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 morning.
Yesterday, our nation witnessed yet another act of unfathomable violence. The shooting in San Bernardino tears at the hearts of all Americans. We all pray for the swift recovery of the wounded, we pray for those who lost their lives, and we feel the grief of their families.
Gun violence is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our nation. We have had far too many moments of silence on the Floor of the House. And while it is right to respectfully acknowledge the losses, we can no longer remain silent. What gives us the right to hold moments of silence when we do nothing to act upon the cause of the grief?
For a while now we have been asking the Congress to pass the bipartisan King-Thompson background check bill. We have been asking the Speaker to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence, first Speaker Boehner and now Speaker Ryan.
Perhaps no vulnerability is more glaring than the loophole that allows suspects on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist to buy a gun. In the past – what – 10, 11 years, more than 2,000 terror suspects have bought guns in the U.S. 91 percent of all suspected terrorists who tried to buy a gun in a store in America walked away with his or her weapon of choice.
We must close this outrageous loophole. Three times this week, Republicans overwhelmingly voted to protect terror suspects' ability to buy lethal firearms, the most recent time within the past hour on our motion associated with the rule. Three times, Republicans blocked the House from even debating Republican Congressman Peter King's bill called the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act.
Republicans should join Congressman Peter King, their own, and Democrats to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. We can and should make the bipartisan effort for the American people.
I mention this bill. Many people are affected by gun violence in our country. Many more of them will be protected by the background check bill. But what could be more egregious than to have an FBI Terrorist Watchlist, that being on it does not prevent you from buying a gun? How far does the NRA need to go? Why can't they join us in passing this bill to protect the American people? How insecure is the NRA that even a bill of this egregious nature is one that they have to oppose?
On another subject, Congress has just 4 legislative days left before December 11, the deadline to pass an omnibus bill and avert yet another Republican shutdown of government. Let me just give you a little chronology on this. As you know, in September we passed a bipartisan budget agreement, which is a blueprint for how we would go forward with the appropriations bills and to keep government open.
At that time, we agreed on a compromise bill. At that time, I asked then Speaker Boehner for a November 20 deadline that we would be finished, before Thanksgiving, and remove all doubt in anyone's mind about any uncertainty about government being open. The Speaker said maybe we can't do it by then, but by the 20th of November we would have our pieces in place so that the bill could be written over the Thanksgiving break and we would vote on it this week.
Instead, there has been this long, drawn out process which so far has not produced very much, and that's unfortunate. We went to that table ready to compromise, as we had done on the budget bill. And, in fact, the top line number, as those of you who are familiar with the appropriations process, was a number that we agreed to in the budget. We didn't like it but we agreed to it as a compromise.
The Republicans, departing from tradition, just simply divided up the number the way they want it. Usually we have to vote on that, but they decided on what the distribution of that money would be, and we accepted that. And the committees worked on how that money would be allocated.
Next, they went to the subject of riders. It was left in the hands of the appropriators. And they went on for days and days discussing the riders, trying to narrow the list of disagreements. The work, the bipartisan work was given to the Republican leadership, and they came back with a proposal to us that completely erased all of the work that had been done to reach compromise on these riders.
Now, this is inside baseball. This is process here.
What they sent us back takes your breath away. It is so stunning, a bill that – it literally takes your breath away. It takes your breath away if you are a child who wants to breathe clean air. It's a bill choking under special interest riders. For workers, it stacks the deck for special interests at the expense of America's working families. As far as Dodd-Frank is concerned, it empowers Wall Street at the expense of America's consumers. In terms of campaign finance, hopefully this will not be in the bill, but what they are striving to do is to advance a toxic campaign finance measure that would embolden, again, special interests at the expense of the American people.
These are but a few manifestations of who has the leverage in this bill. It is certainly not America's working families. This is not an appropriations bill with a few policy riders. This is a Tea Party policy wish list with an appropriations bill as an addendum to it. This is not, this is not the way you fulfill a budget that meets the needs of the American people.
Last night, we sent back our counter to their proposal, which we think was damaging to America, and we look forward to receiving their response. But we should have done this by November 20, as I suggested, so we are not up against 4 legislative days left.
But I always have a spirit of optimism that we will get this done, that they have to do what they have to do for certain reasons in their caucus, and at some point they will live up to their responsibility to do what we all need to do for the American people.
Any questions? Yes, Nancy?
Q: Leader Pelosi, California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. What kind of Federal law do you think would have prevented the tragedy that we saw yesterday?
Leader Pelosi. I don't think we know enough about what happened yesterday, sadly, to make any judgments about the array of weaponry that the people had and how they obtained it. But we are very proud of our legislation in California to keep people safe and would hope that nationally we could come closer to that.
The two bills that we are talking about now – well, there would be three if you count an appeal to the Speaker to establish a Select Committee on Gun Safety. They have a committee to harass Hillary Clinton, they have a committee to attack women's health. They could possibly do something that the American people truly want, and that is to have a select Committee on gun safety in our country.
But very specifically, very narrowly, we have talked about legislation that would save many lives, and that is to expand the Brady background check legislation to include gun shows, to include the Internet, some things that have emerged since the Brady bill was passed. The Brady bill background check law has saved so many lives. Millions of transactions have been prevented because people could not pass the background check.
And then, of course, the most egregious and the most well understood, I think, by the American people is the bill that now three times they have rejected, most recently, as I said, this morning, is the bill, the Peter King bill, Republican Peter King bill that would – let me read you the title again so you have clearly what its purpose is: the Peter King bill is the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act. That is a bill to address the fact that right now, if you are on the FBI Terrorist Watch list, that is not a reason for you to be denied the purchase of a gun in our country. 91 percent of the time someone who is going into a store to buy a gun who is on the watch list, 91 percent of the time he has been able to walk out of the store with his gun of choice.
So, those would be the two priorities: the background check bill, which is bipartisan, it is also Peter King and Mike Thompson co-sponsoring it, and then Peter King's other bill about terrorists.
Q: What about an assault weapons ban?
Leader Pelosi. We are talking about now where we think the most lives are saved. There are Members who would support an assault weapon ban, but what we are talking about is where we have almost unanimous consensus that if the bill came to the floor, it would pass.
So, we were saying to the Speaker, ‘Just give us a vote, just give us a vote.’ Overwhelmingly, the American people want the Congress to act upon this. And acting upon it doesn't mean having a moment of silence, however devout we all may be about that.
But, again, our Members are at a place where they say, ‘We will have a moment of silence. We understand its importance to have a Congressional moment of silence, but we will not remain silent.’ We must continue to speak out until we get a vote, until we get a vote or there is some explanation to the public as to why, why the American people, the public sentiment cannot be honored in this regard.
Q: Madam Leader, on the omnibus here, I mean you and others, Nita Lowey, expressed a lot of concern about this. Did you call them and say this is outrageous? It is obvious they need some Democratic votes to pass this regardless of the final form. And what did they say?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I have had a conversation with the Speaker. I had not seen what they were sending us yet when I had the conversation with him.
Q: I am saying since then, did you call up and say…
Leader Pelosi. No. My response was the response that the appropriators put together. This has largely been done at the appropriations level.
One of the concerns I have is, since I have been asking for this for November 20, they're now saying, ‘Time is growing short.’ No, it grew short. Time is running out. So don't make it sound like you've just discovered we only had – what is 4 times 24? Under a hundred hours of legislative days left.
Q: And to that end, though, what do you make of when Paul Ryan says, "Oh, you know, I don't want to get ahead of the appropriators," his direct quote on Tuesday, and then you say, and we are hearing a lot of back and forth on who said what and so on – but that said, that they say, ‘No, no, no. This was written by the appropriators,’ and you say, ‘No, no, no. This was written by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.’
Leader Pelosi. Well, they did, the appropriators did write it.
Q: I know. But the final…
Leader Pelosi. But they apparently wrote it in invisible, disappearing ink, because what they sent and what we received was just a complete negating of what happened there.
But let's not get ourselves bogged down in the who-said-what and process. The fact is, we have until December 11 to keep government open. It is our responsibility to do so. We all know that we have to compromise. Republicans have the majority. The President has his signature. We can sustain the veto. So let's talk. And let us do what we need to do.
And I think pretty much in the spending, in the investments that are made by the committees, again – all a compromise – there is a bill to be had. The question comes when they have all these policy items in there that so far outweigh what the purpose of an appropriations bill is. We might as well just abolish all committees and say that the Appropriations Committee writes all policy and all appropriating for the Congress of the United States.
Q: So if I am hearing you correctly, it sounds like you were monitoring the process and Mrs. Lowey and Mr. Rogers had come to a set of sort of assumptions or understandings.
Leader Pelosi. Right.
Q: And then you got this document that had the kitchen sink. Is that a fair characterization?
Leader Pelosi. No, it was the following. They had, my understanding was from the appropriators, and as an appropriator, I know appropriators.
Q: I know it's your first love.
Leader Pelosi. I love appropriations and intelligence. But appropriators keep it very close to the vest. I said that they gave the number. But, like, if you had the number for your committee, you didn't have the faintest idea what the number. So when you thought, as Rosa DeLauro thought, my committee has 30 percent of the investments in this entire bill, and we got half of that percentage in resources, where did the money go? Well, we don't know, because she saw hers and everybody else saw individually what it was.
So I understand the mentality of appropriators. They protect their turf very carefully. So they went through the process, had really in their view, I think, according to Ranking Member Lowey, found common ground, got rid of some things, agreed to this, didn't agree to that, whatever, and then had a list of these that have to get kicked someplace else. What would we call that list? The unresolvable by the appropriators.
And they knew what that threshold was. It wasn't something I said if it gets into this territory or something it comes out. They had all that judgment, knowing their caucuses and what their responsibility was there.
So making their judgment, this is what we can resolve and here are some that we need other decision-making on, that came out. What came back to us was eliminating all of the work that they had done. And that was disappointing.
But, again, let's be optimistic. Let's just say this is the first time for some in this process. You can only put forth what you think a certain number of your Members will vote for because ultimately – or at least penultimately – you are going to have to get a bill on the floor, and then ultimately the President is going to have to sign it.
You know, I am optimistic that hopefully we will be able to get to the place we need to get to. It shouldn't take this long, it shouldn't have this uncertainty, it shouldn't be weighted down in all of this policy when in fact a spending bill is a great deal of policymaking itself. As you make those policy decisions, that is responsibility enough for any one committee. And so I am hopeful and I look forward to seeing their counter that they send back to us.
Q: Well, when he sent over that wish list, do you think he was sending a message to Democrats or to his Tea Party?
Leader Pelosi. You'd have to ask him. Yes, ma’am?
Q: If I could follow up to my colleague's question about gun laws. So the country has had fairly lax gun laws for several years now, and there has been a demonstrable increase in mass shootings in recent years. Do you have any observations about what other forces may be at work and is there anything else that Congress can address?
Leader Pelosi. There has been a dramatic increase in the high profile mass shootings. But on a steady basis there has been gun violence across America, in inner cities, in rural America, across our country. I think already there have been; I don't want to get the number wrong – but so many this year of people that we don't know on the streets and the rest, some of it so sad in terms of children and the rest. All of it sad, but some of it just hard to accommodate.
I do think there are a couple of things, that certainly we want to have a true gun safety bill. You say in addition to. No, but that would be a very first premise, to have background checks, expand the background checks of the Brady bill to include gun shows, Internet sales, and others. That would make the biggest difference. That would make the biggest difference. So it is not to put that and say, well, that's one thing. No, that's one very big thing.
In addition, I think we have to recognize that we have to create a climate in our country where violence is considered really wrong, and that it isn't an option for conflict resolution, and that it isn't something that shouldn't be avoided at all cost. And we shouldn't have incendiary language that creates a climate where people think this might be okay.
In addition to that, we have to carefully put together mental health legislation in a way that is true and real. When we had the majority, we passed the Mental Health Parity Act. It's really groundbreaking in terms of treating mental health as what it is, physical health. But now we need, in addition to that, we need more legislation. And we should work on that, and we have to do it in a bipartisan way, and it is possible to do. It is not in sight, but it could be.
And, again, just to create an atmosphere in our country where – I mean, people look at us from overseas and they say, ‘What is going on there? How do you explain yourselves as to what is happening in your country on a day to day basis?’ And as significant as the high profile and mass shootings are, and they are horrible, they should not eclipse the day to day violence that exists in our country.
Q: House Republicans this morning, I believe, unveiled a security plan, but it includes new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, which is something that started to get debated maybe even before the Syria refugee bill a couple of weeks ago. So would Democrats support restrictions on visa waivers? How do you see that developing on the omnibus and also in relation to what has happened with Syrian refugees? Will that go away?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you have several questions there. I don't know when – we have all been interested in tightening the Visa Waiver Program. It is important to note that perhaps 20 million people come to the United States each year under the Visa Waiver Program from many countries that are friendly to us, but some people who have a right to come through that country who may not have the best intentions. And so it was important to have a tightening of the visa waiver.
There will be a bill. There was a meeting last night, bipartisan, that came to terms on the bill. I am hopeful that it will be brought up next week. And it will have all of our support. Without going into the technicalities, you will see what it is when they post it. But I think it's a good bill and strikes a balance.
And, again, another occasion where we could work together to get something done, as we did yesterday on the ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bill that was first posed by the majority was unthinkable, and now we came to a bill that got over 350 votes on the floor because people worked together to get that done.
And in just a few minutes we'll be voting on the Transportation Bill. Not the bill that I think we need to go forward for our country, but an acceptable bill that does a great deal, and, again, improved through the bipartisan negotiations that went into it.
I am particularly proud of Senator Barbara Boxer. She started working on this as chairwoman of the Environment Subcommittee in the Senate, and now as ranking, working with Chairman Inhofe, and Peter DeFazio here in the House and Mr. Shuster.
So, it is a good bill. People will be pleased to vote for it. I think our future needs something bigger, but we can hopefully get around to that later. But the bill is much better than it started out to be.
Q: Madam Leader, I just wanted to clarify what my colleague was asking. Are you talking about the bill that the Republican chairmen's task force introduced this morning to the Press Club, the Visa Waiver Program? Is that the bill?
Leader Pelosi. I don't know what they introduced this morning. I don't know.
Q: It was similar to legislation introduced by Candice Miller.
Leader Pelosi. Is that what they introduced this morning?
Q: It was similar to legislation that passed out of the Homeland Security Committee.
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me just say this. Pretty soon they will post a bill that will come up next week. That's the bill.
Q: Whatever they post, that's the bill you guys talked about last night?
Leader Pelosi. That's the bill I'm talking about. I don't know who has his or her individual bills out there. The bill that came together is a bill that has bipartisan agreement and I believe will have the signature of the White House.
Q: Does it need to be a stand-alone or would you accept it as a part of the omnibus as kind of a way to open up more common ground?
Leader Pelosi. Well, see, I am not a big supporter of doing as much policy as possible in the omnibus bill. And I know many more people will want to vote for the Visa Waiver Program than will want to vote for the omnibus bill.
Thank you all very much.
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