This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace," October 7, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: It's been nine months since Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House and opened a new combative relationship between Congress and the president. On Friday in the Capitol, we had a chance to talk with the speaker about that and why public approval of Congress is now at historic lows. Our interview took place in the speaker's ceremonial office.
WALLACE: Speaker Pelosi, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: My pleasure.
WALLACE: Let's start with the expansion of SCHIP, the children's health insurance program that Congress passed and the president vetoed this week. You need 24 votes to override that veto. How much pressure are you going to put on Democrats and Republicans who opposed you the first time?
PELOSI: Well, it's not about pressure. It's about persuasion. We believe that the children's health insurance legislation that we passed is bipartisan. It's a bipartisan compromise. It expands the number of children who are covered. It doesn't expand the eligibility, but the number of children.
It's a compromise, as I said. We would have liked to have covered more children, but it's 10 million children over five years, and it is paid for, and it has broad bipartisan support.
WALLACE: So, how do you get those 24 votes?
PELOSI: Well, we're probably down to fewer than 20 that we need now. We need about 14 Republican votes. That's where we are. And across the country, you have organizations from AARP to the YWCA and everything in between alphabetically, going to visit members' offices and speaking on behalf of children and their health. It's a value shared by all Americans.
The American people support this overwhelmingly, and nearly 2 to 1 of Republicans support our initiative and oppose the president's veto. And editorially across the country, there's almost unanimous support for it.
WALLACE: What do you think are the chances you will get enough votes to override the president's veto in mid-October?
PELOSI: Well, we take it one day at a time. First they said we'd never come to a bipartisan compromise. Then when we did, they said we'd never get it passed, and we did overwhelmingly and in a bipartisan way. So we take it one step at a time. And right now, we have the next 10 days to two weeks to try to peel off about 14 votes in the House.
WALLACE: The president says he is willing to compromise. If you fail to override his veto, will you consider a deal or will you keep sending him back the same bill again and again?
PELOSI: It's hard to imagine how we could diminish the number of children who are covered. The president calls himself the decider, and I don't know why he would want to decide that one child has health care and another does not.
As I said, this is bipartisan. We took it to the number that we could pay for and that could pass in the Senate and in the House. Right now we would be talking about dropping children. You have to remember that the difference we're talking about here would be 40 days in Iraq. Ten million children for one year are 40 days in Iraq.
WALLACE: So are you saying that, because you want to expand it by $7 billion a year, he wants to expand it by $1 billion a year, are you saying you're not going to go down below $7 billion? You're not going to compromise?
PELOSI: Well, we came down from $90 billion.
WALLACE: I know that.
PELOSI: We were $90 billion, and we've cut it almost two-thirds of what our original request was. Now we're down to $35 billion. As you go down lower, it's not about — it's about cutting off children, and their need for health care doesn't diminish just because the president...
WALLACE: If I may press it, though, would you consider in the sake of getting an increased expansion, not to $7 billion, but more than $1 billion, would you make a deal?
PELOSI: Well, let's understand what the president is proposing. What the president is proposing right now is a diminishment of the number of children who are covered at the present time. He's cutting off about a million children from the rolls.
And so what we're saying is you want to go from 6 million to just under 5 million. We want to go to 10 million. So we're double the number that the president is proposing, because he is cutting a number of children.
The president says he doesn't believe in this. We say, well, if you believe in it for 5 million children, why don't you believe in it for 10 million children? He said he doesn't believe in it. So where's the common ground?
I would hope — I think the best thing that could happen for our country, for our children, for the president of the United States, is that we override this veto.
WALLACE: I don't want to get too much into a numbers game, and it's easy to do that, but the president's main complaint — he says that under the bill that you have passed, that the income level for kids who would be eligible would rise to 300 percent of the poverty line. That means families of four making $60,000 a year. Why should taxpayers pay for families making that much for their kids' health insurance?
PELOSI: Well, the 300 percent of poverty in certain locations in our country is still not an income able to afford health insurance over $1,000 a month premium. Governors like Governor Blunt, Republican governor of Missouri...
WALLACE: Do you think...
PELOSI: ... they have a 300 percent of poverty standard in Missouri. His father is the Republican whip in the House.
So this is about Democrats and Republican governors and mayors across the country understanding that to meet the needs of our children, that we have to have this expansion, not of eligibility, but of the number of children.
WALLACE: But even kids in families making $60,000 a year.
PELOSI: Well, again, $60,000 is relative in different places, and most of the money is not at that level. And it's at the discretion of the governors — we all believe in states rights — to do that.
This is — this is — I don't know what the president has against the middle class, that people have aspired to and attained the middle class, and they're working and playing by the rules, that they should be penalized by having to pay $12,000 or more a year in health insurance.
And by the way, most of the children on the SCHIP program, the state children's health insurance program, 72 percent of them get their insurance through private insurance.
WALLACE: It's been disclosed this week that the Justice Department, after publicly declaring torture abhorrent in 2004, secretly, a few months later, approved the — in combination — the use of head slapping, water boarding and exposure to extreme temperatures.
The president now says that the leadership, the Congress, was fully informed, and that this is not torture.
First question: Were you ever briefed about this policy or the secret Justice Department memos?
PELOSI: Well, in order to know if I'm briefed about it, I'd have to be briefed about it now. What exactly is the president talking about? Yes, let me get my credentials right out there. I'm the longest-serving member of Congress on the intelligence committee, both on the committee and ex officio as a leader. So we have been briefed on some tactics used by the administration.
But I'd have to see what we're talking about here, because this is — all I know is what I've read in the New York Times.
WALLACE: You were never briefed about these secret memos in 2005?
PELOSI: No, not about the secret memos.
But let me say also, again, as one who appreciates the value of intelligence to protect the American people, I think it's very important that we have the best possible intelligence. And there's international cooperation on this, and there are international standards on it. And I think that protecting the American people being our top priority, we should do so in a way that is within the law, and experts agree that you do not obtain reliable intelligence through using these tactics.
WALLACE: So let me ask you directly...
PELOSI: ... and you diminish our reputation in the world, which hurts the cooperation we need to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people.
WALLACE: So let me ask you directly. Do you think that the interrogation techniques that have been reported — let's not talk about what's in the memo, but what's been reported — in combination, head slapping, water boarding, exposure to extreme temperatures. Torture?
PELOSI: There is a legal definition of torture that I believe this would fit. The president says it is not. Again, we have to see the degree and what he is talking about, because again, to answer on the basis of something that's been reported in the press that the president has deemed is not torture, it's just not — I just can't give you an informative answer on that.
WALLACE: Let's turn to the war in Iraq. At the last Democratic debate, the three Democratic frontrunners, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, said that they could not guarantee that we will have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013, the end of what would be their first term.
Are you satisfied with that?
PELOSI: Well, it depends on what they mean by "all." I think that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are much more optimistic than that.
We believe that the choice is between President Bush's proposal for a 10-year war that will cost an additional 10 — an additional trillion dollars, a war without end, with bases in Iraq in perpetuity, a Korea-like situation.
What Democrats are proposing instead is a safe and responsible redeployment of our troops out of Iraq, hopefully to be completed with — by the end of next year, and with a minimal force for certain specific purposes, like guarding our embassy and fighting Al Qaida, and if there's need to train troops, the national — the Iraqi...
WALLACE: Would you be satisfied with having some troops there in 2013?
PELOSI: No. I would think that the minimal — I would describe a minimal, temporary force to be there for a few years following the end of next year.
But I think that even the leadership — I just met with President Talabani a couple of days ago, the president of Iraq, when he was here, and his view was much more optimistic, as well, about what would needed, a very minimal force.
We're not even talking about tens of thousands of troops.
WALLACE: You have consistently...
PELOSI: So my view would be much more optimistic than what you — than what our presidential candidates are saying.
WALLACE: More optimistic that you could get them out by 2013?
PELOSI: No, well, we could get them out, in large numbers, by the end of next year. And that is not contradicted by the leadership of Iraq.
WALLACE: You have consistently opposed the troop surge...
WALLACE: ... and called for redeploying the troops out.
WALLACE: But look at these numbers. Last month, U.S. military deaths fell to their lowest level in more than a year. And Iraqi civilian deaths were half what they were in August.
Speaker Pelosi, why stop the surge, just as it's starting to work?
PELOSI: Well, the surge was something that was announced in January. And the president said he needed 60 to 90 days. Any time our troops go into harm's way, we want them to be as successful as possible, of course.
The purpose of the surge was to create a secure environment in which the political change could occur, to relieve the sectarian violence.
So it's not about, is the military aspect of it succeeding; it's has the purpose been achieved?
And that's why we have to look to the government of Iraq and to say, "If our young people are risking their lives, why are you not taking the political risks to change the situation in Iraq so that we can redeploy out?"
Now, let me just say something about some of the statistics. As you know, 2 million refugees have left Iraq. There are 2 million refugees who are displaced with Iraq. And within some of these neighborhoods in Baghdad, there have been ethnic cleansing.
So now Sunnis live where Sunnis live and Shia live there and these mixed neighborhoods no longer exist where people were fighting and there are fences that have been built up there.
So just because they say there may be reduction in deaths — and that's great — there's still too many deaths. It doesn't mean that the political change is taking place.
Now, General — President Talabani assured me that the reconciliation could be completed by the end of this year. I was pleased to welcome that information. And if that is so, that by the end of next year there was no reason to have any large number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
WALLACE: You said the other day that you were praying for President Bush...
WALLACE: ... to change his mind about vetoing SCHIP. Do you pray for our soldiers to win in Iraq?
PELOSI: Of course I do.
WALLACE: To win?
PELOSI: Of course I do. Of course. What a question.
First of all, I pray for President Bush all the time, and I prayed especially hard that he would sign the children's health bill because it's so important to America's children.
WALLACE: When you pray for President Bush, what do you pray for?
PELOSI: I pray that — well, at the same as I pray for him, I pray for America's children and that there can be some compatibility in their thinking. But I pray for his health, his well being. I pray that he makes the right decisions for the American people.
But when I...
WALLACE: Do you ever pray for him to change his policies?
PELOSI: All the time. But let me draw a line. When I was growing up in politics, we were always told that we shouldn't pray for a political outcome, that we just pray that God's will would be done.
We pray for the children. We pray for poor people. And we pray for people who need help. And we always, always, always pray for our men and women in uniform who make our freedom to pray possible.
WALLACE: One last foreign policy question. Last April you caused quite a stir when you went to Syria...
WALLACE: ... and met with President Assad. And afterwards, you said Assad had assured you...
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PELOSI: He was ready to engage in negotiations with peace with Israel.
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WALLACE: Given the Israeli air strike last month against what appears to have been a Syrian, North Korean perhaps nuclear installation, are you reassessing your feelings about Assad's commitment to peace?
PELOSI: Well, both countries, when we were in Israel, Prime Minister Olmert told us — told our delegation that he wanted us to convey to the president of Syria, that Israel, their policy had not changed, that their policy has been that they would be prepared to engage — move toward peace with Syria when Syria stopped supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas and others. And we did convey that and we had a counter response from the president of Syria.
WALLACE: But when you hear about Assad possibly doing business with the North Koreans, does this give you pause about this guy?
PELOSI: Well, I'm not at liberty to confirm or deny whatever it is that people speculate happened there.
WALLACE: But does it give you pause about President Assad?
PELOSI: Well, whatever President Assad is and whatever the country of Syria is, it's still important for there to be peace between Israel and Syria. That would be very important. And I made that clear to President Assad of Syria, that Israel is our friend in the region and that friendship with Israel by any other country would be valued by us in our relationship with that country.
WALLACE: Speaker Pelosi, we have to take a break here, but when we come back, we'll talk about the very low approval ratings for Congress. We'll talk about what Nancy Pelosi has learned as speaker, and we'll talk about the 2008 campaign. Back in a moment.
WALLACE: And we're back now with the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
The latest Washington Post poll shows that just 29 percent of the public approves of the job the Congress is doing. That's the lowest number in that poll since 1995, and a 14 percent drop since January.
So, why do you think so many people disapprove of the job that Congress is doing?
PELOSI: Two things. First of all, I believe the war in Iraq. The public is weary of this war. They want it to end, and they had expectations that Congress could end it.
You know we can't without a presidential signature. But that focus on the war has eclipsed all that we have accomplished here.
As we come to the end of this first session of Congress, and that's why I'm so happy to be here with you today, because it's sort of at the end of our session, and we talk about what we have done to protect the American people, passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations, giving the biggest increase to veterans benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, how we grow our economy, with our innovation agenda, raising the minimum wage first time in 10 years, how we secure strength in our families and our children with our health insurance for children, with the biggest package for student affordability for college since the G.I. Bill in 1944, how we preserve our planet, our initiatives on energy, security and reversing global warming, how we do so with accountability, with no new deficit spending, pay as you go, highest...
WALLACE: That's the campaign pitch, but why...
PELOSI: I think — well, they don't know about it, because again, they're interested in one issue, which is the war. But we have to again hold the administration accountable every chance we get on (inaudible).
WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because a lot of — I agree with you. I think that is a big issue, particularly among the Democrats who voted you in and thought, all right, we put them in the majority; now they'll end the war. And anti-war activists say, look, you can do a lot more than you're doing. You can force a vote a day. You could hold Congress in session. You could cancel vacations. Why continue to...
PELOSI: To do what?
WALLACE: To vote and vote and vote against the war.
PELOSI: Well, what we'd like — look, I have been against the war from the start, as you probably know. I said at the time the intelligence did not support the threat that the administration was contending and the - - we had — I believe since we have come in, we have changed the debate on the war. We put a bill on the president's desk, which he vetoed. That's the last time the Senate has allowed us to put a vote — a bill on the president's desk.
WALLACE: But why not do what I said? In other words...
PELOSI: But we are. This week, for example, we had two initiatives, one asking the administration for any plans that it has on redeploying the troops out of Iraq, and we want that report in 60 days. Yesterday, we passed legislation — that took us two days to debate it — that was about — about accountability again. Next week, we'll have a bill on contracts and profiteering.
WALLACE: So when the left wings says, "do more, vote every day, no recesses" — basically, stop Washington, raise the level of (inaudible) here?
PELOSI: But we don't have the president's signature. What we are doing is something new to the administration, which is intense oversight into the conduct of the war, and we have revealed waste, fraud, abuse and just plain simple corruption.
But now we're focusing also on the cost of the war. This is a trillion-dollar war if it stopped today. The president's plans will probably cost us another $1 trillion. And you know what that means — 40 days, 10 million children having health care for one year. It means — you can go on and on. In one day, we could, for the cost of the war in Iraq, we could put 7,000 police officers on the street, or we could send 56,000 children to college. So the cost of war is becoming very apparent to the American people.
What we are doing is now establishing criteria, whether it's about contracting, whether it's about profiteering, whether it's about how we redeploy out, which is what we've asked the administration for. And when the time comes, we will have our further votes on the policy.
It's about readiness. The administration opposes the readiness initiatives that we're taking. It's a longer struggle than the American people want it to be, because the president is insisting on his 10-year war.
WALLACE: MoveOn.org says the problem is that there are too many what they call DINOs in Congress, Democrats in name only. And who are afraid to represent their constituents and stop the war, and they say they are seriously considering primary challenges against those Democrats. Would that be a bad thing?
PELOSI: Let's be really clear about this. First of all, we have passed bill after bill after bill in the House of Representatives with a few Republican votes that have been bipartisan, but the overwhelming number of Democrats, the Democrats have made the majority on any issue, whether it's talking about a time certain for the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq, whether it's about the readiness of our troops, that they cannot stay in a war zone any longer than they are at home before they can go back again, whether we're talking about accountability, contracting, profiteering, the Democrats...
WALLACE: But would primary challenges be a bad thing?
PELOSI: Well, I don't support it. Because the point is that the basic premise is wrong. The Democrats have voted for this. The problem is, and it's too "inside baseball" for most people to care, is that it's a 60-vote obstacle in the United States Senate.
There is a bipartisan majority in the Senate for having a goal for removing our troops from Iraq and the rest, and for readiness and the rest. But if you don't have the 60 votes to jump over the procedural obstacle, then nothing goes to the president's desk. Again, the American people don't care about our process. They just want the war to end.
And if that is their measure of Congress's performance, has the war ended or not, I'm with them. I'm dissatisfied on our ability to end the war. But there's much more that we have done, and as far as Democrats opposing Democrats in the primary, there isn't anybody here who would vote differently than any of these newcomers who are coming.
So their target is the wrong one. They should work for an overwhelming majority in the Congress and bipartisan way to end the war and, of course, they should work for a Democratic president. And you know what else they should do, Chris? they should pray for peace.
WALLACE: As to the presidential race, I know that you have decided to stay neutral until you get a nominee.
WALLACE: But can you honestly say as the first woman speaker in our country you have never thought about the possibility of introducing the first woman president to deliver the state of the union?
PELOSI: Of course not. Of course I think about it. I think it would be very, very exciting. Similarly for the first African American president or the first Hispanic president. But no, it would be pretty exciting for us to have the first woman president of the United States.
WALLACE: And what message do you think that would send, a woman president addressing the nation with a woman speaker behind her?
PELOSI: I can only tell you the message that my own achieving the office of speaker has sent. I'm deluged with communications from all over the country. And when I travel, people are so excited that there is a woman speaker, that we've broken the marble ceiling, and they're excited for what it means for young girls.
Fathers of daughters particularly have been enthusiastic about what it means for their children, for their daughters, that anything is possible. This is a men's club here. It has been. And I sometimes think it's harder to become speaker of the House than president of the United States for a woman.
WALLACE: So, having said all that, you've got to be for Hillary Clinton.
PELOSI: Well, I'm for my members. And I'm for a Democratic majority in the House. And my members have divided their support among many of the candidates. I'm very proud of all of them, and I think any one of them would make a great president.
WALLACE: What about this argument you hear, some of the polling that indicates in swing districts where a lot of your vulnerable Democrats are, Hillary Clinton could drag down the ticket and endanger a lot of your members.
PELOSI: Members of Congress always run on their own. It's a very singular activity. And they are independent representatives of their districts, and as such, they run on their own individual platforms.
Of course, they would not be menaced by a national platform about security and economic growth and families and accountability and — did I say growing the economy. But we do it one district at a time.
And while I'm talking about preserving the planet, as I did earlier, may I commend News Corp for your initiative to make the corporation carbon- neutral and the leadership you're providing in reversing global warming. It's not only great that you're doing it, because it's such a big corporation. It's a wonderful model. So look at that. Fox News leading the way in environmental protection in reversing global warming.
WALLACE: I had nothing to do with it, but I'm sure that Rupert Murdoch will be very happy. Madam Speaker, thank you for talking with us.
PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you for coming to the speaker's office.
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