Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Good morning. As we gather here this morning, people are gathering in Boston for a prayer service. We join them, our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Boston, the families of all of the victims of this senseless tragedy, wherever they are from. We pray for the recovery of the injured and offer our support as Americans and as Members of Congress. Words are always inadequate at times like this. Words alone cannot console the loved ones, but we will do what we can to care for them. With the investigation ongoing, we will ensure that justice is done.
As we watched the developments in the tragic fire in the west outside of Waco, we offer our condolences there, too, to the families of all those killed and injured in the blaze and will do what we can to assist in the ongoing response and recovery effort. Life is fragile. You never know from one day to the next.
As our hearts are still in Boston, our concerns across the country for those who are in pain, our work continues here in Washington, D.C. Right now we are focused on adopting a budget that reflects our country's values, creates jobs, and strengthens the middle class. Republicans have repeatedly called for regular order. They have called it in sessions of – the leader – of the House and Senate with the President and the Vice President that said ‘we want regular order.’ They call for regular order all of the time. They’ve repeatedly chastised the Senate for not passing a budget bill.
Well, both Houses have passed budget bills. The Senate has passed its budget bill, both houses, and we are overdue, April 15th was the deadline for us having a budget for a conference report. So I have sent a letter, the House Democratic leadership has sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking him to appoint conferees. The time has come, it is long overdue. We want a full, open, transparent discussion of priorities, allow the public to make a judgment about whose priorities they prefer and they understand what the decisions are, who is advocating economic growth with good jobs, balancing, having a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and strengthening the middle class.
As I said to you last week, our focus in the next little while will be on guns and budget. We talked about budget. I see now we have been joined by my colleague, Congressman Mike Thompson of California. Mike, Congressman Thompson is a Vietnam vet, a wounded Vietnam vet, he is a gun owner, he is a hunter, he is the head of our task force on gun violence prevention, and he is the coauthor of a bipartisan bill in the House with Peter King to put forth the Manchin-Toomey compromise that failed so sadly in the Senate last night.
We are so disappointed. Our sorrow was expressed so appropriately by President Obama last night. I invited Mike to join us here to tell you where we go from here and to answer the question the American people are saying: what can we do to change this? Mike, would you speak to – thank you for your leadership.
Mr. Thompson. Well, thank you, Leader Pelosi, it is a pleasure and honor to join you and to talk about and to answer any questions that you guys may have on gun violence prevention. It wasn't just the Toomey-Manchin amendment that failed last night, as I think everybody knows, it was everything. It was gun trafficking that failed last night. So this is – if you are confused by the vote, like I am sure the 93 percent of the American people who believe we should have background checks are confused, you are not alone because this is just unexplainable. What I can tell you is, it is not going to slow us or deter our work in regard to gun violence prevention one bit.
We met this morning with the vice chairs of the task force; the Senate Leader Reid's staff was over to brief us; we had folks from one of the outside groups come in to brief us on what they are doing. And when we see what happens with the other two amendments in the Senate today, we will then, we will recalculate. Isn't that what the Garmin says? Every time I get in the car, the Garmin says ‘recalculating, recalculating.’ We will recalculate and get our bearing, and we are going to go forward on this.
The American people want their Congress to take action to make their communities, their neighborhoods, their workplace, and their schools safer, and we can do that while protecting the Second Amendment. We have proven that with the bill that Peter King and I introduced here in the House. It does all of those things and protects the Second Amendment. It makes sense to do it, and it has wide support of the American people, and we will figure out how to make sure our colleagues, who didn't get that memo, get it so they understand that the people that they represent want these commonsense steps taken.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much for your leadership and for your optimism that something will be done because something must be done, because that is what the American people expect and what they deserve. The process, how we go from here is that we will be collecting and inviting bipartisan sign-up as cosponsors of the bill, which is already bipartisan, to get as many cosponsors as possible. When the public says to us, ‘what can we do?’ Well, you can encourage your Member of Congress to cosponsor the bill in the House, and what we want also is a vote. The American people can say to the leadership in the Congress, to the Speaker of the House, ‘give us a vote, give us a vote in the House,’ and so as you can see, we are just not taking no for an answer.
It always makes me wonder at a time like this, how important we think we are that any one of us thinks that our survival politically is more important than the safety of our children, that we can't have the courage to take a vote. As police chiefs have said to us and Gabby Giffords reiterated in her op-ed in The New York Times today, fear? You are afraid of the gun lobby? How about the fear of the children who had to face that violence in the classroom? So it is disappointing, but, again, it is going to energize the effort so that more attention, even more attention is paid on what the choices are here in Congress, and who are on the side of the safety of our children in their homes and their schools and their neighborhoods and their communities.
Q: Leader Pelosi, considering how none of these amendments passed in the Democratic Senate, what gives you any idea that this would even go anywhere in the House? Any of these, any of these measures?
Mr. Thompson. You know, I am not sure that folks who had a vote on this understood that there is a passionate majority in their state that is for this, and I saw that here right before leaving last weekend to go back to our districts. I asked a California colleague of mine to sign on as an original cosponsor. We were doing the one Democrat, one Republican, and I asked a Republican colleague, someone who I worked with, I work with here, someone I worked with when we both served in the state senate, someone who was a moderate Republican, someone who could do this, and he said he would prefer not to. He said, ‘I will vote for it, but I don't want to coauthor.’
I asked him, do you know how many people in your district support this? He said, ‘yeah, I saw the poll’ He said, ‘93 percent of my district support this.’ And you don't want to coauthor it? He said, ‘not one of them called me. I read the poll, but not one of them has called me.’
I think what happened last night in the Senate is going to be a strong message to the voters across this country that it is time to get involved, and it is time to pick up the phone and call their Members, as the Leader pointed out. They need to call their Representatives and say, ‘coauthor this bill,’ call their representatives and say ‘we deserve a vote on this bill.’ So, when you say what gives me the confidence, it is the voters that we all represent.
Q: Madam Leader, with the gun vote yesterday, and obviously today we have heard a lot about immigration also, and the Gang of Eight is formally unveiling its plan today they filed it, I think, early Wednesday morning. Do you think, though, because these two issues, guns and immigration, are so tough issues, and that is why these issues have not been addressed for years in Congress, that because of the problems with passing anything with guns in the Senate that, that creates problems with doing anything on immigration?
Leader Pelosi. I hope not. I believe the American people spoke eloquently in the election, that is the Hispanic community voted 70 percent for the Democrats. That opens the space in people's minds on the Republican side that perhaps immigration reform was an issue whose time had come, and that is why we all have an immigration bill, because 70 percent of Hispanics voted Democratic. It wasn't that they had a change of heart or change of mind, it is that they had a clearer picture, the fog faded from how important this issue was to many people in our country, and that I feel very confident about how we go forward on the immigration bill.
I commend the eight Senators for the work that they did. Of course, it is a compromise. Would I change things? Of course. But I do think that, that is what a compromise is about. I am proud of the eight – are we calling them gangs of eight? I don't know. But anyway, the eight Members, bipartisan team in the House that were four Democrats, four Republicans have been working on this issue for a long time, and their proposals are very much like what is in the Senate. So we are pretty happy about the place that it is.
Now, don't get me wrong, it is not a bill that I would have written, it is not something that all of our Members are quick to embrace because, again, it is a compromise, and I think as a compromise it is the boldest common denominator, the best that we can do, and it is very good, but, again, my Members will have their concerns about it and their complaints about it because, again, it is a compromise. How many more times can I say that?
So my hope would be that by the time we leave here at the end of July, that this will be the law of the land, and I would not say that one or the other, but the one thing they do have in common is the American people. They spoke in the election, the Hispanic community did, it changed. Now, we didn't win the election, but the issue was well served by the vote in the election. So we will have immigration reform. When the American people speak and take responsibility for getting their voices heard in the most intimate way to Members of Congress, nothing is more eloquent to a Member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituent, and that is why Gabby says in her article. Approach your Members of Congress, whether it is in the grocery store, or wherever, and tell them how important this is to you.
This is a fight we must win. It is a matter of time. It may be inconceivable to the NRA that this will happen. It is inevitable to us. We have to shorten the distance in time between the inconceivable to some and the inevitable to us.
Q: Madam Leader, Speaker Boehner has said he would like to go through regular order on guns and violence as well. Do you want to see that play out in the Judiciary Committee on the floor, or will you go to a discharge petition on the Thompson-King amendment sooner rather than later?
Leader Pelosi. I would answer your question when we see what the Speaker does do. If he was waiting for the Senate to act, and now he feels he doesn't have any work to do, well then that just says we are not the legislative branch, we are not the – we are the first branch of government, the legislative branch. It is our responsibility to legislate, and we have our responsibility in the House to do that.
So I am hopeful that we will proceed with the legislation. In the meantime, in the meantime, there is – this is a compromise. The Manchin-Toomey bill is a compromise. They couldn't even vote for a compromise on this. So important and indispensable were each of them to our country's future that they could not protect children with their vote.
So this is a very personal matter, as you saw, with the President's beautiful remarks yesterday, but practical and important that we know that the American people are concerned about this. I don't know why our colleague from California hasn't heard from his constituents, but I promise you one thing, he will.
Q: I wanted to ask you just a question about the Boston bombings. Are you at all concerned that with the suspected bomber on the loose that there could be follow up attacks, and do you think it is time to reach out to the public and start sharing like any potential suspects' photos, you know, with the public so that we can come up with…
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think the last thing the authorities and those doing the investigation in Boston [need] is for Members of Congress to say what we think we can do from hundreds of miles away. I appreciate the tenor of your question about we want to support them in every way, and I think the message that has gone out from Governor Deval Patrick, from Mayor Menino, from others, is be vigilant and speak up if you see any unusual behavior that can be helpful in this investigation.
How they time what they release and how that is in furtherance of resolving this, well, that is really up to them. You go too early, you might lead – lose an advantage. Timing is everything in these apprehensions, as you probably know, so I pray for the people, and I know that justice will be done, and I think we should respect those on the ground who are doing the job they do. I do know that this is in the forefront of concerns of the President of the United States, to Members of Congress, and the rest. We stand, we in the Congress stand ready to help in any way we can. The leadership of the President has been well respected, and I think that I will just end with that.
I want to thank, again, Congressman Mike Thompson for his leadership on this. He has brought together a cross section of Members as vice chairs of the task force in a very serious, respectful way, introduced good principles for us to go forward. I want to just yield to him in case he has any closing remarks on how we go forward on the gun [violence prevention legislation].
Mr. Thompson. I am as energized as I ever was. I think that we need to move this bill, I think we need to have background checks. It is inconceivable to me that someone could believe that you can keep guns away from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill without, at a minimum, having a background check, and I have told you guys this before when you have asked me, you cannot be against criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from getting guns and be against background checks. It is our first line of defense, and we need to step up, we need to be responsible, we need to get this passed.
Leader Pelosi. If I may just add this one thing, and that is, when it became possible that we would not have an assault weapon ban, or we would not have a prohibition on future sales of high capacity magazines, it made the background check bill even more important for it to be as strong as it could be because of not having successes in terms of reducing the number of guns that are out there. There are, what, 300 million assault weapons out there?
Mr. Thompson. No, 300 million guns.
Leader Pelosi. Three hundred million guns out there already. So this background check is really very, very important, and I thank you again, you and the task force for your leadership on it, you and Representative King for your leadership on presenting this bill in the House, and we hope to be able to say by the time we meet again that we have an overwhelming number of, in a bipartisan way, of cosponsors and that the American people have weighed in, not only for cosponsorship, but for a vote. Thank you all very much. Mike?
Mr. Thompson. Thank you.