Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today
Contact: 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. Good morning. As we prepare for the Easter and Passover season, I wish you all a time of renewal with your families. Remembering that renewal is important to all of us. The word "recreation," recreate as in “re-create,” and we have to renew ourselves so we are strong for the challenges ahead and for all of life's opportunities.
That's why it seems so off-kilter that as we leave for the Easter vacation, we do so with a coldness towards so many people in our country. Over 2 million now – now it has gone up to 2.4 million people – who have lost their unemployment benefits. They've lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The Senate worked in a bipartisan fashion earlier this week and passed legislation to renew the emergency unemployment insurance with action to restore a critical economic lifeline for more than two million, now they are telling me 2.4 million Americans who depend on unemployment insurance.
It's really hard to understand. And I really enlist all of you in the press. We don't see any coverage of all of the families that are suffering because of this. You know at Christmas when we see in the paper “this family needs help, send money to the fund that our newspaper has,” and the stories are heartrending. People react to them. Well, certainly personal generosity and philanthropy is important, but we need to have public policy that meets the needs of the American people.
So, I would hope that those very illustrative and heart-warming stories that move people to action that there be some coverage in the press and the national media and the local press – especially in the hard hit areas – that would say this is what this means to these families. And not only that, many of these people are veterans, many of them are women. It is a full representation of our community. Many of them with advanced degrees. All of them hoping to have work. Some of them affected by sequestration and other budget cuts here. As the private sector job numbers increase, the public sector numbers go down. But the unemployment is across the board. And of course, some of it is regional.
But the other part of it is, it immediately injects demand. Unemployment benefits – checks that people spend immediately on necessities, injecting demand into the economy creating jobs. There are some economists who say that almost nothing does more as an immediate stimulus than unemployment insurance benefits.
So the Senate overcame their differences. We have 193 Members on our discharge petition and we would hope that the Speaker would take up the vote.
You know, we are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas here. A place where you come and debate the issues of the day. Why can't we have a debate on unemployment insurance? Why can't we have a debate on immigration reform. Why can't we have a debate on pay equity, paycheck fairness? That's just out of the question? That's just not right. That's not what our responsibility to the American people is. We are supposed to find solutions and one way to find solutions is to have the public see what the debate is on the subject.
People are very wise. They have great ideas and they have good judgment. So I would hope that we would get more attention paid. This is an emergency. Imagine any other situation where 2.5 million people lost their jobs and had no safety net paycheck to see them through. Which, by the way, that safety net is not just for those individual workers and their families, it is for our economic system. So that the economy can go and unemployment goes down, unemployment goes up. So it is a safety net for the free market to function.
As we go into the Holy Season, I am reminded of the Gospel of Matthew where he said: “For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” Clearly, if you applied the Gospel of Matthew to the budgets that are on the floor today you would see where the heart is of the Republican Party: with the wealthiest people in America, with special interests in our country, and not with the great middle class.
By contrast, the House Democratic Budget does show where our heart is, and our head. And because that is because we allocate the resources, the treasure, the federal budget, as a statement of our national values to meet the needs of the American people.
It's about growth to create jobs, which solves many ills. It's about investing in education to help people reach their aspirations and keep America number one. It is about our seniors – about our seniors and preserving some of the initiatives in the Affordable Care Act that assist seniors, instead of in the Republican budget, turning Medicare into a voucher program. At the same time, giving a $200,000 tax break for people making over $1 million a year, and a $2,000 tax increase to most people in the middle class.
Our children, our seniors, our budget, our statement of our values, our treasure, our heart. Again, this budget is not just about numbers; it's about values. It is a statement, a statement of our national values. At least it should be. And I think you see on the floor – you have seen on the floor this week a sharp contrast.
You have to ask – let the American people be the judge. At least we are having this debate, however brief. Now we have a Democratic alternative on the floor, 10 minutes on each side. How could that be an appropriate debate on the statement of our national values? How can the American people truly judge what is at stake here?
You have to ask the American people. They can be the judge. Is it a statement of their values that over [170,000] children will be cut off of Head Start? Children learning, parents earning – how important that is, and the jobs that go with it. Is it a statement values of the American people that three and a half million children – 3.4 million disadvantaged children in disadvantaged areas will have those investments of Title I cut off? What does that say about a society that is a democracy, and therefore, wants to give everybody a fair shot?
Six hundred and sixteen thousand fewer students will receive Pell Grants – Pell Grants being those grants to students who are in greatest need for financial assistance in order to further their college education, higher education. This is quite an amazing thing. And, again, it is the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. “For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.”
I had a sad experience yesterday. I felt very privileged to go to Fort Hood. The President speech – all of the presentations by the military and by the President and by Secretary McHugh were so moving. And the families were so, so sad, and of course, no words are adequate to comfort them. But I hope that they know that the country grieves with them.
And, again, we have to focus on the fact that just two weeks ago we had on the Mall 1,982 flags, one for each of the veterans who took his life or her life since January 1st – 22 a day. We really need to address the problem, because in Fort Hood, it is such a patriotic center of our country and people sign up to protect to keep us the home of the brave and the land of the free. They don't expect to go to work and have a fellow person in uniform take their lives. But that's a tragedy in itself, the perpetrator of the crime.
In any event, I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, ma'am?
Q: Madam Leader, over the last couple of years, the pay equity legislation that Congress has looked at has focused on, as you say, “equal pay for equal work.” As we have had these discussions, one issue that continues to come up is that higher paying positions are often held by men. Going beyond women…
Leader Pelosi. I understand, I understand.
Q: …Is there anything that Congress can do about that in the various discussions that you folks are having in the Democratic Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. I appreciate your question because it is important to enlarge the issue. Yes, where there is same jobs, same qualification, same experience, there should be the same pay, and we will continue to make that fight. But we also have to have the recognition that women in non-traditional – what have been considered non-traditional – fields need to be encouraged and opportunities opened up to them. The Small Business Committee, I believe, has legislation to make sure that the federal government honors its commitment to entrepreneurship of women. Not just about women as employees, but women as employers. And so clearing the way for many more women to succeed as entrepreneurs the way many men did being contractors for the federal government, and then, certainly beyond in the private sector.
But I do think that the higher education of women – women now are probably more, at least as many, but maybe more women in institutions of higher learning getting degrees that will enable them to get those higher salaries. But that is important, that is a really important part of it. Fortune 500, what – 20 CEOs who are women? It can't be for lack of talent. So we know that there has to be an opening up to that.
And this is really important because, I don't know, I think I mentioned this last week, but many of you did see Janet Yellen – when we honored her, the new Chair of the Fed and we’re so thrilled to have a woman head of a central bank, the only one in the world. Now the Director of IMF is a woman as well. But the only central bank Chairman – being a woman – here in our country. And in her remarks, which were reported in the press, she really said that a lot of the economic success of the 20th century is attributed to many more women working and many more women in the economy. And we have to do so much more, was part of her message. And that's what we have to do.
And as I've said to you before, the Prime Minister [from Japan] said: “We are going to grow our economy because we are going to have many more women in the economy.” The President of Colombia, when he visited here, said – because he was telling us how his economy was going to grow. “What is the secret?” And he said: “It’s no secret.” It is about women in the economy.
So, that is why when we say “When women succeed, America succeeds,” it’s not just the title for our economic agenda for women and families, it is a statement of fact. It is a statement of fact. So your question is the perfect one, because we are not talking about women making less because they are doing a different job. We are talking about the same job in that particular instance. But we certainly have to raise the possibilities for women in corporate America and entrepreneurship and their own risk-taking in terms of small businesses and the rest. And that will grow our economy, and it will grow – and the rate of GDP growth will be very, very significant. Some people say two percent, some people say six percent. Whatever it is, it is very, very positive for our economy.
So some of the things that we could do in terms of the government contracting and the rest, that is one. But being more receptive to, again, what used to be considered nontraditional occupations which have paid higher, they are becoming less nontraditional because many more women are engaged in them. But having an openness to all of that. And right now, frankly, there is some, shall we say, behavioral sensitivity to that issue there has to be heightened. Yes, sir?
Q: Democrats have run in the past on the Ryan budget with limited results, some would say that it hasn't worked well at all. I was wondering as you are pushing that issue this year, how you plan to tweak the message a little bit so that it might resonate a little bit more with voters? And how, if you had to boil it down, what the Ryan budget does to – for America, for the country, for the middle class, if you had to boil it down into one sentence, something you could put on a bumper sticker that might be more easily digestible than saying here is this…
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all I don't remember us making the full throttle of this election about the Ryan budget. Elections are always about jobs. But the persistence, the persistence of Ryan in doubling-down and making matters worse with the budget he has now makes it totally a moral imperative for us to make that fight the center stage. We always talk about jobs, but seeing it through the prism of what the Ryan budget does. It is not, as I said, a path to prosperity. It is a road to recession.
On the contrary, the House Democratic Budget is about growth. So if you want to reduce the deficit, create jobs and bring revenue into the Treasury. That is one way to do it. And how do you create those jobs? By investing in science and technology and innovation in our country, which the Ryan budget does not do.
And then you talk about education. Innovation begins in the classroom. Some is short term, some is longer term. But it is, again, a moral imperative for us to make sure the public knows how serious they are about this budget. Some people think it is so ridiculous, they dismiss it as a joke. It's not funny. It's deadly serious. And it's not good for children and other living things.
How we reduce it to a bumper sticker, well, we will see. But the fact is that this is a case that has to be brought to the American people. And you know what, you are going to see, as we do the appropriations bills based on the budget that they probably will pass today, you really cannot meet the needs of the American people – “honor our responsibilities to the American people.” Their own Chairman said that, with the budget numbers that they put forth before.
So it is kind of exciting, as a matter of fact. Because they're serious about it, it is devastating to the prospects for the future for our children and families. And it must be outed for what it is.
Q: Do you see it as a district by district issue? Where Medicare cuts will play in Florida and lack of UI in Rhode Island and things like that?
Leader Pelosi. Well I think Medicare floats all over the place. I do agree with you, UI is more regional depending on the unemployment insurance that is there. And that’s not a central issue to the core of the Ryan budget. It's, again, another manifestation of the heartlessness of the Republican budget.
But it’s a matter of excitement. I think I said to you last week, three things happened last week, right at the start of the week: one, the numbers for the Affordable Care Act went past seven million. Now today they are telling us 7.5 million, and we still have another week of the sign ups. Seven-point-five million, and that is in addition to over three million, probably get closer to five million, on Medicaid and 3.1 million for young people on their parents' policy. So it's around 15 million. Over seven million in the marketplaces – that figure.
The second thing that happened was the McCutcheon decision. What are we missing here? Why don't we just destroy any confidence that the American people have in government? We have to show them that you cannot separate, as Walter Reuther said, you cannot separate the ballot box from the bread box. That is tied. The well-being of the American people is tied to what happens in elections.
And then the third thing was the release of the Ryan budget. The Ryan budget – that is the substantive argument, but the McCutcheon decision demands that we use everything at our disposal. Be it, the social media, you all, the social media, whatever communication we can get to the public to say this is why these decisions in the court are wrong, because they prevent an opportunity for you to hear the facts about how you will be affected – how you will be directly affected by this.
And the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, numbers give us a comfortable pivot to the budget, job creation, a government of the many, not a government of the money. And this is what their money wants them to buy: no raise in the minimum wage, no equal pay for equal work, voucherize Medicare, cut off kids from Head Start, and their families affected in so many other ways. Many kids, disadvantaged kids – 3.5 million. Eight thousand teachers cut under this budget. Again, hundreds of thousands of people affected by Pell Grants.
So you cannot disconnect the political piece from the policy piece when the court makes a decision heavily in favor of money and special interest – that we’ll spend it endlessly, without any judgment.
Q: Madam Leader, I wanted to ask you a question about race for just a moment.
Leader Pelosi. Race?
Q: Race. There was a sharp exchange in a hearing a couple of days ago between the Attorney General and Louie Gohmert of Texas, about contempt. And then in some remarks yesterday, the Attorney General suggested, he said that some of the way that he has been treated, and maybe the way that the Administration and this President have been treated, was because of race, and putting this on Republicans. Do you think that there is something – even if it’s subtle, even if it is potentially unintentional – that’s going on with high figures of color in this Administration when it comes to dealing with Republicans?
Leader Pelosi. I know what you just told me, and I read a little bit about it. I was, as I said, in Texas yesterday – so I didn’t see what the exchange was that provoked that remark. It’s a very difficult subject to talk about.
I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill. I’ve heard them say to the Irish: “If it were just you, this would be easy.” I think that, generally speaking, they are disrespectful of the representatives of the President’s Administration – very disrespectful. In other words, we’ve all been on both sides of that discussion, in the committee. And we always say: whatever it is that you are agreeing or disagreeing – we always owe our witnesses respect.
So, I don’t really want to go to that place. I would just say that their disdain for anybody who disagrees with them is pretty across the board. And I don’t want to go to the race piece. But I think it certainly applies to women. It’s so self-evident that it applies to women. So I think that – but, you know, in other words: I don’t want to be distracted.
The fact is, we have to talk about how we create jobs in our country, how we build an economy that works for everyone. I always say: when people – and God knows I’ve been the brunt of a lot of it – it’s their problem. Whatever it is, it’s their problem. Ignore them. Show them how unimportant they are. If they have a problem with race or women or whatever, it’s their problem. They’re on the wrong side, not only of history, but on the wrong side of the future.
Q: Madam Leader: on immigration – you mentioned immigration – just to be clear: do you endorse the position, the recommendation by the Hispanic Caucus of stopping deportations…
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: …for those undocumented immigrants covered by the Senate immigration bill?
Leader Pelosi. I do. I’m very excited about it. I trust their judgment on it, and I’m very pleased with the attitude that the Secretary brings to the issue. But since you brought up immigration, here we have 191 co-sponsors – signatories – to the discharge petition; 199 sponsors of the legislation, even three Republicans. Why can’t we have that debate on the floor of the House? Yesterday, we welcomed – before I went to Texas – we welcomed the Fast for Families bus trip back to Washington, D.C. They traveled like 11,000 miles, weaving around the country, visiting congressional offices and communities. I saw them in Florida on one of their stops down there, at Florida International University. And you all covered it in the Hill press – there was a little coverage. But I don’t see anything in the press about that. Eleven thousand miles – do you think if somebody went 11,000 miles to do something, there wouldn’t be a mention on the nightly news or something? Especially since they’ve been doing it. And it is a reinforcement. It’s not a flash in the pan.
This is who we are as a nation: a nation of immigrants. We must pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we have 11 million people waiting for the legalization that the Senate bill provides, with a path to citizenship. Eleven million people. Eleven hundred people deported each day. One person standing in the way: the Speaker of the House, and his caucus. So let’s have the debate. We think the votes are there. We’re absolutely certain they’re there. Give us a vote.
Q: But it seems that there is change of shift in the direction, that the immigrant groups are mentioning President Obama stopping deportations, regardless of what Republicans do.
Leader Pelosi. Well, that’s a gift to the Republicans. Because the fact is, the Republicans are never going to move unless they think there’s a price to play politically for not bringing the bill to the floor. The reason that the deportations are taking place is because the Republican Congress demands it. I don’t know if you cover this in the Appropriations Committee. They demand: “Fill those 34,000 beds now. We don’t care if people are sick, elderly, frail or whatever. Fill those beds.” That’s what Congress has required. And they said: “We won’t have an immigration bill if the President lowers the deportations.” And they have said, in one of their bills on the floor: “You can sue the President if you don’t think he’s obeying the law. And two ways he’s not obeying the law is he issued DACA” – the provision to allow DREAMers to have deferred action for at least two years. And the second one was: “If the President uses prosecutorial discretion to stop all these – then you can sue the President. Because he’s breaking the law.”
So I say to our friends: look, I know. That’s where I live. I have a magnificently beautiful, mixed district. More minorities in my district than not, many of them not born in this country. And I see the pain and suffering of the deportations. But the answer, the medicine for every ill in the deportations is to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It stops the deportations, legalizes 11 million people in the country, or thereabouts – if they meet the standards. And it’s the right thing to do.
So let’s keep our focus. What is it that we want to do? We want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. What is it that we want to do? We want to stop the deportations – if the violation is only about a violation of status. We’re not talking about other people. We’re not talking about those who have broken the law in some other ways. We’re talking about a violation of status, immigration status. If we want to stop that, pass an immigration bill.
But at least honor the American people. Give them the respect of saying: “We’re going to have a discussion of it on the floor of the House.” It’s a discussion in many households across America. It was a successful discussion in the United States Senate – in a bipartisan way, a bill was passed. Mum’s the word in the – that’s an old time saying – in the House of Representatives.
Q: We know it.
Q: What’s your sense of how many Republicans might vote for unemployment insurance extension if it were to come to the floor?
Leader Pelosi. Unemployment insurance. I was still in immigration mode. I think we’d be fine. Enough. Enough. Enough.
Q: Have you been in any negotiations with the Republicans?
Leader Pelosi. They are trying to, I think, get a vote on their side, some of the ones who are – but look, look at what happened in the Senate. Members from districts, areas that don't have high unemployment, like North Dakota or something like that, some other places in the country – I don't mean to use that as an example, but unemployment has some regional aspects to it as we know – you see the Senator from Nevada, where unemployment is high, being part of finding a solution.
So I think there must be enough of them in places where the unemployment benefits need to be extended, that they should weigh in with the Speaker and say: “Give us a vote.” Give us a vote. Are you afraid of a vote because we would win? Are you trying to protect us because you don't think we would win? Well, we are willing to take that risk. I don't think it is about protection, by the way. I mean, they basically said that this is not a priority for them. It is going to take – Abraham Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything.” You hold the key. You hold the key. Yes, sir – and then I have to go vote. No time left on the vote. Okay, just one real quick.
Q: On Medicare Advantage, which a lot of people on your side have been railing against ever since it was born so many years ago. A couple days ago, as you know, CMS rolled back a lot of the cuts. Was this the right thing to do at this time, just because the insurance corporations are carping about their cuts on some things? So many people on your side have called it a slush fund.
Leader Pelosi. No, I myself have been one who has criticized the richness of the Medicare Advantage in terms of its benefits to the insurance companies. However, having said that, at this time, the whole point of Medicare Advantage in the Affordable Care Act was to bring it in line with the fee for service, and it is well – because of how we brought down the rising cost of health care in our country, what the Administration did was consistent with being on a path to bringing…
Q: …A lot of people feel like it is a kind of giveaway when you look at that.
Leader Pelosi. It's not a giveaway. It's for now. We will take a look at it again and see where it goes from there. But the whole point was to bring it in line with fee for service because of other things that are happening, lowering the cost. Because of the Affordable Care Act, they were able to do that without making the cuts now. But that is not off the table at some other time, if the other considerations are not present.
I hope that you enjoy a renewing – Easter is just my favorite holiday. I mean, Christmas is the most fun, but Easter – really most triumphant and beautiful, and Passover at the same time. So in whatever way you celebrate – I think it is even Mohammad's birthday coming up soon – so however you observe or not, at least enjoy the onset of spring, and I look forward to seeing you in your renewed, recreated forms when we come back after the break.
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