PT talks with former House Minority Leader and now Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, about congressional corruption, institutional concerns and the role of leadership in fostering an honest, effective government.
PT: What is different about the nature of the corruption and influence peddling we're seeing now compared to other instances of impropriety throughout Congress's history?
Pelosi: An ethical cloud hangs over the Capitol. Republicans have allowed their special-interest cronies to have unprecedented access, promoting an agenda that is out of touch with the priorities of the American people, while taking our country in the wrong direction.
Their actions go well beyond the scope of inappropriate behavior by individual members. Behind former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his "K Street Project," Republicans instituted a system that tells corporations and lobbying firms whom they should hire in exchange for political access resulting in an agenda that favors the special interest, not the American people.
PT: If it has to do with one party's monopoly on multiple branches of government, then isn't it an institutional problem and not a partisan one? How do you address it?
Pelosi: The problem stems not from the institution, but the people serving in it. The House of Representatives should serve as a marketplace of ideas as our Founding Father intended. But over the last decade, Congressional Republicans have bent government to serve
their own interests or the special interests of their friends.
House Democrats, on the other hand, will not stand for anything less than transparent and open government that is worthy of the trust of the American people.
PT: What about the many representatives who remain virtuous and honest? Is there some level of "complicity through silence," either within one party or between the two?
Pelosi: There is complicity through silence. Members of Congress are not above the law and must answer for their behavior. Democrats will not sit idly by or turn the other way while Members of Congress violate the public trust.
PT: Is leadership the biggest factor in the latest corruption scandals that have plagued Congress or is it something that begins earlier?
Pelosi: It was the actions of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his pay-to-play system that established a larger systematic culture of corruption that enabled the rest of the Republican caucus to benefit.
PT: What about the reprisals that members face if they speak out against impropriety by their
Pelosi: Our government must reflect the absolute best of the people it serves. House Democrats are committed to restoring accountability, so there would be no reprisals for members speaking about those who fail to uphold the highest ethical standards. We have said all along that anyone who does not follow the rules and the law has to be held accountable.
PT: Outside of changing the party in power, what can be done to safeguard the institution of Congress against the kind of rampant bad behavior we've seen lately? How do we maintain our checks and balances during a period of one party control?
Pelosi: Defeating Republicans in November is the only way to restore transparency and honesty to our government.
On the first day Democrats take control of Congress, we will pass our Honest Leadership, Open Government Act and restore truth and trust to our government. We will ban all gifts and travel from lobbyists, kill the K Street project, remove the revolving door by doubling the amount of time members and staff are prohibited from going from legislating to lobbying; and end dead of night special interest provisions that turn bill into special-interest giveaways.
PT: Congresswoman, thank you for your time.
Nancy Pelosi represents California's 8th congressional district, which includes the majority of San Francisco. She is the first woman in American history to lead a major party in the U.S. Congress.