MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, serious issues facing our country:
gas prices, health care, immigration, Iran, Iraq and more. If the Democrats reclaim control of the Congress, what would they do?
With us, the woman who would like to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
Then, insights and analysis. Chief political reporter for The Washington Post, Dan Balz. And the national editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Todd Purdum. And just who is this other George W. Bush?
MR. RUSSERT: And joining us now is the Democratic leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Friday, this was the scene in the Oval Office when President Bush suddenly announced the resignation of Porter Goss as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Your reaction?
REP. PELOSI: The intelligence community is in disarray right now. The American people, in order to be protected, must have the best possible intelligence. We want the president and the Congress to have that. The—this administration has not managed the intelligence community well. We have questions that have arisen about the effectiveness of the new direct—Office of the—of National Intelligence that was formed. We have a CIA that is demoralized. We have a fierce competition between the Department of Defense in a power struggle with the entire rest of the intelligence community. We have to do better, it’s very important to the American people. We need competent leadership, we need objective collection, analysis and dissemination of information, and we need this to be done in a very, very non-partisan way.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Mr. Goss left voluntarily?
REP. PELOSI: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Why, why was he relieved?
REP. PELOSI: Well, depending on the story, he’s been on his way out for at least one month because of the struggle between him and Mr. Negroponte. But I think that this dismissal was triggered by what has been happening on the scandal front for the Republicans with the third in command, who was hired by Mr. Goss to, to be involved in these card games and whatever else it was.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have any evidence to base that judgment?
REP. PELOSI: Just a strong political instinct and the timing of it all.
MR. RUSSERT: That Porter Goss is caught up in...
REP. PELOSI: No, no, not—he isn’t. But the CIA and person that he appointed, who was a questionable appointee to begin with, is caught up in that, and it’s a reflection on his leadership and his management.
MR. RUSSERT: But you have no evidence of that?
REP. PELOSI: I have no thought that Mr. Goss is caught up in any of this, no. I know him, I, I haven’t any thought that he would be caught up in it. But it’s all a reflection on the president of the United States, and they were going to take that off the table as soon as possible.
MR. RUSSERT: How is John Negroponte doing as head of all intelligence?
REP. PELOSI: Well, there’s some concern about, as the Congress has said in recent weeks, Congresswoman Harman, Congressman Hoekstra, the chair of the committee, they have said they will review the budget more carefully, and perhaps withhold some funding until they see a better management at the directorship of National Intelligence.
MR. RUSSERT: And you share their concern?
REP. PELOSI: Well, they have information that, that leads them to that place. I think that, that it should be subjected to some scrutiny, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: It looks like General Michael Hayden, formerly of the National Security Agency, will be the new head of the CIA. Would you support that nomination?
REP. PELOSI: I have serious concerns about General Hayden. First of all, he’s too closely tied to this question of domestic surveillance, which should be looked into, but not in the course of a confirmation hearing for the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. But I harken back to what I said before:
There’s a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community. So I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA. There has to be more people that could be drawn upon. These people are all just this little clique. They play musical chairs. They’re all far too close to the president politically, and I think that, that the confidence that everyone needs in the CIA would be better instilled if we had someone else.
MR. RUSSERT: So you would vote against Hayden if you had the opportunity?
REP. PELOSI: I don’t have the opportunity, but I would, as I say, raise a serious question.
MR. RUSSERT: If you were senator, you would urge your Democratic senators from California to vote against him?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I, I don’t—as I say, until some of these questions are answered, I don’t think it’s a good appoint—I, I’ve worked with General Hayden over the years. I don’t think it’s a good appointment to the CIA. He may be good for something else, but not for the CIA.
MR. RUSSERT: You expressed concerns about the eavesdropping program. You would not end that program.
REP. PELOSI: I believe that, again, our, our Congress and our president must have the best possible intelligence, and it’s possible to do that under the law.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would, you would end the existing program?
REP. PELOSI: No, I wouldn’t end the existing program. I would do it under the law. I would do it under the law. There—the law is very clear, it gives the administration a great deal of latitude in terms of 72 hours and, and all it is—you know, the excuse that the administration uses is that they say it’s too much work at the Department of Justice to uphold our law and our Constitution. I don’t think so. I’ve told the attorney general, “Hire more people. But it, it, it shouldn’t take you—we shouldn’t have a violation of the law because you don’t have enough lawyers to be able to certify that something should go to the FISA court.” Again, it all comes back to protecting the American people. And as we protect and defend the American people, we protect our Constitution.
But, again, there’s very little information available on this. My concern with the administration is that they are heralding that, “Dozens of briefings were held with so many members of Congress that people know what this is,” that, that’s simply not the case. So let’s just have a congressional review of it, very dispassionately, with the eye to protecting the American people, but also to have real truth in what we’re talking about as to what it is, what the law is, and, and, and who knows about it.
MR. RUSSERT: But to be clear, you would still authorize intercepting phone calls, you would just have a different legal process.
REP. PELOSI: I would say that the FISA, the FISA law allows the president to do what he needs to do to get the intelligence for the American people, but it must be done under the law, and that law is very specific.
MR. RUSSERT: I saw in the USA Today in December of ‘05 this story, and I’ll read it to you and our viewers. “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi switched gears and embraced a call to begin an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” which is quite striking, because in May of 2004 you were on this program, and I asked you specifically, “Should there be withdrawal of U.S. troops by a date certain,” and this is exactly what you said. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, May 30, 2004):
REP. PELOSI: No. I do not. I believe that because of the mess that has been made in Iraq we have to stay to stabilize Iraq. We have to secure the situation, because now, although it wasn’t the case before the war, now it has become a hotbed of terrorist activity.
MR. RUSSERT: Why have you changed your view?
REP. PELOSI: Well, that was a year and a half later by the time I said what I said, and it was on the basis of some very expert advice. As you know, Congressman Jack Murtha has 35 years of experience in protecting our men and women in uniform and being a champion for our national security. I believe that we need a better plan. Our troops—let’s—I was just in the Persian Gulf. Every chance I get I want to praise them for their valor, their patriotism and the sacrifice they’re willing to make. They’ve done their job. But the plan—they deserve a better plan getting out of Iraq than the president, than the president gave them going in.
MR. RUSSERT: But Congress...
REP. PELOSI: But my—but what I called for there was not an immediate withdrawal. That’s how they characterized it. What I did was to support what Mr. Murtha was saying, which was a responsible redeployment of troops over the horizon to protect our interests in case we were threatened by terrorism or our interests were threatened in the region. The characterization of it was more of an immediate withdrawal than the actual proposal was.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, are you for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq with—by the end of the year?
REP. PELOSI: I—what our Democratic position is, and our real security agenda is, that 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq. It’s time for the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their government and for their security. And again, that we must have a plan that is worthy of these troops and their sacrifice and the sacrifice of the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: But you said that, in ‘04, that you were concerned about stabilizing Iraq, securing Iraq, that it has become a hotbed of terrorism activity. Has anything changed?
REP. PELOSI: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s secure? Do you think it’s stable?
REP. PELOSI: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s a hotbed for—of...
REP. PELOSI: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Then why would you withdraw troops?
REP. PELOSI: Because it’s not a—yes, I would withdraw them because, on the strength of expert advice, and now you see the generals speaking out on this, that—so much time went by, there was a year and a half between those two statements, and what we had—still had not seen was a plan on the part of the president. The president continued to dig a hole in Iraq, he refuses to come out of there and see the daylight and know there, there’s change. There are only two courses of action in Iraq: the president’s to stay the course and let some other president sweep up after him, or what the Democrats are saying, 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq with the Iraqis taking responsibility.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, some Democrats, the number two Democrat in the House, in the House, Steny Hoyer, says this, “I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility.” That sounds like Nancy Pelosi in May of ‘04.
REP. PELOSI: Well, you’re—you know, it’s about time, it’s about time. Steny said that six, eight months ago. Now all Democrats are united, House and Senate, around the principle of significant transition in 2006.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you be accused of cutting and running?
REP. PELOSI: It’s not a question of cutting and running, it’s a question of having the Iraqis transition into their taking responsibility. We have lost now, what, over 2400 of our young men and women, we’ve lost—many of them--16,000 injured, half of them permanently, it’s over $300 billion dollars now, it’s a trillion-dollar war, all things taken into consideration, if it ended today, in the cost and reputation for us around the world. So when you make these decisions, they’re in a place and time and evaluation of the situation, and you have to weigh different equities.
MR. RUSSERT: So just cut our losses?
REP. PELOSI: You have to weigh different equities. No, you have to have a plan to transition the Iraqis so they can take—they’ve had an election, they now have a prime minister, and it—and he should then now form a government for them to take control of themselves. Listen, Secretary Rumsfeld just said recently that we would be negotiating with the new government as to how long we would stay in Iraq. Well, the president says he’s not going to have politicians in Washington influence that decision, I don’t think politicians in Iraq should influence that decision. I think it should be our decision about how our national interest is best served. And in the course of a year and a half, the circumstances on the ground are not improved, then we have to consider other options. But I say again, the American people, and especially our troops, deserve a better plan to get out than they had getting in.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to gasoline prices. This is how Tom Friedman in The New York Times wrote about it. “What would OPEC do if it wanted to keep America addicted to oil? That’s easy. OPEC would urge the U.S. Congress to deal with the current spike in gasoline prices either by adopting the Republican proposal to give American drivers $100 dollars each, so they could continue driving gas-guzzling cars and buy gasoline at the current $3.50 a gallon, or by adopting the Democrats’ proposal for a 60-day lifting of the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon. Either one would be fine with OPEC. ... We now have a Congress proposing to do exactly what our worst enemies would like us to do - subsidize our addiction to gasoline by breaking into our kids’ piggy banks to make it easier for us to pay the prices demanded by our oil pushers. ... There is something really disturbing about the utterly shameless, utterly over-the-top Republican pandering and Democratic point-scoring that have been masquerading as governing in response to this energy crisis.”
Brazil has converted its entire automobile flight to sugar—fleet to sugar cane.
REP. PELOSI: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Will the Democrats propose a total energy independence, weaning us off of oil?
REP. PELOSI: We do.
MR. RUSSERT: Within a very specific time?
REP. PELOSI: Absolutely and I don’t know...
MR. RUSSERT: When?
REP. PELOSI: I don’t know—Democrats are pro—we have proposed in our real security, we rolled this out in March. We’ll roll it out again in June as part of our domestic—because this is a national security issue and it is a domestic issue. Democrats are proposing that we will be energy—are declaring energy independence for the American people and we intend to achieve it within 10 years.
MR. RUSSERT: How?
REP. PELOSI: We intend to send our energy dollars to the Midwest and rural America, not to the Middle East. We intend to focus on biofuels, we intend—on alternative energy, conservation and efficiency. As you said, Brazil is doing this. These cars are made by GM and Ford.
MR. RUSSERT: But this will be huge subsidies to bring it about. Would you be willing to roll back the Bush tax cut to pay for it?
REP. PELOSI: This isn’t—we are willing to put all of our, our initiatives on the table. We think they compete very well. One thing we’ll roll back immediately are the Bush subsidies and royalty holidays which are around $20 billion dollars.
MR. RUSSERT: But would you repeal the Bush tax cut?
REP. PELOSI: Well, what I’m—what we’re talking about here on energy independence is something that will save the American people money.
MR. RUSSERT: But it will take—it all takes money, Congressman. The Brazilian government has subsidized their industry.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be willing to roll back the Bush tax cuts?
REP. PELOSI: I’ll tell you something, if we could bring the war in Iraq to a conclusion, we would save a lot of money and could declare energy independence and this is the, this is the OPEC countries’ worst nightmare, that we would be energy independent. The technology is there, the commitment is there, Democrats have a goal. We have a plan. We have a timetable to accomplish it and we intend to do so. And you know what? Do you know what we spend? Fifty billion dollars a year just protecting the sea lanes for the oil to come from the Middle East. That money can be spent to invest in this.
MR. RUSSERT: But why are you so reluctant to say you’ll roll back the Bush tax cuts? Most Democrats voted against them.
REP. PELOSI: Well, I, myself, am against them. But the point is, is there are choices to be made in our budgets, and, and I will tell you more the Democrats are going to do when we take over the Congress of the United States. But this energy independence is worth—it is a high priority and I think the American people would agree. Now, we have a national security issue, an environmental issue, an economic issue and an energy issue, all well served by—by our energy independence. We have put this in writing. We are committed to it and this week our rural caucus will roll out, roll out.
MR. RUSSERT: But the concern people have, truth in packaging, honesty, authenticity. How are you going to pay for this?
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: When people were asked about the government in terms of polling, do you approve of the U.S. Congress or disapprove? Look at these numbers: approve, 22 percent; disapprove, 65 percent.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Sixty-five percent of Americans disapprove. And when asked why do you disapprove, look at this: We’re tired of the, the Democrats and Republicans fighting, 44.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Nothing getting done, 36; too many members corrupt or unethical, 34. The American people have a bipartisan view of Congress.
REP. PELOSI: But that’s the way it’s always been.
MR. RUSSERT: They don’t like it.
REP. PELOSI: That’s the way it’s always been. But let me say this.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s not always.
REP. PELOSI: No, I meant when they don’t like Congress, they don’t like everybody in Congress. But let me say this, one of the principles, the first, one of the first principles that we have when you’re talking about paying for it, Democrats are committed to pay as you go, no deficit spending. This has been a—this is our commitment. And that’s what we say to them.
MR. RUSSERT: So you’ll balance the budget next year?
REP. PELOSI: We did it before.
MR. RUSSERT: You’ll balance the budget?
REP. PELOSI: We can’t budget and balance—President Bush has taken us to such a place you can’t balance in one year, but we’ll put ourselves on a course of balance. But we did when President Clinton was president because of the Democratic economic package, we were on a course of action...
MR. RUSSERT: So wait a minute. So they’ll be no increase in spending if the Democrats take control of Congress?
REP. PELOSI: No deficit spending. I pledge that to you. No deficit spending, pay as you go. Pay as you go.
MR. RUSSERT: So even if you had to raise taxes to pay for the new program?
REP. PELOSI: Well, you put everything on the table and you decide what are the priorities for the American people. But a commitment to no deficit spending is a long-term one with the Democrats, and we were successful. When President Clinton was president, their last four budgets—his last four budgets were in surplus. We came out of the Clinton years $5.6 trillion dollars in surplus, surplus. The Bush policies turn that around. Now we’re $9 trillion dollars debt ceiling when we could’ve been eight—debt-free as a nation by 2008. This is a very high priority for us because it’s a responsibility to our country, it’s a responsibility to our children that we do not heap all of this debt on them. So this is—this is a new era. We’ve had a reversal of roles here. The Democrats, no deficit spending, pay as you go. And that’s what we will do on the first day of Congress is to pass that rule for, for budgeting in the House.
MR. RUSSERT: Headlines in the Capitol Hill paper: “Dems prepare for transition.” Today’s Washington Post: “Confident Dems lay out agenda.” You’re measuring the draperies in the speaker’s office.
REP. PELOSI: No we’re not. No we’re not. The American people would like to know what we would do if we take over.
MR. RUSSERT: Ah, absolutely. If they...
REP. PELOSI: And that’s what...
MR. RUSSERT: ...and let me ask you about that, because you told The Washington Post that there will be investigations if the Democrats regain control of the House. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee would be someone named John Conyers. I went up to his Web site and this is what’s on his Web site: “Stand with Congressman Conyers. Demand an investigation of administration abuses of power and make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”
REP. PELOSI: Democrats are not about impeachment. Democrats are about bringing the country together. This is what we have to do.
MR. RUSSERT: But that’s the man who would be chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah, but that is not where the decision would be made. This is a—what I had told The Washington Post was that we will assume the responsibility that this Congress—this do-nothing, rubber-stamp Congress, rubber-stamp for President Bush—hasn’t done, has not exercised the congressional obligation and responsibility to have oversight.
MR. RUSSERT: So there would be investigations.
REP. PELOSI: Well, what I told them is we will have an investigation of energy prices. We will have an investigation. Then how that was done...
MR. RUSSERT: How about of the war?
REP. PELOSI: That would be if—I said we’d have hearings on the war. We’d have hearings on the war. But I don’t see us going to a place of an impeachment or all of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Is impeachment off the table?
REP. PELOSI: Well, you never know where the facts take you, but the—for any president. But, but that isn’t what we’re about. What we’re about is going there and, and having high ethical standards, fiscal soundness and a level of civility that brushes away all this fierce partisanship.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, should John Conyers take his Web site down, talking about impeachment?
REP. PELOSI: John Conyers does what he does on his Web site. John Conyers is an enthusiastic advocate. I am the leader. Our caucus will decide where we go. But it’s not—you don’t decide to impeach. You—the facts support something like this, and that’s not where we’re going.
MR. RUSSERT: But the impression, Congresswoman, is that the Democrats take control of Congress it’s payback. They’re going to have the subpoena power...
REP. PELOSI: No. That’s not the case.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and there’s going to be investigation...
REP. PELOSI: Well, that’s wrong. Well, we will have subpoena power.
MR. RUSSERT: ...after investigation. You will have subpoena power.
REP. PELOSI: We will have subpoena power, and that’s why the Republicans are so afraid that we will be able to show the public how they arrived at a prescription drug bill that is born of corruption. The cost of corruption is, is huge to the consumer, whether it’s a sen—middle-income seniors paying more at the pharmacy, whether it’s the—all American consumers paying more at the pump, or home heating oil. How did we get to this place? Those—that is worthy of scrutiny. It’s not—investigation does not equate to impeachment. Investigation is the requirement of Congress. It’s about checks and balances.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s how USA Today, however, characterized it. “Just when you think Congress’ obtuseness about its tawdry image can’t get any worse, its members manage to outdo themselves. And while Democrats might think the ethics scandals will work against Republicans this fall, betrayal of the public trust clearly knows no partisan bounds.”
REP. PELOSI: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: “The top Democrat on the ethics committee of the House of Representatives, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, was reported, first by The Wall Street Journal, to have quietly directed at least $178 million dollars in taxpayer funds to a network of home-district friends, business partners, contributors, former employees. Along the way, he curiously became a multimillionaire in real estate, and federal investigators are looking at whether he failed to properly disclose scores of newly acquired assets.”
You have Congressman Jefferson of Louisiana, someone pleaded guilty and said he had paid him bribes. You have Cynthia McKinney investigated for roughing up a police officer. You have Congressman Kennedy who, in the wee hours, entangling himself with the police department. So the Democrats have ethical...
REP. PELOSI: May I respond to that?
MR. RUSSERT: ...the Democrats have ethical challenges, too, correct?
REP. PELOSI: No, no. This—you’re talking two completely different things.
You’re talking about some Democrats who have an ethical challenge. Mr.
Jefferson—I’ve asked for the Ethics Committee to investigate Mr. Jefferson. You have never seen a Republican ask for an ethics investigation of the Republicans. You’re talking about some individual challenges that those people will have to deal with.
On the Republican side, you have what The Washington Post called a “criminal enterprise” operating out of the Republican leader’s office. You have corruption, cronyism and incompetence which has cost—has a cost to the American people. Whether again, price at the pump, of, of price at the pharmacy, or of Katrina. This is—has an impact on the American people. It’s a part of a system. It is quite different from personal indiscretions which have—and violations of the law, if so, in Mr. Jefferson’s case. But that is something quite different than a system that is condoned, enabled and—by the Republican caucus in its entirety and they—because they benefit from it. And as far as energy is concerned...
MR. RUSSERT: But wait, wait a minute. But what about the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, in terms of money from Jack Abramoff?
REP. PELOSI: What about him?
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me show you. This is the Associated Press: “Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid portrays convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities as involving only Republicans. But Abramoff’s billing records and congressional correspondence tell a different story. They show Abramoff’s lobbying team billed for nearly two dozen contacts with Reid’s office in a single year. ... Reid also wrote at least four letters to the Bush administration helpful to Indian tribes Abramoff represented, often collecting donations from Abramoff-related sources around the same time. And in the midst of the contacts, Abramoff’s firm hired one of Reid’s top legislative aides to lobby for the tribal and Marianas clients. The aide then helped throw a fund-raiser for Reid at Abramoff’s office.”
Here’s the numbers in terms of lobbyist contributions: from 2004 to 2006, lobbyists gave Republicans $20 million dollars, Democrats 17.8.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: You get your money—both parties get their money from lobbyists.
REP. PELOSI: Well, let me say this: Our party is standing for honest leadership and open government. We will turn the most corrupt Congress in history to the most honest and open—and maybe it’ll take a woman to clean up the house. Maybe that’s what we’ll have to have.
But I, but I stand by...
MR. RUSSERT: Will you bar all lobbyist contributions?
REP. PELOSI: I—our, our proposal is in writing. Senator Reid and I put...
MR. RUSSERT: But will you ban all lobbyist contributions?
REP. PELOSI: I’m for, I’m for what we call clean campaigns. That is...
MR. RUSSERT: Disclosure.
REP. PELOSI: Well, no. Public funding of campaigns. I think we have to break the link completely. I think we have to break the link completely.
MR. RUSSERT: Who’s going to pay for that? You think the American taxpayer will want to pay for campaigns?
REP. PELOSI: Well, you can—it can be an add-on. Or the American people can decide...
MR. RUSSERT: What do you mean, add-on to what?
REP. PELOSI: They can add-on to their—in other words, you’re paying your considerable taxes, thank you for your patriotism, and you can add on to that to, to get a...
MR. RUSSERT: But voluntary—it doesn’t pay for the presidential system, barely. How, how...
REP. PELOSI: Well, well that’s a decision the country has to make. But you’re asking me would I ban, I’m answering back what I would do. But what we do...
MR. RUSSERT: But will, will a Democratic Congress ban all contributions from lobbyists?
REP. PELOSI: We could do that.
MR. RUSSERT: You will?
REP. PELOSI: We could do that. But what we have done, just so you know, is completely broken the link in our proposal between the lobbyists and the, and the, the Congress. The revolving door—because people talk about contributions as if they’re the only thing. But it’s not that, it’s about jobs, it’s about the revolving door, it’s about a thing—a, a symbiotic relationship that is unhealthy for the American people. In our honest leadership, open government proposal we break that link between them, whether it’s travel, ban all gifts, ban all travel from...
MR. RUSSERT: So no congressional staffers will be able to lobby after they leave a congressional office?
REP. PELOSI: We, we make it a two-year—that’s what we can do under the law.
It’s one year now, we make it two years. The Republicans are sweating it out.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not a total ban on ever lobbying?
REP. PELOSI: Well, you can’t say that for the rest of somebody’s life, if they ever served in government that they can never do another job. But you can discourage it and you can put enough distance between. But we must do it. And here’s where we’re going to do it, and we come to Congress the next year, the first day, we’re going to come in and pass our honest leadership, open government...
MR. RUSSERT: You’re going to be the speaker?
REP. PELOSI: Well, if that’s the case. We—I just want a Democratic speaker.
MR. RUSSERT: But in, but in 2004, you predicted you would be the speaker.
It didn’t happen.
REP. PELOSI: I, I, I’m, I thought John Kerry was going to be president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: You guaranteed that.
REP. PELOSI: That I guaranteed.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you guarantee you’ll be the speaker?
REP. PELOSI: No. I can say that I can—I can say what I said then. If the election were held today, we would have a Democratic majority. And on that very first day, we will have a new direction for America, for all Americans, not the privileged few. We’re going to make America safer by passing homeland security recommendations immediately, give America a raise by having—increasing the minimum wage, make health care affordable by negotiating for better prices, and prove the—lower the cost of college education by cutting in half the interest on student loans. We’re going to be fair...
MR. RUSSERT: And, and all this without increasing the deficit?
REP. PELOSI: ...help the—exactly.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, we’ll...
REP. PELOSI: No deficit spending...
MR. RUSSERT: ...well, we’ll be...
REP. PELOSI: ...high ethical standards, civility and debate.
MR. RUSSERT: And it all adds up?
REP. PELOSI: You’ll see. It’s going to be a new day.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll find out. And we’ll be watching. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, thank you for you views.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Next up, our roundtable focuses on the midterm elections. Kelly O’Donnell, he—she talked this morning to Vice President Cheney in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
And both George W. Bushes. One of them will be here right after this on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: NBC talked to Vice President Cheney this morning. We’ll have that interview. Plus, Dan Balz, Todd Purdum and another George W. Bush. You’ll recognize him after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Dan Balz, Todd Purdum, welcome.
Let me show you the Associated Press’ latest poll. Here’s the summary:
“Angry conservatives are driving the approval ratings of President Bush and the GOP-led Congress to dismal new lows, according to an AP-Ipsos poll that underscores why Republicans fear an Election Day massacre. This week’s survey ... found: Just 33 percent of the public approves of Bush’s job performance, the lowest of his presidency. ... Forty-five percent of self-described conservatives now disapprove of the president. Just one fourth of the public approves of the job Congress is doing, a new low. ... A whopping 65 percent of conservatives disapprove of Congress. A majority of Americans say they want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress (51 percent to 34 percent). ... Even 31 percent of conservatives want Republicans out of power.” Dan Balz, explain.
MR. DAN BALZ: President’s approval rating is down because of Iraq. It’s down because of uneasiness over the economy. And I—that, I think, is driving almost everything else that’s going on in American politics right now. There are other elements that are affecting this election, but I think those are the major factors that have caused this. And I’m not sure that there’s much, outside of events changing, that the president can do to change that climate between now and November.
MR. RUSSERT: Six months from the election, the Democrats are euphoric and the Republicans I’ve talked to are depressed. Isn’t it too early to be concluding what this election’s going to do in 2000--in midterms 2006?
MR. BALZ: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, particularly these House elections, which don’t really take shape until we get to Labor Day and after that. But if you look at the climate that we’re operating in this year, it’s understandable why, particularly Republicans are very, very nervous. I think the Democrats’ optimism may be slightly misplaced. They have a tough row to hoe to get all the way that they want to get to, and they’re in some ways setting expectations up for themselves very, very high, which is if they don’t take back the House and come close to taking back the Senate, they are likely to feel as though they have lost this election.
MR. RUSSERT: Kelly O’Donnell of NBC spoke to Vice President Cheney this morning about whether he’d be willing to go out and campaign for his fellow Republicans, and here was the vice president’s answer.
(Videotape, This Morning):
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: We’ve got a lot of good candidates out there. At the appropriate time I’ll be happy to campaign for the ticket in 2008 if they want me to. They may not want me to.
MR. RUSSERT: Todd Purdum, a little humor there.
MR. TODD PURDUM: He’s not without humor. That’s one of the things that—one of the things the public doesn’t really understand about him. He’s actually a very funny guy, and he’s a realist, too. He knows that his—he’s been a drag on the president and he also knows he’s—he thinks he’s served him well in certain ways, but he’s got, he’s got some issues to face as this midterm comes up, too.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s Kelly asking Vice President Cheney another question that has been widely speculated upon here in Washington, his own political future. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, This Morning):
MS. KELLY O’DONNELL: You have said you will not seek the presidency, you will complete your term. When you consider what it might mean for the Republican Party, would there be any benefit if you were to retire, to allow the president to choose someone else who might then have an advantage in 2008?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I’m not sure it would be an advantage, but that’s not my concern. I, I, in effect, took on the obligation when I put my name on the ballot at the request of the president, both in 2000 and again in 2004, that if elected, to serve out my term. I feel that I’ve got a contract, if you will, with the American people, constitutionally elected officer. My term ends in January of 2009 and barring some unforeseen disaster, that’s what I’ll do.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, do you take him at his word?
MR. BALZ: I do take him at his word. I think any talk of his resignation has always been misplaced. He’s there to serve the president. The president has confidence in his advice and I don’t think there’s ever been any indication that there’s been a desire to have him move off the ticket. It would create significant problems for the president if he did that anyway.
MR. RUSSERT: Todd Purdum, here’s the article you wrote in this month’s Vanity Fair: “A Face Only a President Could Love.” There’s a picture of you interviewing Vice President Cheney aboard Air Force Two. And in your article you write this, “In fact, it’s hard to reconcile the old Cheney with the new Dick. How did the young aide who, the political consultant Stuart Spencer recalled, was almost ‘spastic’ with anxiety to quickly clarify Gerald Ford’s inadvertent liberation of Poland in the 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter become the grumpy old veep who waited four days to explain to the public (and 36 hours to explain to his increasingly unhappy boss) how he managed to accidentally shoot a 78-year-old quail-hunting companion in Texas in February?” And, and Brent Skowcroft said he doesn’t know Dick Cheney anymore, one of his oldest friends. What’s going on?
MR. PURDUM: A lot of people that have known him for 30 years feel that way. Partly it’s because when they first got to know him, he was serving as Jerry Ford’s White House chief of staff. And President Ford was an old-fashioned, moderate Midwestern Republican, and that carried over on Dick Cheney and it stood him in good stead for a long, long time. Now, he’s in a position to actually shape policy as vice president and advise President Bush, and I think what part of the public has seen is that he’s always been much more conservative than people knew, and that’s coming to the fore and he’s in a position to do something about it.
MR. RUSSERT: You also write in your piece, “Cheney has to know”—this is talking about Iraq—“Cheney has to know that public and political patience for progress in Iraq will not be unlimited. ... So I ask him whether in his ‘darkest night’ he has even ‘a little doubt’ about the administration’s course. ‘No,’ he says. ‘I think what we’ve done has been what needed to be done.’” And Kelly O’Donnell asked him this morning about his phrase, “We’d be greeted as liberators,” and this is how he responded.
(Videotape, This Morning):
VICE PRES. CHENEY: With respect to the question of the were we greeted as liberators, I think we clearly are viewed as liberators by the vast majority of the Iraqi people. No question we’ve had problems with a group of terrorist insurgents, but that’s a very small minority.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, will that work in explaining the situation in Iraq that we were greeted as liberators, there’s only a small minority resisting us?
MR. BALZ: No. I don’t think that works. I think people see a different reality on television, in the newspapers every day, and they’ve come to a different conclusion about the war, and that is that at least a majority of this country now believes it was a mistake to go in, and they recognize that the planning for the post-war period was negligent, almost not existent, and they see a big problem there. There’s certainly division in this country about what we do next, but the question of was this a wise course, I think the country has come to a judgment that it wasn’t, and this is hanging over the president.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there any acceptance with the vice president, within the administration, in your reporting, Todd, that there’s a recognition that misjudgments were made about WMD, about troop levels, about cost, about secular violence, about insurgency, about anything?
MR. PURDUM: I think there is some private recognition, clearly, that misjudgments were made. And what’s fascinating about this administration is its complete unwillingness to play the Washington game of sort of publicly apologizing, saying, well, we—as Mayor LaGuardia used to say, “I don’t make many mistakes, but when I make one, it’s a beaut.” They never say that. And on the other hand, I think that Vice President Cheney and, for that matter, President Bush, do think it was the right thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And Vice President Cheney told me, “You can argue about the details but, you know, we’re better off with him gone.” And that’s their bottom line. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t really seem to be the bottom line of the American public anymore, as Dan pointed out.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s interesting, in talking to Republicans, Dan, the thing they fear most about losing control of one house of Congress: subpoena power.
MR. BALZ: Absolutely. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: And you heard Congresswoman Pelosi, she did not deny in any way, shape or form that there would be investigations.
MR. BALZ: No. It’s interesting, I heard from a Republican—or a Democrat with pretty close ties to the House last night when the story about our interview with Congresswoman Pelosi came out, that he thought that talk about impeachment and even investigations was premature, that—in other words, as an election issue, they ought not to be talking about it—but that is absolutely what would happen.
MR. RUSSERT: What does the vice president say about his poll numbers?
MR. PURDUM: He’s fatalistic. I mean, his attitude is, you know, he doesn’t pay attention to that. And because, as Dan pointed out, he doesn’t theoretically have political ambitions for the future, he doesn’t have to care. But one of the interesting things about that is he and the president cite his lack of ambition as an asset. You could actually look at it as a thing that perverts or offends the normal presidential/vice presidential relationship, and you could argue that President Bush himself would be in a little better shape right now if Vice President Cheney were pushing him to do things that would help his position in 2008 and sort of be there in the normal course of trying to be a successor. Now there’s no obvious Republican heir and it’s, it’s an open field.
MR. RUSSERT: There is someone with us who may want to comment on poll ratings of the—President George W. Bush.
MR. STEVE BRIDGES: Yeah. Yeah, good to be here. Appreciate you having me, Tim. It’s a great opportunity to maybe talk about some differences. I know that the press doesn’t agree with my policies, you guys, that’s fine. You just don’t have to go out and tell everybody.
MR. RUSSERT: Why are you at 33 percent approval rating in the AP poll?
MR. BRIDGES: Look, I’m asked about the polls all the time, I don’t—you know, “You’re not popular with the polls,” I’m not popular with the American people, either. Listen, if I wanted to be popular with Poles, I’d run for president of Poland. I didn’t, I’m here. Important thing.
MR. RUSSERT: Why did you fire Porter Goss, or ask him to resign?
MR. BRIDGES: Can’t tell you, it’s a secret. I’d have to declassify unclassified information, or either I’d have to leak it. That’s Scooter’s job. I’m not a leaker.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re the decider.
MR. BRIDGES: That’s right. Yeah. Make good decisions. Yeah. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, this is not George W. Bush, ladies and gentlemen, it’s Steve Bridges, who plays George W. Bush. But I do want to show the two Bushes together. This was Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, April 29, 2006):
MR. BRIDGES: There’s got to be a friendly face out there somewhere, I tell you—oh, there’s Justice Scalia, there you are. There’s Justice Alito. Hey, boys. Bet it feels good to be out from under those robes. Toga! Toga! Toga!
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, it’s good to see so many influential guests here tonight, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito.
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah, all the usual suspects. Speaking of suspects, where’s the great white hunter?
PRES. BUSH: I am sorry, Vice President Cheney couldn’t be here tonight.
MR. RUSSERT: What a night. Now, a couple of years ago, you did a tape for Barbara Bush, you introduced Barbara Bush...
MR. BRIDGES: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...performing as George W. Bush. She sent the tape to her son, and the family watched it. You were invited to the Oval Office.
MR. BRIDGES: We did. We, as a result, got invited to the Oval Office. That was a kick.
MR. RUSSERT: And how did Saturday night come about? Did the White House approach you, and did you rehearse with the president? Tell us about it.
MR. BRIDGES: Well, the first time we got to meet the president, he did kind of mention in passing, “We’re going to do something. We’re going to, you know, just going to do something,” you know? And just—I think it was in the back of his mind. And then we got a call saying, “Hey, you know, we”—from the White House saying, “Hey, we’re going to—we got something we’re going to do.” So—look, I’m starting to sound like the president even when I talk like myself. This is, this is fun. So that’s really how it came about, yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the real Steve Bridges, we’ll put him up on the screen. This is what he really looks like. Two and a half hours of makeup to get you ready for this role.
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah. Makeup artist Kevin Haney is the one who designed everything, and he’s the one who put it together and crafts it and put it on this morning. And it’s, it’s great. It’s an amazing makeup. It’s a lot of fun, too. This is a kick.
MR. RUSSERT: Now how long did you rehearse with the president?
MR. BRIDGES: I—you know, I’d say a little under 30 minutes or so. We ran through it a few times. In fact, we were, we were rehearsing and I threw in that toga, toga line and I kind of looked at him like, “Eh?” And he goes, “Yeah, go for it, man, let’s have some fun. Let’s do it.” So, so we went for it.
MR. RUSSERT: How aware are you as a comedian of the line that you should cross or shouldn’t cross in terms of the president of the United States?
MR. BRIDGES: Well, for me the, the, the object that I have is one to make people laugh and, and obviously my, my political humor’s my niche, but I want to make people laugh and poke fun at people without being mean. I think that’s the main thing. You know, I mean obviously, I’m making fun of the president, right? But I don’t want to be mean—or whatever character I’m doing, whether it’s Bill Clinton. We’ve got a Bill Clinton show. It’s funny. You’re poking fun at them, but it’s not mean. Or if it’s Arnold or whoever, it’s just—the idea is just to have, just to have a great time laughing. That’s really...
MR. RUSSERT: This may be a little difficult, but let me—let us hear Bill Clinton. Even though you look like George Bush, let me hear Bill Clinton.
MR. BRIDGES: I want to just say this here, a lot of people have been wondering what I’m doing on MEET THE PRESS. I’m hiding from Hillary. That’s the honest truth. I’m not saying she doesn’t watch, I’m just saying I don’t think she’s watching this morning. Oh, man!
MR. RUSSERT: And, and the governor of California, Arnold. Here you are dressed like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
MR. BRIDGES: Arnold.
MR. RUSSERT: I think we have a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger somewhere up there. There you are.
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah, there I am, right there. See, I want to do for America what I’ve done for California. I want to be president of the United States. We’re going to get rid of the Washington Monument. It doesn’t look a thing like him. It’s ridiculous.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you been doing this all your life?
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah, yeah, since I was a little kid imitating the Three Stooges.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you Curly or Moe?
MR. BRIDGES: We fight over that one, man. Moe was, was prime property.
MR. RUSSERT: When you’re with the president and his staff is around and you start throwing lines out, do they ever jump in and say, “Hey, that’s a little too much?”
MR. BRIDGES: Trust me, I was timid. I was hamana, hamana, hamana, hamana, hamana, hamana. We had a great time, though. It was a, it was a fun rehearsal. It was really good. The president’s got a great sense of humor. He took it so well. And he’s got good timing, too, as you saw in, in the bit, so it was fun. But I left any kind of suggestions or critiques to somebody else. I just...
MR. RUSSERT: So you’re George W. Bush again and if someone started challenging you, challenging your grasp of issues, challenging your, your intelligence, challenging your ability to be president, what do you say?
MR. BRIDGES: Look, Tim, you know, I went to Yale, all right? I didn’t let it go to my head. A lot of folks like to joke about me, and I admit it, maybe I wouldn’t last too long on, on, on “Jeopardy!” But I’ll tell you right now, my predecessor Bill Clinton wouldn’t last two minutes on “Temptation Island.” I mean, there you go.
MR. RUSSERT: When people hear this, do they sometimes say, “Oh, my God, this really is the president”? Or do you walk through a studio, do people stop and say “Hello, Mr. President”?
MR. BRIDGES: You know, we do so many shows and so many events that the routine is that a lot of times it’s a surprise for the audience for the private event or the corporate thing that we’re doing, so we’ll go back through the kitchen and I mean I’ll—there’ll be people who are carrying trays and just do the—and they’ll be talking like “That’s President Bush.” And they’re pointing and I’m kind of like, “Hey, how you doing? Good to see you.”
MR. RUSSERT: When you watch him, are you learning every second his mannerisms, his inflection? And are you sometimes surprised by anything you’ve seen when you actually saw him up close? Anything different than you would imagine or had performed?
MR. BRIDGES: I think he’s evolved over the years. He’s, he’s changed a little bit, but there’s some things that are just consistent that’s...
MR. RUSSERT: How has he evolved? Is he, is he more like George W. Bush?
MR. BRIDGES: I think he’s probably refined some of his gestures and mannerisms over the years. That’s one of the things that I’ve noticed. I think he goes through phases where he doesn’t trip over his words much, and then every now and then he’ll fumble a few things. But, but this is a good gesture right there. This has always been a good one. This has been a good one. My eyes get all big. Like he doesn’t do that. That’s kind of my being goofy.
MR. RUSSERT: But he acknowledges—he has a hard time with the word nuclear.
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah. We had fun with it Saturday night.
MR. RUSSERT: And the president’s tried to use it as a strength sometimes when he, he, he mixed metaphors or stumbles words. Does that work with the public?
MR. BRIDGES: I think it’s somewhat endearing, I mean, because the number one—I’ve always been told the number one fear that, that people in America have is the fear of public speaking. So I think in some way they identify with it. People get nervous and tongue-tied. I’ve got friends who are just brilliant dudes, but whenever they’ve got to give some five-minute presentation in front of their peers, they’re just—they’re freaked out for a week.
So it is, it is a fear, and so I think it’s one of the things that might make people sort of endeared to him, like, hey, they can understand. Who wants to get out in front of a crowd, let alone the nation or the whole world, and give a speech, and then be caught on any word you mispronounce during any sentence you didn’t, you know, say perfectly?
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, you have a question for the president?
MR. BRIDGES: Fire away. Go ahead.
MR. BALZ: How are you going to save the Republicans in these midterms?
MR. BRIDGES: I tell you what, we’re going to, we’re going to work hard. I want to hustle. Like I said, I’m not a, I’m not a lame duck. I’m a hard-working duck. I’m going to hustle hard like duck through a goose. We’re going to get it done, son, we’re going to get it done. You watch what happens in ‘06.
MR. RUSSERT: Todd Purdum?MR. PURDUM: Is Vice President Cheney as asset or a liability?
MR. BRIDGES: He’s a fine vice president. He’s an excellent—I just wish I knew where he was. You know, they’re still hiding him at those undisclosed locations.
MR. RUSSERT: What about Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state?
MR. BRIDGES: Excellent secretary of state. Keeps me informed on what’s going on around the world. Reads the newspapers. Because of Condie, I know what to do wherever I’m at, you know? I live by the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romanians do.” I believe in that.
MR. RUSSERT: When you walk into a convention or an appearance, how do you start? Do they play the “Hail to the Chief”?
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah, we do. We play “Hail to the Chief,” and I just head right up to the podium, usually have some customized remarks for the group that’s there, just, just get right to it. We just have a ball. It’s great.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s your opening line?
MR. BRIDGES: First, it’s, it’s, it’s good to be here. And third—it’s just a joke, it’s always just a joke.
MR. RUSSERT: But...
MR. BRIDGES: I like this president. I know, teasing him and ribbing him, but I like the guy, really.
MR. RUSSERT: But Republicans and conservatives and Democrats, they all laugh at that line.
MR. BRIDGES: Love it, love it. Yeah, love it. Yeah, they got a really good sense of humor about this president.
MR. RUSSERT: But what is it saying about the president?
MR. BRIDGES: I think it’s a—I think they like him, I really do.
MR. RUSSERT: And how about when you do your Bill Clinton material?
MR. BRIDGES: We just started that and it’s going over really well. So we’re having fun. I mean, we’re in the, we’re in the process of refining it, but it’s, it’s looking really good. I mean Kevin...
MR. RUSSERT: Are you political at all?
MR. BRIDGES: You know what? I’ve had some political leanings, but the more I get involved in this as a living, the more I sort of back away from it and just look at it and think in order to maintain my, my sense of humor, I got to have a sense of humor about everybody. And that’s why I kind of adopted that, “You know what? This is going to be fun, I’m teasing people, I’m having fun making fun of them, but I’m just not going to be mean.”
MR. RUSSERT: Do you go back and look at Vaughn Meader’s JFK, and Rich Little’s Nixon and Dana Carvey’s George Herbert Walker Bush?
MR. BRIDGES: Oh, well, you just, you just mentioned three brilliant, you know, I mean two brilliant performers and a brilliant album, so yeah, they are things that are in the back of my mind, part of my development for my impersonations and political humor, yeah, absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: And based on your performance Saturday night, you’ll be now celebrating with Ford Theater.
MR. BRIDGES: That’s right. Yeah, on July the 4th. It’s an American Celebration at the Ford’s Theater, yeah. Big, big event. People ask me, “When can we ever see you on TV?” That’s it, July 4th. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, Todd Purdum, an honor to sit with the president of the United States. And two presidents, actually, George W. Bush and, and Bill Clinton.
MR. BALZ: All right. And a governor of California.
MR. RUSSERT: All to boot.
What, what next? What do you do?
MR. BRIDGES: Well, we’re, we’re working, I’m working my tail off, you know.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you be sorry when George Bush leaves office?
MR. BRIDGES: Yeah, sort of. I mean, there’s always sort of that, “Oh, crud, now what do I do?” But like I said, we’re working, we’re always ready to do the next person...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have a Hillary?
MR. BRIDGES: We’ve got a Bill.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have John McCain?
MR. BRIDGES: We’ll, we’ll get it, we’ll get it. We will, yeah, if need be, whatever, whoever’s there, we’ll, we’ll get going.
MR. RUSSERT: All right, Mr. President, before we leave why don’t you look into that camera and say goodbye to the American people? George W. Bush:
MR. BRIDGES: I appreciate you watching, appreciate your support. Thanks for watching, God bless you. God bless America. Thank you, bye-bye.
MR. RUSSERT: Steve Bridges. And we’ll be right back after this.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week with a special exclusive interview with potential presidential candidate, the former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, right here on MEET THE PRESS next Sunday. Because if it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.