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 afternoon. I heard you wanted to hear about our dinner with the President last night. Anybody interested in that? No? We can just move on then.
Last night we had dinner with the President, as you know, the Democratic Leaders. It was a very productive dinner in terms of the discussion. We talked about jobs, jobs, and more jobs. We talked about innovation springing from our own manufacturing in the U.S. Mr. Hoyer has taken the lead on “Make It In America,” and that was part of what we talked about as well. The “Make It In America” agenda. which recognizes innovation which begins in the classroom and we have to support, but also springs from doing manufacturing here at home.
It was clear – it was really interesting to me because I have had the occasion to work with President Bush as Speaker and Leader, and now with President Obama. And in both cases, when you are meeting with the President of the United States, it is a really – it is historic every time, the leaders and the President, and the respect that each of us has for the offices that we hold is really important. So, when President Bush was President and I was Leader, or then later Speaker, it was always about how can we work together to get something done.
Here is the presidency and all of the power that it has, and of course, the legislative branch, the First Article of the Constitution. And, you know, obviously we have had differences – the Iraq War, privatizing Social Security – but we did many things using the potential and the power of both of our offices to get things done: the biggest energy bill in the history of our country, parity, mental health parity, even we came to the President's rescue on TARP when his own party deserted him, one of the most progressive bills for low income tax credits and things. Because you always see opportunity when you see each of the leaders, especially as I say, the power of the presidency.
And so having dinner with the President last night, again, drives home all of the opportunity that a presidency can bring. And clearly we have a President who is a visionary, a person who is knowledgeable on the issues, brings judgment from that, springing from that knowledge, has a clear path how he would like to see things done in a bipartisan way, and again has the eloquence to communicate with the American people. And it is all the package of leadership, and so it is really sad to see how that opportunity is not exploited really by our Republican colleagues in the majority in the House, because they must have things that they care about for our country. The President says to them: “Let's work together on your agenda.” But really, “nothing” is their agenda and “never” is their timetable.
So, just sentimental thoughts about having dinner with the President and missed the opportunities that we have had.
Instead, we have subterfuge. We have these ridiculous things that today on the floor, the “Pay China First Act,” as we call it, to instead of avoiding default and again risk – we again want to risk the full faith and credit of the United States just by having the discussion, to have more Republican manufactured crisis with the economic uncertainty that goes with that, that has harmed America's workers and businesses over the past two years. This bill that they had on the floor, by the way, will pay China first before American troops in harm's way, pay China first before retired and disabled veterans, pay China first before doctors and hospitals that treat Medicare patients, pay China first before even small businesses that work with us to provide goods and services. It is just, it’s just wrong.
From the start of this Congress, this Congress, and then two years before, the Republicans, well, from the start of this Congress they have been calling for regular order. Have you ever heard them call for regular order? Remember when they passed their bill in the House and they said: “We have got to have a budget passed by the Senate because that is regular order.”
Well, the Senate passed their bill – 47 days ago – and all of a sudden the call for regular order is muted. But even some of their Members who have professed, including Paul Ryan, who has said – what did he say yesterday – let’s, he wanted to go to the table and get the job done. I don't know how forceful that is within their Caucus, but the fact is, let's have regular order. Let's go to the table. Let's have transparency. Let the American people see whose version of the budget they prefer, or even just particular pieces of the budget. Let the chips fall where they may when the public sees what the decision is – what the decisions are. And stop this silliness, this silliness, “pay China first.” Let's get serious. The silliness that we would default even two years ago come the summer, say 22 months ago, when we went through this discussion. We didn't. We lifted the debt ceiling, but just the mere discussion of it lowered our credit rating. We can't go through that again. So, in any event, I hope that we can put an end to the silliness, get serious, go to the table, appoint conferees. What are they afraid of? Are they afraid of the public seeing what they have in their budget and how it contrasts to the statement of values that is in the Senate budget? Well, let the public see what that is.
As you know, this weekend – and I hope you remember to write home, call home, buy presents, flowers, candy, chocolate candy because, as you know, Sunday, America's families will celebrate Mother's Day. And what do we do for that? This week we gave mothers not a very good gift. More work, less pay. Happy Mother's Day? I don't think so. The bill that gives less flexibility to working people, more discretion to their bosses. Here’s what the bill really does: it ends the 40 hour work week, it ends, it cuts pay for women, undermines the economic security of the middle class, gives an interest free loan, paid for by workers’ wages and unused comp time to the company. I mean, “thanks for the float,” the company should say.
What we should be doing is enacting a women's economic agenda. That would be an appropriate Mother's Day gift: affordable quality, accessible child care – very important to working moms at every level, every economic level – expanded family and medical leave, some of it paid for, good wages, including a higher minimum wage and passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Paycheck fairness, raise the minimum wage, affordable, accessible quality child care. That is the appropriate way to say Happy Mother's Day.
Every year for the past few years on Mother's Day, I have gone, I have taken a delegation to Afghanistan or Iraq. We were alternating, now Afghanistan for Mother's Day, to say thank you to our moms and – by the way, our grandmothers, who are serving there, some young grandmothers, but nonetheless grandmothers – to also thank all of our troops for what they do to protect America's families. We won't be going this particular weekend because we don't have – under sequestration – we don't have CODELs, but I hope to go sometime soon, and some Members will have an opportunity to go in to bring our best wishes to our men and women who are serving there.
It is something really beautiful to behold, the roles that women are assuming in the military and the fact that now they can be in combat means that they could rise to the heights of our military service. And I don't think there is anything more wholesome and effective than increasing and empowering women in whatever field it is, in this case the military.
What was said on some of the previous visits was the people that we met who had been victims of sexual assault in the military, to meet with them, women right there in theater, to meet with the chaplains, to talk about how to deal with this issue, and it is encouraging that so much attention is now being paid to it with the spotlight on it with the prospect for some improvement on how we address the issue of sexual assault in the military. It is a very important issue to our Women's Caucus. I believe in a bipartisan way. I am sure of it, that it is in a bipartisan way.
And hopefully the change that we make now will make a difference in the lives of these women, but in addition to that, make a difference in the role that they play in our military and in the way that a woman could become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Commander in Chief. But in any event, just to rise to the top in the military service would be very important for our country. So whether it is opportunity in the military, strengthening women's roles, economic security in their families, we think there are many ways that as a matter of public policy we can be saying: “Happy Mother's Day.” One of them is not more work, less pay. Happy Mother's Day? I don't think so.
Q: Leader Pelosi…
Leader Pelosi. On Mother's Day?
Q: Not on Mother's Day.
Leader Pelosi. Don't forget. Call home.
Q: I was just in South Carolina covering the Sanford-Colbert Busch race, and Sanford made a concerted effort to link you to Colbert-Busch. I talked to a lot of voters who said, you know, “we don't really like Sanford, but we don't want another Nancy Pelosi in Congress.” Do you think that the Sanford campaign linking Elizabeth Colbert Busch to you affected the outcome of that election?
Leader Pelosi. I think that the district is what, President Obama lost it by 18 or 20 points? I think that Elizabeth beat that percentage. I think she made a very dignified and good run. I think most of the time when somebody brings up a third party into an election, it shows the bankruptcy of their ideas, but it is always going to be a hard district, and I think it looked silly. But nonetheless, again, she did much better than even President Obama did in the district.
Q: On the sexual assault in the military question, how do you think it has gotten as bad as it is and what more would you like to see Congress do to turn those numbers around?
Leader Pelosi. I don’t know if it’s gotten worse or we just know more about what is happening because people are coming forward. And we have many more women in the military at the same time and we have women in theater – we, you know – since we went into Iraq, we have over a million, almost a million plus, maybe a million and a half more veterans than we would’ve had, had we not gone into Iraq. So that means many more people serving our country so courageously and so patriotically.
What we can do, I think that some of the ideas that are – first of all we have to orient people in a way that is respectful of women and their role. It’s always interesting to me that people think that they can do this and get away with it. One way to make sure that they don’t is to make sure that the process that addresses the challenges is one that is done effectively. And then that we address the issue of whether a commander can overturn the decision of, that was made after the investigation. That’s one issue. And so how broad is that removing of discretion from the commanders? So that’s one of the issues we’re talking about – does it just apply to this, does it apply to others decisions after charges have been litigated?
The other is that, that, again, the very idea that a woman, a woman might have to salute the person who is the abuser, it’s – everyone would agree that, that is really not the right thing. We see some comments that show insensitivity – I don’t want to name names, but there was one statement yesterday that we talked about in the Women’s Caucus about someone who said: “Well, a lot of these are date rape.” As if that didn’t matter, as if that didn’t matter. So I think we have to raise the sensitivity issue.
As I told you, I met with chancellor, chaplains about this as well in a theater in Afghanistan. And, communicating the message, it’s hard for women to come forward, to come forward. What does that mean to their career? Maybe somebody else, who is aware of such abuse, can come forward and be not so concerned about what it means to her. There are things that have to be done about communication, about addressing it, but first and foremost, about reducing it, hopefully eliminating it. And the idea that the spotlight is on it in such an important way now – I think it’ll be very, very helpful in that regard.
Q: Leader Pelosi, on guns, Senator Manchin said he would like to try again on the background check bill, maybe by the August recess, to gin up support there. There is a Justice Department survey that says that actually dating back to the mid-1990s – that actually the deaths with guns are down, and we have these efforts obviously that have been pushed the past couple months after Newtown and Aurora to try to do that.
Do you think that, that matters one way or the other that there is a push now for guns in spite of those gun deaths being down, or has Newtown and Aurora and these things made legislation a difference in this issue?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as one who served here then, it was very hard for us to pass a gun bill as part of the crime bill.
Q: You are talking about the 1990s?
Leader Pelosi. In the middle 1990s, and that is the date they use, what, 1992? Since 1992 deaths have gone down in large measure because of the legislation that was passed, and then some states picked up on. But the problem is even though we have great laws in California, they do now in Maryland, New York, Connecticut – you can name many states – as long as those guns can cross state lines without having a background check attached to them, we still need that legislation, but we take great pride in the reduction in deaths that existed from when we passed the crime bill. Excuse me, well, it was the assault weapon ban, it was the high-capacity magazine, it was everything in the bill, including the Violence Against Women Act was in that bill as well. So it was a major achievement. It made a difference, and now, if we don't have a ban on assault weapons, and we don't have a ban on high capacity magazines, all the more reason for us to have a strong background check bill, all the more reason. And then we had all three. Now and more.
Now, we don't have the first two, and some of our Members would like to see that, but the political reality is what it is as you saw in the Senate – and I respect the bipartisanship that Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey brought to the legislation. I just met with many of the – they brought me, they had 1.2, I think 1.2 or 1.3 million signatures on petitions that they collected in ten days – in ten days – and their t-shirts said “We Are Not Going to Back Down.” And this is not going to go away until we have a background check.
We will just keep making the fight, and the timing on it will be when they can get the votes. I am so proud of Mike Thompson, as you know, he was here with me a few weeks ago as the chair of our Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. He is working with Peter King from New York in a bipartisan way. They have 160 cosponsors on the legislation. That is quite remarkable because in our Caucus there are people who want far more to be done. You know, they want to take, they want a bigger bill. They want to collect signatures on bigger bills so that 160 people – three of them, I think it is three Republicans, but nonetheless, three Republicans, and hopefully more. Some have said in both parties: “I will vote for it; I don't want to be a cosponsor,” but to get 160 on a bill that has all the outside mobilization coming down so strongly from the NRA and Gun Owners of America and the rest, it is pretty remarkable.
Q: You think, though, the assault weapons ban which you mentioned was a part of that crime bill, that ran from 1994 to 2004?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: So some of those statistics apply outside of that?
Leader Pelosi. Yeah, but some states followed suit, some states followed suit, so it didn't just end with what we did. Some states followed suit.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you mentioned earlier some of the items that you said were ridiculous that the Republicans are putting on the floor.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Next week, it sounds like they are going to vote once again to repeal Obamacare. I wonder what you think about the wisdom of that and also the fact that apparently this is such a popular subject for the new class of Republicans that they have been clamoring for the leadership finally to do.
Leader Pelosi. Finally do it? This is, what, the 40th time they will do it, isn't it? 38, 39, 40, 41? Somebody told me 40.
Q: I think it is 39.
Leader Pelosi. 39? High 30s. So, I don't know what the clamor is. I don't know what the clamor is. It seems like a week doesn't go by that some version of it isn't there. But we are very pleased that we are coming to a place now where we are going into implementation, that the insurance companies are putting forth their proposals. That will be – then people will know what their choices are. Some of this will be promulgated as we go along, and then starting October 1st, people will be able to sign up until March 31 – and it is pretty exciting. It is going to be something so remarkable in terms of prevention and wellness, it is going to be something so great in terms of technology, and not in that bill, but provided for in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act where we have the medical, electronic medical records and all that, those initiatives coming together at the same time.
[Please note that next week’s attempt by House Republicans to repeal Obamacare will be the 37th]
It is not going to just be about the health care, good health care in our country, it is going to be about good health in our country. So, we believe that when people begin to sign up I know the Republicans say: “oh, we want to keep, can't discriminate on the basis of a preexisting condition,” and we want to, well, it is a package. They want to spend the money on giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people, but they want to keep the provisions. That is not how it works. So, we are pretty excited about it, and because of, I mean, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on opposing this bill and tattooing it to me, which I accept with great pride, and then using that on subsequent elections. But the fact is that when people sign up for this – and already now we see more positive approval ratings for the bill, I think it is, what, 51 to 43, something like that. I think it should be more, but nonetheless, the majority, and as people sign up for it and see what it means to them.
If you have a child who is born with a defect, a medical defect or a child who is just sick at an early age, forever that child would be discriminated against with a preexisting medical condition. Right now, even for many months already, that has been wiped away. In a few months that will be the case for every person in our country that they will not be discriminated against because of a preexisting medical condition. No longer will being a woman be a preexisting medical condition. If you have children, if you had a caesarian, whatever it happens to be, women have paid more for their policies already, and now that will go away.
Again, we know that it already is the law that if you are up to 26 years of age, children can stay on their parents' policy, and that is a big thing for a young person coming out of school, and seniors have free wellness exams as well as lower costs for their prescription drugs already. So as people see what it means to them, and there are maybe like more than 100 million people, if not themselves – but because of their family, affected by preexisting medical conditions who – just think, it is going to really be liberating: life, a healthier life, liberty to pursue your happiness, whether it is to be a writer, a photographer, to start your own business, to be self-employed, to change jobs, you will no longer be job locked. So it is a pretty remarkable thing, and we are pretty excited about it. And I don't know that this was something they insisted upon. I think it represents the bankruptcy of their agenda. They don't really have anything to talk about. “Pay China first.” “Pay China first.” Give the company interest free loans instead of paying you overtime. This is not an agenda. It affects the middle class, and this is all about the middle class.
Q: The trial in Philadelphia of the doctor, Kermit Gosnell, is there any role at all that Congress should play in making sure that what happened in that clinic isn't happening elsewhere in this country?
Leader Pelosi. I think whatever went on there, and I don't know what you all reported on it, but it was really disgusting. It was really disgusting, and when we talk about reproductive health for women, that is not what we are talking about.
Q: I just wanted to ask you, you were talking about the power of the presidency a little earlier.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Given that really the only major piece of legislation that has gone through Congress since the election was the fiscal cliff deal, we have seen guns kind of stall in the Senate, do you think that the President still has any political capital left from the last election that he can use to get some of these initiatives through?
Leader Pelosi. With all due respect for the priorities that you gave that legislation, for us the Violence Against Women Act was a very major piece of legislation that came through. And the reason it won is because of public sentiment. That bill had passed in the Senate in the last Congress in a bipartisan way. Now again in a bipartisan way, overwhelming majority, including all of the Republican women, voted for the bill in the United States Senate, and still the House wouldn't take it up. But by making the public aware of it, the President – as I have said to you before, Lincoln said: “public sentiment is everything.” This issue was made too hot for the Republicans to handle. They had to bring it to the floor. Mind you, over 500 days since, since the authorization ended, the previous authorization, over 500 days later, when all these good things could be springing from it to protect women from violence, and even at that 138 Republicans voted against it. I mean, it is stunning how they can vote against violence against women, but nonetheless.
So, no, I think that because they are using the power of the majority to block jobs, jobs, jobs initiatives that the President puts forth, and they want to be small about how they talk about a vision for growing our economy in a very positive way – that they are missing opportunities. As I say, it always is encouraging to me to see the power of the presidency. I respected it when President Bush was President. I have worked with him on that, and he respected the Speakership and the role of the Congress of the United States, House and Senate, as does this President. So, I am ever hopeful that public sentiment being everything, that we will be able to accomplish a great deal more.
But that doesn't mean we won't keep trying and fighting and calling to the attention of the public why things aren't moving in the way that they should. And one way to do that is go to that table with the budget where the priorities are there. One budget which invests in jobs and economic growth and innovation and the rest, which has fairness and balance in how we reduce the deficit, and another one that is really a blueprint for mediocrity or worse for our country. That would be the Republican budget.
So, you know, this is where we are. This is the arena. This is the challenge that we all face, and we have to meet the challenge, and that means we have to go out there in the campaigns, talk about issues, the politics of personal disruption is one of their main tools. But the fact is at some point you come here to legislate, you come here to get the job done. What do you stand for? How do you wish to cooperate? And, again, what are the opportunities missed for our great middle class, which is the backbone of our democracy? We take an oath to protect and defend that Constitution and everything in it – and that is about our democracy.
So next time, we will talk about the role of money in campaigns and how that is an obstacle to honoring the vows of our founders: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness – a government of the many, not the government of the money.
But right now I have to go back to work. I know you are at work. This is my pleasure. Thank you. Happy Mother's Day.
Q: What are your kids doing?
Leader Pelosi. This is the first Mother's Day in – I don't know how many years – that I will be with my family because I have always been on the trip. But I will be with my grandchildren, the ones that are in New York. I just visited my Texas ones last week, so we had an early Mother's Day there, and San Francisco on Saturday, we had an early Mother's Day there, and now I have my New York grandchildren, Alexandra's children in New York.
Q: Are they good about calling and sending chocolate and all of those things that you admonished all of us to do when you are not there?
Leader Pelosi. Dark, very dark chocolate. Don't send it if it isn't dark. Thank you all.