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Transcript of Pelosi Press Availability Today

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press availability today following her attendance at the oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court today.  Below is a transcript of the press availability:

Leader Pelosi.  Good afternoon.  Sorry to keep you waiting.  The Supreme Court, that was pretty exciting this morning.  It was really a very, I believe, dignified proceeding – first half hour, the first half of it, as you probably know, was about standing and the second half about the merits of the, of the DOMA and is it constitutional or not? 

The questions that were asked by the justices, I thought, were very – evoked information and responses that were, I think, very constructive.  This is very – you know – it’s very important, it’s as big as our Constitution, it’s as big as our country itself, it’s as personal as, as every marriage in our country between same-sex parties.  I had the privilege of being there with Karen and Amy [Cunninghis] to, well, Karen is, I’m just going to say – spell her last name for you G-O-L-I-N-S-K-I and her wife Amy.  Karen is a federal employee and she has a case at the Court about whether her, her wife Amy can get benefits as a spouse of a federal employee.  She was married in that window in California when, before Prop 8 struck, took away the opportunity to continue those happy occasions of weddings in California.

The – I – on the basis of what I heard, the questions of the justices, the response of the participants, I’m very optimistic that DOMA will be struck down.  It doesn’t seem to have a rational basis, which is one of the criteria, a rational basis, a justification for being and secondly, probably, I should say first, full protection of all people in our country.  So equal protection has been a principle that our country was founded on, that our Constitution was written on, and I think on the basis of those two – the debate was going back and forth – ‘is it about equal protection?’  ‘Is it about rational basis?’  I think on either score, it – the arguments, the debates seem to favor striking down DOMA, which is very important.  The justices made the point on a number of occasions that there are 1,100 – I think it’s probably more than that, but they were saying 1,100, over a thousand laws on the books, or regulations that relate to same, marriage, that do not give equal protection to people who are married in a same-sex marriage.  They used the word “homosexual marriage,” that’s the word that they used.

You’ll hear the report pretty soon, I guess it comes out – what? 

Q:  Two o’clock

Leader Pelosi.  Oh, 2 o’clock, well, not even an hour.  But just being in the room, sitting there with Amy and Karen because as I say, “this is as big as our country, as big as our Constitution, as big as our being a beacon of equal protection to the world, it’s as personal as every family” and to sit there with them and also to – you probably seen Edie Windsor, she, that’s the place that her, is her, she’s the aggrieved party in the case that is coming before the Supreme Court.  Well, I don’t know if that’s the technical term, maybe the federal government is the aggrieved party if the Court strikes down DOMA and they have to pay her back the taxes, over $300,000 that she had to pay in taxes when her spouse died because it was a same-sex marriage.  Her spouse died and the Internal Revenue Service did not recognize that this was a married, a married couple.  But Edie Windsor is a very courageous, brave woman.  It was a joy just to see her sitting there in the Court, head held high about her marriage and the point she’s making for other people, as well as for herself.  And, again, to have Amy and Karen who are going to be touring the Capitol, so you may, you may see that happily married couple doing just that.

That was pretty thrilling, I have to say.

***

Q:  Madam Leader.  Leader Pelosi you represent a district that’s been at the epicenter of the gay rights movement for four decades or more.  How does the fight for marriage rights compare with sort of the initial fights of the ‘70s, or the struggle for AIDS funding, or military service?

Leader Pelosi.  Well the – all of those are very important at the time and they were all about, whatever the subject had to be, where it was AIDS funding and the rest, there was always an issue of discrimination, ending discrimination, because part of our fight when the HIV/AIDS funding and the rest was to, to end discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.  One of the first issues that I came here and fought for when I came over 25 years ago was the hate crimes legislation.  Again, to make sure people knew that it was very wrong to harm people on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, and the, and then the other part of it – of course it’s a long fight for us.  We had under, with President Obama in office we were able to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but we have work to do there in terms making sure families in the military get what they need.

Hopefully, DOMA will be struck down, but we will have work to do.  We have ENDA as a priority for us here, ending discrimination in the workplace.  I hope that now all of these people who are coming out in favor of marriage equality will be there for us in employment equality too when we try to bring that legislation up.  But what is for me personally gratifying is that in our community we have a large gay community, gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual community, but we don’t know them that way.  We know them as being part of our community.  Whether it’s the economy of our community, the social fabric, whether its health care providers or leaders in every aspect of our community’s life.

So, over the years one of the questions that I would get asked, especially when I became in the part of leadership, when I first became Whip and then after that one, the first questions, shall we say, less than friendly journalist would ask me on her show or so, would be: “do you support gay marriage?”  And of course I would always say: “I support gay marriage, I don’t believe in discrimination of any kind.”  And they would be like: “we have labeled you.”  “Now our audience knows that about you,” you know, as if it were – and it was a badge of honor for me.  So, now it’s a badge of honor for a lot of people, but for a long time it was something that we knew was inevitable.  You know, from our beautiful place in San Francisco, the city of St. Francis, we knew that it was inevitable, that all of this would happen.  It was inconceivable to others that it would and it was our job to use whatever influence we could have to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable.

And I think that’s what’s happening at the Court because of many people’s courage, especially those directly, personally affected.  So, for us in San Francisco, yesterday I had [Lieutenant Governor] Gavin Newsom as one of our attendees, Mark Leno – you know people who have been, [State] Senator Mark Leno, people who have been working on this.  Jim Hormel, the first openly gay Ambassador, this, all these San Franciscans who have, in their public service, fought the fight.

So, it’s pretty exciting.  I feel pretty good about the Court and what I told you about health care: 6-3, so I was off one, but we won.  I wasn’t – you keep reminding me…

Q:  Like you remind me you got it right, you were off by one…

[Laughter]

Q:  I’m more upset that your Giants beat my Reds.  But that’s another story.

[Laughter]

Leader Pelosi.  Oh, well we got opening day next Friday, we can start all over again on that one.

[Laughter]

Q:  Okay.

Q:  Are you surprised the Republican leadership has been so quiet on talking about DOMA given that they decided to provide for the defense of it in court?

Leader Pelosi.  Let me just say this about that question because when you get the soundtrack, is that what we’re calling it?  What are we calling it?

[Laughter]

Q:  The audio.

Leader Pelosi.  The audio on…

[Laughter]

Leader Pelosi.  Soundtrack of the Supreme Court!  The soundtrack of the Supremes.  Oh, you’re too young.  Anyway…

[Laughter]

Leader Pelosi.  What was really interesting to me was to hear Clement, the spokesperson for DOMA – what a, what a, you know, what a stale role to play in life.  But nonetheless, when he was up there he was defending the House’s standing on this issue because of the BLAG.  Now, BLAG, mind you, Bipartisan [Legal] Advisory Group – the Bipartisan [Legal] Advisory Group.  First of all, it wasn’t bipartisan.  Anyway, I mean, we showed up one day, 3 to 2, the Republicans voted to go forward, to use taxpayer dollars to defend DOMA.  Never again did we meet, they voted $500 – the BLAG, voted $500,000 that day.  In a not, not in a, not bipartisan way and yet they take the title BLAG as if there is some bipartisan support for that.  But we never met again to vote for that money and they raised it up to like $3 million by now.

So, it’s very strange.  So I, I don’t know if they’re silent or they’re speaking with the taxpayers dollar being spent without the benefit of votes in the BLAG, predicating it on a vote that we had on Rules day saying that BLAG has the permission to go forward on this, but not having the BLAG take any action on it.  So, I think there behavior has been not a model for the future, let’s put it that way.  It’s really disappointing and unworthy of a subject that is going before the Supreme Court of our country that has such an impact on, not only these marriage equality families, but also on our whole country as to who we are.  So, I don’t know where they are on the subject, maybe, have you asked them?  Maybe they will just volunteer, not volunteer but will speak.

But, again, $3 million speaks very loudly, especially $3 million that has gone forth without benefit of vote in the so-called Bipartisan [Legal] Advisory Group, you know.

Q:  Madam Leader, can we ask you on another subject please?

Leader Pelosi.  Until we’re finished with this and then we’ll go on more.

Q:  Today, Senator Hagan came out in support of gay marriage.

Leader Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  Previously, this week, we’ve had [Senator’s] Tester, Rockefeller, Warner, and…

Leader Pelosi.  [Senator] Begich.

Q:  Begich is another.  What took so long, and why is this all coming out now on the Democratic side?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I’ve been there for 25 years so, it didn’t take me long.  But the – here’s the thing and this question, if I just may take it to a different, to a little different place, this question kept coming up in the Court, they were saying: “why is it that now, all these people are –“ what did the Chief Justice say?  They’re just falling…

Q:  Tripping all over each other.

Leader Pelosi.  Tripping all over each other to come out in favor of marriage equality when in, when the bill passed, a large bipartisan vote was there for it.  And the question is: was that animus, that name that came up, they read from the report on the bill in the House that said it was about morality, you know it, it was a little bit on the mean spirited side.  With that, you can’t paint everybody with that brush.  You know, once a bill goes over to the Senate, then, then they vote the way they vote.  I think what wasn’t said there, but I think part of it also since then and now many more family members have come forward, whether it’s somebody’s sister, brother, cousin, uncle, mother, father, whatever it is, have come forward as to their, their interest in marriage equality and that’s been translated into our popular culture.  Whether it’s TV, or movies, or whatever.  And so, we’re at a different place. 

And it’s a generational change as well.  You look at these statistic and you’ll see a generation gap in terms of approval of marriage equality and the rest – acceptance, whatever, of marriage equality.  So, I think people nowadays vote – somebody used the term there, blind.

Q:  ‘Times can blind.”

Leader Pelosi.  “Times can blind,” which was one of Justice Kennedy’s phrases on another case related to Texas previously.  But in other words, times can blind and whatever this public mood was on this subject at the time, it also created some ignorance on the subject and that ignorance is fading now and the more light that is shed on something like this, about this being about discrimination, about depriving people of equal protection, about not having a rational basis for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, I’m going to say something I’ve said to you a number of times, I’m going to say it again and Drew sometimes gets tired of hearing me say this.  One of the questions that came up in the Court today was the – the justices asked: “did the originators of DOMA, at the time, think that it was constitutional?”  And they claimed, Mr. Clement claimed two times that oh yes, they asked the Administration and the Justice Department.  The Justice Department said three times, yes, it was constitutional.  So that meant, you know, okay why would you ask that question except to find out what the intent was of the Republicans – well it was a Republican initiative at the time.  But they didn’t say, as what I have in my op-ed, my op-ed today in USA Today on the web, is that the Republicans knew, and they know right now, that DOMA is not constitutional.  In 2005, they introduced a bill – [Marriage Protection Act] – son of DOMA, DOMA – Defense of Marriage Act, this is [Marriage Protection Act], the [Marriage Protection Act] stated that: “in the case of DOMA, the courts did not have the right of judicial review, the right to review on the constitutionality of the act.

Why would you pass a bill in Congress – well, they passed it in the House, it didn’t pass the Senate.  Why would you pass a bill in the Congress, in the House, that said the courts do not have the right to rule on the constitutionality of the bill if you thought it could withstand that test?  Because you don’t think it can stand that test.  And that’s why they engaged in what is called “court stripping,” stripping of the court of their right of judicial review.  Some at that time even said Marbury v. Madison, the case that, that established judicial review, was wrongly decided.  So, that’s what we’re dealing with here.

So, they know that, that was not constitutional.  And that’s what I would of responded to the justices had I been on the other side of the railing there.

Q:  Leader Pelosi, Speaker Boehner’s office had a response, it wasn’t from Boehner, it was from a spokesman and said: “the law’s constitutionality is determined by the courts, not by the Department of Justice, as long as the Obama Administration refuses to exercise it’s responsibility, we will.”  What do you say to that argument?  That’s pretty…

Leader Pelosi.  I – I guess, in other words – when you pass a bill in the House, as we did the health care bill, we made it ironclad constitutionally, you have a responsibility to honor the Constitution.  In fact, we take an oath to do just that.  And that is the oath that President Obama is upholding.  You weigh equities, Congress passes a bill, it’s questionable in terms of constitutionality, there’s no question about your oath to the Constitution of the United States and the behavior of the Republicans in the House of Representatives on this subject has been so irresponsible. 

First of all, why in this time would you pass a bill that increases discrimination?  We’re going in the direction of the arc of justice bending in fate – bending in favor of more justice, not more discrimination.  Why would you do such a thing in the first place?  And then, when it is, when it is questioned in terms of its constitutionality, to spend money in the tune of millions outside the regular order of that how money should be spent to defend increasing discrimination in our society.  It’s just plain wrong and given a choice I think we would all say: “we’re honoring,” as the President does, “the Constitution, not anything that has passed the House and has not passed the test of constitutionality yet.” 

I got to go to work now so.

Q:  Just briefly.  Today – today is the 100th anniversary, if you will, of the Newtown shooting, unfortunately.

Leader Pelosi.  One-hundred days.

Q:  And there’s been – 100 days.

And there’s been some talk, obviously, Senator Reid says that he will bring up a gun bill when we return from the Easter – Passover recess here but he says that the Assault Weapons ban will not be a part of it.  Senator Feinstein can offer her amendment, but we assume that he thinks that there will only be about 40 votes, did the President and those in favor of gun control lose some momentum here?  There have been cases where, where there’s been, you know, serious incidents happened, whether it be in the financial sector, or in other areas, where Congress has moved very quickly, very expeditiously, and was it because we were dealing with the fiscal cliff, or what, did we lose momentum in trying to pass something?

Leader Pelosi.  No, I don’t think we have lost momentum.  I think we could stay here more days so that we could, can get our work done more expeditiously, if that’s a word you used.

I – I’ve been to a number of states since this Congress has gone in.  And many parts of different states and the public is so far ahead of the Congress on this subject, the – I believe whatever passes in the Congress now will not be the end of the day for this issue.

Senator Reid, I respect enormously, he knows how to count votes.  But I believe that when the public sentiment is very strong on this subject.  And we want to come out with the best, the boldest common denominator that we can get.  I think that when Senator Feinstein puts her bill forward and the public knows what is at stake, we’ll see what the votes are.  Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument, it argues all the more strongly for having the toughest, best, most effective background checks.  Instead of diluting the background checks because we might not have a, we might not succeed with the assault weapon ban, it’s to make that even more effective.  I think that argues in favor of making that stronger.

Now, I harken back 20 years, I was one of the Whips on the assault weapon ban then.  It was very tough, we didn’t win the first time a vote came up, but, but then we eventually did because the public weighed in.  Members knew that if they voted for that in their districts, it would be the end of their career in Congress.  But they did.  They lost their election.  They came back and they said: “if it saves lives, it was worth my losing my race to do that.”  This is a very big deal for the public. 

But again, it’s a legislative body and we have to go forward as boldly as we possibly can.  And I would not say: “well, if the assault weapon ban is not there, that, that means less is going to happen down the road, it think it means more should happen up the road as we go forward.”  But the interest that people have in jobs, that’s what we’re here to do as we have a moral imperative to create jobs, restore confidence in our economy, restore confidence in the safety of our communities passing gun violence prevention acts, confidence in who we are as a people, we are a nation of immigrants, passing an immigration bill and doing that expeditiously.  But I do think that the longer some of these things go, some lack of urgency might set in on how strong it should be.  I think we have to reverse that stale assumption of the past and make the intensity only increase.  And I feel, I mean, in the – of course I come from California, 90-some percent of the people support background checks.  Overwhelming numbers of Republicans, like 70 percent, [inaudible] support background checks.  Hunters support background checks.  It’s just this Congress that has to catch up with the American people on the subject of safety and that takes me back to “protect and defend,” the first oath that we take of our Constitution and everything that our Constitution guarantees.

So, we’ll see what happens – I don’t think it’ll be till June till we know what the Court – someone told me it’s probably June when we know what their decision is.  But I feel very confident, having heard the debate and really the quite thoughtful questions of the justices that, I’m not going to give you a number…

[Laughter]

Q:  Laying the odds on the Giants this year?

Leader Pelosi.  Three-peat, three out of four, three out of four, we had two out of three, or something like that.

Q:  Just an immigration question, last week there were reports that the negotiators in both the House and the Senate were on the cusp of getting agreements that would include a dropping of some of the family preferences for green cards such as the adult children of permanent residents.  Would you support narrowing those family preferences as part of a deal to get a broader immigration reform?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, it’s not a question of narrowing the premise.  The question is how do these people still come in because family unification – you know, secure our borders, that’s our sovereign responsibility, protect our workers and we do that by not exploiting workers coming into the country, family unification, pathway to legalization and therefore citizenship.  These are all part of what have been our principles.  The – our principles, the House Democratic Caucus principles as developed by our Hispanic Caucus in working with the Congressional Black Caucus, etcetera.

The issue of how many people come in and how many of those are H1B visas, H1A visas, you know, every category, is, is something that is being debated.  I’m not at liberty to say what, because our group is very, they work with each other, they’re not in a position to confirm or deny that they even exist.  So, I’m not going to say…

Q:  [Inaudible]

Leader Pelosi.  …anything about what they’re doing because I don’t know.  But I will say that at the end of the day, we still want family unification however we get to that place.  But I’m confident about immigration bill, gun bill, we just have to get the jobs legislation moving as well.  And in the meantime, make America more American by ending discrimination by overturning, overturning the ill-conceived DOMA.

Thank you.