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. One of the big differences between Democrats and Republicans is our attitude toward America's working families. Democrats have always been committed to them and respect them for their strong work ethic and are there to help meet their needs when, through no fault of their own, they lose their jobs. Yesterday, House Democrats moved for the third time to force a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance that millions of Americans rely on to support their families as they look for work. And yesterday, for the third time, House Republicans blocked the House from even considering extending this essential lifeline.
More than 100 Members – and that number continues to grow – have signed a letter, led by Congressman Gary Peters of Michigan, calling on Speaker Boehner to cancel next week's recess until Congress sends the President an extension of this essential emergency support. Republicans should keep the House in session, drop their shortsighted and immoral opposition, and work with Democrats to secure security for millions of unemployed Americans and their families across the country.
Republicans in the House and Senate are abandoning the 1.5 million Americans – that's how many now are losing benefits, and counting – who are reeling from being cut off, just giving up looking for work because there are no prospects. We need a strong job initiative. The President has put it forth over and over again. The Republican version of a jobs initiative is a tax break for the wealthiest people in America or a special loophole for special interests. Men and women who work hard, play by the rules, and lose their jobs through no fault of their own deserve the respect that Democrats extend to them. Now, thanks to Republicans' callous disregard, these people are losing their emergency unemployment insurance, too, in addition to losing their jobs.
It's unconscionable that the House is being sent home. It seems like we were just out. Then we came back for a little bit – a little bit of a drive-by Congress. And now we're going out again. It is irony or sorrow that this is the week that we celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest champions for economic justice in the 20th century – really in the history of our country – without having acted on this urgent matter. Seventy two thousand more Americans lose their emergency unemployment insurance every week. Failing to extend emergency employment insurance will cost the economy 240,000 jobs this year.
It doesn't matter where you are across the nation. One thing always stands out: the incredible work ethic of the American people. It's remarkable. I have the privilege of traveling constantly throughout our country, and it is palpable, the work ethic of the American people. Their productivity, the productivity of our workers has soared, but their paychecks have not kept pace. Stagnant wages and widening income inequality are hurting families, holding back our economy, and eroding the basic American principle of respecting work.
Yesterday, on Martin Luther King's birthday – it was actually his birthday yesterday – we held a press event with Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. And some hard working Americans joined us to discuss how important it is to raise the minimum wage, to energize our economy, to create jobs, and restore fairness to hard working men and women across our country. Secretary Perez quoted Dr. King from 1966, when Dr. King declared: "We know of no more crucial civil rights issue facing Congress today than the need to raise the federal minimum wage." It was true then, it is true now. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 – still well within what we have in California, San Francisco – it would give a long overdue raise to 28 million hard-working men and women, create 85,000 new jobs, lift more than 4.5 million Americans out of poverty, help feed, clothe, and shelter more than 14 million children. People working full time should not have to raise their children in poverty.
It's amazing, because of just the consumer aspect of raising the minimum wage and how that gives more discretionary income, which will be spent immediately. Because we are still talking about a low wage – not a living wage, but a minimum wage – and that is how of course it creates jobs. The American people know raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for working people. Recent polling by Quinnipiac University shows an overwhelming majority of voter support. Seventy-one percent of all Americans support raising the minimum wage. Even 52 percent of the Republicans out there support raising the minimum wage.
Our nation should honor – it always has – the industry, dedication, and productivity of working families. Unfortunately, instead of acting to create good paying jobs for hard-working Americans, Republicans in Congress – as opposed to the sentiments of Republicans outside of Congress – are continuing to waste time with their 48th vote on the Affordable Care Act. Republicans should stop trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and the quality, affordable coverage it is providing already to millions of Americans. It's time for Republicans to end their fixation and start working with Democrats on the priorities of the American people: creating jobs – one way by extending emergency unemployment insurance – and raising the minimum wage, meeting the needs for all Americans to participate in the prosperity of our great country.
On a positive note, speaking of critical issues, I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress – and that’s a good thing – that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act. And I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement about that later today. I’m not here to announce it. But I’m here to say that, from what I’ve heard in meetings and the briefings we’ve had, that while it’s not the bill that everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress, and it is worthy of support.
With that, I'd be pleased to answer any questions you may have. No questions? Thank you.
Q: I was just going to ask you, your close colleague, George Miller, announced his retirement this week. There have been some other Democrats in the past few days that have decided not to seek reelection this year. How optimistic are you that you can still recapture the majority and take the rest of your Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. Well, while praising the just unequalled contribution of George Miller to the House for 40 years – he came as a Watergate baby, and here 40 years later he is saying: “Enough.” Yes, it is a loss to the Congress. It's a loss to California. It's a loss to the country. Retirements are really personal and family decisions, as is running for Congress. I always say: “Just watch the holidays.” That's when we get the announcement of who's going to run or who's not going to run, because that's when families come together.
George Miller's district is a very Democratic district, as is Jim Moran's, and we're sorry that he is leaving. They are generationally in the same place, ready for another chapter in life. It's not about whether we win the House. It's about their family decisions. So we're sorry to lose Jim. Mike McIntyre, same thing: a valued Member of our caucus. Bill Owens as well. I think the Republicans have many more retirements than we do. And I think we probably have better prospects in some of their districts they do in ours. I don't think our Democratic retirements relate in any way to our prospects for winning. We are on a good path. We just saw the results of last year's reports and we've seriously outraised the Republicans. And that means that our grassroots supporters are enthusiastic about our prospects and have been very generous. We outraised them by $14 million. Imagine the minority party in the off year: we even outraised ourselves from where we were two years ago in this regard. The reason I say money is because that's a statement. If we weren't doing well you would hold us accountable. But we are doing well. And it's an eloquent statement of strength, I think a bank statement is.
But more important than that is the caliber of candidates that we have running. They're spectacular. We're very enthusiastic about it. And I'm not here to talk politics. But we can have another session to go over each of the races. And you can see why Democrats are optimistic about our prospects. And we have met all of our critical imperatives for where we need to be on a path to victory.
Q: On health care, there are some Democrats who have expressed some concern about the law and the idea of having to be able to market it and deal with their district. There was I think a report yesterday, an exchange with Kurt Schrader, who's critical of White House Chief of Staff, Mr. McDonough, who he said wasn't getting what some of these moderate Democrats have to say about the law in their district and so on. Is that a problem for Democrats?
Leader Pelosi. No.
Q: Why not?
Leader Pelosi. The Affordable Care Act – again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to say – honors the vows of our Founders. Life, a healthy life, liberty to pursue your happiness, not job loss or change by a policy, but free to follow your passion and what you want to be, a cameraman, a writer, be self-employed, start a business, change jobs. It's unfortunate about the technology and the rollout, but the legislation and the law that now is, is very strong. It sits right there as a pillar of stability for America's families with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
We feel very strong about it. Some of the people who have a problem with it didn't vote for it in the first place. I'm not saying that's Kurt Schrader. But nonetheless, I think with all due respect to your question, it's a small piece of a very big, transformative initiative for our country that will succeed.
Q: Leader Pelosi, the omnibus appropriations bill is being called a return to regular order, at least it sets us on the path to return to regular order. To what extent do you actually think that all 12 appropriations bills can be produced out of the House, conferenced with the Senate before the end of September? And what potential stumbling blocks do you see to actually getting that entire process done?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I hope that it is a return to regular order. I mean, doing an omnibus is sort of regular order. We'd rather have passed each of the bills individually. We think if that had happened we would have a stronger Labor, HHS, and Education piece to it because that is really a place where I think we could have done much better in the omnibus. I know that the Republicans wanted to put it on a train that was leaving the station in a bigger package so that the public could not see the impact of the number they assigned to Labor and HHS.
But having said that, our conferees worked hard to use the money, the resources that were there in a good way. We should be doing much more for the National Institutes of Health, the biblical power to cure, great science, scientific opportunity available to us that we're only going to be able to address a small part of. And the list goes on. But we're always optimistic that we can have regular order and that would be of course what we prefer, a full discussion of each bill as to what is at stake in voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on different aspects of it.
But let's be hopeful. I'm an appropriator. Appropriators are in the leadership. Steny Hoyer is an appropriator, Mr. Clyburn is an appropriator, Harry Reid is an appropriator, Richard Durbin is an appropriator. So we all understand. We like the Appropriations Committee to be viewed as sort of a nonpartisan arena where we have a legitimate debate on what public policy the funding makes to improve the lives of the American people. So I know that the appropriators would be interested in regular order; so are we.
Q: Two questions. First off, the unemployment insurance, you talked about it today. How much do you think voters in November will be looking at that as an issue and do you think it's something that really strikes at people? And second, any predictions on the score for the 49ers game?
Leader Pelosi. All of these questions are just a subterfuge to get around to sports, right?
I would put my bracelet right out there. Joe Montana’s jersey, number .
Look, whether it's immigration reform, whether it's Brady background checks, whether it's ENDA, whether it's raising the minimum wage, whether it is unemployment insurance extension, we would rather have all of these passed and make progress for the American people than not and have an issue in November. So for us it's so urgent, so immediate. Quite frankly, for me, when we left here in December without passing it, I think most of us thought, well: “When we come back in January, it was about time. Come back in January. They'll do it right away and it'll be retroactive and it'll be off the table.”
But that's why I said one of the biggest distinctions between Democrats and Republicans is our concern for America's working families, and they have been clear that they don't really intend to take this up. So unless there is a great deal of public awareness and public pressure for them to do so, it won't happen.
But I, in no way, want this to be an issue in November. I want this to be ancient history by then, that it would have passed and people will be getting unemployment insurance. Which by the way, for every dollar spent, injects $1.52 into the economy. It is a stimulus. It's not the kind we would prefer, but it is a stimulus. We'd rather have them pass the American Jobs Act, all of the “Make It In America,” Buy America bonds, build the infrastructure, we would rather they pass those kinds of initiatives alongside this, so that we're creating big initiatives on jobs at the same time as we are correcting some of this ongoing fallout from the great recession.
So your question I respect, but I hope this is long gone by election time.
So what are the prospects? As they say, on Any Given Sunday: “Anything can happen.” The Seahawks fans are a feisty lot. They're not selling tickets to anybody from California. You have to be from Oregon, Washington, or Alaska if you're on the West Coast. They like making all that noise. It's a factor.
But anyway, in good spirit we're all making our bets. I think our mayor and the Seattle mayor are making an ice cream bet. I have a chocolate bet with the Members from Washington State. And then that's in addition to enjoying my chicken cackalacky for the last week from North Carolina, which is lovely. But I told them I was going to send them chocolate anyway because they were such good sports, for the North Carolina game.
Who knows? We'll see. We'll see. We love our quarterback, we like the tattoos, big arms. And it's interesting to see, two years ago – not two years – one year ago, we took our two 16 year old grandsons as their Christmas present. Sixteen years old – every birthday, 15, 16, Christmas, everything combined present took them to the Super Bowl. Now, we have like the five and six year olds and seven year olds who want to go to the Super Bowl. So we'll just have to see how that go goes. It's amazing what a difference a Sunday makes. We'll find out on Sunday how it will go.
But the world of sport is a beautiful thing. It's so much fun, isn't it? It's not political. It's just great. It's about talent and skill. And what I like about it, it's about numbers. I love numbers. It's about stats. And of course, who gets the most at the end, that's the winner.
But anyway, for us it's a sad thing because our stadium is being shut down, Candlestick Park. It was the park where Willie Mays came to California to play baseball in the '50s. It means a whole lot to us from a historic sports standpoint. But it has gotten old. And now the Giants, who started in California in Candlestick, have moved to their own stadium, which is wonderful. Come see it. And then now they're going down to Santa Clara County for the new stadium, still the San Francisco 49ers.
So this bracelet has the old stadium and the new stadium, Joe Montana's jersey, Niners, the seal, the football, the helmet. What more do you want?
Q: When the Niners started, didn't they play at Kezar Stadium first?
Leader Pelosi. They played at Kezar Stadium, they did. And then they moved to – and some of our Members who, little children in California, went to Kezar. Mayor Christopher, in those days, was the mayor of San Francisco when it was Kezar and he used to have something for football in Kezar, little kids, school kids could go for, like, 50 cents. So they were building a fan base right then and there.
I assume that you have no more questions. I hope I see you next week. I hope we're still here. I'm not that optimistic. But we should be. We should be here doing the people's business. We should be here passing unemployment insurance for starters, but working on all of the other issues, like voting rights, immigration, ENDA, raising the minimum wage, a farm bill. I'm optimistic that we can work together.
Q: On food stamps, something like $8 billion in cuts over 10 years is the number. And will House Democrats support that large a cut?
Leader Pelosi. Some will; some won't. But we're just hopeful that we can get a Farm Bill. You know how important it is to our economy. Think of being a Californian, but you could substitute Florida, many other states. No Farm Bill, no immigration bill, it's devastating. It's two things that are really urgent for any communities that have agriculture, have tourism, have technology, and the rest. So we would hope that in just a very short period of time we can say that this legislation has become the law of the land.
Thank you all very much.