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. Looking at the clock just to see as to whether it's still morning, and whether on this Friday afternoon in the summer you all would be free of this press conference to go on with the weekend events.
Today marks the 165th anniversary of the Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. It was the first women's convention ever. And yesterday we proudly stood on the steps of the Capitol with our women Members, and a few of the male Members who joined us, building on our tradition of progress for women. Women Democrats unveiled our economic agenda for women and families. When women succeed, America succeeds.
There is no better way to commemorate the efforts of the pioneers of Seneca Falls than to continue their work to empower women and to advance the cause of equality. A stronger agenda for women means a stronger middle class, more success for small businesses, stronger families, and a stronger country.
I pointed out yesterday that Congresswoman DeLauro, in her endless leadership on the subject, also informed me that at the Seneca Falls convention the temperature was 90 degrees, this before air conditioning. So, and yesterday over 100 degrees, the heat index. That shows that women are willing to take the heat to advance the cause.
In the weeks ahead we will be building on this. And we have the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave [Act]. That will be on August 5th. Very, very – do you know over 100 million people have taken advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act? Now, it is unpaid, and we would like paid leave. Women's Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, August 26th, that is a very important day for us. And Labor Day we will be celebrating workers and emphasizing the need to raise the minimum wage. This is really very important to women.
So, it's about valuing the work of women in terms of equal pay for equal work, recognizing a balance of family and work; and having paid leave for – a certain amount of paid leave, sick leave, and then, of course, the issue that I think we have to make a national crusade, the issue of affordable, accessible, quality child care for America's families. Because when women succeed, America succeeds.
On the subject of immigration, yesterday Speaker Boehner and I, along with many Catholic Members – all Catholic Members of Congress – received a letter from 93 Catholic university presidents and academics with a simple message: “Our immigration system is broken,” they said. It is morally indefensible, and it is our moral obligation to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The position of the university leaders, Catholic university leaders, echoes the call of U.S. Conference of Bishops on the subject, and really very consistent with the principles that the House Democratic Caucus has put forth for years: secure our borders, that's our responsibility, protect our workers, unite families, and offer an earned, an earned pathway to citizenship.
We are, by and large, as we all know, a nation of immigrants. Our society and economy are reinvigorated by every generation of newcomers who come to our country with their hope, their determination, their courage, and their optimism that they can make the future better for their families. That is a fundamental truth shared by the Catholic university presidents and leaders. It is a reflection of the values of the country and the values of our faith to respect and cherish the dignity of all human beings and to treat our brothers and sisters with respect.
I recall – I again mention the beautiful statement by President George W. Bush when he talked about us having a beneficent attitude toward immigrants when we write the bill. I will continue to try to have cooperation with the majority in the House so that we can have a House bill that takes us, that honors these principles so we go to conference. And that we can soon, certainly this year, have comprehensive immigration reform.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend the President's meeting highlighting how the Affordable Care Act is strengthening health and the economic security of the American people. And indeed it is. The President's remarks offered more evidence that the law is working. Insurers are being held accountable for every dollar they spend. Nearly 13 million Americans have received refunds last August, and 8.5 million Americans will receive rebates this coming fall – 8.5 million Americans. Costs are falling; patients are getting better care for lower costs.
A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that competition will lower premiums by nearly 20 percent in the health insurance marketplace. Earlier this week, as I'm sure you saw, New York announced that health costs will fall 50 percent in 2014. Democrats will continue to work with local businesses and families to make the implementation of this law a success. I'm very proud of the intensive involvement of our colleagues on this important subject. Through our efforts, Americans will benefit from better patient protections – remember, it is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, patient protection, very important, expanded choices, and more affordable care. I'm sure you may have some questions on that.
Before you do, though, I just want to observe that tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Aurora, Colorado. There will be a one minute on the floor, a moment of silence on the floor to observe that. And our hearts and prayers continue to be with the families affected at Aurora, and a constant reminder, not that we need any, but an ongoing inspiration that we need to pass legislation for background checks to make our communities safer. That's a pledge we take, to protect and defend.
With that, I will be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Should Republicans introduce an alternative health care bill, and why or why not?
Leader Pelosi. It's up to them. It's not going to become the law of the land. But for the 38th time, they had a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act the other day.
But, you know, what the Republicans should be doing is how I usually start this meeting: over six months, six and a half months now since this new Congress has come in, still no jobs bill. Over three months since the Senate passed a budget bill. Still, no desire to go to conference so that we can have a budget that will reduce the deficit, strengthen the middle class, promote economic growth, and by creating good jobs, good jobs building the infrastructure of America, keeping jobs here at home, [and] attracting jobs back to our country.
The budget is a blueprint for how we go forward. It should also be a statement of our values as to what is important to us as a country. American people think it is important for us to be solving problems, getting results, and one very important way to do that is to create jobs. So, rather than waste their time, I think it would be important for us to use our time to work so that the American people can have more work to reach their fulfillment.
Q: Madam Leader, on immigration, [Senator] John McCain is saying that the opponents of reform are losing, and that one way they could turn things around or have a shot at it is to have a campaign in August, a campaign targeting selected Members of the House, and try to get them to at least be open to the idea of passing a bill. Will be you involved, will House Democrats be involved in that campaign? And what do you see are the prospects of trying to get up enough support among House Republicans to pass a bill?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I'm not aware of Senator McCain's statement, but I am aware of the fact that the Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill with a path to legalization that can lead to citizenship, and I hope that we can do the same in the House. I'm all for the idea, if the Speaker wishes, to have the House have its own bill, but the American people want to know why we can't just take up the Senate bill. Ok, let's have a shot, as I said. Let's work together to bring our own bill to the floor.
President Lincoln has said: “public sentiment is everything.” I say that to you quite a bit. I say it to my Members. The only reason the Senate passed a bill, because they had their epiphany when 70 percent of Hispanics voted Democratic in the last election. So, we now have a bill out of the Senate. I hope we can have one out of the House. I never underestimate the strength of the voice of the American people, and so any way they can make their voices heard in August, of course, would be very positive.
Again, overwhelmingly there is support in the country for comprehensive immigration reform, as the leaders of the Catholic universities have stated, as the Catholic Conference of Bishops, as the BBBs. You know what the BBBs are? The badges: law enforcement, the Bible, faith organizations, and business, the business community – all understand and know that it's good for our country to have immigration reform.
Q: Leader Pelosi, throughout the health care debate the Senate has struck a deal on student loans, the bill to be voted on next week. When it comes to the House, Speaker Boehner has suggested that it will get a vote. Is it something Democrats can support and you can support in its current form?
Leader Pelosi. Well, our leadership on education, as you know, have been engaged for a day and a half on the floor of the House and earlier this week in the Rules Committee on the education bill that is on the floor. It is a travesty. And it has attracted the unity and opposition of the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, the education groups, the civil rights groups and the rest because the bill, just really, is pathetic and falls short of what we need to have the trained workforce for the future that business and community activists know is important to educating our people.
So, they've been busy. I look forward to hearing their evaluation on it. I'm inclined to be, you know, I'm hoping that this will be a solution. I haven't analyzed the bill fully, and it hasn't passed there, so when it does, we'll see what it is. But it is a big improvement over the what the Republicans put forth here.
Q: Madam Leader, if Republicans, as part of their piecemeal approach to immigration, put a bill on the floor that resembles the DREAM Act that the House has passed, that's similar to what is included in the Senate immigration bill, do you think that you and Democrats would be compelled to vote for it even if it falls short of citizenship for all undocumented immigrants?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it isn't a substitute for an immigration bill. And what we are calling for is a comprehensive immigration reform. We passed the DREAM Act when we had the majority at the end of 2010. The Republicans were not supportive of that.
I believe that some of the DREAMers are not supportive of the version of the DREAM Act that the Republicans may put forth. We haven't seen what that is. But I know that what they want and what we need to have is comprehensive immigration reform.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you started out your comments talking about women. One of your former California colleagues, former Congressman Filner, has admitted to inappropriate conduct with women, and he is facing some allegations of sexual harassment. Should he step down as mayor of San Diego?
Leader Pelosi. What goes on in San Diego is up to the people of San Diego. I'm not here to make any judgments or even be fully versed on what happened there. My colleagues who do represent San Diego have made their statements on the subject. But that's all I'll say about that.
Q: What moves do you think could be made on the NSA and the congressional oversight?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it's interesting. What I love about all of this is that there is this debate, and this is really important. Again, we have to have the balance between security and privacy, and that is something that has been a challenge to our country since our origin.
We, as I have said here before, I'm supportive of Congress taking up legislation such as [Congressman] Adam Schiff has put forth that would have more transparency on the operation of the FISA courts with how the decisions are made and what the decisions are after the fact.
Mr. Conyers’ bill, which he's had for years, and we have tried, is something that talks about what the term "relevant" means, that the information is relevant to our national security. Well, that's a pretty all inclusive word, and how extensively should it be interpreted. We think that the intent of Congress was not to interpret it endlessly. And so let's have that discussion.
The company, some of the companies sent us a letter today or yesterday – I saw it this morning when I came in – talking about an approach they had to information as to when they make it available. Director Alexander has said something yesterday about making the information, domiciling the information at the companies rather than at the NSA.
But I'll just say it's a healthy discussion for our country to have, recognizing the possibilities that are helpful to us to protect the American people, but understanding that privacy is important. And that is why I demanded and insisted that we have a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board both as part of an early part of the discussion on the PATRIOT Act – but, when we got the majority, to strengthen that organization. And the President has already met with that board. I think that would be a good place to have this discussion to hold all of us accountable.
But again, congressional oversight is important. We have to have the information in order to have oversight over it. Accountability is important in the executive branch and how they protect and defend our country while protecting and defending our civil liberties. So, everybody has a responsibility here. And as we have insisted in law, the inspectors general do too as they review it.
But to open it up to public discussion is very, very healthy. And I call to your attention the letter that – I don't know if we have it here, the letter we received from a number of groups, including some of the telecommunications companies that have exposure. That is to say, they have information; we have needs; how do we do it right?
One more. Can we do one more?
Q: You made clear to Andrea Mitchell how you felt about Hillary Clinton and [Vice-President] Joe Biden running for President in 2016…
Leader Pelosi. They are both wonderful. Aren't we blessed with such a great supply of riches?
Q: …I just wanted to ask you on the other side, if you saw a candidate that you think Republicans – who do you think the strongest Republican candidate would be to run against either one of them? And also, Congressman Peter King said yesterday that he is considering a run, and I wanted to get your take on that as well.
Leader Pelosi. Was he serious?
He's a great guy. I mean, I like him personally and the rest. Let me say this, and I say this with all the seriousness and respect for your question: it's a long way off for us. We don't even have a jobs bill six and a half months into this term. We don't have any results to show the American people for what's happening. We have an election in 2014 that we don't even really want to think in terms of because we want to spend a year at least trying to get work done in this off-year. And again, if we can win an immigration bill, win a background check bill, if we can get a jobs bill and all those things, it makes the urgency of even the 2014 election less urgent, to repeat the word.
So for us, 2014 is far enough off to get involved in what the Republicans should be doing. I don't know. I mean, I could give you some names of people that I think would be great candidates, and how you should interpret it is they wouldn't be. You say, who is the candidate you want? The one we didn't get. So, I'd give you the names of people that we probably wouldn't get.
Anyway, I know that's confusing. Let's just get through 2013, do the job for the American people. As far as 2014 is concerned, that will be a statement of what the product of this Congress was, it being a congressional election. As far as 2016 is concerned, yes, I'm very proud of every name that has been mentioned on the Democratic side. I think that we'll have a great field of candidates from whom to choose a President and a Vice President, and I feel very confident that we will have a Democratic victory at that time. But we have work to do to get our job done here, have the election of 2014. But I can just imagine that one day after the 2014 election, this will all take off. Perhaps we'll talk then. Ok?
Don't forget, 165 years ago courageous women gathered, and a few good men with them, to advance, echo our Declaration of Independence that every man and woman is created equal. We stand on the shoulders of those suffragettes, and others stand on our shoulders. And we have to make sure that women are respected in the workplace, and that they can unleash the power of women to improve our economy. Every aspect, whether it's government and politics, whether it's our national security, whether it's our economy and our financial institutions, whether it's our academic world, whether it's how we raise our children at home, in every way respect and empowering women does exactly what we have said: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
Thank you all very much.