Having castigated President Bush for his missteps in office, Nancy Pelosi declined to turn the mirror on herself Tuesday, dodging a question about what mistakes she had made as House speaker.
In 2004, the president came under fire when, in response to a question at a press conference, he could not think of a single mistake he had made during his presidency.
“I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one,” he said.
At the time, Pelosi took a dim view of his comments. She could think of many mistakes the president had made. The Iraq war was a “grotesque mistake,” she said. (Bush later admitted he had erred in some ways on Iraq.)
Now that the California Democrat has risen to speaker, however, she’s dodged a question about her own mistakes.
Asked Tuesday whether she thought she had made any during her first nine months with the gavel, Pelosi replied that ending the Iraq war had been her “biggest challenge,” but “I won’t call it a mistake.”
She said she had a realization when the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to require troops to spend more time at home between deployments. “It was a very clear message to me that we had placed our hopes in a place that wasn’t going to come through,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a mistake,” she continued. “I think we owed it to the American people to try to do that, to try to work with the Senate in a bipartisan way and with the Senate to end the war. But what is clear to me now is that there is a commitment to this war that is so long-term, with a high level of troops, that we don’t have much common ground on it.”
Pressed further about what mistakes she had made, she posited that her decisions were not hers alone, rather a consensus among House Democrats.
“I’m an optimist. We go down a path. We work together to build consensus in our caucus, and then we go forward on the basis of that,” she said. As far as mistakes, she wouldn’t comment specifically.
The remarks came during a luncheon with several dozen reporters at a Washington hotel, her latest stop on a publicity tour to bring more attention to the accomplishments of the Democratic Congress.
As a part of the media blitz, Pelosi last month restarted her weekly press conferences after an eight-month hiatus. She appeared on ABC’s “The View” and on “Fox News Sunday” last week. This Sunday, she’ll sit down with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” And more Sunday appearances are in the works.
Pelosi has denied that the media blitz has anything to do with congressional approval ratings, which remain at historic lows, or that they stem from frustration that Americans know little about Democratic domestic policy achievements this year.
Rather, she admitted that she was too busy to talk to the media earlier.
“I just now have the time,” she explained Tuesday. “We were engaged in serious legislation in this first nine months of the Congress. So now I have a little breathing room, a little time, to go out and talk about it.”
Democratic sources said Pelosi would continue to use her media appearances to tout the Democrats’ accomplishments on domestic issues and to explain why they had been unable to end the war.
On the latter point, she directed her comments to the Democrats’ liberal allies.
“I’m well aware of the unhappiness of the base,” she remarked, recounting spirited protests on her front lawn in San Francisco. “God bless the base for their energy. ... We said we would change the debate.
We would fight to end the war. We ever said we had the veto pen.”
Discussing the showdown with the White House over children’s health insurance, Pelosi criticized attacks on the family of Graeme Frost, a 12-year-old Baltimore boy who received aid through the program and delivered the Democrats’ Saturday radio address last month. Some conservatives have contended that the family made enough money to buy private health insurance.
“We’re all in politics. We know everybody has to do what they have to do, but I think the attack on this family is just breaking new ground and stooping to new lows in terms of what happens in Washington, D.C.,” she said.
On climate change, she was “optimistic” that Congress would pass a bill pending in Congress by year’s end. Asked whether it would address fuel economy standards, she replied, “That is what we’re working for.”
Pelosi also reaffirmed her neutrality in the Democratic presidential race.
“All of our candidates are great,” she said. “Most of them can win, and any one of those winners would make a great president.”