Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Contact: Drew Hammill/Evangeline George, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon. I'm sorry. We had, what, 28 votes? Pretty exciting, right? Thank you all for being here.
It's such a very sad time. Early in the morning on Sunday, we lost all of these people who we will carry in our hearts. So young, so young, representing the beautiful diversity of our country, and targeted. Victims of [a] hate crime. No question about that. Again, we stand with Orlando.
Every time something like this happens, there's a very big expression of concern. We go to the floor of the House. We have a moment of silence. And that moment of silence is indicative of what will follow: Silence. No real legislation, no action to address the concerns that were brought to the floor again this Sunday.
But since Sunday, as tragic and horrible as that massacre, that hate crime was, since Sunday, more than 100 people have been killed by gun violence in our country. So this is a daily, ongoing challenge to our oath of office to protect and defend the American people, our Constitution, our national security, our homeland security, personal security of the American people.
And yet, every time this happens, again, we have a moment of silence. And today, we did that one better, and that is to have a legislative moment of silence by having a bill which was a captured bill that had already passed the Congress, which are okay bills, but they don't really address the problem, and they have already passed the House. So why are they bringing it up again except to look as if they are taking some action?
We have had some meetings since all of this happened to mobilize the concern of the American people to have an impact on what happens here in Congress. We salute Senator Chris Murphy, take pride in the fact that he first served in the House, and his stamina and his commitment, until he got a promise for votes to continue his filibuster on the Senate side.
But we cannot, I don't know how we can allow another tragedy, massacre to occur. With little children we thought for sure, over and over again, we thought for sure, this one more time. Well, we have to make sure this one more time, that a massacre of this kind doesn't happen again, but in doing so to recognize that part of our purpose is to make sure guns are not in the hands of people who shouldn't have them and stop the massacre that is happening on the streets of our country every single day.
And that's why we are focusing on ‘No Fly, No Buy’. If you are not able to fly because you are on an FBI ‘No Fly’ list, or have been on one, then if you are on it, you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. If you had been on one, we hope that the legislation will indicate that that information would go to the FBI so they can see that someone who had been on a no‑fly list is now purchasing a gun.
And both of these have bipartisan support in the country and in the Congress. Eighty‑seven percent of the American people say ‘No Fly, No Buy’, except for the Republican Members of the Congress of the United States.
On the other bill that was bipartisan, [Congressman] Peter King of New York and [Congressman] Mike Thompson of California, who have been working on gun safety for a long time together, put together a bipartisan bill on background checks, one that was similar to what was put on the floor in the Senate and close to being passed there. They need 60 votes.
And so this is our focus, ‘No Fly, No Buy’, background checks which will prevent more gun violence than almost anything that you can do. There's certainly enthusiasm in our Caucus for issues that relate to what we passed before the assault weapon ban, but we did that in a Democratic Congress. I don't see how, I don't know that this Congress can do that.
But I do know that if they brought ‘No Fly, No Buy’ and if they brought the background check bill to the floor these would pass. And we would hope that people would recognize that nothing is more eloquent to a Member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituents, and understand that.
It is just another in a series, though. When we had the moment of silence there was not even a recognition that this was a hate crime targeting the LGBT community. That's why people get really upset with these moments of silence because there are a moment of silence without the recognition of what we are having a moment of silence for.
So, while we are not protecting the American people with gun safety legislation, we are also not protecting them, once again here we are gathered to say, 115 days since the President asked for an emergency supplemental for Zika. Almost 2,200 Americans have confirmed Zika cases; more than 400 pregnant women. House Republicans have voted seven times to block the request of the President of what was needed.
In terms of opioids, the Republicans voted twice to block the $600 million to fully pay for new vital resources to address the opioid epidemic. It kills 78 Americans every day. It's happening in every district in the country. That gives me some hope that in addition to passing legislation, which we have done, but it has no money, and it's therefore not enforceable.
In Flint, poor Flint, it's so hard to keep calling your attention and leadership in the Congress's attention, of a Republican majority, to Flint. It challenges the conscience of America that these children would be subjected to that poisonous water affecting their brain and their futures. And there are answers, there are answers, but it takes some resources. And, by the way, we are saying Michigan should match the resources.
All of these things are an investment, but it's going to end up costing less in the long run, or even in the short run. Prevention, addressing the needs of the children in Flint, putting the funding with the policy on opioids, all of that will save us money because they are good investments.
So here we are, another day, another resistance to doing what we need to do to protect and defend the American people.
Q: Madam Leader, you talked about spending lots of money. We are trying to follow this story with Medicaid fraud and improper payments, and it looks like by now it's probably double what it was just 3‑1/2 years ago, the amount of fraud, close to 11 percent. Is there anything Congress can do to counteract that and to do a better job of accounting?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there are two things. Improper payment means there was some technicality in the payment. Fraud is another thing. Both have to be corrected, but they are not synonymous.
Waste, fraud, and abuse, we go after that everyplace, and the Obama Administration has taken very substantive steps to reduce fraud and abuse in both Medicaid and Medicare, and we are trying to get some resources to put back in Medicare and Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act gave the CMS more tools to comprehensively address these issues and it was an important part of the Affordable Care Act. Fraud, no, I don't think so.
So the tools that we put in the bill have already saved the taxpayer $1.4 billion.
In terms of the improper statement, the vast majority of improper payment cases, beneficiaries are receiving the services they need from legitimate providers, but there has to be some better accounting for it. Using that statistic is misleading to the public because it isn't intentional fraud, it is just a mistake in the vast bureaucracy.
Q: Thank you. I stand corrected. Is there anything lawmakers can do, though, to improve that accounting?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we did in the Affordable Care Act, to give them the tools to comprehensively address all of these issues and that's happening. And the administration has taken steps to reduce that.
But, no, it's important. We have to subject every dollar of the taxpayers that is spent to the most intense scrutiny. Any of us who have been supportive of initiatives that help people, like Medicare and Medicaid, are the most critical that every dollar is spent in the most effective way and that no taxpayer dollar is wasted.
Q: Madam Leader, so Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met this week?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: I have asked you a few times about the divisions within the party. Based on where we stand now, we are through the entire process with Washington voting on Tuesday, Washington, D.C. Where are we now? What needs to happen at this stage to get those two wings of the party together going into the convention and the election?
Leader Pelosi. I think the unity of the Democratic Party springs from our values that we all know.
Q: You say it as though it's there, though.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, yeah.
Q: Do you think it is there?
Leader Pelosi. No question, no question.
Now, is everything unanimous? It's very rare to have anything be unanimous in the Democratic Party. That's why we are the Democratic Party with a capital "D" and a small "d."
Well, first of all, fresh off of our elections a week ago in California, we really raged in terms of what we needed to do being in the top two. We have a different system in California. I don't like it, but it's a different system. But nonetheless, we raged. We have the Democrats where they need to be for the general election.
And I think that's thanks to a vigorous primary campaign by Secretary Clinton and by Senator Sanders, and I've told you that before. That gave us so much hope and turned out so many people. That is what is going to happen in what comes next. Bernie Sanders is one of the people who knows better than anyone what's on the line in this election and that unity is important.
And it's also important for us to recognize the revitalization that he has brought – the invigoration, I should say, he has brought, and all the people he has brought to the fore. And some of the priorities he has, campaign finance reform, it's always been our priority. So review delegate selection rules – those kinds of things. Why not?
So, I don't think that so many of these things are difficult. They may not all be addressed and finished yet, but none of them – the difference that we have among us all between the two candidates is nothing compared to the chasm between us and the Republicans. And the more every day when presumptive nominee Trump speaks unifies the Democrats more.
Q: Madam Leader – on that point – Senator Sanders did say that he would like to see Debbie Wasserman Schultz replaced at the head of the DNC. Hillary Clinton did not close the lid on that by any means. What are your thoughts about Senator Sanders suggesting that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as a member – I'm ex-officio, I guess now as Leader, but I was on the DNC for a long time before I came to Congress. And we took great pride in being the ones who voted for who would be the chair of the DNC. So if you want to know who is going to be chair of the DNC, I think you should look to the membership of the Democratic National Committee.
Q: Should she step aside, though, as Senator Sanders is suggesting?
Leader Pelosi. Again, who is the Chair of the Committee is up to the members of the Democratic National Committee. Quite frankly, I haven't seen the full list of Senator Sanders' request, and I don't know how much weight he places on each of them. But I think if we could have comprehensive campaign finance reform, that's worth everything, because that makes all the difference in the world as to what happens in public policy.
Q: Madam Leader?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir.
Q: Will curtailing the Second Amendment rights of Americans to keep and bear arms protect this country from radical Islamic terrorism?
Leader Pelosi. Are you stipulating to the fact that there's some urge not to honor the Second Amendment?
Q: Well, no, I'm referencing the bill that's currently on the House floor – well, the Senate floor, the filibuster.
Leader Pelosi. Well, that's not curtailing the Second Amendment. That's not pertaining to the Second Amendment at all. The Second Amendment is like every other amendment. It, as in the Heller decision from the Supreme Court, can be clarified.
Just as my colleague Mr. Clyburn is always saying: the First Amendment right is something we all cherish, but doesn't enable you to cry "fire" in a theater, or if you're in the press to libel people. There are standards.
And the same thing with the Second Amendment, as the Supreme Court said in the Heller decision, affirming that the Second Amendment is a right to bear arms, but that actions can be taken in relation to it.
And to say that if you think, if you're stating that if you can't buy – if you're on a Terrorist Fly list, you should be able buy guns or else we are curtailing somebody else's right to bear arms, then I don't subscribe to that. And I don't think most people do. Eighty seven percent of the American people say: pass 'No Fly, No Buy'. Some percent of those are Republicans; some of them are members of the NRA.
So I don't think it has anything to do with the Second Amendment. I think it has everything to do with our oath of office to keep the American people safe.
Q: But do you think that the right to keep and bear arms helps protect Americans from terrorism?
Leader Pelosi. I think that what we saw in Orlando is a coming together of national security, homeland security, and gun safety. And I don't see a relationship to unfettered, let people who are on a No-Fly list buy a gun is in furtherance of the national security of our country.
Q: Madam Leader, how optimistic are you that some sort of gun control legislation passes as a result of this attack?
Leader Pelosi. It's up to the American people, because, as I have said, what we're talking about, there are many other things. For example, there is legislation that Mr. Cicilline has that says: if you have been convicted of a hate crime, that you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. There are other, in fact, in terms of ‘No Fly, No Buy’, how the FBI is informed. If somebody had been on the No-Fly list and is not on the No-Fly list and they buy a gun, the FBI should be informed.
So, what we are talking about is so simple, it's so commonsensical, that I think the Republicans are going to have to explain to the American people why they are just plain hand maidens of the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America, why, as I said to you yesterday, or was it the day before, that they are a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA, the Republicans in Congress.
So, they are going to take four votes on Monday. We will see where it comes down. What Chris Murphy fought for yesterday was a vote on ‘No Fly, No Buy’ and on background checks legislation, both of which have over two thirds of the American people supporting them.
And I'm optimistic, if the American people weigh in, that anything is possible, because we are Representatives and we should be representing that point of view in our country.
I think we have enough time for one more, because I have to go.
Q: So in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, specifically, Madam Leader, the gun issue is one part of this. But you have had your briefings with law enforcement. I'm sure you have had others yourself. Where, if anywhere, have you seen in your briefings and in the information that you have gotten might the FBI have either fallen short on the surveillance or apprehension of this assailant, either in terms of their own activities or in terms of the authority that they might need?
On the law enforcement side, are Democrats, are you and other Democrats going to be willing to support – I'm sure more money – but broader authority for either keeping these cases open for longer? He was on a list and then he was taken off of it, as we all know. There are some gray areas there. Have you seen any law enforcement specific areas that you think might have to change here?
Leader Pelosi. It will be up to the FBI to do after action review to see what they recommend. But one of the changes that we are talking about, even before Sunday, was that if you're on a no fly list and you come off and you try to buy a gun, it should be there that you had been on a No-Fly list and that the FBI should be informed that you're buying a gun. You can still buy the gun, but the FBI would be informed that you are buying the gun. I think that would be very important.
They have protected us, the FBI has protected us from so much in our country, and when something like this happens, of course, you have to do an after action review to see what could have avoided this or, in addition to that, how do we learn from this to protect, to make sure it doesn't happen again.
But I think I can say with confidence in terms of what I have been briefed that we owe a great deal to the Bureau for what they have done to protect us. They have to act within the constraints of the Constitution as well, and so it comes back to our debate of security and civil liberties. And, again, our first responsibility is to defend and protect the American people.
But this is a terrible tragedy. It was somebody who was a regular, a frequenter of this place, somebody familiar to them, someone who had made anti-gay, LGBT statements, clearly a hate crime. Now, how much of it was hate crimes and how much of it was inspired or justified or rationalized by ISIS or whatever, I don't know. But we do know that it was a hate crime and we do know that it was horrible.
Q: Would you have liked to – forgive me, there may not be an answer to this in retrospect that is of any quality – but would you have liked to have seen law enforcement have more of an ability to keep tabs on this guy either more closely or to arrest him at an earlier point since they had interacted with him on so many occasions?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it depends on what evidence they had. They had him in their sights. You know, they had him in their sights.
Now, what is required by the law to surveil or apprehend someone, we have to review. But if this is an act of terrorism, which it is domestic terrorism, if it's other terrorism as well, the goal of terrorists is to instill fear. That's their goal, is to instill fear. They put no value on life. We see that. So that doesn't really matter to them. But to instill fear. And if that fear changes the character of our country, then they will have succeeded.
So we, again, always have to address the balance of our civil liberties and the need, the responsibility we have to protect and defend. But looking at the bigger picture, we owe the Bureau a great deal of thanks for what they have prevented happening in our country.
Thank you all very much.
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