of of the committee (sic), but we honor it best by taking seriously the recommendations it has put forth, and for Congress to move not with haste, but quickly to consider the recommendations, at least consider them. It's unrealistic to think that they would all be received, considered and passed into law in this Congress now, but we-it doesn't mean that we cannot get started. So I would hope that the committees of jurisdiction would quickly review the findings and consider the recommendations.

And this is hallowed ground. We owe it to the families to do our very best in a bipartisan way.

We also have a constitutional requirement to provide for the common defense, to protect the American people, to provide public safety as elected officials. That's what we must do first, so all other good things flow from that. And this 9/11 commission report gives us some guidance of how to avoid a future tragedy.

As one who was the original author of the 9/11 commission that was beaten down by the Republicans and by the administration, I have my own personal level of satisfaction in seeing their work come to fruition. It wasn't until another Congress and an initiative by Congressman Roemer and Senators McCain and Lieberman in the Senate, with much resistance from the White House at first, that we got this legislation passed to create the commission.

There is so much unfinished business as we go into this August adjournment. We'll come back and only have a few short weeks in September to finish the 108th Congress. It is a Congress in which we did not produce, although we needed to, an energy bill, a highway bill, a budget-something as fundamental as a budget, a blueprint from which the Congress can operate, and that is with the Republicans in charge of both houses and the White House. They couldn't even come to agreement themselves on where to go from here.

So while millions-many more millions of Americans are out of work since President Bush took office or are employed-or are underemployed in jobs that pay much less than the jobs that they had before; where more Americans are uninsured than were when President Bush took office; where our children, millions of them, are left behind because of underfunding of the No Child Left Behind bill; where our environment has suffered rolling back 30 years of bipartisan agreement and progress on the environment; where the recklessness of the Bush economic policies has taken us deeply, deeply, deeply into debt, and where we have not only been fiscally irresponsible, we have not even been responsible in providing for the needs of our troops-as you see, the GAO report, which our ranking member on Budget, Mr. Spratt, called for, shows that the military may not even have the resources it needs for Iraq and other purposes to finish this fiscal year, which ends the end of September as you know.

To add insult to injury, with all this work incomplete, yesterday the Republicans did something that, even by their standard, was a disservice to the American people and to our men and women in uniform. Our distinguished ranking member on the military construction committee (sic), Chet Edwards, offered a proposal that would lift the cap on military housing so that we can provide decent housing for our men and women in uniform and their families, and the Republicans refused to lift the cap. But because they knew that that was the wrong thing to do, they adjourned the Congress, rose from the Committee of the Whole to the Congress, they voted on it in a vehicle that had no power, and went back and rejected it in the appropriations bill that will be signed into law.

That's just pure silliness. Again, as Chet Edwards said, it's a slap in the face of our men and women in uniform.

And while we have, again, people out of work, people uninsured, children in need of education, environment suffering, our men and women in uniform underserved by this administration, Congress taking us deeply in debt, our seniors without a prescription drug bill, what are they doing? What are we spending our time here the last day before adjournment? On an ill-advised, probably unconstitutional, court-stripping bill.

This attempt to undermine our Constitution is a real disservice-again, disservice, disservice, disservice-to the American people.

I just remind us all that every member of Congress takes an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. With this bill on the floor today, members, if they vote for it, will be departing from that oath. Don't take it from me, this bill-this has been tried before over the years in the '80s and early 1980s, mostly put forth by Senator Jesse Helms at the time. When this was put forth, these attempts were rejected, largely under the leadership of Senator Goldwater and President Reagan's attorney general.

I am just going to close with this quote. When Barry Goldwater spoke against a court-stripping bill in 1982, he warned his colleagues in that body that a "frontal assault on the independence of the federal courts is a dangerous blow to the foundations of a free society." I hope that our Republican colleagues will heed that admonition from Barry Goldwater.

And with that, I'd be pleased to take any questions that you may have.

Q Madame Leader, neither the House nor the Senate has been able to come up with any kind of authorization or appropriation for Homeland Security. The Republicans accuse the Democrats of being obstructionists with all these amendments, and the Democrats say that the Republicans are just sort of going behind the scenes and doing what they did earlier this year with the FAA reauthorization-no conferencing. Do you see any end to this sort of bipartisan bickering so that you can actually get something done on Homeland Security?

REP. PELOSI: This is not bipartisan bickering, this is a substantial disagreement between Democrats and Republicans and it's our responsibility to the American people for us to debate.

The fact is, is that we know what our vulnerability is. We know that our first responders do not have the equipment to be interoperable and to communicate in real time. We know that our ports and our waterways and our borders are not adequately protected. We know that the plutonium and the uranium that exist out there in the world that makes us vulnerable, we know where it is, we know where we can buy it. It is a small price to pay for the American people. We know that we are not adequately protecting, privately or in a public- private way, the chemical and nuclear plants in our country that are very vulnerable. And the statistics on the exposure to the American people are staggering.

Our distinguished ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee of Appropriations, Martin Sabo, has this information chapter and verse, as does Jim Turner, our ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee.

This isn't a question of bickering. This is a question of saying: This is our exposure, we know what the challenge is, we know what the solutions are. Why is this not a priority for the Republicans? Why is this not a priority for the president of the United States?"

So we have to make that fight, and we will continue to make that fight. This shouldn't even be a matter of any partisanship. This is what we owe the American people. But we cannot give them anything less than the best that we can do to protect them.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Madame Leader, you-back to 9/11. You said that we should take the recommendations seriously and move quickly but not in haste. Do you believe that any action should be delayed until after the election?

REP. PELOSI: No. No, I believe that we should send the recommendations to the appropriate committees of jurisdiction so that we can get started on it. It could be that the challenge that they put forth and the recommendations they make can even be enlarged upon in a period of public comment where the public would weigh in.

Some of these proposals, if you talk about where we have an overall head of the CIA, what does this mean in terms of the oversight of Congress-some of these things we may know some things about that we can contribute, have some value added rather than just taking recommendations and implementing them. They have to be carefully considered, and some of them will benefit from a public airing and discussion of them.

So I think that we could begin hearings almost immediately, certainly when we come back, on some of the recommendations that they have so that we can move forward. And perhaps some could be addressed immediately. But I think we have to look at it in its totality, that, again, it has oneness, it has an integrity about it, that we are not just doing things here and there, but we're doing it in a way that, again, reduces risks and prevents, to the extent that we possibly can, a tragedy like this from ever happening again, and creating the balance that we must have between security and freedom, which our Founding Fathers understood so well and gave us in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights.

Q If I could follow. The commission, albeit, say they really are nonpartisan, this is an election year, the political firestorm is just beginning. How realistic do you believe anything honestly could get done in this climate?

REP. PELOSI: I think that the American people expect and deserve us to do our very best to move quickly, again not with haste but with seriousness, thoughtfulness, with transparency, to consider these recommendations and move. I don't want anybody to think that this is going to go on any shelf and gather any dust without action being taken. And I don't think-I think these issues should not be partisan.

But the fact is that there are some-there is some unfinished business that we know about that could be acted upon in terms of our exposure, our homeland security over here, and then the more institutional proposals that are in here might take a little more time. But that would have to be finite.

This committee gave us a good model. They kept getting narrow, narrow deadlines, but they met it, and they met it well and they met it in a way that honored the responsibility that they had to the families and to the American people.

Yes, ma'am?

Q One of the things that you mentioned that the commission faulted Congress significantly for is lack of oversight of intelligence organizations. Being a former member of the Intelligence Committee, do you feel any responsibility for that?

REP. PELOSI: Well, the-the-I think we all should feel some responsibility about oversight here. But we're talking about a culture in which the entire time, except for two years that I was on the committee, the Republicans were in control of the Congress. And quite frankly, there was real knowledge that we had to do something about the Intelligence Committee, and toward the end of the last century-we speak in those terms, in the late '90s-we were told and we agreed that we would never have an authorizing bill that would look the way our authorizing bills looked, which was similar to last year; that there had to be a restructuring in the intelligence community.

General Scowcroft was called upon to do this restructuring review. He had a product. When President Bush was elected, he had the right to say I want to have a review of it, and that was part of the Scowcroft review. We don't know whether the president ever received a review. We spoke to General Scowcroft on a number of occasions, not to get to this level of specificity, but there was a recognition that there had to be a change.

Certainly, you would have to say, looking at the lack of accountability within the FBI, the lack of accountability within the CIA, the lack of communication between the agencies, the lack of linguists and the rest, that we have to look at the record to see who was advocating for these things all along and where they didn't happen.

But when 9/11 happened when it did, the Scowcroft report was then just a moot point because then everybody knew that something had to change in the committee.

But I think that we all have to look at every piece of this with total objectivity. And that's why I do not support making permanent the members of the Intelligence Committee. I think you have to constantly have fresh eyes up there, but not treating those fresh eyes in any junior way; treating them as new, fresh, powerful eyes that represent the Congress and, therefore, the American people. We have to examine our own conscience on this, no question.


Q At next week's Democratic convention, what are the goals for Democrats? What do you hope to achieve? How much of a presence will there be for House Democrats?

REP. PELOSI: Well, the Democrats-House Democrats are going to the convention in a very proud and confident way. We are taking our message that we have been talking about here, message on jobs, health care, education, national security, fiscal soundness, to the-and civility-to the convention. We'll be very positive in our presentation and we will be very conspicuous in our presence.

We're very, very proud of our candidate for president and our candidate for vice president, John Kerry and John Edwards. It's their convention; it is a nominating convention. And we will be there to reinforce their very positive message as well.

We hope to come out of the convention with the American people having a better understanding of how different we are from the Republicans, what we are willing to fight for, and what our agenda would be like come next January. I know it is going to be a successful convention. We're very well prepared for it. And I think the beautiful diversity of our House Democrats, the extraordinary talent that is contained within our-within our caucus, will be conspicuous and obvious to the American people.

Q Have you been urging the Kerry campaign to give prominence to House Democrats on your goal of winning majority?

REP. PELOSI: I didn't have to urge them. It was their wish from the start, and we have worked together to-for that very purpose. So I-they have been completely gracious and open and cooperative, and so have we.

Q Madame Leader, when you first took control, the party was fairly disjointed. Your beautiful diversity kind of left things in a bit of a disarray. You were fairly demoralized. Do you think your party is more unified now? Do you think they are more optimistic about their chances? And if so, what have you done that you think is responsible for creating that unity and that optimism?

REP. PELOSI: Don't take my word for it. Was it-CQ earlier this year said the Democrats in the House were more unified than any time since Sam Rayburn was speaker of the House.

When I say diversity, the beautiful diversity, I certainly mean how representative our caucus is of the American people, and that means diversity of thinking as well. When I became leader, our first order of business was to create a job plan for the American people, to put together an economic package which would create a million jobs right then and there that first year. And the reason we had total consensus on that plan is because we all listened to each other. Members worked together to build consensus and to have clarity of message and to have a credible proposal. So that's-those three Cs have been our criteria as we went along. We have-we built consensus on a credible message that we can clearly present to the American people.

We did that on a number of issues, our veterans issues. Now we're going to do, maybe today, roll out on small business, on our outsourcing. That plan emerged from our New Democrats. I think our entire leadership has been united. We've been united from the top. We've worked very closely with our distinguished whip, Steny Hoyer. His whip operation has produced sometimes 100 percent votes on the part of the Democrats, and if not always unanimous, certainly near unanimous votes. I think we all-every member of this caucus deserves credit for that unity.

If I may add a political note, unity is the foundation of our campaigns. We go forth now, building on a-from a message-from our unity, building a message. That unity is our strength and it is our appeal. If we're not united, why should people want to team up with us? So we go out with a unified message about who we are and what we're willing to fight for, as I mentioned, and mobilizing around that message at the grassroots level to attract the candidates which we have who will deliver that message and create a Democratic majority on November 2nd.

Thank you.

Q Congresswoman, you spoke earlier about the rancor surrounding the homeland security bill. That kind of-that general sense has surrounded much of the action in the House this year. Congressman Hoyer has talked about the do-nothing Congress and the Republicans. At the same time, they blame you. How does that overall problem-that he said, she said as it were-affect your ability to get the message out to voters?

REP. PELOSI: I believe that we are getting our message out to voters. I most recently would tell you to look to the Pew-what the Pew Family Research poll came out today.

Almost every issue you can name, we are well ahead of the Republicans, and where the public agrees, and we are way ahead of where the Democrats were in September of 2002. So we are getting our message across.

A political party that controls the Senate, the House and the White House is either ineffective or is just looking for an excuse for their own incompetence if they blame it on the minority party on why they have not been able to do the people's business. They certainly cannot say that we have held up anything in the House that the Republicans have proposed, because they have totally tried to muzzle Democrats in the House. So that's an excuse, it's not a reason.

But to get to your larger point, as you know, I sent our civility principles, our principles for respect for the minority, to the speaker. They were not well received, nor agreed to, but that was not a requirement for me to agree to them myself. And I said that that was what Democrats thought was appropriate bipartisan administration of the House: fairness in terms of how committees are run, how legislation is brought to the floor, where we could have more discourse and less discord. Again, it's something we owe the American people. And when Democrats win in November, we will show you how that is done.

Q Ms. Pelosi, could I ask you sort of a convention question dealing with the platform, on the whole matter of stem cell research. You have Ron Reagan, Jr., speaking to the convention. Could you sort of articulate what the Democratic view is on stem cell; for example, as an issue where you are trying to distinguish yourself from the Republicans?

REP. PELOSI: An overwhelming number, but not unanimous number, of House Democrats support stem cell research and disagree with the decision that the president has made. I am thrilled that Ron Reagan is going to be speaking on that issue. And I salute, as I have in the past, Mrs. Reagan for her courage and her generosity of spirit and sharing her views on the subject with the world. She has personal experience. She knows of what she speaks.

The very idea that we could have scientific opportunity, the biblical power to cure, and yet to have a radical agenda that prevents that from happening is, I think, immoral. Immoral.

It has a business side to it, too. You know, we're all talking about how we're going to maintain our competitive edge in the world and be on the forefront of technology and new ideas, and basically the administration has just said this issue should go overseas. And when it goes overseas, so does the excellence in science; so is that also followed by the capital investment.

Now, some in the United States, and in the state of California we have an initiative on the ballot which I strongly support that creates a fund for investment in stem cell research. Hopefully, other states will do that. Hopefully, a new president of the United States and a new Congress will depart from the "Flat Earth Society" attitudes on science of the Bush administration.

That isn't that I'm not respectful of the views of some on this subject. It's a new idea to some. And we have to make the case that-well, I know in my years on the Appropriations Committee funding the National Institutes of Health, working to double the funding for NIH, I followed this issue for years, and I'm disappointed that the administration has taken the point of view that they did.

All of these issues were dealt with in the Reagan years with ethical principles and there was agreement on them. So I think there is a place that again, as we did in the Reagan years, we can come together with ethical principles, supporting science and helping cure ailments that plague the American people, like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and cancer and fertility and infertility, issues on both sides of that.

So that's my view on it. And that, I think, speaks for a large number of the Democrats.

Yes, ma'am?

Q It's been reported in The Washington Post and in The New York Times that we're sending more recent recruits over to Iraq and Afghanistan, and there's concern that these recruits won't be adequately trained or resourced. I'm wondering, in your opinion at what point does it become irresponsible to send over troops?

REP. PELOSI: Our experts on this subject, Mr. Murtha on the Appropriations Committee, and Mr. Ike Skelton, have spoken to this issue on a number of occasions. It's important that we have fresh recruits because, as Mr. Skelton said, he feared that our troops there were at the breaking point, some of them, in terms of the additional service they were called upon to do.

I think it would be important and responsible to get an answer from the military on that subject, because we want to have the best- equipped and best-trained troops. That's second to none.PELOSI-WEEKLY-AVAIL PAGE 12 07/22/2002 .STX

That's our responsibility to the military, whether it's active duty, Reservist or National Guard. And there are some in the military who have expressed-currently in the military have expressed concerns about the lack of training and preparation for them to go. And I think that what they have to say about it would be more instructive to you and telling. What they've told in private situations is quite alarming. So I think you should ask them.

Thank you all --

Q Madame Leader --

REP. PELOSI: One more?

Q One more.

REP. PELOSI: Just one more?

Q Heading into Boston, knowing that was the-one of the originations of the terrorist flights, knowing that the briefings that you received in recent weeks about the high level of terrorist threats and the need to disrupt U.S. elections, how comfortable is your level with security, in terms of what this administration has done, leading up to the conventions? Or do you yourself feel secure going to Boston?

REP. PELOSI: I myself feel secure going to Boston. The-as one who has been the chair of a host committee for a convention that had to deal with issues that relate to security in the 1984 convention in San Francisco-which we thought was a very tall order, but a small order compared to the level of security now-I feel secure about it.

I don't think it's productive for the administration to talk about al Qaeda threats to the convention and to the election and postponement of the election. As I said last week, I'll say it again this week: If the administration has information to that extent, they should immediately share it with Congress or stop the fear-mongering. And if they have real information, then we should act upon it.

One of the concerns that I have about how they evaluate information is when I heard the president this morning-and we all-again, this is a very important report, and we all have to read it seriously to know what it says and then how to act upon it. But when the president said that he didn't have an inkling-he didn't have an inkling that something could happen, well, that just can't be right.

You know, say what you will about the August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing, the PDB-it may not have said a time and a place, but it certainly was an aggregation of facts; it was very, very alarming-it had to be at least an inkling.

Now that doesn't mean that 9/11 could have been prevented. I doesn't mean that the president was delinquent in what he did. I don't mean to even imply that at all.

But that is an inkling that something is imminent. It's more than an inkling. It was a warning, although not with time and place.

So if they consider that an inkling, I don't know what it will take to go to the next step. And as I say, if they have information of that level of seriousness, they can't have it both ways. It can't be so serious that they're putting out a warning about the conventions and the election, or that it's not even an inkling that something is going to happen.

With that, we go, as this country always does, with great optimism, with great preparation and with great hope for the American people. I know we're going to have a successful convention. I know that we're going to nominate the next president and vice president of the United States. I wish the Republicans well in their convention in New York. It's important for the American people to hear the messages of those who wish to serve them, to make public policy decisions that affect their lives. I know that our message will be relevant to the lives of the people in our country, and I look forward to going, and then I look forward to going home. (Chuckles.)

Thank you all very much. '

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