Video: Pelosi plays Hardball

updated 2/12/2009 6:17:51 PM ET 2009-02-12T23:17:51

On Thursday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi joined Hardball to talk about why she believes the economic recovery bill will work.

Below is the complete transcript.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Speaker, thank you. I was watching yesterday from my office, and I saw Sen. Harry Reid walk out with some Republican senators and announced there was an agreement on the giant economy recovery bill. Where were you?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, they had agreement among themselves, and we were pretty much in agreement, but they had just reached agreement, were eager to announce it. We wanted to see the language. And it all worked out just fine.

MATTHEWS: But Sen. Reid said there was an agreement at that time. Was there, between the House and the Senate?

PELOSI: Pretty much. But again, you have to see the language. In other words, words have power, and they make a difference.

And so we wanted to make sure we were stipulating to the same language, because the issue at the center of all of it was the issue of school construction. School construction is a key priority for House Democrats and for President Obama, as we heard in his press conference and his inaugural address. So we just wanted to see how it was treated.

In the bill, we wanted to see it as a separate line item, school construction, and more robustly funded. When all the cuts came in to bring the bill down, school construction got cut. OK, so we did lots of other things. But then there was opposition to having it as a separate line item. It had to go into another part of the bill. And that's — we wanted to see what that language was. But it's all settled.

MATTHEWS: Why did three Republican senators get the right to toy around with a bill of this importance historically? It seems like they get to decide what's in, what's out, and whether there is, in fact, a recovery bill. I'm talking about Sens. Specter, Snowe and Collins. They were treated yesterday by the Senate majority leader as if they were the profiles in courage, the key people in passing this bill.

PELOSI: Now, you'll have to talk to the Senate about profiles in courage over there, as well as the role they all played. But what is important to note is that 90 percent of the bill is the bill that the House wrote and sent over there. This is the legislative process. We act; they act; we reconcile. And in order to get the votes, they had to make certain changes in the legislation. As long as it was not undermining the purpose of our interest in school construction, unemployed workers, those kinds of issues, we were able to find compatibility.

But again, as far as the dynamic in the Senate is concerned, I had my hands filled as the speaker of the House, juggling all of the interests here.

MATTHEWS: But you're the only constitutional officer on Capitol Hill.

PELOSI: That's right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about why do Republicans have this ideological problem with school construction as a federal line item?

PELOSI: You'd have to ask them. But one, I'm glad you asked the question, because they don't want school construction as a line item. Some of them say, and I think legitimately, that they're concerned that it will become a permanent situation. And what we're saying is no, this is a temporary transformational piece of legislation that will take us in a new direction. We need to focus on school construction. It creates jobs immediately, prepares our students and schools for the 21st century; does it all at once.

So I appreciate their concern that it not become permanent, and I want that message to go out very clearly. We are not raising the baseline. We are just doing something that is, again, a stimulus to the economy for recovery, not raising the baseline for the budget. Because we can't afford that.

MATTHEWS: I wanted to look through this as an object lesson for people trying to understand how the government works. We have a Democratic president who won with a real majority, a Democratic House with a strong majority, a Senate with 59 now senators who are Democrats, including Joe Lieberman...

PELOSI: It's never been decided.

MATTHEWS: Well, it's in place.

PELOSI: I hope so.

MATTHEWS: And Joe Lieberman is voting with the party now. All right?

PELOSI: Yes, very strongly.

MATTHEWS: And yet, it seems like it's a coalition government that's been formed here, where you need three Republicans to get the ... will you have to suffer through this ritual on health care, on energy, on every big bill this year?

PELOSI: Yes (ph).

MATTHEWS: Are you going to need those Republicans?

PELOSI: Well, first of all, issues that relate to transforming our health care insurance system and the rest, I think it's important for us to have bipartisanship. And we can't really succeed without that legitimacy of the most support possible.

But I think that this was important that we move quickly, because it was urgent. The president wanted swift, bold action now. And that one week and one day from his inaugural address, we we passed the bill in the House, sent it to the Senate. Just about three weeks later, president  will have a bill.

But as we go forward, we have to go forward under the regular order in the House and in the Senate, with our regular committee work, and bipartisanship weighs in there. And then the product will be something, I think, that will be more acceptable as we go along. And part of this was the speed with which we needed to act because of the urgency among the American people and their uncertainty.

This legislation, in our view, has a strategic design. It is, again, transformational in the creation of jobs, in bringing stability to our economy, and inspiring confidence among the American people. We think the House and Senate versions, and now this reconciled legislation, does just that.

MATTHEWS: How will we judge its success? If next year at this time, the unemployment rate is higher than it is now, can you say this was a success?

PELOSI: Well, right now, 600,000 people a month are losing their jobs.


PELOSI: That means tens of thousands a day are losing their jobs. So we have to stop that. And we have to stop that soon, and that's why this bill is as big as it is.

MATTHEWS: So, if it works, it will stop that loss of jobs?

PELOSI: It will stop the loss of jobs, and the president has said three and a half, whatever the number is now, but up to four million jobs saved or created. And we hope that the emphasis will be on the created, that a large majority of those jobs will be created but it is about saving jobs as well. But we will be accountable and we put this vote, initiative forward with a focus on, again, rebuilding the strategic plan to create jobs, stabilize the economy by building infrastructure for America in a green wide way, investing in science and technology for health and for keeping us number one innovatively and competitively in the world, to invest in the education of our children, where innovation begins and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by our investments in renewable energy.

So it has an agenda about the future. It's not some old fashioned public works bill, although it will hopefully had that impact in our era that that did then.

MATTHEWS: You are an expert on vote counting. Looking down having gone through this, you've got almost all the Democrats with you except for about 11.

PELOSI: We're strong.

MATTHEWS: You're strong. The Senate side held all the Democrats.

PELOSI: Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS: Are you going to get a health bill? Ted Kennedy is in ailing health, your friend. Ted Kennedy. Are you going to get a health bill this year based upon the numbers you've seen in this fight?

PELOSI: Well, I think we must begin. I think we will start on it. And let me just say that part of the pride we have in the first few weeks of this Congress and this new president is that we were able to extend the children's health bill to the president that insures 11 million people in America right after we protected women in the workplace with the Lily Ledbetter bill and now we'll do this bill.

But in the children's health bill, 11 million children insured. In this bill, investments in science and technology, the health IT, information technology that will make health care less expensive and safer for the American people.

So we are taking steps in that direction. There are other provisions that will be helpful as we go forward. We're waiting to see the president's budget and how he handles health care in the budget but we must begin the process. I don't know if it can be done this year. It certainly should be done this term. But we must begin as soon as possible.

And we already have, as I say, with the children's health.

MATTHEWS: Joe Biden, the vice president, I guess we're all familiar with him as a senator, but he's the vice president now. He says that the House feels that it was rolled in this process. You're laughing.

PELOSI: There may be some of my members that think that from time to time that they are. The fact is when you have to move – the president wants swift, bold action now, you have to move quickly and expeditiously.

And so some may have thought we like the regular order, we could have taken much more time, and we will have that as we go forward.

MATTHEWS: Does it bother you as the speaker of the House, the chief constitutional officer, the only one, really, in the Congress, that every time you have a bill that's of historic importance, you have to woo, person to person, individual, a handful of Republican senators who then get more power than practically more power than the entire House of Representatives because they can say no – this time around three Republican senators said, no, this is in, that's out, and we might not vote for this unless it goes our way in conference. They actually said that the other day. If the conference doesn't go the way they want it, they weren't going to vote for the final.

PELOSI: But you have to remember the fundamentals, and they are still in place, and those fundamentals were written in the House of Representatives. So we're talking about an eighth of the bill that was in play and we expect that in the House/Senate negotiations that there will be some differences of opinion, but remember, the base of the bill was written in the House with the president and with the senators. We didn't write this on our own and send it to them, we wrote it together, had a great deal of agreement along the way and invited Republican input and some of their suggestions were in the bill and some were not.

We are not – in the interests of bipartisanship we wanted to invite them to have their time, whether it's in committee or on the floor, to make their suggestions but we are not going in the spirit of bipartisanship down the path that got us here in the first place, the failed Bush economic policies.

So we'll work with the Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, to get this biggest vote we can but not the lowest common denominator and not taking us in the opposite direction of the new direction that we need to recover in our economy.

MATTHEWS: You must have noticed that you're in the target zone right now.

PELOSI: Always.

MATTHEWS: The Republican ...

PELOSI: Always.

MATTHEWS: ... well, the play callers, the political guys have decided that they can't beat Barack Obama right now, his numbers are too high, so they have to go after you.

PELOSI: I'm used to that.

MATTHEWS: Have you noticed?

PELOSI: I'm used to that. I've been through that one, two, three elections. Yeah, I've noticed. I've noticed a bit but I think it just shows the poverty of their ideas. They really cannot prevail, the election told them we want to take the country in the new direction.
They're still wedded to their old ideas. We hope that we can find common ground with them but if they – I'm in the arena. I love it. If they want to ...


PELOSI: ... If I were not effective they would not be coming after me.

MATTHEWS: In that spirit, I want to give you a scorecard.

PELOSI: All right.

MATTHEWS: And you tell me if it's fair. You have turned the economy around by next November, the 2010 election for Congress. The next congressional ...

PELOSI: The next, next ...

MATTHEWS: You will have turned the economy around. It will be clear that the congressional action on this big recovery bill, that the unemployment rate has stopped going up, that things are turning around. You will by then have a serious health bill, for national health insurance and you'll have energy legislation passed. You'll have education passed.

Is that a fair scorecard? By next congressional election, that you as Speaker can deliver on all those four issues, economic turnaround, energy, education and health, can you do it all and come to the people and say we did what we said we would do?

PELOSI: We will make very serious progress in all of those areas. Whether I think that we will be able to do those things. That's what we set out to do. And we'll work together to try to achieve that.

MATTHEWS: So that's a fair scorecard?

PELOSI: That's a fair scorecard. And it's not just what has passed or this or that, it's how far down the road are you on these issues. In other words, we passed a very big, historic energy bill under President Bush. It didn't do everything we wanted it to do, but that didn't mean it wasn't great. We'll pass another energy bill and energy, health, economy, what was your fourth?

MATTHEWS: Education?

PELOSI: Education for sure.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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