Oxford – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered an address to the Oxford Union and participated in a question and answer session with students at Oxford University. Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi’s remarks and the question and answer session:
“Thank you all very much. Thank you, Joseph for your kind introduction. Thank you Cai Wilshaw for your invitation to be here, and other Presidents of the Oxford Union Board – Union Society – for invitations over time, I’m glad that I could accept now. I’m really absolutely delighted to be here. It’s so wonderful to see all of you. I look out of here and I think I’m looking into the future because the future is yours, the decisions you make about it will affect us for centuries to come.
“It’s an honor to be here at Oxford where freedom of speech has been the order of the day. My understanding is you’re celebrating the 190th anniversary this year – 1823, year it came into being, a time when all things, lots of things were changing. In this area as well, this area meaning London and England and where that in far reaches of – I don’t think they called it the U.K. at the time, but science, I think the word ‘scientist’ was a very new word at that time. And the word ‘scientist’ can sometimes connote some controversy.
“At that time Darwin was setting out to go to South America – ‘Origin of Species’ – he didn’t even publish that for decades later because it would be controversial at the time in the intellectual societies of the day because of the religious view that they might have had about creation and his view on evolution. So, the fact that he establishes a bastion of free speech came just in time, it came just in time. It came at a time when the romantic era of poets were asking the scientists to think in poetic terms about their discoveries and the scientists would say to the poets: ‘write more about science.’ And so you have about the stars, and the future, and the horizon, and the rest of that. You had Mary Shelley writing ‘Frankenstein’ around that time, it was a really, it was really an interesting time. And as I say: ‘a perfect time for a bastion of free speech to come into existence.’
“I do believe that free speech is the most fundamental of all rights and it is the protector of every right in a free society. So, thank you to the Oxford Union Society for your commitment to freedom.
“I come here as the Leader of the House Democratic Caucus. I’m very proud to have that title. There are other titles that I have had that I think I’d prefer…
“But, let me say this. I was at a dinner talk, listening to the students and hearing that – actually Joseph is the first in the, in the first, last five leaders of the union to be a white male.
Mr. D’Urso. Second of the last six.
“Second of the last six. So anyway, the diversity at the top of the society is something to be commended and recognized. And I congratulate you for it. And I want you to know that I’m so proud to be Leader of the House Democrats because the House Democratic Caucus – think of this, in the history of the world this has, in the history of civilization, this has never happened that a Caucus of a major party in a parliamentary body would be a majority of women, minorities, and LGBT community members. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Think of the beautiful diversity of thinking that we have with our male colleagues in the Congress. Think of how different it has become and how more reflective it is of our country. You’re a representative, and that is our title, the House of Representatives.
“We have a commitment in our Caucus to the American Dream. We say: ‘reigniting the American Dream is our goal,’ and giving people an – ‘building ladders of opportunity for people who want to work hard, play by the rules, take responsibility, they should have a chance at the American Dream.’ And part of that is to strengthen the middle class. The middle class is the backbone of our democracy. So, it is all connected.
“What I thought I’d like to do this evening is to say a few words first, and then hear your questions, about the future and the challenges to the middle class. No less a thinker, and so long ago, thousands of years ago, Aristotle said: ‘thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well administered in which the middle class is large, and strong.’ Aristotle. Think about it.
“Right here at, here at Oxford, one of your illustrious graduates and professors, Arnold Toynbee, he wrote about how societies thrive that met their challenges. And we see today, in our country, some challenges which we certainly will address, certainly overcome, but to the strength of the middle class. When he wrote about history, civilization, of the story of history – any number of his volumes on the subject, so much of it taught here, he said, he talked about when a civilization, or a society, a country, whatever, came into existence, he talked about Rome as a civil – different entity to civilization’s, but safe countries, he said: ‘at the beginning of a country, there was a creative minority that inspires and leads the flowering of the civilization, that the power of this governing,’ he called it ‘creative minority,’ that it wasn’t minority as the majority, minority, it was the few who would govern and lead, and people like you in a society. When they were about a creative minority, a flowering civilization – people flourished – and it was all very positive.
“But, he said sometimes they went to what was called the ‘dominant minority,’ the ‘exploiters,’ focused primarily on sustaining, expanding their own wealth and power. And when governments became more like that a society would begin its decline. That shift in mindset cause some schism in the body politic, whether it was a schism of the body, the body social, as he referenced – or schism in the soul. But you see, you know, you see signs of this in some of the polarization of the debate in our country. But, we have every intention of overcoming. And he also said, and that’s where I want to spring from, that ‘societies thrived that addressed the challenges that they faced.’ They made a decision to address the challenges that they face.
“A few challenges that I want to talk to you, briefly, about tonight are challenges to the middle class, which is the challenge to undermine the democracy, of course, a threat to the American Dream. Why is income disparity, income disparity – this is just, just a remarkable thing that is happening in our country. After World War II, middle class rule – all kinds of reasons for that – in the ‘70s and ‘80s, just let me give you this quote from a Professor, the Chairman of Standard Oil from New Jersey, now a big mucky-muck, right? He was. He talked about, he’s the Chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, his name is Frank Abrams, and he talked about stakeholder capitalism and his quote, and I will read it so it’s exact: ‘the job of management is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly affected groups: stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large.’ What has happened since then is there’s been a shift to shareholder capitalism which is just about the shareholder, and not about the other stakeholders. And that has made a difference.
“And some of the difference it has made, well, just to go back to the ‘80s at that time, Tom Peters, in his book ‘In Search of Excellence,’ he wrote: ‘only when we look at excellent companies do we see full employment policies in time of recession’ – full employment policies in time of recession – ‘caring runs in the veins of the managers of these companies.’
“So, there you are. So, it’s postwar, up to ‘70s. What happened in the ‘80s, in the ‘80s – again, not my word – the Federal Reserve of the United States reported that, in the ‘70s, Chief Executive Officers of the major, 102 major companies, they met. The Chief Executive Officers made about 40 times what the average – the average CEO made 40 times what the average worker made in the country.
“Today, in the 2000s let’s say, in the 2000s, CEOs of big companies have enjoyed a meteoric rise. Their average compensation is 367 times more than the average worker. Now think of that disparity of income. You have a situation where over time a CEO, worker, and productivity – worker pay and productivity – all were rising about the same rate. Of course there was difference between the CEO and the worker in responsibility, in risk taking, and therefore in the compensation. But, they all were on a path and then all of a sudden, come the ‘90s and the 2000s and the CEO pay goes like this…
[Leader Pelosi raises hand]
“The worker pay goes like this…
[Leader Pelosi lowers hand]
“While productivity is going like that…
[Leader Pelosi raises hand]
“So, productivity is increasing, but the CEO took the benefit and did not share it with the worker. That income disparity is a – it undermines the middle class, the hope of people who achieved the American Dream, and even for some who aspire to become part of the middle class.
“This is exacerbated by another disparity, which is a disparity in education. Where you see opportunities for education being so different, and one of the reason I’m in politics is because my husband Paul and I – my husband is here – we have five children, we saw all the opportunity that they had, all the tender love and care, encouragement, self-esteem, and the rest. Why shouldn’t that be there for all of America’s children? But in America, one in five children lives in poverty. One in four goes to sleep at night hungry. You can’t learn when you haven’t eaten. And some of my friends, like my college roommates, Rita Meyer and Celia Haggerty are here, are helping to work in addressing that in the nonprofit and private realm. But we have a public role to play there and it is something that, again, has an impact on the earning power. These same CEOs, by the way, who were making all this money, are some of the leading people opposing an increase in the minimum wage. Opposing other initiatives that help poor people, families educate their children, again, exacerbating the disparity.
“And the final line, but we can go into more in our Q and A, of the three that I wanted to highlight tonight, is the issue of money in politics. Everything we do we try to be true to what the vows of our founders, they sacrificed their lives, their liberty, their sacred honor to establish America. And they did that for a government, a democracy, a government of the many, not a government of the money. But that is what is evolving in the U.S.
“So, I have issued a dare on this subject: disclose – D.A.R.E., dare – disclose. Where’s this money coming from that the Supreme Court says anyone can give and not tell where it’s coming from, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns? Disclose. Amend the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision. It’s not in furtherance of a democracy. Reform the system, take the role of money way down, way down from where it is now. And empower people, the same people that these hundreds of millions of dollars suffocating the airwaves by buying all the time – suffocating the airwaves, are the same who advanced techniques to suppress the vote. That’s not in furtherance of a strengthening of democracy, strengthening the middle class
“So, again, true to the balance – everything we do has to be true to the vows of our founders, their vision that they had for America, which we’re very proud. True to the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform to protect people that work hard, risk everything to make us the home of the brave and the land of the free in America, and to the aspirations of our children. That’s what we have to be about.
“I’m speaking to you in a macro way about how we have to address these issues. In a micro way, immediately when I return home, well not home, but to Washington tomorrow – home is San Francisco, California – but when I return to Washington tomorrow we go into session. And a couple of the issues we’ll be dealing with right now that are in the news are about immigration and guns – and relating those to some things I’ve talked about already. It’s about how we meet our challenges, how we meet our challenges.
“We have a moral – you have to build confidence, confidence in our economy by creating good paying jobs for many more people. We have to build confidence in the safety of our communities by passing gun violence prevention initiatives. And we will stay with it until we do. It’s about building confidence in who we are as a people. We are a nation of immigrants, respectful of our Native American population, but by and large a nation of immigrants in passing comprehensive immigration reform, we must do that. And again, we are a democracy, and we have to reduce the role of money, so that the impact on all the other challenges that we have is really more about the voice of the many, again, not the strength of the money.
“Taking us back to Toynbee, where he said: ‘it’s about the flowering of civilization that empowers people, not about people who are in power using it for more money, more power for themselves.’ It’s not a good formula for the future.
“So, as I say, I look at you, I see the future, you are the future. Know your own power in shaping it. Thank you for the invitation to be here. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.”
Mr. D’Urso: Thank you so much for your speech. I was going to start by asking, so your role as Speaker involves getting your party, getting your Caucus to vote in a particular way and sort of getting bills to be passed through the House of Representatives. I was wondering if, for example, with the example of the health care act, if you could talk us through how – what the process was. How you did that, how you got so many people on board to eventually getting it passed into legislation?
Leader Pelosi. Thank you Joseph for your question. I’ll try to be brief because I know that we want to hear from some of our friends in the audience as well, and I am so happy that so many of you are here. When President Obama became President – and we are so proud of our great President of the United States – when he became President, his presentation was about putting forth a budget for our country that reduced the deficit, lowered taxes on the middle class, and created jobs in three pillars.
One was education and innovation because innovation begins in the classroom and our competitiveness and job creation was directly related, good paying jobs to education. Second was health care. Four million jobs will come from the Affordable Care Act and it was necessary – but I’ll talk more about that in a second and get back to it. And third was energy independence and green technologies; innovation once again. That would be about two million jobs, in that initiative from him.
So, it was job creating on top of the three and a half million jobs that were saved or created in the American – what we call our the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. So, it was about jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs in every way.
For some of us who have been in Congress a longer time than President Obama, and we welcomed his initiative to make health care a right for everyone in America, not just a privilege – for a few. The health care had to be passed, if for no other – if everybody loved their health care and their insurance company, which wasn’t the case, it had to be passed because the funding situation was unsustainable. It was unaffordable for families, for small businesses, for big businesses – it was a competitiveness issue. How can we compete in the world when we have the anvil of all of that increasing unpredictable cost? It certainly was unsustainable for government, for the federal government, local governments, and the rest. There had to be a way to make it more accessible, more affordable, more quality, but also at a lower cost. And that’s why we decided to go forward with the Affordable Care Act.
For us it was a matter of consensus. We did it by way of something called ‘the regular order.’ Three committees in the House and three in the Senate worked their will, taking amendments from Democrats and Republicans. Many Republican amendments were accepted. We didn’t get any votes for them, but if they had a good idea, many were accepted, some were moderated, some were not accepted – the same treatment as we gave to Democratic amendments.
We built consensus as to how this would work in different regions of the country, in different ethnic groups, ending disparities in income between ethnic groups – excuse me, disparities in health care. There was a big disparity in health care that the bill served to address. It was about wellness, it was about prevention, it was about innovation, it was a market-oriented initiative and it scared the special interests to death.
So, they spent a fortune: $200 million dollars. I was telling some friends earlier, to lobby against the bill while it was being debated. Two hundred million dollars, that’s a lot of money in a short period of time, especially when it goes unanswered because we had, we didn’t have that kind of money to go against it. The result is the bill does, as I said, prevention, innovation, it’s about rewarding quality of care, not quantity of procedures, about value, not volume, and it’s a beautiful thing. And, we did it mostly by – we did it by consensus.
I’ll just tell you this one closing thing, unless you have some follow up in q and a, when the press would come to me all of the time and they would say: “how are you going to get this passed, nobody believes you are going to pass this health care bill?” And I said: “you know, this is our challenge to our generation, we had Social Security in the ‘30s, Medicare in the ‘60s, and affordable care – health care for all American’s as a right not a privilege now. So, we’re not missing this opportunity. Every president since Franklin – excuse me – Teddy Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, around the same time Bismarck was doing it in Germany, Teddy Roosevelt was trying to do it here in the United States, and it never succeeded – until now, and we are not going to miss this opportunity – well, how are you going to do it?” I said: “Well, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to go up to the gate and move anything that stands in our way. We are going to go up the gate and try to push open, and if the gate doesn’t open, we’re going to climb the fence. If the fence is too high, we’re going to pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’re going to parachute in, but we’re not letting anything stand in the way of health care as a right in America, for all Americans.”
So after it was over, they said: “So which one did you do?”
And I said: “well actually, what we did was pushed open the gate.” Because so many people cared so much about getting this done, regardless of what the polls show, or the anti-campaigns misrepresenting the facts about the bill, the special interests that did not – especially the health insurance industry, that did not want this to happen. No matter what they say or whatever, we have our responsibility, and we had the votes to push it open.
But we were not alone. We had – whether it was the nuns who were helping us on their end, whether it was the grassroots people, whether it was health care providers, whether it was families who had someone, or a child with a preexisting medical condition, whatever it was, they were all there pushing the gate open with us. And that’s how we got the gate open.
The day after we passed the bill, I spoke to the President that night, but the next day he called and said: “You know, I was happier – when you passed that bill last night, I was happier than I was the night I was elected President of the United States,” which is a beautiful thought, and that’s how he is – you know, he’s there for a reason. I said: “well, I was pretty happy last night, too, Mr. President. But I wasn’t happier than when you were elected President.
If you weren’t elected President of the United States, then we wouldn’t have had your inspiration, your leadership, your signature on this legislation.” But it took everything for us to get it done. We’re very proud of it. And as it goes into – much of it is in effect now. If you’re, until twenty-six years old, you can be on your parent’s policy. If you’re a child, you are no longer discriminated against. If you have a pre-existing condition, seniors get more benefits under Medicare. The list goes on of what is already in effect, but certainly the best is yet to come. So, we’re very proud of that. That’s how – that’s part of how we got it done.
Mr. D’Urso. Who has questions for her?
Leader Pelosi. You? Up, up – you’re up, Joseph.
Q: Good evening…
Mr. D’Usro. Sorry. Can you get the microphone?
Q: Good evening and thank you so much again for coming. I was so interested in what you had to say about lobbying and the Hill, and the problems of money in politics in America. And now, it’s become so pertinent with the recent gun control debate and that’s something which is I think foreign, quite foreign to us here. And I was just wondering with the debt campaign, whether you think it’s going to be successful, why you think there’s so much resistance to reforming the lobbying system and how reform will come about?
Leader Pelosi. So, you want me to talk about guns and about the lobbying? All of it? Ok.
That was quite a comprehensive question.
And I appreciate it very much. I – we’re not giving up on guns. The fact is, is that we take an oath to protect – do you mind if I stand up Joseph, so I can see – we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution but all that the Constitution stands for. This is our first responsibility. Anybody in public life in America takes an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and all the rights contained therein. And we absolutely believe it is our moral responsibility to protect our children and our families in their homes, in their schools, in their workplaces, in our country, and in our communities at large. And, this – we passed the bill in the ‘90s, it was hard. We lost the first vote but then we came back and passed it.
So, I will tell you that, regardless of the money in politics, the fear that is instilled by the National Rifle Association and the National Gun Owners of America and all of that – for us, it is inevitable that we will have a gun bill, a gun prevention bill. It may seem inconceivable to them, but we will shorten the distance between the inevitable to us, and the inconceivable to them. This is very important.
I – we’re all very disappointed in the vote in the Senate. How could they not – this was a compromise bill. I mean, we wanted a ban on atomic – assault weapons, on assault weapons; we passed that in the ‘90s. Many of my colleagues lost their seats in Congress because they voted for it, but, they came back to us after the election and said: “I would do it again, if it’s going to save lives. What’s more important, my political survival or saving the lives of the American people?”
So, they felt very comfortable where they were. These people who voted against? “No. We wanted to ban assault weapons.” Ok they said: “That’s going too far.” We want to ban high capacity magazines, thirty shots, all that, they say: “Well, we can’t go there.” So, we said: “Ok, if you’re going to have high capacity and you’re going to have assault weapons, you must have strong background checks.” They couldn’t even compromise on that bill, but it’s a good bill. It’s not better or best, but it’s a good bill and they couldn’t even vote for a compromise, of a compromise, of a compromise. And, that’s just reckless.
So, we are just going to keep doing, beating the drum. Ninety percent of the American people – 93 percent of the American people support strong background check legislation. Their voices have just not been heard by some people in Congress. There is nothing more eloquent to a Member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituents. So, they have to hear it from them, not from us trying to persuade, just trying to build understanding: “What’s your problem? What are your questions?” But, they have to hear from their constituents and we believe that we can shorten [the distance at] that time.
I believe that the role of money, just to get down to your broader question, has to be addressed. It’s ridiculous that there would be so much money weighing in on the political process, and on fear. People are afraid, and people say: “Well, they’re afraid of the NRA because of the money they are going to spend against them in an election Who cares? We care about the fear that those little children had in their eyes when a gunman came into their classroom.” Who among us is so indispensable that we can’t save children’s lives because we want to save our own political life? And that applies in many of the areas, and it’s more, shall we say, “pronounced” when we are talking about guns and safety, your political safety, or the children’s safety.
But it also applies on immigration reform, Wall Street reform, health care reform, any other subject that you can name. The biggest casualty of all of it is the hope and aspirations of the American people. If they start to see that their voice is not important because money diminishes their voice and that weakens a democracy. We are there to strengthen it and so that’s a fight that we’ll have.
Just take it way down, remove all doubt from the public’s mind that every person’s voice is as valuable as anyone else’s voice. So, it’s a decision that says, Toynbee says: “Face your challenges.” To do that you have to decide to do it, we believe that we can put together the package that can be successful [inaudible].
Any other questions, Joseph?
Mr. D’Urso. The gentleman here…
Leader Pelosi. See, one of the powers of being Leader, or Speaker, is that you have the power of recognition. So that gives you a lot of power, who you recognize. But sometimes, some people are not happy with the recognition, so I will lean on that power to Joseph.
Q: [Inaudible comment mentioning San Francisco]
Leader Pelosi. Up. You know that it’s Heaven on Earth, huh?
Q: My question is about 2014. And you talked about some of the issues the Democratic Party has a high ground on let’s say, and operating in, you know, with the system that you have now, with the amount of money that’s in politics. How do we take that and create a majority House again? And do you think that’s possible? How do you go about doing that? How do you take that strong message that we have to the people and let the people know about the message of the Democratic Party?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I didn’t really come here to talk politics in this venerable institution of freedom of speech and [the] political arena.
But I don’t want to avoid your question. But really, we believe that if we – the message of reform is a very important one to the American people. And I almost – I think it’s important for the Democrats to win the House. Don’t get me wrong. But I do think what’s more important in an election is how the issues are addressed and what, what the majority – whoever they are, address those issues. For example, in the election of 2012 we didn’t win, but on the subject of immigration reform, 70 percent of the Hispanic community – sorry – 70 percent of the Hispanic community voted Democratic. Well, that did something to clear the thinking of the Republicans on the subject of immigration.
They weren’t there and now they are and we will have a bill. So, there was a success there and that’s really why we’re there. It’s about policy more than politics. Politics are a means to get your policy to prevail, whether that’s by winning the election or by winning on the issues in the election. So, I am going to work my heart out and do everything possible for the Democrats to win, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s really more important to make sure we have an honest discussion of the issues, so that the American people weigh in. It goes to your question, it goes to every question.
Abraham Lincoln said: “Public sentiment is everything.” And if you have the public sentiment on the side of the future and bipartisanship, that’s on the ballot too. You know, our names are on the ballot and our parties are on the ballot, but bipartisanship and cooperation are on the ballot too. And they would – that would come in first in the election, but obstruction is the order of the day. We’re saying: “Vote for us, or send a vote that says cooperate, and I think our country will be well served and our political system will have done its job.” That’s about as political as I will get at the moment. I could see you after about it.
Mr. D’Urso. Anyone there in the back corner?
Leader Pelosi. I bet I can see everybody.
Q: Hi. Thanks so much for being here. Talking about gun control is a pretty big issue, you know, anybody can buy and what I mean is that in both the Senate and the House, the structure of the Senate allows for passing [bill only under a 60 seats majority] it didn’t pass. In the House it’s this issue of gerrymandering, where House seats are rigged, or designed to sort of teeter toward Republicans and people from one extreme and I was wondering how you see that issue playing out and is there any effort to change that, to redraw?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I like your question and in this election Democrats won a million and a half more votes at the polls than the Republicans, but because of the way the districts were drawn that does not translate into a majority in Congress in the House of Representatives. I can’t speak to the structure of the 60 vote requirement in the Senate, it’s really an obstruction. But again, I have enough to do in the House of Representatives.
They don’t like us commenting on that. However, most people think that if you have a majority of the votes, then why can’t you get the job done? And so perhaps we’ll see some refinements that have that body performing in a more democratic way. My – I support commissioned redistricting. In California, my [Inaudible] I used to be the chair of the California Democratic party. We had commissioned drawing of the lines and I favor any objective drawing of the lines because that’s what’s fair.
We picked up four seats in California, the Democrats picked up four. We knew – and it was the Republican redistricting plan because they didn’t want the state legislature to draw it. So, I said: “Fine, I’m not going to fight you on this” because I knew that any objective drawing of the lines would do the right thing. That happened to favor us, someplace else it might favor the Republicans, but the voices of the people will be heard in a way that they voted.
But it isn’t an obstacle to our winning the House in 2014 because there is so much – stop me if this is too political. There is so much sentiment in the public about obstruction in Washington, D.C., and especially obstruction to any initiative that President Obama puts out there. He won the election and people thought that would signal some change. It only has on the immigration issue because of the Hispanic vote. But there is a, sort of an “unease,”’ would be a gentle word, unease in the public about what that obstruction means to job creation and the rest. And, that will favor Democrats in the election – or Republicans will change their mind – but in either case we’ll come closer to doing something that is better for the American people.
Q: Thank you so much. Thank you for being here. Now, without taking too long, I wanted to bring it back around to gun control and what it represents to our populace. Stacks as many plus percent of Americans supporting gun control, yet it’s not being passed in the Senate. What is the responsibility of the American public to make sure that doesn’t happen again and how do we go forward into the future where our elected representatives actually do represent the public sentiment?
Leader Pelosi. Well, that’s an excellent question. It’s a highly emotional issue right now. I mean, the other day, we had in Congress dedicated a room to someone named Gabe Zimmerman who was an employee and district representative of Gabby Giffords. When the shots were fired, he ran toward Gabby, instead of away, and she’s seriously injured, getting better, but seriously injured and he was killed. An eight year old child, nine year old little girl name Christina Green was killed. Six people died there.
One of our problems was to try and make sure that – Gabby didn’t know, as she was trying to recover, that people died and Gabe being among them and a little girl. In any case, we had this room dedication, this was last Wednesday – and we’ve never dedicated a room to a staff person and we’ve never dedicated a room to anybody in our visitor’s center, but that’s what we did. And the Vice-President came, little Christina’s mother was there, of course Gabby was there, people who had been shot in that were there. And they were so hopeful that later that day that the Senate was going to at least, at the very least pass this background check bill.
Also, in a separate area, we had the parents of Newtown, not only the parents, the siblings too. And to introduce Christina’s mom to people who just lost their child it’s so – you wouldn’t have any idea about how these people are surviving but there they were. They were there to advocate for gun safety. They don’t even call it gun control anymore, and now its gun violence prevention, and it’s making it more obvious that it’s something we should do. They were so optimistic and the Vice-President was at our room naming and he was so optimistic. They really thought they had a chance that night and so when those Members were just [Inaudible] were voting no – it was stunning! And I think that it energized the rest of us. It was like: “You must be kidding, ok, this is totally unacceptable.” This doesn’t even come close. It’d be one thing if it was on the assault weapons ban, which it had been, and that lost earlier in the course of the day.
So, really this is just about the public – for example, the person that I have appointed as the chair of our Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention, Mike Thompson, he is a Vietnam vet – a wounded Vietnam vet, a gun owner, a hunter, all of that, he has the creds and credibility in that community. And, he said to one of the Republicans from California, which he is from as well: “Could you be with us on this bill when it comes to the House now, with this gun-check – background check?” He said: “No, I don’t think so.” [Congressman Thompson] said: “Well, 90 percent of your constituents support it.” And he said: “But I haven’t heard from any of them, but I do hear from the other side.”
And so that’s our challenge, is to make sure that the people be representative. That’s their title, that’s their job description, that’s the House we serve in – that constituents are letting their elected officials know where they stand on this and how they will vote on that subject – not to politicize it, but to put a level of priority for them. So, I’m not going to say we just became energized. “This cannot be, this cannot be that anyone of you up there in the Senate thinks that you’re more important, your political survival is more important than this.” As Gabby said, Gabby Giffords, she said: “Fear, they fear the gun lobby? What about the fear of those children?”
Now, let me just say one thing about the gun lobby because it comes back to a subject that you mentioned. It’s largely about money; it’s about industry, it’s about exploitation, it’s about money. Now, they exploit and say: “Oh we’re trying to undermine the second amendment.” Not true, not true. It’s about an industry, it’s about money, and that’s what we have to expose as well. Follow the money, then you’ll see where the really big problem is, that’s [inaudible], get the money out of the system.
Q: Again, thanks Madam Speaker, my name is Gustavo, I am actually an international student. I come from Venezuela and have lived the past four years in a country that has seen but one government, one form of government. For the past six years its powers have been compromised to favor one political majority and I just wanted to ask you, in the recent events in the 14th of April, would you recognize or not recognize the currently elected government in Venezuela? A second question would be, currently, I think we have a political crisis on our hands and what would be your advice to achieve bipartisanship and reconstruct political institutions that have been severely damaged?
Leader Pelosi. The gentleman is from Venezuela and he was asking what my attitude was toward the elections of April 14th. But I think that we – two things: one, we have to see what the legitimate results are of the election of April 14th in Venezuela. Also, we have to be careful – as some, some American’s are even saying that: “Oh, it’s just the U.S. trying to throw its weight around in Latin America and so encouraging people to go into the streets against who was perceived to be the winner.” So, it’s a very careful balance that has to be. We certainly want to respect democratically elected governments but we also want to make sure that’s what they are – democratically elected governments. And we don’t want anybody to think that the U.S. is there to overturn such a government.
We have a – just to make a distinction between the United States, and when we talk about what we do, encourage bipartisanship. The more the public is aware, public sentiment is everything, the more the public is aware. Now, I visited Venezuela – it must be like ten years ago when, yeah – and, it was just so, it was one of the few countries where the middle class was shrinking, and the poor, the low, the poor were growing, but the government was putting out the thought that things were getting better. So, it’s really hard. That’s why information and knowledge, trying to do it in a way that is not political would probably – it is the truth will set everybody free, hopefully.
Mr. D’Urso. Thoughts over there?
Q: I just want to ask you: when will you be the first woman President?
[Applause and Laughter]
Leader Pelosi. Thank you so much. That is lovely of you to ask. One of the things I am very successful, as Speaker of the House and as the Democratic Leader, and passing the Affordable Care Act and things like that, is because my Members know one thing: I’m there for them, that I’m there for the American people, and we want to work together to get the job done. And I’m not – I don’t have another ambition that I want to use this or that vote for tactic. Having said that very self-serving statement about myself I will just say that I am hoping that currently that Hillary Clinton will decide to run for President in…
I always thought when I was in Congress in the – I always thought that we would have a woman President before we would ever have a woman Speaker of the House. I didn’t even have my sights on Speaker, I just – because we – we won elections and I became the Speaker. But I always thought that we would have a woman President first, because the American people are so far ahead of the politicians on accepting women in positions of power. It’s remarkable because when I became Speaker, I didn’t break the glass ceiling, I broke the marble ceiling. It’s even astounding to me that this would happen because again, I thought, first of all it would happen first because the American people wanted it, that’s where you have the whole population voting. In the Congress, it’s just your Caucus voting, it’s a zero sum game and you have to get a [inaudible] outside of the public an infinite number of new people to attract in the polls.
I’ll take this, though, opportunity to say this one thing: I believe that if you reduce the role of money in politics – reduce that role in a big way, reduce the role of money in politics, increase the level of civility in politics, I promise you – I assure you, you will elect more women to public office, more women, more minorities, more young people. You will kick open the door to a brighter future and empower many more people, very representative of whatever country you are in, representing the people.
So, you want more women? And I’ve been working my whole career to elect more women and I’ve just decided, we’ve done a really good job. But it’s incremental. We want something to change the environment, to be more transformative, and that’s why we say: “More civility, more bipartisanship, less money, more women, more young people and more minorities.” That’s important to us.
Any other? One more?
I know there are more women who have questions.
Q: It’s a real honor to hear you speak – Leader Pelosi, we also heard from John McCain, and I’m pretty sure that both of you have made sure that the White House is Democrats.
Leader Pelosi. I’ll ask him about that!
Q: Madam, do you think that the gridlock in Congress at the moment is symptomatic of more than the influence of lobbyists? And it’s actually that each of the parties, Democratic Party and Republican Party, have to modernize. Democratic Party has lost a lot of its Blue Dog Democrats, and the Republicans Party lost its RINO’s it appears, [Senator] Olympia Snowe retired in the last elections. So, do you think that has affected the increasing polarization, is that the problem?
Leader Pelosi. No. I don’t think that. Let me tell you what I think it is. It’s really important for you to know this. What has happened, when I was Speaker, President Bush – President George W. Bush – was the President and we worked together. We did the biggest energy bill in the history of America. He wanted nuclear, I wanted renewables, we came to agreement. That bill has enabled President Obama to take administrative action on emissions and air, and this and that, and the other thing. It was very important. He had a big signing ceremony for the bill that we worked together on. We passed the mental health parity; we passed the least popular bill in the world, the TARP bill, which was otherwise known as “the Bail Out the Banks Bill.” The Republicans deserted their own President on this bill.
We passed – I could just give you a long list of things that we did working together, compromising on this. Republican President – now I fought him with every ounce of my being on the Iraq War and on privatizing Social Security. But everything else was ok, what he had to say, this is where we are. That’s what we go there to do. Nobody goes there to say: “I’m going there and it’s all going to be my way.” Maybe if you’re elected President, but I don’t even think a President thinks that way.
So, that’s two years ago and then when President Obama was elected we did great things with him in the Affordable Care Act. We started off by ending discrimination in the workplace, by passing the Lilly Ledbetter, first bill he signed. One of the last bills signed was to end discrimination in the military – the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Those things would not have happened without the Democrats in the Congress and the President insisted because – President Bush was just into doing that. So, there’s some things we can do to work together on, some of you have to wait to have more consensus. But what happened then, with all of this money piling against us from the health insurance industry. You can just imagine how happy Wall Street was about our Wall Street Reform.
All the special interest money in the 2010 election; well, we lost the majority. Ok, we lost the majority. We all thought it was worth it to pass health care reform and the rest, too. So, we didn’t have the majority but the American people had health care. Until they came in and said: “The most important thing for us is that President Obama not succeed.” And this is where the change took place.
You saw elected in the election of 2010 a group of people who are anti-government ideologues and that’s why you have gridlock because they don’t want a solution. Sequestration – does anybody imagine what that is? A home run, they called that a home run. It’s terrible, it’s reckless, it – it’s a home run for them. If we were to shut down government, “make my day,” because they do not believe in a public role. And you have to understand this about Americans because that has been this thing in our history, whether we have the balance between liberty and security. So, how do we pass laws that protect both?
The balance, the size of government – nobody wants a government bigger than we need but we need the government that we need. And our founders were disrupters, they were the creative minority. They believed in a public role, that we should educate our children, that we should build the Erie Canal and Cumberland Road, and all that – eventually the Trans-Continental – they all believed that there was a government role to build, to create jobs, to build the country, to educate our people, to have a national banking, to have all of that. Well, so we said: “Fine, it isn’t new that there’s a fight about the size of government. What is new about this, is this is the ‘we don’t want any, we don’t want any laws enforced about clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, public transportation, public housing, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Affordable Care Act.” They don’t believe in a public role, and bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs.
You have to give credit for that, you have to give them credit for that. So, that’s where you have gridlock. There’s somebody – if you’re negotiating with someone and you have nothing that they want there’s no concession you could ever make that would please them you aren’t going to get anywhere. And that is why we have gridlock.
We’ve got a lot of things done up until we’ve had our disagreements. We go there because we believe in different things in terms of protecting the environment and education and, you know, we have different views and that is all within the spectrum of what government and politics are about. You debate your view, you try to win the debate with your argument. You know you’ll have to compromise, you hope it’s a high split your way but it might be the other way. But if no, if nothing, as I say to them: their timing is “never.” Does never work for you? “Nothing.” How about that for an agenda?
So, that is why we have gridlock, not because we have fewer issues than we had before. Our party has always built a consensus within our own Caucus. I have the most diverse Caucus in the history of civilization as I told you earlier. That also implies different thinking because they are from different regions of the country and what works in my district might not be at all something that sells in somebody else’s district. So you have to build consensus.
But that’s really what is at stake right now. That’s why I said: “if you put bipartisanship on the ballot, it would win the day,” and it should. And, that’s one of the reasons that they fear President Obama because he’s a very bipartisan person.
So, what is their job? To make him look like he isn’t bipartisan because then that diminishes him in the public mind. So, if they can block him in getting anything done and then say: “He was too partisan.” They’ve achieved their goal of two things: doing something against the President, but also getting nothing done, “make my day.”
So, that is what this is about, and I say to my Republican friends: “take back your party!” My friends here are very close to the Bush family. They have heard me say that in meetings with the Bush – I was honored by President Bush for my twenty five years – [Bush Sr.] – twenty five years in Congress, last year, at Texas A&M at his, the Bush, the Bush public, the Library and School of Public Policy and Government.
It – I mean, it’s a different time. Even with, as I said, with President George W. Bush, it’s a different time. This is something very, very different – something to be cautioned against. And no less a figure cautioned us against that than George Washington. The George Washington of our country, I said earlier – you know how we say the so and so is the George Washington of their country? Well, he’s was the George Washington of our country.
The George Washington of our country, our very first and great President, he said, he cautioned against parties at war with their own government. Interesting reading about him years ago, when I was your age and in school. Now, I see that, he really was quite prescient, that there could be people at war with their own government.
So, I say to my Republican friends: “Take back your party. This isn’t the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party that has done so much for our country. This is off the charts.” You know we have respect from abroad, this way, that way. This is break it open, they’re going a different way and if they take back their party then we could return to a place, where whatever – when they’re all legitimate, that’s what people think. Then, we can find some consensus to get the job done, or figure out that you can’t and move on to what you can do to meet the challenges of having an educated population which is the foundation of a democracy and having more fairness in how we compensate and conversate and enjoy work. How we respect the diversity in America and have immigration policies that recognize the reinvigoration of the country comes from a constant flow of new people bringing their hope, their determination, their optimism for a better future to America. Those are America’s – that’s our promise and these immigrants make America more American by helping us fulfill the promise of our country.
So, it’s a pretty exciting time. We have to figure out how to get the money out; in recognition of a wall of money that is coming down, but that’s our task. As Toynbee told us: “Civilizations, countries all thrive when they decide to meet their challenges.” We want to do so in a bipartisan way, we have to find common ground. Where we can’t find it – we need to stand our ground, they do and we do, but nonetheless, all of it is to strengthen the democracy, and honor and recognize their American Dream.
Thank you for giving me – I assume we’re finished. One more?
Mr. D’Urso. One more, yeah?
Leader Pelosi. One more, one more time! A woman?
I thought that was my big close.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for coming. [My question is on] the role of the media and how it has changed from your time in Congress. How do you think the relationship between politics and the media have changed?
Leader Pelosi. Her question was: “How has the role of the media changed since I have been in Congress, and how has the relationship between the media and politicians?”
Well, first of all, as I was telling some of your friends here, and my friends at dinner, when I went to Congress, there were three networks. I was telling this to a young man, who was interviewing me for his blog. I said: “When I went to Congress there were three networks.” He said: “Do you mean something like CBS?” And I thought: “We are – that was a long time ago.” Something like CBS, NBC, and ABC. There were three networks. There was a very ‘just-being-born’ CNN.
I know that sounds like ancient history to you but things have moved very fast. In the ‘90s – that was late ‘80s. In the ‘90s, we passed the Telecommunications Act and then we went from having three or four, three networks and a cable or two, to having four or five hundred stations available. It’s a completely different world, right? Now, who’s going to watch the network news? Older people looking for prescription drug ads, I guess.
But nonetheless, it’s still the most potent force, right, Drew? The nightly – yeah, the news from the network but there are so many other sources of news. And then comes the – also part of the Telecommunications Act, into the 2000’s – every form of social media, every communication in real time, true or false, fact or otherwise, bombarding people. So, it’s a completely different world.
We’ve gone practically from the stone tablets, to “click here” in just 25 years.
The relationship, the very idea that social media enables politicians to, in some cases, leapfrog over the traditional news network vehicles and the rest is a strengthening thing. You know, you have other options. You can go out there, put your message out, it could become viral or not. But nonetheless you have some record of what it is you’re saying, rather than any misrepresentation.
The other side of that coin is though there are others that can totally misrepresent your point of view. So, it’s a completely challenging environment, but one that we welcome. It’s so exciting. And how it’s changed the relationship to the – with politicians and the media. We’ve always been respectful of the media, because the media, like all of you, the odds are against the society without freedom of speech. And again, if there is one freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of press – that is what keeps freedom alive. Nothing can match the ability for people to say what they think. It’s very healthy in every possible way.
So, we have a respect for what is called the fourth estate in America, before the media. Now it’s more like the four-hundredth estate because of all of the outlets. But it is no question that there’s been an empowerment of public officials through the social media with no less of respect for the traditional outlets, but I think that the respect is mutual. Wouldn’t you say, Drew? Does that sound like – anything else I should say about that?
I guess that’s the way I see it. And we just live in a world where at any moment someone can say something absolutely ridiculous about you, there’s no basis in fact, you know it’s just a myth and we have to live with that characterization because somebody put it out there. So, that changes how you get the facts out. But again, just do it. You know, don’t complain about, as I say: “Don’t agonize, organize.” How are we going to do this, how are we going to do this, how are we going to use it to our advantage, how is this a plus for us? And again, the best part of it is it involves many, many more young people – many, many more young people as purveyors of news as well as consumers of news.
Any more questions? Any more hands? Ok? Tell us about the exams, right? Do you have exams?
Mr. D’Urso. Leader Leader, thank you.