U.S. News

Pelosi Tells CNN Anchor “If You Want To Make A Case For The White House, You Should Go On Their Payroll”...

Excerpt Of Today's CNN Interview With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (see below for entire transcript)

PELOSI: Myra, Myra, Myra...

PHILLIPS: It's Kyra. It's Kyra.

PELOSI: ... if you want to make a case for the White House, you should go on their payroll. But the (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: I'm not making a case for the White House, by all means, believe me.

Full Transcript from Nexis.com

Congresswoman Pelosi, as we continue to follow, of course, this developing information coming in, you know, the hardest part, and I think it's far from over, we're going to continue to hear about people that have been trapped.

I mean, you are talking about such a swath of a region here. It's just hard to listen to that and to have to talk about that. And no doubt, it'll be never-ending.

But I want to ask you, as you stand here and continue to criticize the administration, and criticize the director of FEMA, I do want to tell you, the White House coming forward today, Scott McClellan coming forward today, and basically disputing your accounts of your meeting with the president.

And I'm looking at it here, saying that, you said you urged the president to replace the embattled FEMA director because of the poor emergency response to Hurricane Katrina. However, McClellan saying that this is -- that that's not what you discussed with the president, that you were discussing other things with the president, and that things are being twisted here in a bit.

PELOSI: Oh, that's absolutely not true. Mr. McClellan wasn't there, so he couldn't possibly know.

What happened was, I said to the president, Mr. President, we can begin to help these victims of Katrina become whole again. First thing you can do is to replace Michael Brown as the head of FEMA. To which the president said, Why would I do that? And I said, Because of what happened last week and the failure of FEMA to be the real link between the federal government and the people in need in our country, the social compact. To which the president said, What didn't go right last week?

That's what happened in the meeting. I stand by that. If the president thinks everything went right last week, and he wants to keep Michael Brown there, then I think that's going to be a cost to the American people and lives and livelihood.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'm not (INAUDIBLE)...

PELOSI: But if he does -- but if he wants to then say that it didn't go right last week, then he should replace Michael Brown.

PHILLIPS: But if you, if we go back, I mean, we can go back year after year after year, and we can talk about FEMA and what went wrong within FEMA and should FEMA be under the Department of Homeland Security.

But if we want to be historical here, and we want to go back in time, I mean, we can go back to "The Times Picayune" and the investigation that it -- when it -- when reporters revealed that time after time, monies were asked for from all types of various politicians, of the politicians you worked side by side with, laws that you yourself vote on, and monies that should have gone to Louisiana to take care of the problems with regard to the flood control systems.

And I think it's unfair that FEMA is just singled out. There are so many people responsible for what has happened in the state of Louisiana.

PELOSI: Well, that's true. That is true. And I'm sorry that you think it's unfair. But I don't. I think it's unfair to the people who lost their family members, their lives, their livelihoods, their homes, their opportunity.

And FEMA has done a poor job. It had no chance. It was (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: But what about all those warnings...

PELOSI: ... may I please respond?

PHILLIPS: What about all the warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers...

PELOSI: But the Army Corps of Engineers...

PHILLIPS: ... years ago, saying there's a problem with these levees, there's a problem with this city.

PELOSI: Myra, Myra, Myra...

PHILLIPS: It's Kyra. It's Kyra.

PELOSI: ... if you want to make a case for the White House, you should go on their payroll. But the (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: I'm not making a case for the White House, by all means, believe me.

PELOSI: ... that the White House has cut this year 72 percent of the request from Louisiana for flooding money. The White House has cut the Army Corps of Engineers by a large percentage in this last fiscal year.

But the point is not to argue about that. The point is, where do we go from here to help these people? The last thing the American people need is bickering right now over this, except to make their rescue safer, to a return to normalcy for them. And (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: So you think taking Mike Brown out of FEMA right now and replacing Mike Brown...

PELOSI: Essential.

PHILLIPS: ... with somebody else...

PELOSI: That's absolutely essential.

PHILLIPS: ... will change this entire dynamic and solve the problem.

PELOSI: I do, indeed. I think it's a question of the judgment of President Bush that he would have somebody in this crucial position who has no qualifications for the job. And if you need any further evidence of that, you need only look to the performance of FEMA.

PHILLIPS: Who would you recommend? Who would...

PELOSI: ... in the past week.

PHILLIPS: ... who would you recommend take the place of Mike Brown?

PELOSI: Well, I think it should be someone like James Lee Witt, who was there before Michael Brown -- well, in the Clinton administration, who was a professional, who was trained to do this kind of job.

PHILLIPS: But James Lee Witt came forward too, and said, Hey, we've got a problem here. New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.

PELOSI: Exactly. But you ask me what I would do, and I say a person like that. But almost anyone who has training, maybe someone who's served in the military who has training and knows leadership and can organize could do that.

But this isn't a discussion of Michael Brown. This is a discussion of the judgment of the president. People are depending on our federal role. That's what we're responsible for. And we should be working together. It's, I think, a sign of weakness on the part of the White House's argument that they are so much wanting to cover up what happened, and to say, What went wrong last week? as the president said to me. I said, he's either in denial or oblivious to what has happened.

Now, I appreciate that the president read a list of the initiatives that will be taken to help these people. I -- we had hoped today on the floor of Congress to make some of these the law of the land, to cut the red tape, to stop the price gouging, especially at the pump, to help create jobs so people can get back to work, and to put competent people in place to run FEMA and the other agencies that address the people.

This is about each individual person whose family has been affected. This isn't about politics or anything else. And we have a responsibility to make sure that our federal role is the best possible one that we can give to the American people.

PHILLIPS: So you don't think it was politics that even got us all to where we are today...

PELOSI: (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: ... as we look at New Orleans, and we look at these other devastated areas.

PELOSI: (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: You think politics had nothing to do with this disaster right now. PELOSI: What I'm saying is, let's form an independent commission to look into that, to make an assessment of what the decisions were made...

PHILLIPS: Let me ask, let me ask you...

PELOSI: ... about that.

PHILLIPS: All right, let me about you about an independent commission, because I addressed this to Senator Collins, and I addressed this to Senator Lieberman the other day. I mean, we had warnings before 9/11. We knew that there were intelligence failures. We knew where Osama bin Laden was. We knew there were issues among our intelligence agencies, and 9/11 happened, and then there were all these reports and all these investigations and all these commissions that were formed, and all this focus on terrorism.

Now, you had all these reports that were put forward talking about how this was going to happen to New Orleans, that Hurricane Pam, this project that was put forward, was showing and revealing all these problems with the levees and the hurricane -- or the flooding systems there. And we heard from the Army Corps of Engineer.

Now we see, despite all those warnings, what happened in New Orleans and what happened to other states. And now all of a sudden, everybody wants more investigations and more commissions. I mean, this is pathetic. How many things...

PELOSI: It is pathetic. It is pathetic.

PHILLIPS: ... have to go wrong in our country, and how many...

PELOSI: Why -- why...

PHILLIPS: ... (INAUDIBLE) investigations and commissions do we need?

PELOSI: We need as many until we make the country safer for the American people. We all have to settle down and take a deep breath, and say, How do we make the American people safer? And in order to do that, we have to have an assessment of how this happened.

Because I saw two disasters last week, a natural disaster from Hurricane Katrina, and a manmade disaster from the mistakes made by FEMA.

There are some larger issues that go back farther, that you indicate. What about the funding for the Army Corps of Engineer for the levee in Louisiana? What about the funding for the flooding that the officials of Louisiana have asked the federal government for? Both of which were cut back, the flooding money and the Army Corps of Engineers money.

But let's take a very objective, nonpartisan look at this. We have a great example in the 9/11 commission, where people, in a bipartisan way, nonpartisan way, made an assessment of what happened leading up to 9/11 and what we can do to go forward to make America safer.

PHILLIPS: Well, (INAUDIBLE)...

PELOSI: I think that's a perfect model. In fact, that very commission, if it's available, might well serve as a continuation of its homeland security function, as the 9/11 commission, to move into being the Katrina commission.

PHILLIPS: Well, I think everybody, I think everybody, not one person in the United States of America, wants to see something like this happen again.

PELOSI: Of course not.

PHILLIPS: And by all due respect, nobody in this organization or any network is on the payroll of the Bush administration right now. Everybody has been challenging every leader in every agency in this disaster, because it's pathetic to see something like this happen in the United States and to see dead bodies still on the ground in -- on American soil. It is absolutely pathetic. So...

PELOSI: Thirty bodies retrieved from the nursing home last night, 14 from Memorial Hospital today...

PHILLIPS: Should have never happened.

PELOSI: ... it's a tragedy for our country. And it's a look in the mirror for us as a country to see what our priorities are. Are we a country that wants to measure our strength in terms of the health and well-being of our people, as well as our military strength? Or is it a country that is measured by the a tax cuts that we give to the wealthiest people in our country, at the expense of the protection of the American people?

PHILLIPS: Well, and you bring up a very good point. What happened in New Orleans brings a huge point across, the underbelly of our nation and the poverty that's not dealt with. We're seeing what's happening to those poor people now. That's a very good point.

And you know what? That's another huge issue that we need to tackle, because all of us of Americans need to pay closer attention to the poor in the United States. No one should have to live the way they're living now.

Representative...

PELOSI: (INAUDIBLE) -- Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Nancy Pelosi, thank you for your time.

PELOSI: Thank you.