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PBS's Charlie Rose: Interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST:  Welcome to the broadcast.  We're in Washington at the Speaker's chamber in the House of Representatives for a conversation with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. 

 

As a result of the 2006 elections, Nancy Pelosi, from San Francisco, California, became the Speaker of the House, the first woman to ever hold that job. 

 

I'm pleased to have her here for a conversation about the Congress and the country. 

 

IRAQ

 

Let me start with this idea.  Senator Lugar made lots of news yesterday.  Tell me how his speech and his decision changes the dynamic of the Iraqi debate in Congress. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Senator Lugar's speech was very courageous on his part, and it was a great speech.  I urge everyone to read it. 

 

It really doesn't change the dynamic as it continues, the unfolding of a dynamic that I think Democrats put in place when we came into power. 

 

We changed the debate on Iraq.  We established some accountability for the President and for the Iraqis.  We put a bright light on what was happening on the ground in Iraq. 

 

So it was inevitable that over a period of time, the ineffectiveness of the President's initiatives would become so apparent that even Senator Lugar had to say it is not worth the outcome. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Ok, but he said more than that.  Most people hear the President and General Petraeus and others are saying September 15th is a magical date, because then Petraeus will come here; the ambassador, Crocker, will come here and they will deliver their report in terms of what is the situation on the ground politically and militarily.  Senator Lugar seems to be saying, 'We can't wait.'

 

NANCY PELOSI:  That's right.  Well, you have two things here.  Senator Lugar is saying every day it's important, we can't wait.  The Baker-Hamilton commission said -- the Iraq Study Group said that a long time ago. 

 

But what the President and General Petraeus are saying is it's just a day, a photograph of what's happening at the time.  They seem to be trying to kick the can down the road. 

 

What's especially important about Senator Lugar's speech is he's saying we want to see -- we want some answers, and don't think you're going to take this any longer than September, and September is even too late as it is.

 

Senator Voinovich, as you may know, joined him.  And others are expected to.  That's what we said when we sent the President the first bill, House and Senate, with goals for a time to get out of Iraq by next spring. 

 

The President vetoed the bill.  We had no recourse because we couldn't get a signature that we could override. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Didn't have enough Republicans signing on. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  We didn't have enough Republicans signing on.  But you see the unfolding of that now. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  But could that bring another vote sooner?  Because these Republicans not only are saying we can't wait, but in addition they may have -- make some pressure on the President, because in the end, many people have said it's when the Republicans tell the President it's not working that he has to listen. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  You're so right, Charlie.  I think that it may not come to a vote.  It may come to overtures made by Republicans to the President, to say: 'Let's remove all doubt -- in case you're counting on our votes, we can't support this, don't put us in a position to oppose you.'  That will be very important. 

 

Because the truth -- the ground truth in Iraq is devastating.  It's a sad thing.  Here we are all these many years later, over four years later, so many young people who have died, so many who have become permanently injured.  That cost is something that is the highest cost to us, of course, the cost of reputation in the world to America, the great country, taking its rightful place in the community of nations.  That is diminished. 

 

The cost in dollars, over $1 trillion, $10 billion a month.  Think of what we could do with that money.

 

But the big change for many of these Republicans and some of the more conservative Democrats has been the strain that this war has placed on our military.  It is undermining our ability to protect and defend America wherever our interests are threatened in the world.  And that is a high, high cost.  And it has changed some people's view of whether what we're doing there is worth the outcome. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Does the Speaker of the House believe the surge is not working? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  The Speaker of the House believes that the surge is not working.  The surge had been tried at least three times before and failed.  I've been to the region, the theater, before the initiation of hostilities, right before, and then a number of times since then.  I said to the President: 'Mr. President, the surge has been tried at least three or four times already.  What makes you think it will work this time?'  He said: 'Because I told them it had to work.'

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  And because I have a new general in Baghdad. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Well, I said, well: 'Why didn't you tell them that before?'  But, well, he now has a new general in Baghdad. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  And you expect for General Petraeus to come here in September and say what? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  I expect General Petraeus to be an honorable general and I respect him as such, and I expect that he will come here and tell the truth. 

 

But, again, this does not happen in a vacuum.  There are many observers of what is happening on the ground.  And it's a complicated situation. 

 

What's surprising to me -- I'm rarely surprised in politics, in government and the rest, because I study the scene pretty carefully, and maybe that's a haughty thing to say...

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Otherwise you wouldn't have been Speaker. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  I guess not.  But what is interesting to me, and I've said this to the White House, why is it that they don't come to the American people and say: 'This is our vision for stability in the Middle East.  This is what is important to the national security of America, and that is why our course of action in Iraq should be thus and so.'

 

I think the reason they don't do that is because there is no justification for the course that they are taking in Iraq. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Do you believe they know that and understand that? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  The generals know it.  General Odom, who has done a response to the President on this subject, has said that any stability in the Middle East must begin with the redeployment of American troops out of Iraq. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Ok.  But does General Petraeus know that?  Does general -- does Admiral Fallon know that?  Do people who report to the President know that? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  All I know is that generals who are now retired are very outspoken about their opposition to the course of action in Iraq, the conduct of the war there, and, in many cases, they have said that any success in the region beyond Iraq, any strategy for success, must begin with the redeployment out of Iraq. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Ok.  Let me talk about the forces that are coming together here.  Now, you have Republican senators -- first Lugar, then Voinovich and...

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Warner. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Warner saying after July 4th, a lot of people will come back and there may be another vote then. 

 

You have Baker-Hamilton seeming to get a new breath of...

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Yes.

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  ... encouragement to step forward and do more, to resume Baker-Hamilton.  You now have General Jones on instruction from the Congress doing a study.  All of this will lead to what? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Hopefully, this will lead to some wisdom that says, well, first of all, how can we trust the judgment of those who got us into this war in the first place?  It's ancient history four years ago, five years ago when they brought this vote up in Congress.  But what we do know is that there was -- I said at the time, there is no intelligence to support the threat that the Administration is claiming.  People said to me at the time: 'Are you calling the President a liar?'  I said no, I'm just saying as one of the gang of four -- you know, the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, have access to all of the intelligence, more than any of the Members of Congress -- the intelligence was not there.

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  The intelligence for what? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  The threat that the President was claiming. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Before the invasion? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Before the invasion.  Before the vote.  Before the vote.  So, again, why go back except to say this is the judgment we are asked to respect at this time, a judgment that went into war on a false premise, without the appropriate training and equipment for our troops, without a strategy for success, without knowing what they were getting into.  And now they are saying we're either going to be there for 50 years, a la Korea, or we're going to reduce our troops by 50 percent.  Fifty seems to be a number fraught with meaning for them. 

 

But what this all means is that the President -- the American people have resoundingly stated they have lost faith, they have lost confidence in the President's conduct of this war.  And all that you have just described, all of that information coming to bear at the same time I think will speak to a different approach when it comes to a vision for stability in the Middle East and what initiatives are necessary for our national security, to fight against terrorism.  The focus has to be different. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  And I'm asking, is it going to be sooner than September 15th when General Petraeus comes here, because, as Senator Lugar said, you can't wait?  Will you and will the Congress do something different than you expect it to do in order to bring a redeployment or withdrawal from troops earlier than you might have imagined? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Well, all of what we have put forth has been prospective.  And we're still sort of saying by the spring of next year, the redeployment out of Iraq must be complete. 

 

So in July, as planned, according to the bill that passed and the President signed, the President now has to answer to the Warner resolution, the benchmarks established by Senator Warner.  That has a July deadline. 

 

We will be taking up other initiatives.  There are initiatives to deauthorize the war.  There are initiatives similar to what we passed originally, which was a deadline for troops in Iraq, except for certain purposes, which were to protect our forces and our embassy, to train the Iraqis and to fight terrorism.  That's called the Levin resolution, and there's a consensus in both House and Senate on that. 

 

We will be taking up the defense appropriations bill.  We'll be taking up the defense authorization bill.  So appropriations and authorization. 

 

In all of those vehicles, you will see initiatives to vote on the conduct of this war, and it will be harder and harder for the Republicans to stick with the President. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  There is this point to consider.  The President argues that we -- if we withdraw too early, or even redeploy, it will be chaos.  Have you and have others clearly understood the impact of withdrawing for the Iraqis and the Middle East crisis? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Yes, we have.  Our first responsibility is to provide for the common defense, to protect the American people, to ensure our national security.  That's a big responsibility.  It's in the Preamble to the Constitution, to which we take an oath of office.  And so we have to look at every situation regardless of how we got into it, regardless of the judgment or poor judgment of the President of the United States as to what is in our national interest and the security of the American people. 

 

And that's what's particularly devastating about what the President's doing, because it is not making the region more safe, it is not making it more stable, it's not making the American people safer, and it is not strengthening our military; it is weakening it. 

 

So in response to your question, I would say what I said earlier.  We need to enlarge the issue.  What is in furtherance of bringing -- what is the vision that we all have for bringing stability to the Middle East? 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  And what is ... 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  And how are the decisions in Iraq in furtherance of promoting that?  So you have to take it and say, while there were no terrorists there -- that is to say al Qaeda was not present in Iraq at the start of the war and now Iraq is a magnet for them -- we must stay to fight the al Qaeda.  Nobody is saying: 'Oh, just walk away from them.' 

 

What we are saying is the mission must be redefined to stop wasting the time of fighting a civil war and taking sides and arming the Sunnis.... 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Or being in the middle of it? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Or being in the middle of the civil war and saying what we need to do -- and we have said this over and over again - 'Ok, fight al Qaeda, have the troops there to protect our diplomats and our forces who are there to fight al Qaeda, and to -- if it's possible, train the Iraqis to provide for their own security.'

 

We have to do that, though, but as the Baker-Hamilton or the Iraq Study Group has said, you cannot -- there isn't a military solution.  Everybody says that.  The generals say that.  A sole -- only a military solution. 

 

You also must engage in diplomacy with the region, involving other countries in the stability of Iraq and the region, and you have to be involved in the economic development of the region as well. 

 

So that requires diplomatic, economic, and military solutions.  And, yes, indeed, we give careful consideration to that. 

 

But let me say how destabilizing the presence of the U.S. troops in Iraq and the present mission is to the region.  It is very destabilizing.  And when people say, 'Out of Iraq,' they don't mean up and go tomorrow and let's go.  They mean in a very responsible... 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Through March 2008? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  March, 2008 is very doable. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  It's doable? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Yes, with what I said to you... 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  With redeployment? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  With redeployment as we deem -- as we decide is essential to our national security, the stability of the region and the strength of our military. 

 

IMMIGRATION

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me move from foreign to domestic.  Immigration.  What's going to happen this week, next week on an immigration proposal that both the President and Senator Kennedy both would like to see passed?

 

NANCY PELOSI:  First, let me do something that may surprise you.  Let me praise the President.  I think he's been very courageous in fighting for an immigration bill that will bring some order to the situation that is in our country.  I think the President is doing what is right, what he believes is right, and it's a tough fight in his own party. 

 

The principles that we have on the House side in terms of the Democrats are that we will secure our borders, we will have workplace enforcement, we will protect our workers, we'll unify families, and we'll have a path to legalization. 

 

Some of those features are present in the Senate bill. 

 

What's going to happen this week?  The Senate will vote for cloture, as to whether they can end filibuster and go to debate on the bill.  That will be on Thursday.  And then they will go from there to see whether they have the votes to pass the bill. 

 

Of course, we'll be waiting to see if the bill meets the standards that we have, or what compromises we can make, because it is very important for us to have an immigration bill. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  And what do you think the likelihood of having one is? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  It all depends on the leadership of the President of the United States.  The problem he is having is largely in his own party on this, and it is -- I've said it now for a year and a half -- if the President wants the legislation, the legislation will pass. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Have the proponents of this bill done a good enough job to sell it to the country? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  It's amazing.  If you take individual pieces of the bill, the American people support it.  There is an element in our -- well, talk radio, or in some cases hate radio, where they just go on and on and on in a xenophobic, anti-immigrant... 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Calling it amnesty, amnesty, amnesty. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Amnesty, which it is not.  And it's interesting because my faith -- I'm a Catholic and from San Francisco, which I'm proud to represent in the Congress... 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Via Baltimore. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Via Baltimore, Maryland, which I'm very proud of as well.  And in both places, my faith was very important to me. 

 

'Song of St. Francis' is the anthem of the city of San Francisco.  St. Francis is our patron saint.  And we always talk when there is hatred, we will bring love.  His song, make me a channel - 'where there is hatred, may we bring love, where there's despair, may we bring hope; where there is darkness, light.  And to forgive is to be forgiven.' 

 

And all of a sudden, all these people of faith are just very unforgiving. 

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  They are not willing to forgive. 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  They're not willing to say: 'Ok, they made a mistake.  Now, they have to pay all these fines, they have to do all of these things, which will require them to have paid their debt to society, but we will never forgive them.'  It's not about amnesty.  Amnesty...

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  So why do you think they continue to hold that view? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  I really don't want to characterize anyone else's motivation.  I just think that they haven't been blessed with the experience that many of us have with living in a mixed society, where we know that the future of America depends on this constant invigoration of people coming in.  I think, justifiably so, they're unhappy that people came in not strictly legally.  Some came legally, maybe 30, 40 percent, but overstayed their welcome.  So there's an unhappiness about that, and I respect that. 

 

But what we're saying is, make them pay their debt to society, and then let's get on a path to legalization, which is a long and circuitous one.  They get at the end of the line of anybody waiting to become a citizen or to come into our country. 

 

But what's interesting about it is that they really -- I mean, what are we going to do with 12 million people?  Does anyone want to pay the price of arresting them all?  Are we going to send them all home when so much of our, whether it's our agriculture industry or other industries, depend on their work?  And now they have children born in America. 

 

But it is -- it's difficult, and I respect -- as I say, I don't want to mischaracterize.  I know there are some who are exploiting this for reasons that are not highly motivated.  But there are many people in our country who have legitimate concerns about obeying the law and respecting that. 

 

ECONOMY and TRADE

 

CHARLIE ROSE:  A lot of people also have legitimate concerns about the loss of jobs to overseas.  And it is said that this Democratic Congress has a different attitude about trade than previous Congresses.  Do you fear economic nationalism coming into play and trade legislation not having the same possibility it has had before? 

 

NANCY PELOSI:  Charlie, you very astutely positioned both of these issues right next to each other -- immigration and trade.  Because many people in our country think that they don't have a job because of immigrants, or because of trade policy.  Some of them may be right.  Others may have just a ripple effect of it.  And some don't have a job because our economy is not addressing the needs of all Americans. 

 

So I think if we're going to be able to have a trade policy tha