Transcript of Press Conference with Democratic Members of the Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health
Contact: Drew Hammill/Evangeline George, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Members of the Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health held a press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. As our Members file out, I’m very proud to be here with the Members of the Committee to Attack Women’s Health, as we call this misguided initiative on the part of the Republican majority. I’m so pleased that other Members have joined the Members of the Committee, Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Jerry Nadler, also on the Committee, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Ever since its creation, the Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health’s sole purpose has been to drive an outrageous campaign of misrepresentation and intimidation. As our Democrats on the Committee documented in their letter to Speaker Ryan yesterday, Republicans’ actions are endangering women, researchers and doctors. The Republicans’ Select Committee is engaged in abuses that have not been seen on Capitol Hill since the days of Joseph McCarthy. It is a clear violation of House rules. It should be disbanded immediately. It is my honor, with gratitude, to yield now to our Ranking Member on the Committee, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
Ranking Member Schakowsky. Thank you, Madam Leader for making this a priority. I want to thank the Members of the Select Committee, the Democrats that are here today. And I’ll be making a statement and then if you have questions for any of us, the Members will be welcome to answer.
Yesterday, the Democratic Members of the Select Investigative Panel sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan calling on him to end Chair Blackburn’s abusive investigation which is directly aimed at preventing women from accessing health services including abortions and ending scientific research that uses fetal tissue. This witch hunt is being conducted in violation of House Committee rules and practices and is putting the lives of doctors, researchers and those connected with them in grave danger. This investigation has never been – and has no promise of becoming fair or fact-based. The apparent goal is to punish women, providers and researchers who are following the law.
This Committee is today’s version of the one driven by Senator Joe McCarthy and his companions on the House Unamerican Activities Committee, using subpoena authority – the most powerful investigative tool of Congress – to force universities and clinics to “name names”, in this case of anyone involved in fetal tissue research or reproductive health care without any legitimate reason for doing so; 29 of the 35 subpoenas that have gone out have gone to individuals or entities never given the chance to comply voluntarily with the Chair’s demands.
Democrats have repeatedly objected to the Chair’s demand for the names of researchers, graduate students, lab technicians, residents, clinic personnel, and doctors over the last five years. We see no reason why the Panel needs to amass a dangerous database of names in order to complete its work, and the Chair has refused to provide any justification. Her unjustified demand to “name names” goes beyond the bullying and abusive behavior of Senator Joe McCarthy because she is putting people’s lives, not just their livelihoods, at risk.
Chair Blackburn’s action Wednesday went beyond all measures of decency when she issued a press release naming a health care provider – whom the panel had never reached out to before – and making inflammatory accusations with no evidence of wrongdoing. This reckless panel is acting as judge, jury and executioner.
These risks are not hypothetical. The provider named in the press release has been the target of anti-abortion extremists for decades. A fire destroyed his family farm, killing 17 horses and family pets in claimed retaliation for the care he provided for women. The Chair’s complete disregard for this doctor’s safety, particularly in light of the long history of harassment and violence that has been directed at him, is further evidence that this dangerous witch hunt must end.
The murderer at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic echoed words repeatedly spoken by the Republicans on the Committee – “no more baby body parts.” Words really matter.
In our letter to Speaker Ryan we told him that quote, “one deponent has already appealed to the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and to you, Speaker Ryan, in an effort to get basic protection for individual privacy and safety. Those requests have been rejected or met with deafening silence. Facing the threat of contempt, that person appeared before the Panel last week. During 8 hours of questioning, she was asked to quote “name names” by Republican staff who refused to explain how their requests bore any relation to a legitimate investigative aim,” unquote. If you have any more questions, [Congressman] Jerry Nadler was actually at that deposition.
This and other witnesses have been berated, demeaned, and threatened with contempt of Congress. Because I am concerned that the written transcript of these proceedings will not capture full interactions between witnesses, Members, and counsel, I sent a letter this morning asking the Clerk of the House to ensure that audio recordings of these depositions are preserved.
Doctors and clinic staff who provide reproductive health care in this country are at grave risk. Their workplaces are picketed and bombed, they and their families are targeted on web sites and receive harassing mail and phone calls and some have been murdered. Scientists conducting life-saving research have also been the target of threats and harassment, particularly since the July 2015 release of the fraudulent videos alleging unlawful sale of fetal tissue.
The consequences of these attacks for the women of America and our ability to conduct critical medical research are perhaps the most devastating result of this so-called Investigative Panel. We were already told by one witness at a hearing that he had to disband promising fetal tissue research on Multiple Sclerosis, because his supply of fetal tissue had dried up. Our ability to address Zika and its effects on fetuses, depends on fetal tissue research, and this research – which once had overwhelming bi-partisan support – is responsible for most of our lifesaving vaccines.
Women’s ability to access the reproductive services they need and choose is under unprecedented attack, and this panel has become the spearhead for those efforts nationally. This so-called investigation, like the three previous Republican-led House Committee investigations has uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing and Chair Blackburn’s unjustified witch hunt is putting lives and life-saving research and health care at risk. This investigation discredits and dishonors the House of Representatives. We call on Speaker Ryan to disband the Panel without further delay.
I want to thank all the rest of the my colleagues for coming here today. This represents a strong belief of our Democratic Caucus who is joining in calling on Speaker Ryan to disband this panel. And if you have any questions, we’re happy to answer them.
Q: Congresswoman Schakowsky, obviously, comparisons of Joseph McCarthy are not, you know, used lightly. Can you explain what you see the parallels between this and the McCarthy hearings?
Ranking Member Schakowsky. As we said, this is not only about the livelihoods of people as the McCarthy hearings, which went after this fantasy about the danger of communists everywhere, asking for names to be named. This is also ideologically driven. This is an attack on women’s health care, their right to choose an abortion and on the use of fetal tissue research, which it appears that they would like to end – at least that’s the way the witnesses and the questioning has gone. It is not fact-based like the McCarthy hearings and the consequences of what they are doing are dangerous. It is dangerous for individual lives – as the McCarthy hearings were dangerous for individual livelihoods. But beyond that, this has dramatic effects on how we conduct health care and research in this country. So, we are not using that comparison lightly at all. We think this is very, very dangerous and should be ended before it escalates any further.
Congressman Nadler. Thank you. One of the key similarities is that the purpose of the McCarthy depredations was not really to do research into American communism. The purpose was to intimidate people from exercising their rights and to punish them for having exercised their constitutional rights in past years. The purpose of these hearings seems to be to intimidate people, to intimidate clinics from performing abortions, to intimidate universities or clinics or anybody else from affording fetal tissue and to intimidate doctors from participating in any of this. The kinds of questions that were asked: “Did someone at the hospital suggest to you to work at the women’s center? Were you encouraged?” What business is that of Congress?
The very press release that you saw: ‘Select Panel begins investigation of late-term abortionists’ – I won’t mention his name. The only purpose of that is to endanger that person’s life further. That person travels with security. He has been firebombed. He has been threatened. And if you look at everything they say they want to investigate, they are criminal allegations – no business of Congress. If they have evidence of any of this, they should refer it to the U.S. Attorney.
Congress is not or should not be in the business of criminal investigation and of labeling someone a bad person or whatever – that’s not our functions. That’s McCarthy’s function and that’s what they are doing here and they are threatening the witnesses. And the other thing is: ‘name names.’ When you come in under subpoena and you are told: you must name the name. What person assisted in this? What portion did you know here? And you know, that if you name that name, that person will be endangered. So you refuse to do it and you’re threatened with contempt. That was the essence of McCarthyism, except it’s worse here because we are threatening people’s lives, not only their jobs.
Ranking Member Schakowsky. Yes?
Q: Today the Department of Justice and the Department of Education are issuing guidance to the public schools on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender preference. And I wanted to ask you: should the federal government force public schools to let biological males who identify as females compete in female athletics?
Leader Pelosi. I’d be absolutely pleased to answer your question. We’re going to stay focused on this for now. Questions other than that we’ll take right now. Thanks.
Q: Representative, The Federalist reported that you received $13,000 from Planned Parenthood, $64,000 from EMILY’s List, $9,500 from NARAL – how is that not a conflict of interest to be investigating those organizations?
Ranking Member Schakowsky. Let me point out to you that abortion is legal in the United States of America. That is a very important fact. And I am, as I believe all the people are here, are pro-choice, believe that constitutional right needs to be protected, proudly work with organizations that represent that view. What we’re seeing here is a Republican so-called ‘investigative committee’ working with people who have been connected to abortion extremists, people who have been contributing to their so-called documents that have been offered as exhibits in this and I have no apologies for working closely with these organizations. A conflict of interest to defend the Constitution and constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court I don’t see as any conflict of interest.
Q: So no conflict of interest in receiving that money then investigating those same organizations?
Leader Pelosi. The point is that the issues of women’s reproductive health is the subject of debate in the Congress. Everyone knows that. There are those who have a different view than we have in terms of our respect for a woman to make that judgement with her God, her doctor, her family. And that’s a legitimate debate in the Congress of the United States. There are people on both sides who support people who support their point of view.
So, that is not to distract what is happening today because what is happening in the Congress today goes well beyond the debate of a women’s right to choose and disagreeing or agreeing with the Supreme Court decision. What’s going on in the Congress today is, to borrow a phrase, un-American. And that is why it is very similar to the House un-American committee investigation. It inspired vigilantes, it provokes a vigilante behavior. In the letter, I’m not sure it went into full detail of the bombing of the doctor’s barn where horses and animals were killed. It’s beyond the legitimate disagreement in a debate. It is provocative, it is dangerous, it is not within the purview of Congress to have this kind of an investigation and I thank the Members of the Committee for the important work that they have done.
Ranking Member Schakowsky. Let me just also say that three House panels, 12 states and a grand jury have looked into these allegations against Planned Parenthood. In fact, the grand jury that was to look into Planned Parenthood – rather than indicting the accused indicted the accuser David Daleiden, one of the people who manufactured the tape that led to this investigation. The fact that this whole investigation now is based on completely and totally discredited videos – this is not an investigation, a real investigation of Planned Parenthood. Those have already been conducted by these committees and by these states and by the grand jury. Nothing has been found.
Leader Pelosi. And that’s all on top of them defunding Planned Parenthood. Look, we have even within our own families, some disagreements on the issue of a woman’s right to choose. So that’s a legitimate debate. The fact is; in this Congress, there is an obsession to the point of saying that family planning should not be supported. But we’re not even talking about that right now. We’re talking about going so far beyond that and also to undermine fetal tissue research. And so it is an abuse of power.
Congresswoman DelBene. I just want to say given the actions of this Committee, if this were a business and Paul Ryan were the CEO, he should bring Chairwoman Blackburn into his office and tell her, ‘You’re fired.’ This isn’t just about a business bottom line. What’s at stake here is people’s lives. That’s an incredibly important issue that we should stay focused on.
Ranking Member Schakowsky. What else?
Leader Pelosi. Any other Members want to comment on that?
Congresswoman Watson Coleman. I just want to make sure that we understand the reason that we are here today is that all of the seven months, eight months that we’ve been engaged in this this has been nothing but a witch hunt. This is very frightening, this is very un-American and this is an abuse of power that we just should find offensive in the United States of America, in the United States Congress. And for that reason, we strongly request that Speaker Ryan should shut this investigation, shut this façade, shut this fraud, and shut this witch hunt down.
Congresswoman Speier. I think it’s very important to appreciate that we are not going to stand by and let this Committee crucify upstanding, law-abiding Americans who are providing important health care research. We’re not going to stand by while they attempt to crucify law-abiding Americans who are providing reproductive health care to women that is legal. And that’s precisely what this Committee is doing. They are putting a target on the back of those individuals that they subpoena so that unstable people, as we have already seen, can take shots – literally take shots at them. We cannot forget that in Colorado, three people are dead today because an unstable man went to a Planned Parenthood clinic and decided that because of ‘baby body parts’, he was going to nail Americans.
Ranking Member Schakowsky. Thank you very much everybody. Appreciate it.
Leader Pelosi. Let me just say that I’m very proud of the Administration for the directive that they have given to schools across the country – the Justice Department and the Department of Education. It is nothing new. It is nothing new. It is just a guidance to these schools.
Q: Can you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ whether schools should force biological males that identify as women to enter athletics.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we are talking about transgender people and we are protecting their rights to participate as they identify. Thank you.
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