By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.
Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.
"There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position," Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.
Pelosi recently endorsed the proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a swift redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq over a period of six months, but no other party leader followed, and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) publicly opposed her.
She said her support for Murtha was not intended to forge a Democratic position on the war, adding that she blocked an effort by some of her colleagues to put the Democrats on record backing Murtha.
Her comments ruling out a caucus position appeared to put Pelosi at odds with some other party officials. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean recently said Democrats were beginning to coalesce around a strategy that would pull out all troops over the next two years. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on the day Murtha offered his plan, "As for Iraq policy, at the right time, we'll have a position."
Pelosi, one of the most liberal Democrats in the House, opposed the war and, as the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee before the invasion, argued that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States. She served as Democratic whip when Congress authorized Bush to go to war, and she rallied 126 Democratic votes against the measure when then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), the Democratic leader, supported the White House.
Pelosi said she had not consulted with Dean or Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) before taking her position. Her action angered some Democrats, who believed it left the party vulnerable to criticism from the Republicans, but cheered the party's antiwar activists who want party leaders to challenge Bush more vigorously on the war.
Meanwhile, House Republicans are planning to seek a vote as early as today on a resolution saying that an "artificial timetable" for the withdrawal of troops is "fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory in Iraq."
In a wide-ranging interview, Pelosi labeled the Republican-controlled Congress "the most corrupt in history" and repeated her assertion that Democrats will make ethics a central issue next year. She said that the issue and ethical climate in the country point to Democratic gains next year, and noted that if the elections were held today, Democrats would take control of the House.
If Democrats are able to win the majority next year, Pelosi pledged aggressive oversight of the administration on issues including the war, intelligence and how the government responded to Hurricane Katrina.
Pelosi said Democrats scored significant victories recently, the biggest coming on Social Security, on which she said Democratic opposition to Bush's proposed private or personal accounts blocked any hopes the White House had for changing the government retirement insurance program this year.
"Not only did we take him down on that, but we took down a lot of his credibility as being somebody who cared about 'people like me,' " she said.