Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today

Mar 2, 2017
Press Release

Contact: Drew Hammill/Caroline Behringer, 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 morning.  Wow, what a week, huh?

Last night, we learned that Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General of the United States, lied under oath to his colleagues in the Senate and to the American people about his communications with the Russians.  

There are standards of professional conduct for attorneys, especially the top law enforcement officer in our country.  What is the message that that sends to the country, to the lawyers in the State Department, to the American Bar Association, which has standards of professional conduct, to the State of Alabama, which has standards for professional conduct for its attorneys?  

The fact that the attorney general, the top cop in our country, lied under oath to the American people is grounds for him to resign.  Is grounds for him to resign.  He has proved that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust.  

Almost every week we discover new evidence of secret communications between senior Trump officials and the Russian agents.  There are two issues here.  We have been calling for weeks for him to recuse himself from the investigation into the personal, political, and financial connections between the Trump operation and the Russians, recusing himself because of his connection to the Donald Trump campaign.  And now we see that he, himself, needs an investigation for lying.  It's against the law, and the top law enforcement officer should know that.  

The administration clearly cannot be trusted to investigate itself.  There must be an independent, bipartisan outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal, and financial connection to the Russians.  Our colleagues, Eric Swalwell and Elijah Cummings, have had this legislation for a while.  One hundred percent of the House Democrats have signed onto it, and now they have Republican co-sponsorship as well.  

At the same time, we have a situation where I am told – you may know better – that the Republicans are hiding their draft of an ACA repeal bill in a basement room and planning to hold a committee markup before the Congressional Budget Office score is available to the public.  This is unheard of.  Even the Republicans, Senator Rand Paul, is criticizing this, that he can't even see what their plan is.  

The Republicans know how the American people will react when the Congressional Budget Office reveals that the Republican bill will raise health cost on the middle class, eviscerate families' coverage, and put millions of people out of health coverage.  Remember, we had three standards:  Does it lower cost?  Does it expand benefits?  And does it increase access?  This bill takes it all in the reverse direction.  

I remind you that this bill is a big transfer of wealth to the wealthiest people in our country.  The top 400 families in America, 400 wealthiest families in America, get a tax break of $7 million each every year while costs are increased for low and middle income families in our country.  

Anyway, in stark contrast to what the Republicans are doing, when we did the Affordable Care Act and they criticized this, that, and the other thing, there were scores of hearings, hundreds of amendments, some Democratic, some Republican, some accepted of each, some modified of each, and some rejected of both Democratic and Republican amendments.  The Senate Finance Committee spent 8 days publicly marking up the bill, the longest markup in 22 years.  

And here they are – "Read the bill.  Read the bill."  Yeah, we read the bill.  We wrote the bill and we read the bill.  Here they are hiding their bill in the basement.  Don't take my word for it, just ask Senator Rand Paul.  He said he can't even have access to it.  

If Republicans are too terrified of their constituents to make their plan to destroy affordable health care public, they shouldn't try to make it law.  If they don't want to make it public now, they shouldn't try to make it law on Tuesday.  

As you know, this past Tuesday the President made his address to the joint session of Congress.  In my view, it was a hollow sales pitch.  He's a good salesman; you have to give him points for that.  Radical rhetoric, empty promises.  There was no "there" there.  There were no jobs plan, no infrastructure plan, no plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, no plan except a scary outline on immigration reform.  The list goes on and on.  

And so here we are 42 days into the Trump Administration.  Republicans have succeeded in putting Wall Street First, rushing to help Wall Street prey on Main Street and working families' retirement savings, move to Make America Sick Again, have sown fear in America's vulnerable communities with dangerous, immoral, incompetent, and unconstitutional executive actions, and, getting back to where we began this conference, allowed Russia's grip on the administration to endanger our security and our democracy.  

Any questions?  Let me see, Chad.  Okay.  Go ahead.  

Q:  So obviously, you think that Attorney General Sessions should step aside.  

Leader Pelosi.  Yes, I said that last night.  

Q:  Right.  Is there, though, is there consistency on the Democratic side of this, when there were issues with Attorney General Lynch and Bill Clinton and her contacts and whether or not she should have stepped aside?  Is there consistency or not?  

Leader Pelosi.  Thank you for your question, because there couldn't be a starker difference.  

Attorney General Lynch had a social encounter – serendipitous, some might say – the former President of the United States came by to say hello and they discussed their grandchildren.  She did not have a major role in the Hillary Clinton campaign.  This is a completely different thing.  

The reason we have been saying that Attorney General Sessions should step aside and maybe should never have been confirmed is because he was a surrogate.  He was a very important part, one of the first people in the Congress to endorse President Trump.  

And now we see that he, although he has not told the truth about it, had conversations with Russian officials, which why didn't he, if they were innocuous, why didn't he admit it instead of lying about it?

So it couldn't be more stark in terms of relationship to the campaign and who the Attorney General was speaking to.  No, they're completely different, day and night.

Yes, ma'am?  

Q:  Madam Leader, one of your Members, Congressman Keith Ellison, has released a statement that mentions that perjury is a felony punishable by jail time.  Do you think that's an appropriate piece of this conversation?  

Leader Pelosi.  Well, an investigation would show that. But the law has been broken.  And what he was stating was fact, that perjury is a crime and there are consequences to it.  It remains to be seen what else the investigation will lead to.  But perjury by an ordinary citizen is punishable in the courts.  How much enhanced is that accountability for the top law enforcement person in our country?  So let's see an investigation.  

I don't know what problem the Republicans have with the truth.  They don't want to know the truth about the Russian connection.  They don't want to tell the truth about their affordable care bill that they have hidden in a basement someplace.  They reject the idea that remove this from Congress, we'll have an independent commission outside the Congress look into the Russian connections, which are about hacking and undermining our democratic system.  We should have that even if Hillary Clinton had won the White House.  

So from what you have said – I didn't see the statement – he was stating fact, and an investigation will take us to the next place.  But an investigation of those actions is definitely warranted.  Definitely warranted.  

I remind you that this Congress impeached a President for something so far less, having nothing to do with his duties as President of the United States.  

Yes, ma'am?  

Q:  Madam Leader, why is it important that you see the CBO scores, and have you gotten any understanding why they're not ready yet?  

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I don't know if they're not ready or if they're just keeping them secret.  We just don't know.  But we've never been able to proceed with legislation of this magnitude without the Congressional Budget Office score, and the Republicans have been very much a part of – we both have insisted on that.  

We have to know what we're doing, what is the impact on the budget, especially if they intend to do this under reconciliation.  The impact on the budget is essential to go forward.  And in terms of if they did it outside reconciliation, it's still essential that we know what we're doing. 

Q:  What kind of score do you want to see, and what do you expect?  

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I want to see – well, I don't even want to see what they're doing, because what they're doing is reducing benefits, reducing access, and costing more, from what we have seen.  Again, what it is is in a basement someplace.  It's like a Houdini act or something.  Maybe it will free itself somehow, I don't know.  But you know that they have conflict within their caucus about it.  

So what you're asking is the regular order.  We have to know what it will cost.  

So we have always said, our goals, as I said earlier, our goals have been to lower cost, improve benefits, and expand access.  If they have a bill that does that, we're happy with talk to them about it.  I doubt it, from what we have seen so far.  But they have tremendous unease in their own caucus about it.  

Yes, sir?  

Q:  Thank you.  What can the American public expect of the House Intelligence Committee looking into the connections with Russia during the campaign, and is it adequate?  

Leader Pelosi.  Well, yesterday – I don't know, has it been released to the press?  Anyway, it was released to the press that there was a proposal of scope for the look into the Russian involvement in our election.  That's a step forward.  It's not a giant step forward, but it's a step forward that in a bipartisan way the Chairman and the Ranking Member have signed this letter.  

Is that whole thing in the public domain now?  Oh, that there is an agreement.  Okay.  

But the agreement goes into different categories, who they would call in.  So that's something.  

I would hope, though, that in the scope document that they have, that that means that they would follow any trail, that they don't shut it down because it wasn't listed in that primary document.  

I am not impressed, quite frankly.  I mean, I think this is progress.  It shouldn't have taken this long.  Both the House and Senate committees should.  But it takes time.  You want to see documents.  I respect that.  I am an intelligence person myself.  You want to see the documents.  You want to take the time.  But we want to know that there's a path and not just an avoidance of it by killing time instead of using time.  

So we'll see.  But as I have said, I think, while it's important for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to investigate this, what we also have to do is have an outside, independent, bipartisan commission to look into – broader than what I just said – the impact of the Russians on our election, but the personal, financial, and political connection between the Trump Organization and the Russians.  

Yes, ma'am?  

Q:  What does it say to you that many Republicans, some are calling for Senator Sessions to recuse himself, but are stopping short of calling for a special prosecutor?  

Leader Pelosi.  Well, in all of this all roads lead to the Republicans in the Congress.  What are they afraid of?  They have been afraid of the truth every step of the way.  They don't want to see the President's tax returns, when every President since Gerald Ford, every President in modern times has released his tax returns, and candidates release their tax returns.  

So what is it?  That would be a key indicator of their interest in the truth.  So the question is to them, what are they afraid of in the tax returns?  What are they afraid of in the investigation of the Russian involvement to undermine our democracy, to repeat that in other countries, to come back here and do that again?  

What does it say about them that their chief law enforcement officer, the top cop in the country, lied to his colleagues in the Senate and to the American people, a person who himself knows about prosecution and knows about the law and knows about perjury and its penalties? 
 
So what is it about the Republicans that they want to hide the truth from the American people?  I call it stonewalling.  I call it stonewalling.  You'll have to ask them, though, why they're stonewalling, and what they're afraid of.  

Yes, sir? 
 
Q:  The Trump Administration this week called for some pretty big budget cuts, including up to almost 25 percent for the EPA.  What if anything can Democrats, particularly in the House, do to push back against those cuts?  

Leader Pelosi.  Everything is about the public.  How many times have you all heard me say, "Public sentiment is everything"?  Abraham Lincoln.  The public has to know what they are doing to our future.  

We all agree that we want to have the military that we need to protect the American people.  We take an oath to protect and defend our Constitution and the American people.  But our strength is not only measured in our military might, it is measured in the health, education, and well-being of the American people, because the people are not only our inventors and our family, people who grow family and community and build our country; they're also our soldiers.  

Again, a budget is supposed to be a statement of values.  What the President is doing is quite outrageous.  He is throwing out the window years of compromise in terms of parity, similar amount for defense as for domestic. 
 
At the same time, it's important to note that defense is defense, but domestic is also veterans, homeland security, the State Department, and all that is involved in our security and soft power, as well as weapon sales and the rest of that, are in the domestic side of the budget.  So honoring our Camp David commitments and the rest of that, all in the domestic side of the budget.  

So in saying he's going to make these cuts, if he, in fact, increases defense this way, what is his mission?  What is the mission?  Tell us your security mission that would justify this.  What is this?  Is this more contracts for contractors?  What is it?  What is this money for?  A.

B, how can you possibly take that much money out of the domestic side?  And so then they say, "We're going to hold veterans and homeland security, we're not going to cut that."  Well, if you hold them harmless, then you even have less to invest in education, research, and development.  

A hundred thousand kids kicked off of Head Start, probably $3.5 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health.  That's probably a thousand grants to scientific research that we wouldn't be able to do, for example, if they did a 10 percent cut across the board.  The list goes on.  It's tragic, really.  

Again, the budget is supposed to be a statement of our values, how we honor our responsibilities to the people to protect them, to be number one in the world in terms of our economic growth.  

The President also said when he was saying this that he was promising clean air and clean water.  He's going to cut the EPA.  Does he not know the connection between protections that are in the Environmental Protection Agency and the air our children breathe, the water they drink, the safety of the food that they eat?

And the protection of their neighborhoods.  What is he going to do to the justice function and the law enforcement function in the budget?  Because all of it will be subjected to cuts according to what he is putting forth.  

We haven't seen a budget.  We have seen, what do they call it, an outline, blueprint, Minnie Mouse budget?  I don't know.  Mini Me budget?  Whatever it is.  Again, there's no "there" there.  There's no "there" there yet. 
 
And what we have seen so far is scary, very scary, and in every respect, whether it's protecting our security and not pandering to Vladimir Putin, not flirting with lifting our sanctions on Russia for their aggression in Eastern Europe, and not undermining our treaties on nonproliferation and the rest.  

What do the Russians have on him?  And then to turn around and say, "Our strategic opponent here is Russia, and I am going to undermine our intelligence collection on Russia," because of what?  We just don't know.  We don't know a vision.  We don't know a judgment about what works or any knowledge associated with it.  We don't know a strategic plan.  All we know is a sales job.  And so we have to make sure we make those distinctions.  

But we will have that time during the appropriation season.  I am an appropriator and an intelligence person, as you know.  Appropriators always try to come together in a bipartisan way to get the job done for the American people.  

But it remains to be seen what the Republicans will do to those decisions and if the allocations of resources to certain subcommittees that deal with health, education, jobs, our justice system, our transportation, housing, research and development, energy, science, it remains to be seen.  

Well, we'll be making those fights, and we will take them to the public, inspired by Abraham Lincoln.  Public sentiment is everything.  The public has to be vigilant, very, very vigilant, more vigilant than ever.  

Thank you all very much.

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