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Topic A: Is Pelosi in Trouble?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009; 12:00 AM

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has called on current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to step down following her charge that the CIA misled her in a 2002 briefing on interrogation techniques. The Post asked experts and lawmakers if the controversy has weakened Pelosi. Below are contributions from Karl Rove, Steny Hoyer, Douglas E. Schoen, Lisa Schiffren and John B. Larson.

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KARL ROVE

White House deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to George W. Bush; columnist for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal

The kerfluffle over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's CIA briefing on enhanced interrogation matters a lot.

First, there's the question of credibility. Was Pelosi telling the truth when she asserted that the CIA told her about the techniques but said they hadn't been used? Is she the only person from that September 2002 briefing who is telling the truth, and everyone else is lying? Credibility is the currency of leadership, and Pelosi will be weakened enormously if she lied.

Second, there's the question of equity. If Bush administration lawyers were complicit in torture by drafting memos describing permissible limits of interrogation and should now be disbarred or prosecuted, what about Pelosi, who admits that by February 2003 she knew about these procedures and did essentially nothing?

Finally, there's the question of resolution. Is Pelosi right or are her critics? This issue cannot remain unresolved. Leaving it so will reflect badly on Democrats unless a speedy release of CIA documents and testimony under oath by Pelosi, Porter Goss, and the CIA officials and two congressional staffers who were at the September 2002 briefing bear out the speaker's explosive charge. Refusing to get it all out now will simply confirm what most of Washington concluded after the speaker's incoherent, rambling news conference last Thursday: She's not telling the truth.

STENY HOYER

Democratic representative from Maryland; House majority leader

I believe Speaker Pelosi. I take her at her word when she says that she was not briefed in September 2002 on the CIA's use of waterboarding. Former senator Bob Graham, who is well-known for his meticulous daily journal, said the same thing; and although he was not in the same briefing as Speaker Pelosi, he was briefed in the same month, on the same topic. You'd be hard-pressed to find a member of the Democratic Caucus who disagrees -- all of us stand behind our speaker.

For some, "what did you know and when did you know it?" is an entertaining distraction. But I can think of another statement that deserves far more scrutiny than anything Speaker Pelosi said. Four words from the mouth of an American president, spoken in 2005: "We do not torture." Those words are either true or false; and if they are false, then it means that our country, acting in your name and in mine, practiced great cruelty and acted against our security and our deepest principles. That is an argument worth having -- and if critics shunt it aside to talk about parlor games in the House, then they have told you everything you need to know about their seriousness.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

Nancy Pelosi has been weakened by the controversy over waterboarding, but it is unlikely to undermine her position and authority, at least in the short term. There have been rumblings of a palace coup, but nothing tangible has surfaced. The poll numbers to keep in mind are 65 percent, 45 percent and 31 percent -- the approval ratings of President Obama, congressional Democrats and Speaker Pelosi herself. If the Republicans are successful in the 2010 elections, or before, in making Nancy Pelosi the face of the Democratic Party -- as we did in the mid-1990s with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party -- the situation could change fundamentally. With 30 or 40 marginal Democratic seats potentially up for grabs next year from newly elected Blue Dogs, the Democratic Party will be very sensitive to efforts to change the party's public face from the president to the speaker. And should Republicans get some traction from this strategy, Steny Hoyer could get renewed attention and interest from nervous Democrats.

LISA SCHIFFREN

Speechwriter to Vice President Dan Quayle; contributor to National Review Online's "The Corner" blog

"The CIA lied. Nancy cried." was a punch line in my inbox yesterday. You know you're in trouble when they're laughing at you.

There may be politicians who would not be weakened if caught in a credibility battle with the CIA about whether they had known about a program -- call it torture -- that they had used to symbolize the evil, arrogance, lawlessness and cupidity of their political opposition. Nancy Pelosi is not one of them. She holds power because she pulled together a majority of Democrats -- no mean feat. But that's all she has. She is not known for her intellect, character, principles, passion for justice, charming idiosyncrasies or stirring rhetoric. She's replaceable.

Months ago, a CIA analyst friend mentioned how shocked she'd been the first time she briefed the speaker. The money quote was, "She lacks, entirely, the ability to think strategically." Indeed. Pelosi lucked out in having universal target George Bush as her enemy. Choosing the CIA as his replacement was foolish.

JOHN B. LARSON

Democratic representative from Connecticut; chairman of the House Democratic Caucus

The Democratic Caucus is moving ahead with a bold agenda to rebuild our economy, create jobs in new clean-energy industries and reform our health care system to lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care for all Americans. Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and John Boehner are simply trying to stop progress and distract from the accomplishments of this Congress.

Republican criticisms of Speaker Pelosi are just hypocritical political games and a distraction from the important work we have in front of us. The speaker is a woman of great integrity and honesty, and the Democratic Caucus is united behind her. Newt Gingrich's latest publicity stunt is a perfect example of the sort of "inside the Beltway" bickering that the American people clearly voted against in November. His attacks on Speaker Pelosi do nothing but strengthen our resolve to make progress on the priorities of the American people.




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