Transcript from Brian Williams interview with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.):
WILLIAMS: Which, as I said, brings us to Congressman John Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania. He has been kind enough to tip-toe off the floor and into the House Gallery to talk to us.
And Congressman, I have to begin at the beginning. The last time you and I spoke on live television, it was election night. I asked you if you were going to stand for House Majority Leader, you said yes. The next guy I spoke to was Steny Hoyer. He said, I don’t know where Pelosi’s is getting the numbers, I’ve got the job. What happened there, and did that whole fracas damage your new presumptive speaker, Ms. Pelosi?
MURTHA: I don’t think so. It is Nancy is very loyal. I was her campaign manager when she ran for whip. I was campaign manager when she ran for minority leader. And then there were rumors he was going to run for speaker. So I think we stopped that from happening, and I think it worked out.
I’m in a position now, as chairman of the Defense Subcommittee, or I will be if I’m confirmed by the caucus—and I’m looking forward to accountability, I’m looking forward to working with this administration to redeploy the troops out of Iraq. Everything I’ve said for the last year, Brian, has turned out to be true. I wish it weren’t true. But the casualties have increased. The electricity production, oil production are down below prewar level. All those things. It can’t be won militarily.
And we’re going to have extensive hearings, starting on the 17th.
And we’re going to force the administration to prove to us that there’s an achievable goal here. Up to this point, there is no defined, achievable mission for these troops. Even the troops themselves are saying that, Brian. So we’ve got some real work to do, and I’m looking forward to it.
WILLIAMS: How, Congressman, are you going to ever come to agreement, if you got a president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue calling for, I don’t know, 20-, 30-, 40,000 more troops on a short term basis to Iraq, and your position of getting out with conditions?
MURTHA: I was at the White House not long ago, to meet with Steve Hadley—he’s the National Security advisor. And the vice president came in and we spent 45 minutes talking about my proposals, and he listened and we argued back and forth. The president came in for a few minutes, and we talk about the war. The problem—the public has spoken. The polls are very clear. And when he got rid of Rumsfeld, that didn’t change policy. The policy has to be changed. You can’t continue and sustain a war when young people are going back with less (than a) year in this country. They’re extending and stop-lossing people in the country themselves. And it is very unpopular, even with the troops themselves, when they don’t understand the mission.
So we have to come to some agreement on this thing. And we’re going to. The president really has an opportunity here. Now, the problem is, he’s calling some members of Congress to consult with them, and they have no power of foreign policy, no power of appropriation, no power of defense. It is just a sham when he talks to people who have no influence in those areas. He has got to consult with Congress before he makes these decisions, not make a speech and then say it has got to be bipartisan support. That’s not going to work.
But we’re going to prove in our hearings that it was a mistake to go in, and we’re going to prove, also, that we can’t sustain this kind of deployment.
And the readiness in the United States is way below what it should be. We have no strategic reserves, and I’m really worried about the Army and the Marine Corps. We’re going to try to increase the troop numbers, but that’s not going to solve the problem.
But for him to extend these troops, that means you’re going to have to extend troops over there, if you’re going to surge. And then he’s going to have to send more troops back that have less than a year in the United States. It is a tremendous pressure on these guys. And I’m inspired by them, but I can’t believe that the president’s going to make that decision without any incentive for the Iraqis to take over themselves.
WILLIAMS: Congressman, you know some people are already thinking—and it is a cynical view—but that the Democratic takeover of especially the House, and to a lesser extent, the Senate, is just going to mean, it’s going to be turned into a hearing mill, as some people have put it—turn the House into a courtroom.
MURTHA: You have to have hearings. You have to bring the military in, you have to bring the civilian officials in, and you have to say, Now look, you tell me that you can surge the troops. Now, answer these
questions: How are you going to spend this money? How have you spent the money? I’m not talking about going back. I’m talking about the money that’s laid on the table today and how they’re going to spend it.
These supplementals used to be a couple billion dollars—now it’s a hundred billion dollars for a supplemental. That has to be in the base bill. They didn’t even fund the 30,000 additional troops, which should be in the base bill. They funded it in the supplemental. That is not the way to run things.
So our hearings are going to be on substantive issues dealing with today, not going back into the history of this whole thing, but today, and what they’re requesting. We’re going to make them show us how that money can be spent, why it’s the right thing to do and what are the achievable goals by the military, the achievable mission of the military.
WILLIAMS: All right. Congressman Murtha, we’ll let you go back to the House floor. Thank you, sir, very much for being with us.