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Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today

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, everyone.  Sorry that the votes interfered with our normal schedule. 

Today our Democratic colleagues in the Senate are holding another vote to try to renew emergency unemployment insurance and to restore the vital economic security to America's families.  It's just the right thing to do.  Right now, more than 1.7 – it has gone up to 1.7 million Americans across the country are reeling from the loss of their emergency unemployment insurance.  Every week another 72,000 Americans lose it.  Failing to extend UI will cost 240,000 jobs this year. 

We would prefer to be doing job creation, and that is the fight that we have, but to not do job creation and not do UI really has a detrimental impact on the economy.  UI – for every dollar spent – brings in more than $1.50 to the economy.  This money is spent immediately for necessities, it injects demand into the economy, creates jobs.  It is a stimulus. 

We would rather have other stimuli in terms of job creation, building the infrastructure of America, tax policy to encourage people to make it in America, and to have our communities have the wherewithal from a successful economy to educate our children, protect our neighborhoods, have our first responders be respected in the work that they do for us. 

But when it comes to UI, the Republicans in the House won't even allow a vote on extending it.  This is stunning.  They won't even allow a vote.  And one of the reasons they don't allow it is because they don't believe in it.  The other reason they don't do it is because they know it will win if they bring it up.  Republicans' continued refusal to extend this essential emergency support for hard working Americans is simply indefensible.  Republicans should work with Democrats. 

Now, we have come a long way.  I myself believe this is an emergency.  If 1.7 million people in America were confronted with an emergency situation – as these people are – through no fault of their own, we would act.  I don't think this needs to be paid for.  But we have said, to try to break the logjam.  The Republicans are saying: “Well, we want it to be paid for.”  Was that a reason they didn't pass it or was it an excuse not to pass it? 

I spend time on this because, when I talk to my colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus, this is where I always begin, because this is where families are, at their kitchen tables, desperately needing something that was always part of our free enterprise system, which is that we go in cycles, and unemployment goes up or down.  And that is a safety net – unemployment insurance, not just for the individuals, but for the whole system.  And this is a stunning, stunning, and indefensible approach to take. 

At the same time, this week, starting tomorrow, the Treasury will have to resort to extraordinary measures to ensure that the United States of America keeps its obligations and pays its bills.  These are for bills already incurred.  You know that.  On January 22, Secretary Jack Lew called Members of the leadership and then wrote to us to warn that Treasury would be forced to resort to extraordinary measures at the end of this week to ensure that the United States of America keeps its obligations. 

On Monday, Secretary Lew once again warned that now, with tax filing season underway and all of the rebates that go with that, these extraordinary measures will buy only a short time for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. 

Last week, Members of Congress received a letter from a group of leading business organizations – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Bankers Association, American Insurance Association, consumer bankers, independent community bankers, bankers large and small, financial service institutions – urging a swift action to preserve, in their words, to preserve our economic recovery and, “our nation's financial standing in the world […] by eliminating the uncertainty as to whether or not we will incur an historic default.”  And our default would mean “a historic default or raising the debt ceiling.”  That is the choice.  Historic default or raise the debt ceiling. 

So I don't know what is going on in their caucus.  I think they keep trying to find a way to get people to vote for lifting the debt ceiling by putting proposals on there that shouldn't be on there.  It should be clean.  It should not be a negotiation.  The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not in doubt.  The Constitution affirms that.  Congress passed these bills that incurred this debt.  And we need to meet our obligations. 

So I am hopeful that the Speaker will come to us and say: “Let's just work together to get this off the table and remove all doubt.”  Because the mere mention of it, two and a half years ago, contributed to a downgrading of our credit rating.  This now, on top of shutting down government in October – shutting down government in October    and then they finally put a bill on the floor to open up government, over 60 percent of the Republicans voted to keep government shut down and to default on the full faith and credit. 

So let's just do it.  Let's just do it.  It is really important for people at home at that kitchen table.  This letter came from the boardrooms, from the conference table.  But the important table to us is the kitchen table.  And at that conference table to the kitchen table, the consequences of jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States of America are exceedingly grave.  High interest rates for your mortgage, your car payment, your student loan, your credit cards.  Higher interest rates on your business loans that you use to pay employees or expand your business. 

That's what I say to the American people: this has a direct impact on you.  This is not a theoretical debate.  This is about you.  Significant blows to your 401(K) when the stock market would plummet.  And it would indeed if we do not lift the debt ceiling. 

If this were to happen, just again, as I say: “The longer this is drawn out” – the Speaker says we will do this by the end of February.  Well, the end of February is looming.  We are here three days next week.  We are out now.  We are here, what, two and a half days next week?  We are out all that rest of the week and the following week.  And there we are at the end of February. 

If we allow this to happen it would be an extreme dereliction of duty on the part of the Republican majority in the House.  Congress must raise the debt ceiling, and we must do so without delay.  That's what we are not doing.  We're not passing unemployment insurance, and we're not, so far, addressing legislatively our responsibility in terms of the debt ceiling.  We should be doing that. 

And what else we should be doing, instead of the nonsense that they are bringing to the floor, the American people need Congress to stop stalling on the debt ceiling.   Renew the unemployment insurance.  Let us get forward with an opportunity agenda that the President talked about that builds an economy, an economy that works for all Americans. 

We need to be unleashing the full potential of America's women.  And that is why we were so thrilled, as we discussed last week, that the President said: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”  And our women's economic agenda, it's not only just our title, it is a statement of fact: when women succeed, America succeeds.  And our economic agenda we could implement and it would grow our economy.  Fair pay, equal pay, and raise the minimum wage.  Over 60 percent of the people who get the minimum wage are women.  Paid family and sick leave. 

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of Family and Medical Leave.  That's wonderful.  Over 100 million times America's families have availed themselves of it.  But too many are left behind.  And of course affordable child care is essential to unleashing the power of women, and men, and families. 

On the subject of paid leave, a survey by the National Partnership for Women and Families has found only 27 percent of women say they were paid full wages when they took leave, compared to 39 percent of men.  We still just have this gap.  Thirty percent of women say they receive no pay compared to just 22 percent of men.  They should all be getting paid. 

But this gap between women and men is remarkable considering that most of the caregiving is done by women, for children, for parents, and the rest.  Although I have had some of my colleagues here say to me, even on the Republican side of the aisle: “I have taken more days off from work to care for a sick parent than I ever did for a sick child.”  So they know that this is something that families face.  They just don't have to worry about having paid sick leave. 

This imbalance is hurting families and holding back the full potential of America's women.  We need to pass the FAMILY Act.  That's the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.  It's an acronym.  And that's something that Rosa DeLauro, our patron saint, our godmother for all of these issues of the pay equity and the rest, George Miller and Harkin, raise the minimum wage, Rosa DeLauro and Kirsten Gillibrand – Senator Gillibrand – on the subject of the family, the paid leave that would establish paid family and medical leave for all workers and allow employees to earn 66 percent of their wages for up to 12 weeks. 

Well, I took more time with my opening, so I'll just go to your questions.  But it is very exasperating to be here.  It used to be boring, now it's devastating because of what it means to the American people.

***

Q:  Leader Pelosi, Kerry Picket of Sean Hannity, Fox News.  You met with the President recently, along with other Democrats, and he complained about Fox News being unfair to him, particularly with the Benghazi coverage, with the IRS essentially targeting a number of conservative organizations.  Do you agree with that, and can you give an example? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I don't remember him talking about that.  Maybe he was talking to somebody individually, or maybe it wasn't important to me among all the wonderful things that we were talking about of what we can do for the American people.  But the President's opinion or mine of Fox News is also I don't think important. 

Q: I had a question about the President's trade…   

Leader Pelosi.  And by the way, I had the pleasure of being on with Greta around the time of the State of the Union, so I enjoyed that. 

Q:  I'm Adam Behsudi with Politico.  Do you support the President's trade agenda?  And are you doing anything within your Caucus to compromise or develop…   

Leader Pelosi.  What subject are we talking about? 

Q:  Trade. 

Leader Pelosi.  Oh, trade.  Okay.

Q:  Do you support the President's trade agenda?  Are you doing in within your Caucus to develop a compromise trade promotion authority bill or bring people…   

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we are a party of trade.  I come from San Francisco, and born and raised in Baltimore, two cities that were built by clipper ships and trade, and so I understand the vitality of that.  So a trade agenda is important to our country. 

That is a different story than the question you're asking about Senator Baucus and Chairman Camp's, the two chairmen's proposal on trade promotion.  I don't think that would have very many votes among Democrats in the House.  But that doesn't mean it couldn't get to a place.  And some of our Members have been trying to work very diligently to try to find a place where more people could – our Caucus could be more unified on the subject of supporting a trade promotion act.  But the Baucus-Camp proposal, it didn't even try to get our votes.

Q:  Are there any specifics that you could say would improve…    

Leader Pelosi.  Well, some of them relate to transparency.  There has to be much more transparency in the negotiations and the rest so that we are not just a fait accompli put on our desk and then say: “Take it or leave it.”  You know, there has to be transparency.  There has to be more congressional consultation and the rest. 

And again, the Members are working through some of this.  But until they get to a better place, I don't think there are very many votes in the House Democratic Caucus.  But really, we always have to try to find a place where we can come together on it and then make a judgment about the trade agreements that have been negotiated. 

One thing, and I think this is really important, one issue in especially this Trans Pacific bill is currency manipulation.  Just what we have heard about that, the substance of that, there is tremendous unease on that subject.  It might get better.  It may be better than we know.  That's why we want more transparency. 

But that is one of the biggest disservices to American workers, that is the biggest disservice to American workers, because when they manipulate the currency, it changes the whole arena that people are working in. 

So, yes, we are trying very hard, Mike Michaud from Maine, who has been usually someone who would oppose a trade agreement, is working with our colleagues.  Some will never be there.  Understand that.  And a few may be there now.  But in the meantime, we would like to do something that brings people together.  So we are working on that? 

Q:  Leader Pelosi, earlier this week the CBO released a report saying that the Affordable Care Act would have a detrimental long term effect on the economy, causing over 2 million people to choose to take earned income benefits, as you call them.  What will House Democrats do to combat the narrative in the fall that Republicans will say…   

Leader Pelosi.  Can you show me where he said it would have a negative impact on our economy?

Q:  Within the report.  

Leader Pelosi.  Where did he say that?  I didn't hear that.  I haven't seen that.  He did say that some people might choose not to work because they have reached an age where they would rather retire and be with their families, and they are not old enough for Medicare.  And in fact, yesterday at the hearing [Elmendorf] said, when he was asked by Chris Van Hollen – our Ranking Member there – about this subject, he said: “There are many reasons why people lose their jobs,” and we feel sorry for them if business is not good and people have to let people go.  One thing or another.  But if people say: “I want to spend more time with my family,” this is Chris’ question: “When you boost demand for labor in this kind of economy, you actually reduce the unemployment rate because those people who are looking for work can find more work, right?”  Chris Van Hollen asked Elmendorf.  Elmendorf said: “Yes, that's right.”  Elmendorf asked if the factor Van Hollen had identified was something CBO thinks “spurs employment and would reduce unemployment over the next few years.” 

So I would just take issue with your characterization that he said it would be detrimental to the economy.  It's just a question of when we passed this bill, how many times did you hear me come in here and say: “This is about life, a healthier life, liberty to pursue your happiness?”  This is the vows of our Founders that we are honoring.  And that we want people to have the freedom to be a writer, to be a photographer, to make music, to paint, to start a business, to actually release the entrepreneurship of America because people would no longer be job-locked by their policies, but have the freedom to follow their passion. 

And in fact, ending job-lock has been an avowed Republican goal for years as an issue highlighted by Senator McCain, Chairman Paul Ryan, and the Heritage Foundation.  So this job-lock issue is a very, very important change in the dynamic of our economy.  Think of an economy where people can follow their passion, their aspirations, their talent, their skill, instead of being locked by a policy.

Q:  How would you respond, though?  Because House Republicans are going to come after you very hard.   

Leader Pelosi.  That is how I respond.  I just did.

Q:  But they are going to come after you very hard in the midterms and say: “This is a neutral arbiter,” the CBO, that is offering.   

Leader Pelosi.  In other words, he said a number of things.  He said a number of things.  And I don't know where you got your quote, but maybe from the Republican talking points.  But we have to make sure that we set the record straight.  And thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that. 

Q:  Leader Pelosi, thank you.  So just about an hour or so ago, Speaker Boehner at this very platform, he really dialed back, seemingly, where they stood on immigration reform.  They released their principles last week, and he says: “Look, there is a lot of internal strife” in their conference, and he indicates that they don't trust the President to be able to enforce things.  I mean, this sounds like this is really a blow to immigration reform. 

Leader Pelosi.  I hope not.

Q:  You hope not.  But I mean, it seems like he doesn't have the votes to do it.  And that's, you know, it's political fodder. 

Leader Pelosi.  You know when they say something [such as] “I don't trust the President to do it,” why don't we just pack up and go home?  We have a Democratic system; we have checks and balances; we have three branches of government.  In fact, we are the first in the Constitution, the legislative branch.  And what we're supposed to do is legislate and not make up excuses as to why we don't.  And so that's not a reason not to do an immigration bill, that's an excuse not to do it.  And around here you have to always differentiate between what is a reason and what is an excuse. 

Now, I believe that this Speaker, Speaker Boehner, is – in good faith – trying to go forward with an immigration bill.  I think that we have said to him – look, I know the prerogatives of the Speaker firsthand – “any way you want to bring it to the floor, we want to work with you to do that.”  We don't have any “unless it's this way, unless it's that way.”  Just bring it to the floor, let's have this debate.  But bring it to the floor.  Give us a vote. 

We have the votes in the House to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  I do not think that John Boehner, Member of Congress from Ohio, Speaker of the House, wants to be the person who says: “If we do a bill, it is going to end up with an underclass in our country,” that there is no way that any of these people can ever achieve citizenship.  And if that seems to be the obstacle, that's the choice that needs to be made.  It doesn't mean they're citizens in the short-term.  It means it's an arduous path.  But you cannot be prohibited by the law. 

And so they just have to face the reality, you are either going to do it or you are not, and enough of the excuses.  Put the reasons up there.  Let's have a debate about it and try to find a compromise.  But I believe that he is, in good faith, trying to do that.

Q:  But you have been in this position when you were Speaker.  You say there would be the votes do the Senate. 

Leader Pelosi.  Absolutely. 

Q:  But this might not be the precise course that they take.  We are in a political environment, we are in an election year, and he must have done a calculus to say: “Look, I'm going to get my head handed to me here by Republicans if we put this on the floor.” 

Leader Pelosi.  Let me give you an example in this Congress: the Violence Against Women Act.  The Violence Against Women Act was something that was for the first term of their majority and into this term, 600 days, it had expired, the authorization for the Violence Against Women Act.  This is a horrible thing. 

In a bipartisan way in the 1990s, I was here.  Joe Biden, Chair of Judiciary, was in the lead on it, we worked together to pass it and we worked together to fund it in Appropriations, which is where I was.  And it is reauthorized, and now it is time to be reauthorized again, or long overdue.  It expired during their first term.  They didn't want to bring it up.  We had to make it too hot for them to handle. 

This is saving lives.  This is about results and solutions that were positive for families with violence against anybody, man or woman.  But it's called the Violence Against Women Act. 

I have always suggested to the Speaker, on these and other matters, bring everything to the floor.  Let everybody vote their hearts out.  Which is exactly what he did against the Violence Against Women Act.  His Members were against it, so he brought the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in a bipartisan way overwhelmingly in the Senate – all the Republican women voting for it in the Senate.  That was one bill, that's what we wanted taken up, the bipartisan bill that had passed the Senate. 

And then there was a bill that said we're against violence against women except if you're a Native American, if you're an LGBT woman, or if you're an immigrant, then the protections don't hold.  But is that the ridiculous thing you ever heard?  With stiff competition, mind you, but one of the most ridiculous. 

So, there was absolutely no way that we were going to support that.  We are going backward from where we had been, and not a good place.  So he brought them both to the floor, they voted their dear little hearts out – bless their hearts – discriminated against the three categories that I mentioned, and then we had enough votes to pass the Violence Against Women Act. 

That's what he should do on immigration.  Let them vote whatever it is they want here, and then have a compromise, I know it will be a compromise, or some bill that can take us to conference with the Senate. 

Now, just knowing him, I believe he does want an immigration bill.  I do believe he does not want to be the Speaker who says: “I will do an immigration bill as long as it creates an underclass of Americans. “ Not even second class citizens because, you know, there is no citizenship.  So you have to have a path.  And I know it has to be arduous, and a long term, and the rest.  But nonetheless, it is not prohibited or have such obstacles that are totally unsurmountable that everybody knows from the start. 

So I have faith in him and the good person that he is.  And it's tough.  It's tough.  But I had to take some really tough votes when I was Speaker, and what we did is let people vote the way they wanted to vote and making sure we had one vehicle that would get the job done.  And Members have to enable the Speaker of the whole House to be able to do that.

Q:  Bill O'Reilly has a quick question for you.  He ran into you at the Kennedy Center Honors recently, and you said you would do an interview with him.  In fact, you said you would do an interview in your office. 

Leader Pelosi.  Yeah, but I already did Greta.  I already did Greta.

Q:  Well, you did.  And I know you are a woman of your word. 

Leader Pelosi.  I have known her longer.

Q:  Because we have been calling your office, and you have said you have been busy in February, March, April, May, June. 

Leader Pelosi.  We're never here.

Q:  So I am wondering, I know you are a woman of your word, and I'm asking if you're going to be honoring your commitment. 

Leader Pelosi.  I didn't make any commitment to him.  We were having a social conversation.  In fact, it was at the White House.  First time I ever saw him, because I never see him on TV.  But then Greta came along, and I have known her for a very long time, and so I did Greta.  And so, you know, we go from one outlet to the next. 

Q:  Because your husband was there next to you when you said you would do the show.

Leader Pelosi.  This is open ended.  One of these days maybe I will.  I was not pleased with the disrespect that he showed to the President.  So that wasn't like a warmer-upper.

Q:  What was disrespectful? 

Leader Pelosi.  It speaks for itself. 

Q:  On the debt ceiling, you said you'd prefer a clean debt ceiling.

Leader Pelosi.  No, not prefer.  Clean, period.  Clean.

Q:  Republicans have discussed adding a paid for COLA adjustment for military members.  Is that out of the question for you? 

Leader Pelosi.  Clean.  Clean.  Clean.  Those are all things that can be discussed in their own place.  But this is not a matter of negotiation.  This is the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  And the only reason that the Speaker is adding those things is because his caucus does not want to vote to honor the full faith and credit of the United States unless they have a cookie in their lunch.  And that's just not right.  It's not right if we would do it to a Republican president. 

And that's why I said to the leadership, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate when we were in the White House, I said: let's just say we'll make an agreement, sign an oath, whatever it is, that whoever is president and whoever controls the Congress, this is off the table.  They won't agree to that. 

Q:  On immigration, the CBO talked about the low labor force growth after 2017 and attributed most of that to the retirement of the baby boom generation. 

Leader Pelosi.  I'm sorry, say that again.  This is about immigration? 

Q:  Right.

Leader Pelosi.  And he's saying that baby boomers are going to retire in…   

Q:  Starting in 2017. 

Leader Pelosi.  And so this will help.   

Q:  Right.  And that's the question.  Does the fact that they are talking about 2 percent growth after 2017 annually, because of the slower growth in labor force, does that make an implicit argument for immigration in your mind? 

Leader Pelosi.  I think there is an economic argument for immigration that includes that.  But as you know, there is also the argument that this will in the short term be a couple hundred billion dollars in saving.  How is it, over 10 years?  Over 20 years, it's like a trillion dollars over 20 years in savings.  I have to check those numbers.  But it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

So there is an economic argument for immigration.  And it is no surprise, because immigration has always been the reinvigoration of our country, by bringing their hopes, their aspirations, their optimism, their determination, their grit.  Immigrants coming to our shores with their commitment to making the future better for their family, with their belief in the American Dream, have been a revitalization always of our economy.  And the fact is that many more people would be working from out of the shadows and paying into Social Security is self-evident. 

But we should be doing it because we are the United States of America.  Nobody was a better advocate and leader on the subject or spoke more beautifully about it than President George W. Bush.  And even now, when he is not making many political statements.  He said last year that as we conduct this debate we should do it in a respectful way to immigrants.  He spoke beautifully.  And again, as former Governor of Texas and as President of the United States, this was a priority for him for all the right reasons. 

And so it's about who we are as a nation and how we recognize who we are, by and large, a nation of immigrants, with all the love and respect for our brothers and sisters in the Native American community.  By and large a nation of immigrants, and we continue to be.  And that, again, is the constant reinvigoration of America.

Q:  So the argument is more moral than economic in your mind? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, it's moral and it's economic.  That's always the case.  That's always the case.  What does it do?  Does it create jobs?  Does it reduce the deficit?  That's a test we put to everything.  This does both. 

On top of that, it is the right – maybe first and foremost – it is the right thing to do.  It would be a harder sell if it didn't reduce the deficit and create jobs, but it does that as well.

Q:  Leader Pelosi, yesterday the President met with Senate Democrats.  And he acknowledged that there are some States where it wouldn't be helpful for him to campaign for Democratic candidates because his approval ratings are so low.  As you work to retake control of the House, are you concerned the President is a drag on the ticket? 

Leader Pelosi.  No, absolutely not.  Absolutely not.  We are very proud of our President and what he stands for, and the First Lady, and the Vice President.  And so we would love.

We have to prioritize.  There are only so many days in the week, and only a few of those that the President might be available.  So we want to use him, as I say, the opportunities that are availed to us, we want to maximize what happens. 

But, no.  We are very, very proud of our President.  We are very proud of the record we had with him when we had the majority.  We are very sad about the brick wall, brick wall.  Imagine, the Speaker would say brick wall, that the Speaker said he would erect if the President would do something, which is [the President’s] authority to do, which President Reagan, President Bush, President Bush – 41 and 43 – did. 

So again, we are in a real positive place.  We are in a very positive place.  There is so much at stake.  And our Members know that the American people have a lot to lose unless we make this fight vigorously.  And when we make the fight we want to win in the battle of ideas and hopefully change the thinking of some of our Republican colleagues.  And if not changing the thinking, hopefully changing who serves in Congress. 

Because there is a very serious opportunity gap in our country.  And I said to you last week, indifference.  These people who need food are invisible.  I said the other day at the White House, this sounds like a U2 concert.  The Republicans, the people who need help in our country are invisible.  The middle class, people who are fading from the middle class are invisible.  That's the new U2.  You probably know that.  My grandchildren tell me this, and my kids.  And the President, listening to his speech, was like, “With Or Without You,” which happens to be one of my favorite U2 songs.  But you know, in other words, he is going to exercise his power as President.  We should be exercising our power as the legislative branch.  And that means to find compromise, to get results for the American people. 

But a campaign is a time when you talk about contrast.  And this isn't a campaign where you are talking about, well, their proposal is this to solve the problem and our proposal is this.  Their proposal is indifference about these invisible people. 

Did you go to the prayer breakfast this morning?  At the prayer breakfast this morning they talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  And what was interesting to me.  And really, you know, felt it very emotional was that when you talk about the Parable of the Good Samaritan you have to remember that people from his own – not the Samaritan's, but the injured man's – area, walk down the street, see him there, cross the street as if he didn't exist, invisible, and indifferent, where it was the Samaritan, from another place.  Really not friendly to these people traditionally who helped him. 

And so we have to not only go to prayer breakfasts and quote the Bible and find our common ground in faith, which is a beautiful thing, but we have to act upon it.  And what I see here now are people walking across the street, making the problems of our country invisible to them because they're indifferent to the challenges we face. 

So there is a great deal at stake in this election.  But it's not just about the election, it's much bigger than that.  And so back to where we started, we can start by saying these people aren't invisible and we aren't indifferent to them by passing the extension of the unemployment insurance. 

Thank you all very much.