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Interview with Nancy Pelosi


(Editor's Note: this interview took place on "Political Capital with Al Hunt.")

AL HUNT: We start today with an interview with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Madame Speaker, thank you so much for being with us.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): My pleasure, thank you.

MR. HUNT: The immigration bill is bogged down in the bitterly divided Senate. In July, will the House take up immigration no matter what the Senate does, or are you going to wait to see what the Senate does first?

REP. PELOSI: I've always said that we will wait to see what the Senate does. I have to commend President Bush. He has been very courageous on this issue. We won't have a bill though, unless he exerts more leadership in the Senate and in the House to pass the legislation.

MR. HUNT: If the bill as it stands should pass the Senate, what would be its prospects in the House?

REP. PELOSI: Well, it depends on what passes the Senate. We like the bill that passed in the last Congress. It was comprehensive; it was about securing our borders, enforcing our laws, protecting American workers, and providing a path to legalization for millions of people in our country. I don't know what form the bill will take in the Senate this year, because, as you know, the one bill was prevented from coming to the floor. So now they're at work on the next version.

MR. HUNT: But they had the basic compromise over there, the so-called grand bargain, which has pretty much stuck together with one or two exceptions. The broad outlines of the bill, can that pass the House right now?

REP. PELOSI: With some modification, but we'll work together in a bipartisan way. This bill affects too many people over a long period of time. We want it to be bipartisan and comprehensive.

MR. HUNT: And how many Republican votes would it have to get to pass the House?

REP. PELOSI: Well, I would like to see a strong bipartisan vote, but I would hope that it would be at least 50 to 70 votes on the Republican side. That doesn't mean that we would lose that many Democrats; it just means we'd like to see a show of bipartisanship.

MR. HUNT: Let's turn to Iraq for a moment. You've told the president that you're not going to wait for General Petraeus' report to legislate another timetable for the withdrawal of troops. Will next month's appropriations defense bill be the vehicle for that?

REP. PELOSI: That will be one vehicle. As you know, in July, the president has to report on the benchmarks that are already in the supplemental bill, the Warner resolution, which has a long list of benchmarks that the president has to report on. So that will be one occasion.

Let me just say this. It's not about July. It's about every single day we are working to bring this war to an end. Yesterday, Senator Reid and I wrote to the president to say that the course of action he's on is not successful. You see the Department of Defense has just put out a report saying that the surge has not made the area more secure. And we have said that among the kinds of legislation we will put forth is a repeal of the president's authority to conduct the war.

MR. HUNT: When will you vote on that?

REP. PELOSI: When we decide to.

MR. HUNT: This summer?

REP. PELOSI: We could. We certainly will probably by September, but we will, just depending on the course of events and the other legislation we have. We will have legislation that will change the mission in Iraq from engaging in combat to training the Iraqi troops, to fighting terrorists, and also to protect our forces and our diplomats there and to protect our interest in the region. We want the White House to think in terms of a vision for stability in the Middle East and then have a policy in Iraq that is in furtherance of that. They don't have that now.

MR. HUNT: One of the elements of that defense report you alluded to a moment ago was basically what an incompetent job the Iraqi government is now doing. If American forces were to withdraw by sometime next year, as you hope, what do you think would happen to Iraq?

REP. PELOSI: Well, what we're talking about is a withdrawal that talks about fighting terrorists there, so what is in our interest would be attended to. This war has been a terrible, terrible mistake. And we have lost 3,500 of our precious treasure, our young people. We've lost probably a trillion dollars, tremendous loss in reputation, and it's been a strain on our military. So as long as we are there, it's chaotic. We might as well phase ourselves out.

MR. HUNT: Climate change - will the House this session pass a comprehensive bill?

REP. PELOSI: We will be passing a bill. I think we will do it in two - I know we will do it in two phases. One part will be largely geared toward energy independence and we will be announcing our package before July 4th, our Independence Day. And that will have some elements of global climate crisis in it; and then later in the session, we will be introducing legislation that will be more focused on climate change.

MR. HUNT: And you think both will pass the House this year?

REP. PELOSI: Oh, yes.

MR. HUNT: You're locked into a huge fight with Chairman John Dingell over fuel efficiency standards. The bill he has proposed would block states like yours, California, from adopting tougher standards. If his committee approves that bill, will you refuse to let it come to the floor?

REP. PELOSI: Well, let's say this. The debate that we have in our country over our energy independence and reversing the global warming that is a fact and science substantiates is one that is a legitimate one. There are different points of view about it, and we have a healthy debate, Chairman Dingell and I do. I think we'll be able to come to terms about what bill will come to the floor from the Energy and Commerce Committee. We have great unity in our caucus. We will respect each other's views. And I'm certain I'll be able to send to the floor a bill that the Energy and Commerce Committee would put forth.

MR. HUNT: But isn't this an issue that deeply divides Democrats? It pits representatives from the two coasts against the middle, people representing the union movement against environmentalists, older Democrats against younger Democrats?

REP. PELOSI: The American people have made a different decision; 80 percent of the American people want something to be done about energy independence.

MR. HUNT: Including tough fuel efficiency standards?

REP. PELOSI: Yes. This is about a national security issue - energy independence is - it's about environmental issue; it's an energy issue; and it's a job issue in our country. We can create whole new industries in our country. In fact you talk about the coasts, but in heartland of America, our initiatives where America's farmers are fueling America's energy independence. So I think that it's an interesting coalition that is coming together that will produce blue-collar jobs in our country; it will make us energy independent, clean our environment. And I think that we can work together to achieve that.

MR. HUNT: Another subject. This week the Bush administration gave China a pass on whether it is manipulating its exchange rate. Should Congress step in?

REP. PELOSI: Congress will step in.

MR. HUNT: And do what?

REP. PELOSI: We'll see. And we'll see how -

MR. HUNT: You expect legislation on this?

REP. PELOSI: I do. I think that there will be legislation on the subject. I've just celebrated my 20th anniversary in Congress - for about 17 of them, I have been calling to the attention of my colleagues the disparity in terms of the trade deficit that we have with China. When I was fighting that fight 17 years ago, the trade deficit was about $3 billion a year; now it's over $3 billion a week. And that's just unfair. So those kinds of conditions, wedded to the advantage that China has in the way it treats its currency have provoked others. It hasn't been a central focus for me, but others now are coming forward on it. So I think you will see legislation, and hopefully legislative initiative that is working with the administration before it gets passed that the Chinese will take notice of.

MR. HUNT: Now, Ms. Speaker, we're going to take a break for just a minute. When we come back, we'll talk about how the American voters view this Congress.


MR. HUNT: We're back here with Speaker Pelosi. Madam Speaker, the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll this week shows that Americans by better than two to one think the Democratic Congress is just doing business as usual rather than bringing fundamental change.

REP. PELOSI: Well, of course, I don't agree with that characterization, but I respect that those people do. There's no question that the war has had a tremendous impact on how Democrats view Democrats in Congress. The measure for many people in this country is what impact are you having in ending this war. We don't have it -

MR. HUNT: So that's a war-driven response?

REP. PELOSI: Well, largely it is.

MR. HUNT: Do you think you over-promised that you could end the war in the campaign?

REP. PELOSI: Well, we have to end the war. That is something, as I say, that we work on every day. But it's a sequencing matter. You have to establish the distinction between the president and the Congress, and we have to move through our congressional process. But I think that we have succeeded in changing the debate on the war in Iraq so much so now that the president has to meet Republican benchmarks in July, Republican benchmarks for his reporting on progress of the war. So I think we have turned that upside-down. But again, we haven't brought the war to an end and we haven't brought the troops home. And we're working on that.

The other aspect of it is that we had our Six for '06 when we came in, and all the legislation we've had since then has had about 80 percent support - 80 percent of those bills have had bipartisan support, whether it's the minimum wage, which will take effect in July; we're very proud of that; stem cell research bill, which we sent to the president's desk this week; we'll see what he does with it; a repeal of subsidies to big oil, which now we've passed the House; the Senate is working on cutting in half tuition on student loans for those seeking higher education. All of this is moving forward. And I think that when people see the results of that, the perception of Congress will change as well.

MR. HUNT: Will that change your rating too? You win wide praise from your colleagues, but the polls show that Americans, by 39 to 36 percent are now giving you a negative rating.

REP. PELOSI: Well, I can't worry about that. All I can worry about is getting the job done. Most of us here are at the mercy of hate radio every day of the week and that takes its toll. And I can't be concerned about that. Whatever our ratings are, my ratings are, they're still way ahead of the president.

MR. HUNT: That's true. You've passed a widely praised ethics and then a lobbying bill through the House. Will you get a final version that effectively requires lobbyists to disclose the huge amounts of money that they raise, the so-called bundling that they arranged for members. Will that -

REP. PELOSI: Well, that is what we have passed in the House.

MR. HUNT: And will you get a final version through?

REP. PELOSI: Well, we'll go to the Senate now and work out the differences between the two. But it was something that was important to me to put forth. Bundling aside, what we have done from day one is change the rules, cutting the link between lobbyist and legislation. No meals, no trips, no gifts, much more transparency in the relationship between lobbyist and legislators here. We've said we're going to drain the swamp and we're going to be here for the people's interests and not the special interests, and we are.

MR. HUNT: Well, you've done that. But some of your members still are resisting, a lot of your members, having an outside entity enforce some of these ethics rules. Why are they resisting that?

REP. PELOSI: Well, it hasn't really taken - we're trying to get a bipartisan agreement on it, because we'd like that to be bipartisan. And my members - I think the members are fine with it. You always get some resistance when there is change. But they've come a long way down the road. Whether we get that outside group or not, what we will have is much more accountability on the ethics process in the Congress of the United States.

MR. HUNT: Do you think you'll get the outside group?

REP. PELOSI: We may. I mean, it is my hope that we will. But we're trying, as I say, to get the Republicans to join us on that. And we want the outside groups to join us as well. And so, we'll see. But again, what is the goal? The goal is to operate the Congress at the highest ethical standard, to have accountability, and to have an ethics process that the American people have confidence in, with or without an outside group. We have to produce that for the American people.

MR. HUNT: We made a reference a moment ago to campaign contributions. Hedge fund managers and private equity partners are huge contributors to the Democratic Party. This week, former Treasury Secretaries, Democrat Bob Rubin and Larry Summers said that these wealthy executives ought to pay the same rate as working-class Americans. You ought to double the tax rate that hedge fund partners and private equity people pay right now. Would you support that?

REP. PELOSI: Well, when it comes to taxes, I defer to our distinguished chairman, Mr. Rangel, and what he wants to do is put everything on the table. We will be having a hopefully bipartisan initiative on an economic package that gives hope to the American people that many more people can participate in the prosperity of our country. And how that is done will be worked out in a bipartisan way.

MR. HUNT: But you consulted with Bob Rubin a great deal. If Bob Rubin and Larry Summers say we ought to double the taxes with these hedge funds and private equity - very wealth executives -

REP. PELOSI: Well, it's an interesting proposal.

MR. HUNT: And what does the Speaker of the House think?

REP. PELOSI: Well, you know, I don't know what the basis that they're doing. What I have said on the taxes issue is first let's close the loopholes; let's get rid of waste, fraud, and abuse; let's do what we can to collect the taxes that are out there that are outstanding that no one seems to be able to collect. But I do know this that the American people want us to have tax cuts for the middle class, and that's where our focus is. Our focus is on tax cuts for the middle class.

MR. HUNT: Some political analysts say that you and Rahm Emanuel did a fabulous job in winning back the House last November, but you've picked off all the low-hanging fruit, all the winnable seats, and that you'll be lucky to hold your own in November of '08. What are your expectations for the next House election?

REP. PELOSI: My expectations are that we will hold the majority and we will grow it. But I don't take anything for granted.

MR. HUNT: By how much would you guess?

REP. PELOSI: Well, we'll see but first we will protect our incumbents, first and foremost. And then, we will reach out to win other seats. Right now, although the American people are unhappy with the Congress because of the war in Iraq, they are very unhappy with the Republicans because of the war in Iraq, and I think that will take its toll unless the president listens to the American people and decides to change the course there. And so, we go into this race - we'll go in with a very popular agenda on how we protect America, how we grow our economy through innovation to keep good paying jobs in America, how we strengthen families and care for our children in a way that gives every child in America opportunity; how we preserve our planet through energy independence and stopping global warming; and how we do it in living up to the highest ethical standards - no new deficit spending, pay as you go, balance the budget - and again with the most civility and bipartisanship as possible.

MR. HUNT: Madam Speaker, thank you very much for being with us. And we'll be back in a minute with political indicators and Novak and Carlson.


Copyright Bloomberg Television. This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.

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