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. Well, they called a vote. Seems like they timed it exactly to our schedule. Let me try to be brief.
As you know, Members of Congress went home last week to celebrate our independence, the Fourth of July, and to hear from our constituents, bringing their concerns back. We have only to report that 190 days have passed since the start of the 113th Congress [and] 110 days since the Senate passed a budget. We still don't have a jobs bill and we still don't have a budget.
And this is really what the American people want us to do. The American people are waiting. The Democrats are ready to act. Democratic Members of the Budget Committee have been named to a conference. Democrats have put forward our budget proposal to promote jobs and growth, to invest in innovation and infrastructure in our country, and to bring down the deficit. Growth with jobs, that's what the budget should do.
Enacting a budget and replacing the devastating cuts of the sequester are necessary steps for the sake of our economy and our national defense. Yesterday, Secretary Hagel said if the cuts are not lifted by October 1st, the size and readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country's ability to meet our current national security commitments. That's a pretty strong statement.
It's time to engage in a fair and open debate on our priorities, enact a budget that replaces the sequester, reduces the deficit, creates jobs, strengthens the middle class, and takes us into the future. It's a stunning thing that we have no jobs bill and we have no budget after the Republicans have said we want regular order on the budget. One hundred and ten days since the regular order in the Senate has moved forward.
You might be interested in comprehensive immigration reform. Yesterday was a significant day in the cause of comprehensive immigration reform, so far anyway. President George W. Bush urged a positive resolution to the debate and expressed hope that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country. I've said over and over again that President Bush had been the best on immigration. He understood it intellectually, he believed it in. As a former Governor of Texas, he had knowledge about why it would really be important. And unfortunately, he couldn't convince his own party of that when he was President.
Yesterday also was the White House report which said that immigration reform will strengthen the economy, create jobs, boost growth, raise wages, increase productivity, reduce the deficit, and strengthen Social Security. Yet again some other reasons why we should be passing a bill.
President Obama met with Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss a way forward on immigration reform. I sent a letter to Speaker Boehner urging bipartisan action to pass comprehensive immigration reform and highlighting the good work of the House task force of seven. They really worked very hard and in good faith with, again, a compromise that we all – with a compromise there are some things you like and some things you don't.
Today and in the future, we must keep the momentum forward for comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, protects our workers, reunites our families, and has a path to permanent legal status that leads to citizenship. As we gather here, we're taking a vote on the floor right now on the rule for the farm bill. This is really, as I said, amateur hour to the nth degree now. Whatever I said before, to the nth degree. The Speaker said: “We want regular order, we're going to respect the work of our committee.” The committee passed out a bipartisan bill out of the Agriculture Committee which has now been totally ignored by the Republican leadership. And, instead, they are putting a bill on the floor that they conjured up last night. I can't really tell you much about it except that it has no nutrition and food stamps, it has no support from the farm groups, it has less deficit reduction than the Senate farm bill, and it does not have Democratic support.
Today's legislation splits farm and nutrition initiatives within two different measures. You know that. I want to remind that when we did the farm bill, we had such strong bipartisan support we were able to overcome a presidential veto two times, overwhelming consensus. Two times we overrode a presidential veto.
By pursuing this course of action that the Republicans have chosen, they are endangering support for farmers, ranchers, food security, rural communities, conservation, and the jobs of 16 million Americans. The proposed, again, bill does not have the support of any element, whether it's the nutrition side, the food stamp side, food banks, and the rest. And we will see if it has enough votes to pass on the floor.
Thank you, Drew. Drew just handed me a letter that I, copy of a letter you all should have, technically speaking. It is a letter to the Chairman of Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board highlighting critical concerns in need of agencies' immediate review. In recent weeks, various news reports, as you know, about our intelligence community have underscored the need to ensure government activities uphold our obligations to protect our national security, for sure, but also to preserve privacy and civil liberties. That balance, again, is the great balance of America.
In 2007, Democrats empowered the Privacy and Civil Liberties [Board]. When the Patriot Act was passed, after it passed, there were concerns, and some of us were insisting that there be this Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. It was passed, but under those circumstances, [it] couldn't be as strong as we would like.
When we got the majority, H.R. 1, the first bill that Democrats put on the floor as a Democratic majority, was to enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, one of which was the strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. We had a beginning of it before, but now this would strengthen it with greater tools to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency for our national security strategy.
Again, I sent this letter, and it really addresses four points: whether the executive and judicial branches are interpreting our laws in a manner consistent with congressional intent and with expectations for the protection of America's privacy and civil liberty. I called to their attention legislation introduced by Chairman Conyers, which is a reflection of concerns that Democrats have raised about this issue over time, that it be relevant. Well, what does "relevant" mean? How broadly do you interpret that?
Greater transparency we are insisting upon for the FISA Court's operation. [Congressman] Adam Schiff has legislation to this extent, understanding FISA Court decisions and cases. Why can't some of that be made known, at least after the fact? And during the fact, whether the government should use new technologies to more effectively balance our security and privacy. Let's just subject this to some scrutiny. Is it worth what we need to do to get the information to protect the American people.
Congress will continue to perform its oversight functions and work with the Board and other agencies to meet our first responsibility: to protect and defend. That is the American people, but also their liberties contained in our Constitution.
With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Republicans have been discussing the idea of delaying the individual mandate to line up with the delay in the mandate for employers for health care. Do you think that there's any virtue in delaying the individual mandate so it lines up with…
Leader Pelosi. No. Absolutely not. I don't think it's virtuous at all. In fact, the point is, is that the mandate was not delayed. Certain reporting by businesses that could be perceived as onerous, that reporting requirement was delayed, and partially to review how it would work and how it could be better. It was not a delay of the mandate for the businesses and there shouldn't be a delay of the mandate for individuals.
Q: Thank you. You talked about oversight of FISA and some of these intelligence issues and things here. There have been some reports and some of the Senators, [Senator] Merkley, [Senator] Wyden, [and] some others have expressed concern that they didn't think that the intelligence communities were up front with them when they were conducting oversight. Do you think that the intelligence communities have fallen down in some of these cases? And what consequences should there be when the intelligence communities are not being forthright with the overseers?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think we have to have oversight of the oversight. And that's one of the things that we did when we had the majority. We didn't have the signature, so we had to have a compromise in 2008 when we did the FISA – so called FISA, call this an amendment but it was a bill. And what that did was to strengthen the requirements for oversight and the rest.
But Congress has a responsibility, again, to protect and defend the American people. Congress has a responsibility to fund operations that do just that. Congress needs the information in order to properly conduct its – to honor its responsibilities, and we need to know how the balance between security and liberty and privacy are respected.
So, I believe that. You know, I've had, as you probably know, for more than a dozen years an ongoing conversation about what the – including Democratic and Republican administrations – what the administration, we say that they are custodians of intelligence but not owners and that they need to share much more of that information with us.
Q: But isn't the issue the ultimate power of Congress are the purse strings? If you have certain agencies that aren't doing things the right way, you might, you know, tie the purse strings. But in dealing with intelligence, can you do that to the intelligence communities if they aren't conducting themselves?
Leader Pelosi. One of the problems we had during the Iraq War was that so much was done by supplemental. So, it practically usurps the power of the Intelligence Committee to have the hearings, to make the budget decisions, and the rest.
Just a matter of history, more on the subject than you may want to know: an authorization by the Intelligence Committee was always considered almost exactly the appropriation. In other words, we have access to information that others do not have, so let us make these decisions about funding, and the budgeting is really important on intelligence as you make those choices. And so, it was always respected as the authorizers who had the information were effectively the appropriators.
During the Iraq War, much of that changed because they were doing it by supplemental. So, it's all coming through the Appropriations Committee. And therefore it weakened the, I won't say the power, but, yeah, weakened the authority of the Intelligence Committee. We had to return to regular order so that the people who were getting the information about what our challenges were, what our possibilities were, whether it was technologically, whatever it happened to be, judging what our overarching issues were, what the priorities were, what the President's priorities were, whoever the President might be, that we can make those decisions.
So, that's one of the reasons that the 9/11 Commission recommended that there be a joint House and Senate Committee on this. We couldn't get the Senate to go along with it. But what we did create was a committee that was appropriators and Intelligence Members working together. So, you had all the intelligence information to impact more strongly, and the staffing that goes with it, to impact on the appropriation.
So, for these and other reasons, whether it's budget, whether it's priorities, whether it's civil liberties and privacy and the rest of it, congressional oversight is very, very important. And you cannot do it effectively unless the information is clearly shared in order to do that.
Q: It was very clear at the end of the Republicans' immigration meeting yesterday that Republicans are very divided on what to do about legalization. Most, however, came out and said it's very unlikely that any action will be taken on immigration until the fall, when we'll have the debt ceiling, we'll need to do another CR or spending bill of some kind. Do you have any concern that the delay will mean a long, slow death for immigration?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I'm concerned about the delay because why? Why would we delay? Why don't we just get about the business of doing a bill? And I have said to the Speaker, I'm respectful of any way that he wants to bring it to the floor, in parts or in whole or whatever it is. But we really should get moving on it and see where there are areas of agreement where we can pass a bill so that we can go to conference and then have the further discussion.
Yes, I think delay can create problems. But I'm ever optimistic. So, I believe that we will have immigration reform for the simple reason that the American people want us to have it, and that if it doesn't happen in this year, it's unlikely that it's going to happen in an election year.
But it is, the beautiful word that President Bush, that he spoke about yesterday in his speech and has over time, we have to respect what immigration is to our country. I believe that it is the source of the constant reinvigoration of America and that people who come here with their hopes, dreams, [and] aspirations to make the future better for their families are completely in sync with America, our Founders, the vows of our Founders – novus ordo seclorum, a new order for the centuries, forever. And that was predicated on the idea that we would have responsibility, all of us, to make the future better, one generation for the next, every person, and the generation taking responsibility. So their aspirations, hope, optimism, determination, and courage, in my view, makes America more American. And we have to think as President Bush exalted us to do, to think in those kinds of terms.
I think there's something about the clock. Okay.
Q: Madam Leader, following on President Bush and his comments yesterday, it seems to have been met with a "so what" attitude from the House Republican Conference. And now you say: “Well, the American people want this.” They wanted backgrounds checks as well. So what makes you believe or think that immigration and any other issue would be any different?
Leader Pelosi. I'm not giving up on background checks either. So, I do believe that Congress will be in sync with the American people. It's just a matter of time.
On the immigration issue, as I said to you before, that Republicans in the Senate had an epiphany when 70 percent of the Hispanic voters voted Democratic for President and for Congress. And so they know how important it is to have immigration reform.
Separate and apart from that, it's absolutely essential. We have a broken system, and we just allow it to continue. And as I said, the President's report and the CBO has reported that this will reduce the deficit by billions and billions of dollars and that – let me find the page, what the President – that it will create jobs, boost growth, raise wages, increase productivity, reduce deficits, and strengthen Social Security, strengthen our economy. So, there are reasons to do this beyond the political aspects of the election.
You know, I quote Lincoln all the time: “Public sentiment is everything.” And while some of our colleagues say there aren't that many Hispanics in their district to make a difference in their reelection – some Republicans say that – the fact is that many Republicans in our country support comprehensive immigration reform.
The BBB – the badges, the law enforcement community, the business community, the Bible folks – many of those are Republicans. They have been very enthusiastic over time and getting impatient about Congress taking action. It would be a real failure on our part if we could not find a path to go to conference, to air our differences, to come up with a bill.
I just have time for one more because I can't miss this vote.
Q: There seems to be a deal emerging in the Senate on the student loan impasse…
Leader Pelosi. Wouldn't that be great?
Q: …which would put a cap to protect the students against big fluctuations in interest rates. Would Democrats in the House be willing to go along with a market-based system if it had the kind of protections that Senate Democrats…
Leader Pelosi. Well, you have to see it. As you know, we had our own, we supported in our motion to recommit what the President was proposing, which had some similarities to what I understand the Senate bill is. But until I see the bill – have you seen it?
Q: No. I've been told about it.
Leader Pelosi. Until we see it, it's hard to say how we would respond to it. But so far it sounds like a way to get the job done, which we must do because the burden of debt that are on our families and our young people for them to go to college is really unconscionable.
And well, this is a fight we have been engaged in a long time with the Republicans. I do not support the Republican proposal that came out of the House. What's happening in the Senate sounds more in the interest of helping middle income families and those who aspire to it enable their children to receive a higher education, which is essential for innovation in our country.
And by the way, nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in the education of the American people. So, while I know they have some money concerns that they are going back and forth with on the Senate, too, remember, nothing, nothing you can come up with brings more money to the Treasury than early childhood, K-12, higher education, postgraduate, [and] lifetime learning. You want to reduce the deficit? Invest in education.
Thank you all very much.