Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, and Chairman Steve Israel held a press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon. For weeks, we had been saying that Christmas is coming and time is growing short. Now, Christmas is upon us, there’s very little time left, but there’s still a chance, there’s still a chance to reach an agreement that is balanced, and that is fair. The President made concessions in his latest proposal – more concessions – in his latest proposal. We hope Republicans will consider it so that we can iron out further differences and bring it to the floor.
President Obama moved closer to the Republicans on rates, on tax rates, and said he is, in terms of spending cuts, he said he was willing to make more spending cuts – contrary to representations about his position that you may have heard. Every time we are close to a solution, whether it was a year and a half ago in the summer, or right now, the Republicans walk away. And when we thought we were close this week, the Republicans decided to follow another path, a path that led them over the cliff, a route in which they even did not have the votes. But that was then, this is now, let’s go back to the negotiating table. We have no right to walk out the door of Congress with no clear path to a resolution of this challenge. It’s time to get back on track. It’s time to get back to the negotiating table. We must work together in a bipartisan way to create jobs, to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, reduce the deficit, and to do so in a responsible way.
We can and we must get the job done now.
With that, I’m pleased to yield to the distinguished Democratic Whip, Mr. Hoyer.
Whip Hoyer. I thank the Leader for her comments, I certainly agree with her. Last night’s vote showed us that resolving the challenge that confronts us with the fiscal cliff cannot and will not be done with a partisan vote. It showed that we must work together in a bipartisan way and that we must preclude going over the fiscal cliff by a balanced agreement that Republicans can support, the Democrats can support, that the President of the United States will sign, and that can pass the United States Senate. It’s absolutely incumbent upon us to do that. We should not see taxes go up on working class Americans. We should not see doctors put at risk in terms of their delivery of services to seniors. We should not see the Alternative Minimum Tax put at risk, we need to lend confidence to our country and to our economy.
Some years ago we confronted partisan gridlock. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton got together to reach an agreement. It was very controversial. And Newt Gingrich said, and this was October 20th, 1998: “so, I’ll say to each and every Member of this House, unless they have a plan that they think can get 218 votes over here, can pass through a filibuster in the Senate, and get signed, there is no responsible vote except yes.’ America expects its Congress to get to ‘yes.’
The Leader has indicated we’re prepared to work with the Speaker, with the Republican leadership, and we all need to be willing to work with the President of the United States to get to ‘yes,’ for our country, and for our constituents. And now I want to yield to my very dear friend, the Assistant Leader of the Democratic Caucus, my friend Jim Clyburn from South Carolina.
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn. Thank you very much, Whip Hoyer, Leader Pelosi, my colleagues. Last year, when the Tea Party Republicans stymied the efforts of the deficit reduction commission, the committee that we called the Supercommittee, we said at the time that I thought it would take a definitive election to settle the matter. On November 6th, the American people spoke very clearly, and I think decisively. President Obama won all but one of the nine so-called ‘swing-states,’ he won a landslide victory in the electoral college, and he won the popular vote by more than four and a half million votes. Democrats in the Senate added to their numbers and won a popular vote margin of 56-44. And here in the people’s House, more than 1.5 million more Americans voted for Democrats than voted for Republicans.
The American people have spoken loud and clear, yet the Republican leadership continue to exercise extreme partisanship in defiance of the will of the people. I am hopeful that the spirit of the season will take hold over the next several days and we can come back here after Christmas with less partisan extremism, and work together to achieve honorable compromises that will arrest the widening wealth gap and create more, fairer, and balanced approaches to addressing our nation’s most urgent challenges.
And with that, I would like to yield to our distinguished Vice Chair, Joe Crowley of New York.
Vice Chairman Crowley. Thank you, Jim. In politics there, I believe there’s – it’s not a zero-sum game, at least that’s my belief, it ought not be. We need to work together. There is no partisan path towards a solution here, any solution facing our nation’s problems must done in a bipartisan way. And that means that neither side gets 100 percent of what they are looking to achieve. What we saw last night was really an abdication of that process. I think the President has been working in good faith with Speaker Boehner, continues to want to do that, it’s my hope, as the Leader has said, that we can come back, that they can come back to the table and continue to work with the President to work out a solution.
But what we have seen right now is something that we, as Members of Congress have observed from our side of the aisle for the last four years, the Republican Caucus, whether they’re in the minority, and now in the majority, refuse to work with this President and with our side of the aisle. The American people in this election spoke otherwise. They want to see us working together, they still have a chance to come do that before the end of 112th Congress leads into the 113th Congress, working in a more bipartisan way.
And with that, I would now like to turn it over to the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, our great friend and ally in this fight for the American people, Chris Van Hollen.
Ranking Member Van Hollen. Thanks Joe and it’s a great to be here with our colleagues. This morning, Speaker Boehner said the following, and I’m quoting: “the House did not take up the tax bill last night because we didn’t have the votes to pass it, it’s not the outcome that I wanted, that was the will of the House.” That’s what Speaker Boehner said, I believe, from this podium this morning. And what we’re doing today is calling upon the Speaker to put something on the floor of the House that can pass the House, that gets the number of votes necessary, on a bipartisan basis. So he should bring a compromise, bipartisan bill to the floor of the House, and let the House works its will. The House has said ‘no’ to Speaker Boehner’s Plan B, it’s time for the House to say ‘yes,’ to a balanced compromise bill. At the very least the Speaker should take up the bill the Senate has already passed on a bipartisan basis, so that we can get that done right away. And there’s nothing stopping the Speaker from taking up that bill this afternoon, or tomorrow, or any day, nothing, nothing in the law, nothing in the rules of the House, if he takes it up he will allow the House to work its will on that particular bill.
So, we call upon the Speaker to allow the House to work its will, as it did last night in saying ‘no’ to Plan B. This House will say ‘yes,’ we believe, to a bipartisan compromise bill. And we believe it will ‘yes’ to the Senate passed bill that is already pending.
And with that, I want to turn it over to our good friend and colleague Steve Israel from New York.
Chairman Israel. Thank you very much. You know, I’ve learned in government and politics that when you say “my way or the highway,” you usually end up on the highway. And that is exactly where House Republicans are right now as they have left Washington and abdicated their responsibility to get this done. They need to turn around. They need to come back to Washington. They need to negotiate a compromise based on what the President has put forth. Plan B may have failed, it is time to get to Plan C – Plan C is compromise and Plan C is comprehensive. And so we urge our Republican colleagues to come back to Washington, get to work on something that is a compromise, the basis of which should be the President’s compromise. Every time we have offered a compromise, the Republicans have gone in the other direction – we were here, they were there. We went in this direction, they’ve now left town. That is no way to get a compromise that is comprehensive. And so we urge them to return to work, return to Washington, and avoid this fiscal cliff.
And with that I’ll turn it back to our Leader.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you. I was interested that the Speaker said last night: “the House did not take up the bill last night because we didn’t have the votes to pass it, it’s not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House” – it’s not the will of the House, it may have been the will of his Caucus, but we don’t know what the will of the House is until you bring a bill to the floor. And I do believe that there would have been bipartisan support for the $250,000 proposal that we have as a discharge petition and I think that’s why they didn’t bring it up, that they did not, they knew that Republicans would vote for it.
Anyway, any questions?
Let’s see, somebody who hasn’t had a question. Yes sir?
Q: Leader Pelosi, you mentioned in your opening remarks that you hoped that the Speaker would bring the President proposal to the floor so that it can be considered. Given what happened last night, is there any appetite among the leadership team to change that proposal to take some things out of it that your Caucus doesn’t like?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think that what we should do is consider it. I think that the best thing to do is to go to the table. You know, to have the Speaker – the fastest thing we can do is bring it to the floor for consideration. What I did say in my remarks is to bring it up so we can iron out our differences, go to the table so that we can iron out our differences. And I really think that, that can be done. You have to remember that when the President came forward with a new proposal this week it was on the strength of how close the Speaker and the President had been. And now the President came closer to the Speaker’s position in terms of spending cuts and in terms of tax rates. And so it seems like every time we get close, the goal posts either changes or they just go to a different field all together.
And so, I think that while many in our Caucus don’t like every aspect of the President’s proposal, and if they did, then the Republicans would probably reject it. So, it’s a compromise, there’s pain on both sides, that that’s really a very good place to start. And do my colleagues want to add anything to that?
Q: Your Caucus had been pretty clear that you were all going to vote against Plan B, Speaker Boehner had said that this was an effort to do something to avert possibly going off the cliff, if these tax increases, all of them, lapse without a vote, how do you respond to charges that the House Democrats are also at fault for letting them all go, for being so strongly against this Plan B vote?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all we’re here for the middle class and the bill that was on the – that would have come to the floor – was a direct assault on the middle class. And the idea that the Speaker says: “well, I’m giving tax, I’m giving additional tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country, while I raise taxes on the middle class,” well, I don’t think that, that is a very good idea. And that’s how I would answer it.
But I’m sure my colleagues may want to add to that.
Whip Hoyer. I think we were united in opposition to a bill that we thought had no chance of passage through the United States Senate and was not going to be signed by the President of the United States, and therefore we were concerned that we were wasting 72-96, perhaps 120 hours, at a time when the cliff confronts us in just a few days. And where action on behalf of working Americans is essential. And in order for action to occur – that’s what I referred to Mr. Gingrich’s comments – in order for action to occur we’re going to have to have a bill that can get through the United States Senate and be signed by the President of the United States. We didn’t want to waste another 96 hours. So I am pleased that this was defeated. It was defeated not on the House floor, but in the Republican Conference, apparently pretty heated conference.
I would urge Speaker Boehner to, again, sit with President Obama and reach a compromise that will be a reasonable one and that will confront the fiscal challenges that confronts our country, which is, this has all been about, and confront doing some of the things that is essential for us to do between now and January 2nd. Nobody wants the sequester to get into place. Nobody wants – most of us do not want to see unemployment insurance lapse for those who are relying on it to support themselves and the other aspects that you know about that need to be addressed. So, I think the opposition was that a partisan bill was being put forward, a partisan bill that in my opinion was more to give Republicans a place to stand, then it was to give a legislation that would give relief to America and help our economy.
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn. I think it’s very important, first, to really to take a look at what was being proposed. Now, if my reading is correct, and I’m no expert on these matters, but I can tell you I read that the sequester was being postponed, or being gotten rid of in this proposal by getting rid of mortgage deductions, by cutting food stamps, by getting rid of unemployment insurance. This is a strange time of year to be making those kinds of proposals – those are the things that we’re objecting to. We want this thing to be fair and balanced and I don’t think it’s fair to balance this budget on the back of those people who can ill afford those kinds of cuts.
Leader Pelosi. Well, what Mr. Clyburn – taking it to the point that he did, which was about the tax cuts and about the reconciliation bill that they had on the floor, it was a terrible combination because not only are you giving – like reverse Robin Hood – you’re giving a $50,000 tax cut to people making over a million dollars a year at a cost of about, about an average of a thousand dollars to middle income tax payers who would have to pay a thousand dollars more because of changes in the law that affected them. But at the same they had this reconciliation bill that said: “20 million children would have reduced nutrition and food benefits. One point three or four million seniors would not have Meals on Wheels, the list goes on and on, and Mr. Clyburn named some of the other things.”
Whip Hoyer. It was defeated on a bipartisan vote.
Leader Pelosi. And so when people say: “why can’t you come to agreement?” Well, if you want to come to agreement, you can. But if you’re coming close to agreement and then you say: “we’re taking food out of the mouths of babies and seniors to give a tax cut to the wealthiest and tax bills to the middle class as well as heaping hundreds of billions of dollars more onto the national debt because we really don’t believe in government, so that’s the route we want to go,” it’s hard to come to agreement.
But I believe there are enough Republicans who do believe in government, who do want to reach a solution, and that’s why we’re hopeful that something can happen.
Q: I wanted to ask you a question off topic a little bit about the NRA’s press conference…
Leader Pelosi. You know what? We can come back to that. I just want to, while we’re here, on this subject.
Yes, Jonathan. On the same subject?
Q: Yeah, on this subject. Do you believe that there are 120 Republicans, or 122 Republicans, that are willing to vote for a deal that Democrats and the President can back? And what other concessions beyond what the President has already offered are Democrats in the House willing to put on the table?
Leader Pelosi. In return for what?
Q: A hundred and twenty Republicans.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, no, no, no. In the package, is the package – it’s not about us, it’s about what it means to America’s great middle class. Mr. Van Hollen, he reminds me that when we did the much talked about now, as we’ve talked about before, Iraq vote that I brought to the floor, there were 86 Democrats – over a hundred and forty Democrats, 86 Democrats voting for over a hundred and forty voting against, I had 60 percent of my Caucus against what I brought to the floor.
So, the hundred and twenty is not the number, the number is what does this mean to middle income families?
Mr. Van Hollen did you want to speak to that?
Ranking Member Van Hollen. Well just, again, the President has already met the Republicans more than halfway. I think people who have been following these negotiations recognize that the President has already moved remarkably over a short period of time. Remember that he originally proposed revenue at $1.6 trillion, which people who’ve been following this conversation know was less revenue than proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission as embedded in their recommendations. And then the President dropped that from $1.6 to $1.2 trillion over 10 years, and then the President has significantly increased the amount of cuts he’s prepared to make up to $1.2 trillion if you include the interest savings. That comes on top of $1 trillion in cuts as part of the Budget Control Act that we’ve already agreed to, which is an even higher number if you look at all the cuts taken over the last year including some very controversial provisions that many of us in our Caucus have serious reservations about, but it’s an indication of the fact the President was prepared to, you know, meet Republicans more than halfway.
And so, I think the President has struck the balance and, you know, I think Speaker Boehner should bring up a bill like that, that reflects that kind of balance and compromise. Just as Leader Pelosi did when she was Speaker of the House when it came to a bill that dealt with the Iraq war. These are big national moments and the full House should be able to work it’s will, Democrats and Republicans together and, you know, it’s important that the Speaker put the good of the country above Republican House Caucus politics.
Leader Pelosi. Yeah, on this subject? And then we’re going to go to – just one more, I guess, on this subject because, because we have to go to work.
Q: Earlier today, the Speaker characterized the offers of both he and the President traded earlier this week as their bottom lines. Do you think that’s really the President’s bottom line? Has he gone as far as he can go?
Leader Pelosi. When you said that they exchanged, are you talking about the next proposal [of] the President before?
Q: The last. Yeah, the last offers that were…
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, this is so out of context for me, I don’t know, I think that if we can come to the table, iron out differences, that’s how we’ll find out what everybody’s bottom line is. But the real bottom line is, is that the American people are working today and where is the Congress? Why [have] we not finished this task? We’ve had week after week of two day sessions, two and a half day sessions, and now we’re leaving, or perhaps we’re leaving, it’s unknown, nobody knows what’s going on around here in terms of schedule, but the fact is that we’re coming to the end of the line in terms of this year and the bottom line is we’ve got to get it done, we’ve got to avoid the cliff, we’ve got to avoid the downgrading of our credit rating, we have to avoid the cuts that will undermine our investments in the future, whether it’s infrastructure, education, and the rest. And by the way, those are the kind of investments that bring more money to the Treasury.
In a conversation that I’ve had with the President, most recently last night, I know that he believes that we must avoid the cliff and we need to get something done and is there, I cannot explain to anybody what the path that Republicans took this week was about. What was that about? And I’ve said to you before: what were they trying to prove? First they had the $250,000, it was going to be on the floor, I knew that, that would prove that it would win, that the Republicans would vote for it. And that’s why they pulled it. And so then they had their million dollar plan, $50,000 Christmas gift to people making over a million dollars a year and paid for by a thousand dollar increase in the middle class.
So, when the President asked me: “what is the mood? How do you see this from your perspective there?” I said to him, what I say to you: “I don’t know what their bottom line is, I don’t know if they know what their bottom line is.” And it would be interesting for them to tell you what their bottom line is. If their bottom line is, you know, what I just described about the bill yesterday: $50,000 if you make over a million dollars, $1,000 [tax hike] if you’re middle class, if you’re a senior, no Meals on Wheels, if you’re a child your access to nutrition and food is greatly reduced to the tune of 20 million children, no UI, no SGR, which is the ticket for seniors to have access to Medicare, no AMT, I mean it’s, it’s not responsible, and it’s not clear to see what the path might be, but I still have confidence in the Speaker, and in some in his Caucus, that ideology and doctrinaire approaches to this are fine when you’re campaigning at home, but when you come to table you have a responsibility to legislate, be representative of your district and try to influence the decision to the extent that you can, but to find a solution. And that’s what we must do.
Okay, want to go to guns?
Q: So, my question is about the NRA’s news conference this afternoon here in Washington, Wayne LaPierre called on Congress to pass legislation so that armed officers are in each school throughout America – there is like 90,000 schools in America, cost about $5 billion, do any of you think that that’s a good idea?
Vice Chairman Crowley. Well, I’ll just start off, maybe, on this. I think it’s an incredibly false notion to think that simply by having armed guards in our schools that somehow that will deter someone who is dead on going to try to take, not only the lives of other people, but in this case and other cases, themselves as well. And I think it’s just the exact opposite direction the American people want us to move in. They want us to look in this, I think, at this issue holistically as it pertains to the issues of guns and who has access to them, as well as the mental health issues that we’re facing in this country? I think those, in the holistic way, we’ll look at this in a more rational way. I think the way in which the NRA is approaching this now is irrational and I think that the American people understand that. They were expecting, I think the people were expecting a completely different response. And I think what we’re looking for from the NRA is a more collaborative approach. What can you bring? What can you talk about today that can help us move the country forward. That was not done today by that press conference.
Whip Hoyer. Let me say that I do not believe those remarks represent anywhere near a significant portion of America. I don’t believe, frankly, that they represent necessarily the majority of views of responsible members of the National Rifle Association who want guns to hunt, want guns to protect their home and their house, and yes, to our children. But the recommendation of an arms escalation in America is not, I think, the solution that the American people believe makes common sense. I am very hopeful that we will go in a direction which will say that these weapons of mass killing capability will be limited, the magazines will be limited, and that yes, we will make sure that people who have access to dangerous weapons in fact are mentally healthy to the extent that we can get there. But I do not think that those remarks, which I think were unfortunate, represent even the majority of his own members. I would be surprised if that were the case. Certainly, do not represent the views of the overwhelming majority of the American public.
Leader Pelosi. I was in the funeral service for Senator Inouye when Mr. LaPierre made his remarks, so I did not hear fully the context of it, and I will. But I did hear that he also said: “one way to stop a bad man with a gun, is a good man with a gun” and as Whip Hoyer said, that escalation is something that is not positive, is not a positive force. We know that this is complicated. We also know that not – 90 some percent, high 90s, percent, of people who have been diagnosed, or have a mental illness, do not engage in violent activity. So we’re talking about, you know all of a sudden it’s just the mentally ill who are responsible for this. No, it isn’t. There are some people who are on, who have impaired judgment, and who may be mentally ill, but we’re talking about a small percentage of the American people.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do more to address the issue of mental illness and how we care for it. That’s why we passed the mental parity bill when Patrick Kennedy was here and that’s why we have in the Affordable Care Act parity for mental illness there. It’s very important. But for the NRA and others to sort of shield themselves by saying it’s the mentally ill, or something, and therefore we have to have more armed cops in the schools, or more guns in the school – what do they want to have it on the teacher’s desk? Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, man with a gun – I have it locked up some place, wait until I go get it. I mean, this is, it just doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to reduce violence.
So, we’ve been having a number of meetings about the reduction of violence in our society, the challenge that we have with addressing mental illness and its relationship to every issue, and also the fact that as you know, as we gathered here over a hundred and thirty Democrats, at least, are co-sponsors of legislation to ban the high capacity, what we call assault magazines that enable somebody to have 30 shots instead of 10, which 10 seems like a lot to me but at least it gives somebody a fighting chance. And then to look at an assault weapons ban – all of these things are being considered, that’s why I named a person who is a hunter, a Vietnam vet – an injured Vietnam vet – Mike Thompson to sort of coordinate, channel the energy of our Caucus. That’s why we met with youth violence community the other night under the leadership of Bobby Scott to hear what some of the concerns are – but you know what it all kept coming back to? We understand the issues of mental health, we understand about youth violence and the rest, but you’ve got to get rid of these high performance guns. You just – I mean, magazines, whatever you call them, I called them a clip once and they told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about, it was magazine. So, whatever you want to call it, they are very, very dangerous. And so, again, very thoughtfully and prayerfully, and carefully, we approached this to say: we’re making all these cuts in SAMSA and the rest, where the mental health issues are addressed.
And they need to be addressed, of themselves in addition to their relationship to gun violence. And we have to address the issue of violence in our society and the glorification of it in some cases. And we have to address the actual issue of how do we give a fair chance – as I said to you all yesterday, a couple of days ago, if anyone of us, and anyone of you, had a chance to pull that magazine out of the hands of that shooter to protect those kids you would do it. Now, we have the opportunity to do it, not only, physically, but legislatively, to take that out of their hands. And as Ron Barber, you know Congressman Barber, who was Gabby Giffords, Congresswoman Giffords Assistant who was wounded that day as she was. He has said to us: “I’ve thought this through, I’ve had 30 years of mental health experience,” in terms of working in that community, “and I understand the gun violence issue and I think the only way to keep the high performance magazines out of the hands of people with mental health challenges is to keep them out of the hands of everyone.”
So, again, this – I look forward to seeing the full statement – do you want to read the tweet that our colleague Chris Murphy, he came out of funeral, and here’s what he tweeted, Congressman Murphy represents the district of Newtown, that Newtown is in, he said: “walking out of another funeral, and was handed the NRA transcript, the most revolting, toned – excuse me – the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.” “Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript, the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.”
So, thank you all very much…