Pelosi: War, Immigration Hurt Public Approval of Congress

By David S. Broder and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 15, 2007; 4:31 PM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today blamed Congress' failure to bring an end to the war in Iraq and deal effectively with the reform of immigration laws as the primary causes of the institution's near-record low approval ratings.

In an interview at the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi said the Democratic takeover of Congress had raised expectations on action to end the conflict in Iraq, and that the Senate's initial willingness to tackle immigration reform followed by its failure to do so left the American public disappointed in Congress.

The House on Wednesday night passed spending legislation that sought to tie funding for the Iraq war to hard deadlines for beginning troop withdrawals, a proposal that has little hope of passage in the Senate.

"People thought it was a problem that could be solved and when it didn't happen I think it was a big disappointment," she said. "Usually those low numbers relate to expectations and there were high expectations" on both Iraq and immigration.

Pelosi made her comments in an interview for's "PostTalk" program, just hours before seven of her party's presidential candidates are scheduled to gather in Las Vegas for a televised debate.

Pelosi said that the heavy wave of criticism directed at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in recent days stemmed from her status as the frontrunner, not as the lone woman in the race. "I believe that any 'picking on' ... [of] Senator Clinton has to do with her being a frontrunner," she said. "Frontrunners always have to undergo that."

Pelosi, who had a chance to closely evaluate six of the candidates at last weekend's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, said that she saw up close that night that Clinton can "hold her own."

Discussing her own rise to the speakership, Pelosi said she did little to emphasize her gender in lining support within the caucus. "The last thing I could have said to any of my colleagues would have been: 'Vote for me because we need a woman in the leadership.'"

On Wednesday night, the House narrowly passed a measure -- 218 to 203 -- that would tie funding for the Iraq war to a specific redeployment plan for the troops in the country.

Pelosi cast the Bush administration's plan to draw down 30,000 American troops from the country as "inadequate," arguing that such a proposal would leave more soldiers in Iraq next year than were there in November 2006.

Citing a story in Thursday's Washington Post, Pelosi said that leading U.S. generals have concluded that the stubbornness of the Shiite government in Iraq is causing more problems than al Qaeda or other insurgent groups. "The government is not taking political steps," said Pelosi.

While Pelosi said she hoped the House action would help move the debate forward, she acknowledged that Senate action on the bill was unlikely.

Pelosi sounded a conciliatory note on the current spending showdown with the White House but repeatedly referenced the President's much larger requests for Iraq funding when discussing Democratic priorities like children's health insurance and medical research.

She did, however, express confidence that a deal would be reached with the president on the remaining appropriations bills -- dismissing the possibility of a repeat of the 1995-1996 government shutdown that left House Republicans deflated and President Clinton triumphant.

While admitting that she must do a better job at ensuring the American people are aware of what the Democratic-led House has accomplished in its first 10 months, she expressed confidence that her party's brand was still strong.

She repeatedly cited polling that showed Democrats with a double-digit leads over their Republican counterparts in both specific battleground congressional districts as well as nationally.

Cillizza reports for

© 2007 The Washington Post Company