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Pelosi Says Democrats Will 'Fight The Fight Again' Over Health Care

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Capitol Hill is abuzz with activity these days. Inauguration is just a week away. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is not in a celebratory mood. In fact, she's still a little bit in denial.

NANCY PELOSI: We were caught off guard that Hillary Clinton did not win. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton would win the White House. I still can't get used to the idea that she is not going to be the next president.

MARTIN: The twists and turns of the 2016 campaign came back into focus yesterday with news that the Justice Department will be investigating FBI director James Comey's public comments about the Hillary Clinton email probe. We sat down with the Democratic House leader yesterday right after that news broke, and Pelosi said the American people have a right to know the truth.

PELOSI: It was very unusual for the director of the FBI, so close to an election, to say that while it might not be significant, he was looking into some other matters relating to emails. It had a stunning effect on the election.

MARTIN: What do you expect to learn from the investigation?

PELOSI: Well, we'll find out about the internal decision-making about it. One question I would have is - why did Rudy Giuliani know about it two days in advance that some kind of an announcement was coming? So I do think that to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections, we can't have that kind of interference in our own country or from a foreign power. And I'd like to know if the FBI is investigating some of the allegations related to the fact that the Russians interfered in our election.

MARTIN: I want to move now to the Affordable Care Act.

PELOSI: Yes.

MARTIN: This, obviously, was an incredibly important part of Barack Obama's legacy. Republicans, in particular Vice President-elect Mike Pence, has said it will be the first item on the agenda to repeal Obamacare. Can they do it?

PELOSI: Well, let me just say that it is part of the legacy of the Democratic Congress working with President Obama. We're very proud of the inspiration he was, his leadership, his signature. So again, the president, sadly, will be leaving us in a week or so. But we are here who fought the fight then and will fight the fight again.

MARTIN: Although, you know, in a variety of states, there are all kinds of people who are saying that their premiums have gone up. Their deductibles have gone up, and it feels onerous.

PELOSI: Well, you know what? That may be true. And I know that in some states it started very low, like Minnesota - I was there the day they announced that they were going up. But the fact is if we did not have the Affordable Care Act, the rate of growth of cost of health care and premiums was skyrocketing.

And the Affordable Care Act, while there are still increases, had slowed down those increases enormously. If they were to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the cost to the individuals, to families, to small businesses, to corporate America, to state, local and federal government will be just unaffordable.

MARTIN: A poll that came out just this last week said that half of all Americans didn't know that millions of Americans have gotten health care...

PELOSI: I know.

MARTIN: ...Through the Affordable Care Act. Did you have a messaging problem when it came to selling the public on this?

PELOSI: Well, I think so. I think so. I think that we could have had a better education of the American people as to what this would mean to them. They know it because they are living it now, but they don't know it about other people. They just know it about themselves. But I would say, in terms of the administration - because they have the bully pulpit - that they implemented the bill very well. And if you had asked me what's more important, the implementation of the law or the messaging of it - I'd like to do both, but if I had to choose one - it would be the implementation.

MARTIN: Although the messaging leads to people's public perceptions, which informs their votes...

PELOSI: That's right, but it's about 50-50.

MARTIN: ...On Election Day.

PELOSI: Well, no, I don't think we lost any elections on the basis of the Affordable Care Act. I really don't.

MARTIN: So what do you do now? I mean, is the Affordable Care Act a starting point? And here you have Republicans saying we need to repeal and replace. Do you work with them to come up with a new alternative?

PELOSI: I'll see what they have to say, see what their values are because repeal and replace is alliterative, but it's not a reality. And we'll see what they think they can pass in a replacement that does not do harm. We would be interested in talking about something that does not reduce the number of people who are covered, does not increase the cost to the public and does not diminish their benefits.

MARTIN: Last question and I'll let you go - the inauguration will be taking place in Washington, D.C., in one week.

PELOSI: Yes.

MARTIN: It's a historic moment anytime this happens.

PELOSI: Yes, it is.

MARTIN: How are you feeling about this moment? Is there...

PELOSI: Well, I certainly would wish the new president well. I'll listen very keenly to what the new president has to say.

MARTIN: You will be there.

PELOSI: I will be there. I'll be there for the inauguration, yes. That's my responsibility. And it is the wonderful thing about our country, the peaceful transfer of power - and in this case, from one party to the next. But you have to always hope that the president succeeds. We'll never have an attitude like Mitch McConnell did when President Obama was president and the Republicans took control and they said the most important thing we can do is to make sure he doesn't succeed. That's stunning, really stunning. That's not who we are. We're about our country.

MARTIN: You don't believe the Democratic Party's success depends on Donald Trump's failure?

PELOSI: Well, we'll have a debate on the issues. We have a responsibility for the American people to find common ground where we can. We will engage, whether it's on true infrastructure legislation, issues that relate to work and family balance. But if they come forward and say they're going to overturn Affordable Care Act, that they're going to make Medicare a voucher, that they're going to shrink Medicaid, that they're going to impede a woman's right to choose - well, then we will stand our ground, and we will fight.

So we'll try to find compromise where we can on issues where we have shared values. But where they try to take us back, we're not going back.

MARTIN: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, thank you so much.

PELOSI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.