Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, House Democratic Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, Congressman Steve Israel, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen held a press stakeout minutes before House Republicans failed to act to prevent a government shutdown by refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution to keep the government operating. Below are the Leader’s opening remarks, followed by the question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi. I’d like to say ‘good evening,’ but it isn’t a very good evening. As we gather here, right near Statuary Hall, I’m reminded that President Washington when he was leaving office cautioned against political parties that were at war with their own government and here we are tonight. And you know what they are planning to do. If you don’t, [Congressman] Chris Van Hollen who’s the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee for the House Democrats and has led us with great – based on values and to reduce the deficit and create jobs. I’m going to yield to [Congressman] Chris [Van Hollen] because he will give perspective to what is happening tonight and why it is not a good evening.
[Congressman] Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
[Congressman Van Hollen Speaks]
Q: What were your emotions at this hour?
Leader Pelosi. Anybody else with a question?
Q: Well, what are your emotions?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we always reward you because you’re always there but…
Q: When you walked up, I mean, it seemed like you guys were very somber. You walked very quiet, you didn’t have very happy looks on your face.
Whip Hoyer. We’re unhappy. We do not want the government to shutdown. We have said that consistently. The government hasn’t shutdown for 17 years. The last time the government shutdown is when the Republicans were in charge of the House [of Representatives]. Seventeen years later, the Republicans are in charge of the House [of Representatives] and they are focused on shutting down government if we do not meet their demands.
I think Mr. Van Hollen has stated it very clearly: that we have been willing to go to conference. The purpose of a conference is to reach a compromise, to reach an agreement as the American people expect their Members of Congress to do. They understand in their own lives that they don’t get it all their way. If you’re a husband, or if you’re a wife, or if you’re child, or a parent, you know you don’t get it your way all of the time.
And so, we’re unhappy because we think that shutting down the government will hurt the economy, hurt the national security, undermine any morale that is left of our federal workers and do what the American people don’t want done, and that is to shutdown government. They want efficient, effective, cost-effective government, but they don’t want to shut it down.
Q: Leader Pelosi, do you see any way out of this at this point? Do you see a path? It seems like Speaker Boehner is digging in now saying go to conference to wrap it up, give a clean CR.
Leader Pelosi. Well I think what I think the Speaker is doing is doubling and tripling down a path that was always intended to take us to shutting down government. They have wiggled this way and that to keep being very resourceful in how they come up with ways to shutdown government. Because as [Senator] Harry Reid says: ‘they don’t believe government, they’re anti-government ideologues who are the Tea Party shutdown of government.’
The ways it would be to simply go to the floor and agree to the Senate language which by the way, is their language to remind. This is their language. They had two things they wanted to do. They wanted the $986 [billion] number, and they wanted to overturn the Affordable Care Act. That hasn’t succeeded. And now we are saying to them: ‘we are willing to accept your number for the purpose of going to the table.’ Keep government open and go to the table. They’re saying: “we are rejecting our own number because that shuts down government and only then, will we go to the table.”
Q: Leader Pelosi, what is the next step? And how long do you think, do you anticipate the government being closed now that we know it is going to happen.
Leader Pelosi. Well, hopefully something will happen in the next 40 minutes. But remember what this is. [Senator] Harry Reid talked about it meant to people going to parks and bringing their families and the rest and what it means to the people who work there, not getting a paycheck. These are consumers. This is going to hurt the economy by eliminating the demand that those paychecks inject into the economy.
So, it’s about everything that we do that is good for the common good when you shutdown and taking away the purchasing of those who perform those tasks for the government. Actually, their $986 [billion] number takes more than billions of dollars out of the National Institutes of Health, Meals on Wheels, kids on head-start. It’s brutal, it’s brutal. But even for the sake of keeping government open for six weeks, we’re willing to accept that. But what they’re doing is a luxury our country cannot afford, this anti-government ideology. And what is their point? What is the answer that they would give when we say: ‘why are you not taking yes for an answer? Why are you not accepting your own number?’
Q: Given the impact that you just talked about of the shutdown, to get out of the shutdown, could Democrats accept any small, narrow change to Obamacare at all?
Leader Pelosi. No. In this setting, in other words, we always think that any bill that is passed can be improved upon. We will see how it operates. Is it effective? Does it have consequences that can be improved upon? But you do not use the threat of shutting down government to try to advance your policy agenda. That is just not the way it works. And that’s what is called irresponsible and that is why this is the Tea Party Government Shutdown because it is that ideological, anti-government. That is what this is about. But you know what? This is bigger than the Affordable Care Act. This is their way of saying: “we are going to have a new order here.”
First, as the Ranking Member said: “we don’t want to negotiate with the President.” When the President said: “how would you like go forward?” They said: “we want the regular order,” which means Members of Congress negotiating with Members of Congress, reconciling our differences and going forward. We all welcome that and then as soon as the bills pass both houses, they walked away from it. This is a proxy fight the debate, the extent of government. And that has been a debate in the history of our country. But to say: “no government,” well that’s what President Washington cautioned against.
I want to call on other Members to anticipate or respond to some of what they heard already.
Congressman Israel. Well, I’m Steve Israel from New York. The Congress of chronic chaos continues tomorrow. In my home state, the Statute of Liberty will have a “closed” sign. The last time that happened was because of a hurricane. This time it is happening because of Republican ideology. And it is unforgivable. Second point is this: the American people deserves two things, a government that stays open and a Congress that communicates. Our view is that we should keep the government open and communicate with a conference. The Republican view is: you can only do one; you can talk but close the government. And the American people deserve better than that.
Q: Madam Leader, do you support the language in their bill that ends the subsidy for Congressional staffers and lawmakers?
Leader Pelosi. No. I do not.
Q: Why not?
Whip Hoyer. First of all, as I said a little earlier, that’s not a real issue. The issue her is whether we keep government on behalf of the American people open. That’s a distraction and not real. And very frankly, in my view, the people who offered that don’t believe it.
Leader Pelosi. And you know what else? They are fakers. They want that to not prevail because it harms them but they want us to vote against it over and over again.
Whip Hoyer. But we ought not to be distracted of the issue. The issue is whether the Congress of the United States will take responsibility for what the American people expect of us and that is make sure the government is open serving them, serving them effectively and not abandoning them. That is what this issue is about.
There was an election. And that election had two basic issues: one was revenues and one was health care. President Obama won that election. They are in denial about that fact. They don’t have the presidency, they don’t have the Senate. And as [Former Speaker] Newt Gingrich said, when he made an agreement with President Clinton to fund the government and he had a lot of his right-wing say: “we don’t want any agreement with [President] Clinton.” He said: “I want to speak to my perfectionist caucus.” Speaking right at those who were objecting to the deal he made, the agreement he made, the compromise he made. Now, it wasn’t a conference per say, but it was an agreement. What he said to them was: “Look, we cannot have it all our own way because the American people have elected a Democratic President, Bill Clinton. Democrats and Republicans and United States Senators don’t agree with us and Democrats of the House of Representatives don’t agree with us. We’ve got to compromise.” [Former Speaker] Newt Gingrich was right then. [Speaker] John Boehner ought to follow his advice now.
Leader Pelosi. No, his advice now is not suitable.
Whip Hoyer. That advice.
Leader Pelosi. That advice, yes.
Assistant Leader Clyburn. Well, I think there’s something else that we seem to be missing here. I know that this all about keeping government for our constituents. This is all about having the parks open and serving people.
Leader Pelosi. That’s right.
Assistant Leader Clyburn. But you know, the last time we had a serious discussion like this. We got downgraded. Stand and Poor’s downgraded. Today, they are now saying this is the reason they downgraded, because they saw this coming and I think that this is what’s going to cost the country, more than anything else, to have this kind of brinksmanship in having the rating authorities view it as just that.
Q: What’s this mean for the debt ceiling?
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Clyburn, could you?
Q: Mr. Becerra?
Chairman Becerra. Can I – I would only say one thing. I know from talking to some of the folks back home in Los Angeles, and I have a very working class district, there are a whole bunch of Members of Congress who are just not putting themselves in the shoes of the average American. The average American doesn’t understand all of the political shenanigans going on. But they do understand that they have to get up and go to work, otherwise they can’t pay their bills. Clearly, we have a Congress, a Republican-run House that is out of touch and out of control.
Whip Hoyer. Some of those folks that I represent are federal employees, who they want to send home without a paycheck.
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Crowley – oh excuse me. You.
Vice Chairman Crowley. Joe Crowley from New York. Is anyone really shocked that the governments going to shut down? This has been a part of their plan all along. I like to think that we weren’t going to come to this. But this has been their plan from the get go. It’s what they want to do. And they’re going to be, they’re going to accomplish that. You asked before: we seem down. Of course we’re down, we don’t want the government to shut down. We know – this is not the, this is nothing about the issue about Members of Congress, this is about the health and safety of our country.
We have men and women who are veterans of this country, who are concerned about getting their benefits. We have people who want to go on Social Security and Medicare and now the concern is whether or not they’ll make the application for that. We have first time homebuyers who will not be able to purchase a government backed security. We also know that the American taxpayers continue to pay tax to this government and are going to get less for it. That’s what this shut down is about: the American taxpayer paying their taxes cause they don’t stop paying their taxes cause the government shuts down, what happens is they get less for the tax they give to this country. That’s what this is about. It’s outrageous that we would play these types of games with the American people. It’s about the health and safety of this country. And the Republican Conference is letting this country down.
Q: Madam Leader, you spoke with the President today, what would you say his role in the process is?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. This is about Congress doing its job. And what I have said to the President and I’ve said to the Speaker and I’ve said to the chamber: we extend the hand of friendship, we are willing to accept your number in order for us to keep government open, in order to proceed to the table to reconcile our differences. That is the regular order you requested, we’re going to the table with your number, why won’t you take ‘yes, yes’ for an answer?
Will you wrap up please, for us, Mr. Van Hollen?
Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, thank you Madam Leader. I just hope all of you will ask the Speaker of the House why he is absolutely refusing to negotiate on the budget since last March and April when the House and the Senate had a budget. And the reasons pretty clear, it’s become clearer in the last 48 hours, even more, which is if you want to have a negotiation on the budget, you’ve got to compromise. And the Speaker recognized that his Tea Party Members in this House of Representatives would refuse to accept any compromise in those negotiations and that the only way that they thought they could get something is to drive the country to the brink. To drive the country to a government shut down and next stage, to say that we’re going to default on our obligations if they don’t get their way.
So now, at this twelve hour, instead of keeping the government open, they won’t to go to a conference on the CR which is guaranteed to shut down the government. So, let’s keep the government open. Let’s go to conference on the budget, as we’ve been calling for, for six-months and actually, compromise. Something that the Tea Party House, obviously, is absolutely unwilling to do because they’re answering the call of Senator Cruz and a very extreme right-wing faction of the Republican Party. And we need to get over that and get on with the business of the whole country.
Q: Mr. Hoyer, are you surprised that they never did – the call never did come from the Republican’s for help from the Democratic-side for a vote? For a vote on the CR?
Whip Hoyer. Yes, yes.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we’ve offered that help and they’ve turned it down.
Whip Hoyer. Because it’s the reasonable thing to do.
Leader Pelosi. We’ve offered that help and they’ve turned it down.
Whip Hoyer. Thank you.