Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Good morning. This is a very interesting week because so many things are coming together, or not. What we have seen is a shameful display of abuse of power by the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Instead of bringing job creating legislation to the floor, the transportation bill, they are holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress for doing his job. It's really important to note how this is connected with some of their other decisions. It is no accident. It is no coincidence that the Attorney General of the United States, the person responsible for making sure that voter suppression does not happen in our country, that issues that relate to the civil liberties of the American people are upheld. These very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote. They are closely allied with those who are suffocating the system, unlimited special interest secret money, and they are poisoning the debate. They are poisoning the debate with that money.
And so what does the average citizen say? They throw up their hands and say: “a pox on both your houses.” And that is a victory for the special interests. Our Founders had in mind a democracy where the government of the many, the vote of the many and the voice of the many determined our government. These folks want a plutocracy where instead of the voice of the many, the checkbooks of the very, very few determine the outcome of the election. Again, a plutocracy. And so, what you see is diversion, diversionary tactics. Let's not talk about the transportation bill, which is only 9 days until it expires; student loans, which is only 9 days until the interest rate, the lower interest rate will expire. Instead let us tie the hands of the person who is assigned to make sure that the American people have the right to vote, who have the right to vote, are able to vote, and that their vote is counted. It is all tied together.
Combined with their threat on the debt ceiling, the Republican delay injects not only uncertainty – that has prevailed for a while – paralysis, paralysis in our economy. We hear it over and over again from businesses large and small. Any threat to our credit rating, to the full faith and credit of the United States of America contributes to a paralysis on the part of businesses who want to hire but are not. Why would they do such a thing? Because it's their philosophy. They are the party that makes Adam Smith look like a Keynesian. They are laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez faire. No supervision. No regulation. No discipline. And to those who would exploit the system for national – of privatizing the gain and nationalizing the risk in our financial transactions – laissez, laissez, laissez faire in terms of they don't want any initiatives for clean air, clean water, food safety, public education, public care, public transportation, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. This is what they believe: no government. And bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs, and their beliefs are dangerous to a thriving middle class in our country.
So, we see so much of it coming together. Why would they oppose initiatives to create jobs? The President's American Jobs Act? Some people call it obstruction. It is obstruction, but obstruction is their orthodoxy. They don't believe in a public role. So, it's not that they're obstructing this way of getting something done, it's no way for them. That's why they take pride in being the ‘do nothing Congress.’
Everybody knows that our founders had in mind that there would be a public role; that we would have public private partnerships; and that the education of our children, incentives for the creation of jobs, and then later economic security for our seniors, economic and health security for our seniors. I think we all believe that kids should be in clean, safe neighborhoods, the security of our country, all done in a fiscally sound way, has no political bias to it. That isn't partisan in any way. But if your orthodoxy, if your belief is that there should be no public role, and the only role of government is to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country and let something trickle down, if it does, that's okay. And if it doesn't, as the Speaker said, “so be it.”
Well, we do not say amen to that. Their approach under the Bush years, George W. Bush years, created the deficit, did not create jobs, took us to the brink of a depression, that's very hard to grow out of. And not to assign blame to him, which I think the whole world already has done, but when they bring this up again as their approach, then you have to say, ‘this didn't work before; it will only make matters worse for America's thriving middle class.’ So we are saying to them: “pass the transportation bill. Take away the uncertainty of students for the interest that they'll pay on student loans. Pass the middle income tax cut so that we can remove all doubt that that will exist and not be held hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country.”
We have seen in their budget, in which they have enshrined unfairness, which is their goal, unfairness. How else would you describe [the] elimination of Medicare; making seniors pay $6,400 more while getting fewer benefits, while you have given over $300,000, maybe $400,000 tax cuts to people making over a million dollars a year? And do you think it is fair for students to pay double interest on their student loans while you give that same several hundred thousand dollar tax break to the wealthy?
So, you see, it [is] all coming together – diversion from not doing their job of helping us come together on a transportation bill. For 35 years it has always been bipartisan. It has always been a job creator, and it always contributed to the safety of transportation in our country, the promotion of commerce, the quality of life, of moving people and products to and from home and work. But now it is being held up. Nine days to go. Let's hope that there is still a chance that there can be some interest on the part of the House Republicans to support what 74 Members of the United States Senate – 1 was absent who is on record [as] saying he would have been for it – 75, three quarters of the Senate on record supporting a bipartisan bill that is unacceptable to the House Republicans.
So, this is a serious time, especially as we go into the fact that about, approximately 140 days until the election; 140 days until the election, or maybe a Monday off, 140 days until the day after the election, 140 days. Very important, not only to our economy, which is important; not only to our one-in-five kids who lives in poverty in America who are just being cast aside; not only to those who are looking for jobs, and this paralysis is preventing them from being unleashed; but also important to our democracy. Suppress the vote. Suffocate the debate with unlimited dollars. Poison the debate. It is a victory for the special interests. Enshrine unfairness in favor of the special interests at the expense of a thriving middle class.
It is a very important week, the next nine days, as we go into a celebration of our own independence it is important for us to understand that you cannot change the policy unless you change the politics, unless we, as I issued to you before, unless we DARE by disclosing: ‘I'm Nancy Pelosi, and I approved this ad.’ As we have to do, they should do. Amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. Reform the system to remove money as completely as possible from the process. And elect reformers who will do that, of both parties.
We are at a crossroads but it's important to note that this is nothing accidental, coincidental, or just happened to happen. The decision to suppress the vote, to validate policies that have increased the deficit and increased unemployment in our country, and that is exactly what they had in mind.
Q: Madam Leader, the Democrats are pretty tough on George W. Bush's Attorneys General, Michael Mukasey and others before that. What is the difference between what Republicans are doing to Eric Holder right now and what the Democratic majority did to Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales?
Leader Pelosi. Well, in the House, our contempt of Congress was addressed to Josh Bolten and Ms. Miers. I can't speak to those other cases. They never came to a vote on the Senate floor. In the House, however, we did take a vote on the floor and the circumstances are quite different. We were talking about political intervention in the hiring of U.S. Attorneys and having them retain their positions, political intervention from the White House in a very political manner. I think that, far be it for me to speak about this issue, because Elijah Cummings, I was so very, very proud of him and the way he conducted his role in the hearing yesterday in a very fair way. In a very fair way.
But the particulars of the cases are very different and as you know, we won our case. The Court ruled in our favor. And I can only speak to our own experience in the House.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Ranking Member Cummings said that if Speaker Boehner were to bring up the vote to hold him in contempt in the House, that he would become one of the most extreme Speakers that has ever watched over the House. Do you agree that he would become one of the most…
Leader Pelosi. Well, I defer to the superior knowledge and wisdom of Mr. Cummings on this subject. I just know that this case is very different from what we had before us years ago.
Q: Do you see any problem with solving the student loan problem retroactively give that…
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: But given the fact that the interest rate interest will only apply to new loans? It won't apply to current…
Leader Pelosi. Okay, so suppose you're a student and you're taking out a loan and you sign up for 6.8 percent. You signed up. Now, sometime down the road you are going to perhaps renegotiate the loan because of the change. That is an affirmative action that you have to really know how to do. There are costs involved in it that were probably passed on to the borrower. People have to make decisions based on – you want to talk about the uncertainty? How about the uncertainty of knowing this may or may not be the interest that I pay? And you don't even know if it's going to be retroactive.
So, why would we do that except to humor the intransigence of the Republicans in the House of Representatives? Why should students have to face that uncertainty if, in fact, we agree that the interest rate should be 3.4 percent, not 6.8 percent? So, it hurts these students.
You know, I can give you chapter and verse on this and we had a presentation as recently as this morning to be current on what it means to a student. And it means a great deal to a student and their families, so much so that those families may have to decide with this uncertainty, not knowing if this is going to happen, we just may have to pass up going to school this year. And school starts earlier and earlier.
Q: Madam Leader, I just want to follow up about the contempt issue. The Attorney General was up here saying that he was willing to give over some of these documents, and the next day the President invoked executive privilege and he made it a very public fight between the President and the House. Are you concerned that you, or the President's focus should be about jobs now instead of this focus on this big fight between the President and the committee?
Leader Pelosi. I'm trying to enlarge the issue for you. This is part of the scheme that the right wing, over the edge, and I don't think that all Republicans subscribe to this but the over the edge gang which dominates the House of Representatives has said this is the best way for us to spend our time, to review a policy that began in the Bush Administration. Mistake was made. Person was fired. Tens of thousands of documents have been turned over.
And so without going into, I don't know the conversation between the President and the Attorney General. I wasn't privy to that, but I do know that the Administration made every attempt to make every document available to them. I was present when the President said that to the Speaker of the House.
Q: Madam Leader, Grover Norquist is going to come meet with some House Republicans this afternoon. We all know what his pledge is and things, and he is going to talk about what the pledge means and what it doesn't mean. What does this mean for you? Obviously you are not going to be in the meeting here, but what does this mean to have sort of this interaction between the Republicans and Mr. Norquist when this is a central theme in the Republican circles, you know, no tax-raising?
Leader Pelosi. I think they are in touch every day. I think his physical presence here is not any different than the influence that he has on that Caucus where he says “a pledge to me is more important than your pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States.” If we're going to take any pledges here other than that, it should be a pledge to uphold our democracy, not to give tax cuts to the richest people in the country which undermines fairness in our country, destabilizes the middle class, does not create jobs, and increases the deficit.
Q: Madam Leader, you said that there is a difference between the attorneys being fired, the two issues…
Leader Pelosi. Yes, very big difference. The court ruled in our favor.
Q: But it has not gotten to the court. Do you think that the fact is that Democrats and Republicans agree they were walking guns into Mexico, someone ended up dying, and then the Department of Justice sent a letter up here that was later retracted. So I'm curious on the substance, what you think the difference in the two cases were, it was appropriate to hold in contempt that time and not appropriate this time?
Leader Pelosi. I think there is a vast difference in the two examples that you pointed out. And I am going to leave it to Elijah Cummings, who, better than anyone, has made us so very, very proud in doing the right thing on this, not swinging from where they are to some other place, but trying to take this to a balanced place about what our responsibility is. Contempt of Congress? Contempt of Congress? To frivolously use that really important vehicle to undermine the person who is assigned to stop the voter suppression in our country? I'm telling you this is connected. It is no accident. It is a decision. And it is as clear as can be. It is not only to monopolize his time; it's to undermine his name. To undermine his name. Undermine his name as he goes forward to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Q: Madam Leader, this morning the Supreme Court did not rule on health care. It is expected in the next week or so they will issue a ruling. Earlier this week the Democratic Whip told reporters that he had attended some meetings where Democrats had discussed a contingency plan for a range of options. I am wondering if you, that was your expression before, you maintained confidence that the court will rule in your favor and that it is an ironclad case. But I'm wondering what the contingency plan of Democrats is if the individual mandate is struck down?
Leader Pelosi. Well, the only meetings that I have been party to have been those where we have heralded the benefits of the plan – that tens of millions of people have already benefited from it. Millions of young people are now on their parents' plan until they are 26 years old. Many more millions of young people cannot be discriminated [against] on the basis of a preexisting medical condition. Seniors pay less for their prescription drugs because of the legislation which closes the donut hole. You probably don't know what that is, but it means something to seniors. The annual checkup without copay. Very important wellness initiatives in the legislation. Those are just some benefits that are already there, that tens of millions, maybe as many as 80 million people, already benefit from. All we are talking about is what we're trying to defend in this legislation.
There have been some other meetings about the implementation of the law that have really nothing to do with the court case. But I believe that the Court will rule in favor. We're ironclad constitutionally. We are ironclad on the merits. We are ironclad on the Constitution. We will just see what the court does.
But as I said before, we believe in judicial review. Republicans have not, up until now, have not believed in the judicial review and all of a sudden, they are big proponents of Marbury v. Madison, which just a few years ago they were saying was wrongly decided. So, with respect for the court and the Constitution, we wrote the bill, and we believe in its constitutionality.
If I just may divert for a second. There is also something that was said that the Speaker was going to take the Massachusetts case on DOMA to the Supreme Court and will, again, use taxpayers' dollars frivolously to defend this bill. I think it's important to note, because I've talked to you about when the Republicans have not believed in judicial review, and one of those occasions was on the bill when they were in the majority still in 2005 and they wrote a bill that said ‘this, this, this, and this, and the court should not have judicial review over DOMA.’ They know that it is on very fragile constitutional grounds. We think it is unconstitutional. But they, realizing that, wrote a bill stripping the Supreme Court of the right to rule on it. It passed the House. It did not pass the Senate. Thank God.
Q: Madam Leader, following on this about health care – that was a little bit of the messaging and the politics. On policy, assuming, I know you are going to win 6 to 3, but…
Leader Pelosi. You know something I don't know?
Q: You told us it's going to be 6 to 3.
Leader Pelosi. That's right.
Q: On a matter of policy, if the court strikes down the mandate and leaves in place all of the things that you know voters love, and all the things that you like, and donut hole closure and all of those other things, as a matter of policy, can you justify leaving those things in place without the mandate that everybody knows will help explode premiums – kids under 26, preexisting, donut hole, not donut hole, but all those things without the mandate? If they strike that down, how can you leave the goodies in place?
Leader Pelosi. Well, just to borrow a Supreme Court metaphor, you have to eat your vegetables. You have to have the mandate in order for this to work from a financial standpoint. But it doesn't mean, in other words, we want to keep those in place. The biggest difference in the lives of the American people – well, let me say one of, in terms of this legislation, is that you cannot be deprived of coverage if you have a preexisting medical condition. This is huge. This is huge. And insurance companies even say that they really can't do that unless the premiums skyrocket.
So, if the American people like the idea that they and their children for a lifetime cannot be deprived of health care, health insurance because of a preexisting medical condition, then that will require some other action in order for that to happen. And what could that be?
It could be something passed in the Congress similar to what we had originally in the House bill, which was a surcharge on the wealthy to pay for aspects of that. That was our pay for. The Senate had another idea, so it went a different path. States can take their own actions. In California, we have our legislation, as you know. Massachusetts, under the governorship of Mitt Romney, passed a mandate that he said was necessary for the health and well being of the people of Massachusetts. So, some states already have their prototypes. They can have their own exchanges. They could have a single payer. They could have a public option.
So, you know, in other words, we are right now in the world of speculation and I don't usually like to go in that world. But you are asking what are some of the things that could happen. What we cannot say to the American people: “we are going to throw you at the mercy of the insurance companies who refused coverage to you, rescinded policies when you were on the gurney going into the operating room, raised your rates to a point of having it be prohibitive.”
And we have to also remember that one of the main reasons – if you had no other reason to pass the healthcare bill, no other reason, everybody loved their insurer and loved their coverage and all the rest, the cost of it was unsustainable; unsustainable to individuals, to families, to businesses, to our economy, to our competitiveness to have this anvil of healthcare costs around the neck of our businesses, and to the public budgets, whether it is county, state, or our federal budget.
So, it is unsustainable. So you had to have legislation which, in its oneness and with its integrity, had these things connected and took us down a path of decreasing costs to all the entities that I mentioned, including the federal – the federal budget. The many things in there that we don't get credit for from the CBO, wellness, some things that go along with it like electronic medical records, that kind of thing, health IT, which will drive down the cost of health care as well, that's not figured in the CBO report. But, you know, the think tanks have said this will be hundreds of billions of dollars of savings over the life of the bill.
So, let's hope and pray that the Court will love the Constitution more than it loved broccoli and that we will have a decision that is based on the merits and the Constitution of the United States.
Q: Those are all the things the American people will demand, you know, the broccoli versus the goodies. Can Congress justify – if the vegetables are taken off the table, can they justify leaving the goodies on the table? I mean…
Leader Pelosi. Throughout all of it we had to be sensitive to cost. But let's just say the majority that exists in the House right now has no interest in making these things available. You can see in their budget they want to do away with Medicare. They don't want to strengthen Medicare as we do in the health care bill. So, you see, the Wall Street Journal in their editorial – isn't that a paper? Two dollars, two papers. All of that good news and good reporting in the rest of the paper and an insane editorial page. But they even – does that happen where you live? They are separate, they tell me. They will love that, right? They will have fun with that.
But they were criticizing even some of the Republicans who say: “we like some of these things, and we would like to perpetuate them.” But again, there has to be a way to pay for it, to reduce the cost, to expand the coverage, to improve the quality, and this bill did just that.
So hopefully they will see the light that the – that in order to have these things that the American people are taking advantage of already, and we're not even to 2014 yet, and to have the exchanges of the mandate, but as I say, states can do what they need to do, but that's not really going to be the answer. And some of these same people – imagine the insurance companies are getting tens of millions of new clients subsidized by the taxpayer under a federal set of rules. That's a beautiful thing for them. That's a beautiful thing for them. But if that whole federal structure comes down, it makes matters worse for them. So, I think they are sort of in a crocodile tear place. They didn't want a bill because they wanted to keep charging more for premiums, but now they would rather see a formulation, I think, that is federal rather than having to deal with 50 States.
Anyway, this is a longer conversation that is speculative until we see what the court will do. It is a remarkable thing. Nobody knows. And as they say, those who speak don't know, and those who know don't speak. That's a phrase we have been using in politics for a long time, but nowhere does it apply more than to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Don't forget. They are going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn voter suppression initiatives in the States. This is no accident. It is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of the Republicans.
Thank you all very much.