Interview with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

Interview with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

By The Situation Room - January 18, 2011

BLITZER: With the battle lines joined, I sat down on Capitol Hill for a wide-ranging interview for the former speaker of the House, now the Democrats' minority leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.


BLITZER: Madam Leader, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the repeal of the health care reform law. Our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out today shows 50 percent of the American public want to repeal all provisions -- all provisions in the new health care law; 42 percent oppose. Why does the American public believe repeal is the way to go?

PELOSI: Well, I'm not sure that I completely agree. But there are polls and there are polls that -- that show a different trend. But the fact is, is that overwhelmingly, the American people support ending discrimination on the basis of a preexisting medical condition. They -- they oppose lifetime limits, even annual limits, on care for people, as the -- the patient protections that are in the bill are wildly and widely supported by the American people. ...

BLITZER: Except in this poll, it shows that maybe the way it was put together, the whole package, they don't like. Because even independents -- even -- forget about Democrats and Republicans, but independents, there's a majority of independents who oppose the health care law and want the whole thing repealed.

PELOSI: Well, let me say this. You're saying maybe the way the bill was put together. Maybe the way the poll was put together.

But the fact is, is that what we are hearing from people and what we've hear -- heard most recently today in our hearing from people who are directly affected, if you're a woman with breast cancer, if you're a man with prostate cancer, if you're a parent with children who turned 23 and now can stay on their parents' policy until they're 26 years old, the list goes on and on of strong support for patient protection that are in the legislation.

Those protections cannot happen unless you have comprehensive health insurance. So we'll still continue to make the case to the American people. But the strongest, most eloquent voices are those of people who are directly affected. Just think of it, any one of us, any one of us is one phone call, one diagnosis, one accident away from needing health care. And 100 -- up to 129 million Americans under the age of 65 have a preexisting medical condition. Seventeen million of them are children.

BLITZER: Remember, a year ago, during the height of the debate, you said that once the American public sees what's in this bill, they'll begin to like it. Well, they've -- they're now seeing what's in the bill. But according to this poll and other polls, they don't like it.

PELOSI: Well, they're getting to like it better. The fact is...

BLITZER: I'm not so sure. The polls don't necessarily...

PELOSI: Well...

BLITZER: ... say that.

PELOSI: Well, your poll doesn't. But...

BLITZER: Other polls, too.

PELOSI: Well, on specific elements of it, in September, as you know, lifting the discrimination for children with preexisting conditions from having access to health insurance is -- is very popular, which the polls showed...

BLITZER: I guess bottom line, who failed in explaining all these things to the American public? Why are they saying repeal?

PELOSI: Well, I think some of this takes time because it is change. And there has been fear-mongering associated with it. We all know that. Issues that have nothing to do with the bill, but used effectively by the insurance industry to use some issues to pay -- to -- to protect them and protect the health of the insurance industry...

BLITZER: But you and Democrats and the president, for that matter, have done a better job explaining this to the American public.

PELOSI: I think in the House of Representatives, we saved health care reform. We had town meetings. We had media events across the country in -- in that August of last year. I believe the House of Representatives Democrats saved health care reform. The long time it took in the Senate because of the obstruction of Republican senators gave an opportunity. But you know what?

We have to look forward. And what we're looking forward to is to saying to people, in your own life, this is what this means to you. And we will stand firm against any attempts to prevent you from having access to quality health care. It's now look -- use looking back or assigning blame. It's about taking responsibility...

BLITZER: All right...

PELOSI: ... for the future.

BLITZER: So what would you do to improve this law, to make it more acceptable to the American public, a specific example?

PELOSI: Well, I think the law is a very good law. No law is perfect.

BLITZER: So what would you do to make it better?

PELOSI: Well, one thing that we tried to do and passed -- tried to pass in the House but the Republicans resisted was to -- to repeal the 1099 provisions in the bill that affect small businesses. I think that's one place where we have bipartisan agreement, but not enough Republican support to pass it in the House of Representatives, which required two thirds. Of that, 41 would be a place that place...

BLITZER: But are you open to legislation to improve it?

PELOSI: We're always open to legislation. This is not theology. It's not ideology. It's -- it's problem-solving for the American people. If people have ideas about how to help solve those problems in a better way, then we're open to it. But understanding that this is about patients' rights, not about health insurance companies' profits.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the courts will say it's unconstitutional, the mandate part, that you must purchase health insurance?

PELOSI: Well, the argument for a mandate is that if you're going to lower costs, improve access and improve the quality of care, you have to increase the risk pool. You have to have more people in the poll to lower the cost and spread the risk. So that is essential to the patient protections. We believe the way the bill was written was constitutional.

BLITZER: Do you think -- you think the courts will go along? What -- how worried are you about that?

PELOSI: Well, I'm not worried about it. The court -- most of the court -- whether there have been 14 decisions, 12 have been -- have just not addressed it. One went against it. One went in favor of something like that.

It's -- it's part of the fight. But this is about change. It's about changing the leverage from the special interests to the people's interests they will always challenge, whether it's in court, in the court of public opinion, wherever. But this is very important for us to protect for what it means to the American people.

BLITZER: You're the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.


BLITZER: How many Democrats, tomorrow, will join Republicans in voting to repeal the health care reform law, in your opinion?

PELOSI: Well, we'll find out tomorrow.

BLITZER: What do you think?

PELOSI: But I think very few.

BLITZER: How many?

PELOSI: I think very few.

BLITZER: Give me a ball park.

PELOSI: I don't -- I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. What's important, though, is that we will have a very overwhelming vote to say no to repeal. And even some members who have voted against the health care bill will be against the total repeal.

BLITZER: The other day -- not that many days away from now, 87 freshmen Republicans were sworn in to the House of Representatives.

PELOSI: Right.

BLITZER: Nine freshmen Democrats were sworn in. What a lop- sided...

PELOSI: Yes, it was.

BLITZER: ... victory for the Republicans. And you know a lot of those Republicans say they were sworn in because they ran against you.

PELOSI: Oh, they were sworn in because we had 9.5 unemployment in our country. That is the overwhelming issue...

BLITZER: But you saw the...

PELOSI: ... we were told...

BLITZER: ... nasty ads...

PELOSI: Yes, I did.

BLITZER: ... some of them were going after you.

PELOSI: Very personal.

BLITZER: ... mid -- very personal...

PELOSI: And very threatening.

BLITZER: I mean talking about...

PELOSI: Very threatening.

BLITZER: ... you know, a witch or whatever they were saying.

PELOSI: They were very threatening.

BLITZER: I think there was one example, calling you the wicked witch, another 50 foot...

PELOSI: That was in my own district and I got over 80 percent of the vote. But let me say this...

BLITZER: How do you feel personal...

PELOSI: ... why do we look at...

BLITZER: ... personally, on a personal level, how did you feel...

PELOSI: I -- I really don't care. I mean, from the standpoint of reaction, I care about what happens to the American people as a result of the Republicans being in charge and where they've been before. But you know what?

Let's look forward and hope that -- for the best and wish them well. Secondly, I think that it -- at this time, it's not use rehashing what happened before. We lost tremendous talent in our caucus and I'm concerned about that. We had two wave elections. We won 30. Then we won 25 on that. They won 60 some. We'll be back.

BLITZER: Well...

PELOSI: And we look forward. We'll be back.

BLITZER: You need a net gain in 2012 of 25 seats...


BLITZER: ... and you'll be back in the majority...

PELOSI: Well, we won 30 to -- in '06.


PELOSI: And we won 25 in '08. But again, let's look forward.

BLITZER: Well, let's look forward.

PELOSI: Yes, of course.

BLITZER: Will you be the speaker of the House again?

PELOSI: But the -- the issue is how -- let's wish the Republicans well. If they have solved -- can solve problems for the American people, we salute them. We extend a hand as a willing partner to do so. Job creation, job creation, job creation.

BLITZER: Issue number one?

PELOSI: We see that right now, right.

BLITZER: If -- but in 2012, if you get a net gain of 25 seats, the Democrats become the majority. Will Nancy Pelosi once again be the speaker of the House?

PELOSI: We live in the here and the now. And that is what our fight is now, is to have firm opposition to their attempt to repeal patient protections that are in the health care bill. We live in the here and now to create jobs for the American people. BLITZER: But I assume...

PELOSI: That was resisted.

BLITZER: ... like the great speaker, Sam Rayburn, you would like to be spe -- he was speaker, then minority leader, then speaker and minority leader...

PELOSI: What's important to me is that the Democrats are in the majority. But let's not worry about elections. Let's worry about results, solving problems for the American people. If the Republicans can accomplish that, God bless them.


BLITZER: We will have much more of my interview coming up with Nancy Pelosi. I asked her what she likes about John Boehner, the current speaker. And you will be surprised at what she says. And she also chokes up when she talks about something very, very special to her. Stand by for that.

(Commercial Break)

BLITZER: The midterm election campaign was nasty and bitterly fought, but even after watching the House of Representatives change hands, the former Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists there are no hard feelings.

More now of my interview with the House minority leader.


BLITZER: I asked my Twitter followers to send in some recommended questions. And a lot of them had a variation of this question.

What do you like about the new speaker, John Boehner?

PELOSI: That was the question they asked?

Well, I like all people. And make sure you understand, none of this is personal, despite what they may have done in the campaign to me. From my standpoint, it's not personal.

I respect people for who they are, for the constituents they represent. And I wish John Boehner all the success in the world. It's important for our country for him to be successful at job creation and meeting the needs of the American people. He's a...

BLITZER: Is there anything

PELOSI: He's a...

BLITZER: ... you like about him?

PELOSI: Well, yes, we're friends. We have a -- an amiable relationship. And he knows that I wish him well. And that is a sincere wish.

BLITZER: All right. You know he's -- he's getting a lot of attention because he cries. He cries a lot and they're calling him weeper of the House.

And I guess the question is, could a woman, as speaker of the House, cry like that and be treated the same way that he's treated?

PELOSI: I don't know how he's treated, but I don't think it's important. If he shows his emotion in that way, so be it.

BLITZER: Did you cry when you were...

PELOSI: I'm working...

BLITZER: When you were speaker...


BLITZER: ... did you cry?

PELOSI: I -- well, I -- I was very, very sad when we got the news of Tucson. I wasn't speaker then, but nonetheless, that's what gets me. But you know what?

BLITZER: You started to cry when you heard about Gabrielle Giffords?

PELOSI: Oh, of course. Of course. But...

BLITZER: Well, let's -- let's talk about that.

PELOSI: No, but I mean I was in the privacy of my home and then I was in temple.

As a matter of fact, I was going to a bat mitzvah that morning. And Gabby being Jewish, I felt very connected to her. But let's put it this way. It's not important whether somebody cries or not as speaker. What's important is what the legislation they present and lead with means to the American people. That's what's important.

What their personal behavior is, is not important to me. What is important is what -- how we're going to create jobs, how we're going to protect patients' rights, how we're going to go forward in a way that we judge by three things -- does it create jobs, does it reduce the deficit, does it strengthen the middle class? I care more about that than whether Mr. Boehner cries.

BLITZER: Was Sarah Palin treated unfairly in the immediate aftermath...

PELOSI: I don't even know. I have no idea. I have no idea.

I don't -- in other words, I think that what happened in Tucson was something that made us all worry about the people who were shot and their families, those who lost their lives and the sorrow that they will live with. I think we're still in that mode. I'm not here to talk about anybody's comments on it, except to say I thought that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, did a masterful job.

I was there. I saw it firsthand. It was a very powerful and emotional speech for him and something that I think was very good for the country. And that is what I would like to focus on, the positive message, not the conflict over who said what about whom. It's really not important. What is important is that we give our energy to those families that have been affected...

BLITZER: Take us inside, as much as you can, into that hospital room...


BLITZER: ... when you were there and you saw Congresswoman Giffords.

PELOSI: Well, first, I was very honored to receive the invitation from her husband, Mark Kelly, to come to the hospital as we were going to Tucson for the service, and we went in with her girlfriends, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Gillibrand now. And he had a wonderful conversation with her -- her husband and her parents. They're so powerful. And Tea her chief of staff. We were there. It was a very close-knit group. And with one thing, talking about going out to dinner, going for summer vacation, or this or that. Mark said, to her, you know, "Gabby, if you can hear us, do this, do that. Open your eyes, open your eyes." And she did. And she really, you know -- it wasn't just we imagined it. You could see the beautiful blue eyes when she opened her eye.

BLITZER: She had a bandage on the other.

Did you sense she knew you were there?

PELOSI: Well, what Mark told me in an e-mail the next day is that she was -- his view is that she was so happy we were there she had to open her eyes to make sure it was true, which was very sweet of him. But again, it was personal with their family, since we were in the room with her mother and father, Spencer and Gloria, who are wonderful, and Mark. It's such a beautiful love affair. But once she opened her eyes, she gravitated to the husband.

BLITZER: Is that when you started to cry?

PELOSI: Well, for all of us, it was this emotional experience.

BLITZER: The other congresswoman and the senator?

PELOSI: Well, they will speak for themselves. And they have beautifully conveyed what happened in the room. It was very exciting and, I think for all of us, something very special. She looked like an angel. She's so strong.

BLITZER: Is she going to come back to the Congress, you think?

PELOSI: I think so. Yes, I think so. The reports that I've been getting from her husband are very positive. You see what's in the press. And we'll be looking forward to welcoming them back to her committee assignments and her special commissions that I'm just about to point her to, the board of the West Point (ph) of the U.S. military academy, which is something that she wanted.

BLITZER: How worried are you now about your security and your staff's security, for that matter?

PELOSI: Well, security is always an issue, as you know, since a dozen years ago when we had the incident at the Capitol where two of the Capitol police where killed. And every year we commemorate that.

It's not about us, though. It's about everyone who comes here. Our constituents, visitors from all over the world. The press who covers us, other staff who work here, as well as the members of Congress. And so we have to be appropriate. You can't over secure.

BLITZER: You have security. But should the average Democrat or Republican right now beef up security?

PELOSI: Well, I think it's important for the sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol police to make the evaluation of who has what threats and what precautions should be taken. But we should always be vigilant.

What's important, though, is that we not curtail the freedom that people have to witness government. What's really sad for us about Tucson was that Gabby Giffords is a fabulously wonderful person. It was an assault on her life. In the performance of her duties, listening to her constituents, answering their questions, six people died. Six people died at the Congress on your Corner. That's a stunning thing. It takes you such aback.

And -- and so we have to make sure that whatever, whether it's local officials or whomever, we have to make sure that we're vigilant about how we expose those who come to see us. Their security is really more important.

BLITZER: That -- that -- we're out of time, but my point is, with hindsight, we all have to learn, you have an event like this, there has to be some police. Because not just to protect a member of Congress, but protect people who show up.

PELOSI: The people who show up.

BLITZER: If there had been at least one cop car, some police officer, there at that Safeway in Tucson, maybe this wouldn't have happened.

PELOSI: We don't know that, but maybe not. But whatever it is, I was near police because the day of the shooting, in the morning. It's an hour earlier for us in California, 9 something. I had a big event at 2 p.m. And I thought, should we cancel it? Well, nearly 1,000 people showed up. And I was so proud of their courage to show up.

And as you can see, since then, colleagues have had their own Congress on the corner, other public events to -- to be representatives, to listen to the people they speak for -- whom they speak for in Congress. So I'm proud of the fact that the -- that tradition of openness continues. But we do have to be careful.

BLITZER: It's an unfortunate fact of life: you've got to have security. That's my opinion. Madam Leader, thanks very much.

PELOSI: Thank you, Wolf. Pleasure to be here. Thank you.



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