"Good Morning America" news anchor Chris Cuomo conducted a surprisingly tough interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, grilling her on the lack of accountability for how 2008's financial bailout money has been spent. He told the powerful Democrat, "...I think there are a few issues that unite Americans like this. Don't waste our money, especially right now."
Regarding the news that Congress doesn't know how much of the $350 billion T.A.R.P has been spent, Cuomo challenged, "Why didn't savvy lawmakers like yourself, like Barney Frank, say, 'We're not going to just release this money with no strings. We'll build it in the law. We'll build in accountability?' Why didn't you do that?"
When the Speaker of the House attempted to pass blame off to President Bush, the ABC journalist retorted, "Are you saying that you can promise the American people, that going forward, with your president and your party, things will be different? That they will know where the money is?" During a discussion of the possible distribution of the second $350 billion funds, Pelosi again blamed Bush. Regarding that money, Cuomo proclaimed, "I guess the way to say it, this will be on Obama's account. Not on Bush's account, how this money is spent."
After Cuomo called for no more pointing at the administration and saying, "Well, they screwed up T.A.R.P.," a unrepentant Pelosi attacked back, "Well, they did. But they did." The GMA news anchor closed out the discussion by again instructing, "Now, it's you. It really is you by any other definition."
Cuomo did offer some softball questions for the liberal congresswoman. On the topic of a children's health care program, he blandly wondered, "With everything that's going on, this is a very important first step for you. You want this high on the agenda. Why?" The network host followed up with the equally uninteresting query: "So, what is the message that you're hoping to send by bringing this up early? And I guess, with your hopes, getting passage, with a President Obama?" But, overall, Cuomo should be commended for pressing the House Speaker on accountability.
A transcript of the January 14 segment, which aired at 7:15, follows:
CHRIS CUOMO: We have an exclusive interview for you this morning, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. About to enter a new era with a Democrat in the White House. The big issue, of course, is the economy and the problem the government has had managing the use of your tax dollars. What went wrong with the first $350 billion? What will be different going forward? That's where we started with the speaker in her Capitol Hill office. Why didn't savvy lawmakers like yourself, like Barney Frank, say, 'We're not going to just release this money with no strings. We'll build it in the law. We'll build in accountability?' Why didn't you do that?
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Well, we did build it in, by having an oversight committee and an inspector general. But that- the next thing we could do was to go down to Pennsylvania Avenue with a set of handcuffs and say to them you're no longer allowed to enforce this law because you're not doing it right. Instead, we had an election. And we changed the country. And now we have a new president.
CUOMO: But, Congress passed the law.
PELOSI: Right. We passed the law. The President-
CUOMO: You could have put in the conditions. There were other things in there.
PELOSI: We did put in the conditions. We did put in conditions.
CUOMO: But now you know in retrospect they aren't enough, right?
PELOSI: Well, you don't expect somebody to give somebody tens of billions of dollars and say, don't tell me how you're going to spend it. There was a purpose for the money, but they did not insist upon it.
CUOMO: I mean, I think there are a few issues that unite Americans like this. Don't waste our money, especially right now. And a situation you all have to deal with the new president is, you have Citibank, Morgan Stanley thinking about merging. It just gets slipped out in the news that they're reserving $2 to $3 billion, for retention payments. We both know that word means one thing. Bonuses.
PELOSI: Bonuses. Well, let me say this: There's nobody more disappointed than how the Bush administration executed the T.A.R.P. law, than the members of Congress who sent the bill to them. And so, yes. When people see bonuses under any name, whatever they want to call them, they're fighting words for the members.
CUOMO: Haven't heard anybody complaining about the Citigroup/Morgan Stanley, $3 billion in retention payments. Barney Frank, he's no shrinking violet. Haven't heard him come out about this. You know, where's the outrage?
PELOSI: Well, the- You talk anecdotally about one thing or another. There's tremendous outrage about CEO compensation in general.
CUOMO: Are you saying that you can promise the American people, that going forward, with your president and your party, things will be different? That they will know where the money is?
PELOSI: Things will be different because we will have a president who will enforce the law. And, again, with the light of transparency that will be built into any new- if there is to be anymore T.A.R.P. funding.
CUOMO: Well, he's asking for $350 billion.
PELOSI: President Bush has sent over the request. He sent it over yesterday.
CUOMO: For Obama. It's not that it's being asked for by Bush. He wants it. He asked for it.
PELOSI: No, no. The official request has been made by President Bush.
CUOMO: Because he's the president.
PELOSI: That's right.
CUOMO: But, he's asking for it because President-elect Obama wants it.
PELOSI: Well, he's asking for it because he wants President Obama to be identified with it. But we're comfortable with that because President Obama will enforced the law in a completely different way.
CUOMO: This money- I guess the way to say it, this will be on Obama's account. Not on Bush's account, how this money is spent.
CUOMO: And the responsibility is on the Democrats, because there will be no more just pointing at the administration and saying, 'Well, they screwed up T.A.R.P.' 'Well, they got us in this mess.'
PELOSI: Well, they did. But they did.
CUOMO: Now, it's you. It really is you by any other definition.
PELOSI: And you will see a difference.
CUOMO: Pelosi could not be more confident about better days to come under President-elect Obama, an administration whose first legislative achievement won't deal with the economy, but health care. A program the speaker and President Bush were at odds over. This state child health insurance program. With everything that's going on, this is a very important first step for you. You want this high on the agenda. Why?
PELOSI: Over 11 million children will have access to health care cause of this legislation. In the previous administration, President Bush said we couldn't afford it. It would cost 40 days in Iraq to insure over 10 million children for one year. Certainly, we can afford it.
CUOMO: So, what is the message that you're hoping to send by bringing this up early? And I guess, with your hopes, getting passage, with a President Obama?
PELOSI: Well, that a new day has dawned. President Bush objected. President Obama supports it. And supports providing health care for our children. It's a shared value that we have in a bipartisan way in the Congress. And now, with the president of the United States.
CUOMO: Thank you very much for taking the time to do the interview.
PELOSI: My pleasure.
CUOMO: Appreciate the opportunity.