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. Soon we will all be leaving for the Fourth of July recess next week. When we celebrate Independence Day, we also will be observing health independence. This week, this marks one year since the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. It captures the spirit of our founders, a spirit they wrote in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Affordable Care Act offers just that, a healthier life, the liberty to pursue a person's happiness, to be free of constraints, be job-locked because they are policy-locked. So, if you wanted to be a cameraman, a writer, if you want to be self-employed, if you want to start a business, if you want to change jobs, whatever you want to do, you are free, you have the liberty to do.
So, we have had Social Security, Medicare, and now health independence. And that's something our Members will take home to celebrate over this Independence Day.
It is also a hundred days – for those of you who were with us yesterday with Secretary Sebelius – marking a hundred days until the beginning of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We are very excited about what lies ahead for us. If you want me to, I will go into whatever, all the things that are already in effect to give life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you ask me, I will tell you that.
But right now, bringing in the temporal markers I always like to bring in: it is 176 days since the start of the 113th Congress. Ninety-six days, 96 days, over three months, since the Senate passed a budget. Still no jobs bill. Still no budget agreement. These two things are related. Those two issues, as I say, are related. We must have a budget that creates jobs, that grows the economy, reduces the deficit, that strengthens the middle class. Republicans called for regular order and now they are rejecting it.
I told you last week when I was here with [Congressman] Chris Van Hollen that I would be appointing conferees and hope that the Republicans would see the light and the necessity to go to the table with the Senate to reconcile the differences between the two budgets in the House. I will be appointing all of the Members, House Members, Democratic Members of the House Budget Committee led by [Congressman] Chris Van Hollen, our Ranking Member. [Congresswoman] Allyson Schwartz, [Congressman] John Yarmuth, [Congressman] Bill Pascrell, [Congressman] Tim Ryan, [Congresswoman] Gwen Moore, [Congresswoman] Kathy Castor, [Congressman] Jim McDermott, [Congresswoman] Barbara Lee, [Congressman] David Cicilline, [Congressman] Hakeem Jeffries, [Congressman] Mark Pocan, [Congresswoman] Michelle Lujan Grisham, [Congressman] Jared Huffman, [Congressman] Tony Cardenas, [Congressman] Earl Blumenauer and [Congressman] Kurt Schrader. I read these names so you can see the magnificent diversity of gender, ethnicity, race, geography, [and] philosophical spectrum that we have on our committee. And hopefully the Republicans will see the light soon and appoint conferees so that we can have a budget, so that we can go forward.
It's really, really important. And it is. I use the – I talk about Fourth of July, about the health independence, but it's always really time for us to sound the alarm. If Paul Revere were here today, we would need someone like him to be running through the streets saying: “Sequester is coming, sequester is here.” Really. A budget is needed. This is very fundamentally important to the success of our country, to the survival of many here, to the strength of our military and as well as to the success of our economy.
So, we shouldn't have any more time go by that we at least appoint conferees, hopefully meet as soon as we come back, and resolve these differences. The consequences are great.
And one of the issues that time is running out on, too, is the issue of student loans. Just four days left to keep college affordable for our nation's young people and their middle income families. Without action, student loans will double on Monday, July 1st. Last week Congressman Joe Courtney – we talked about this last week – filed a discharge petition. We had  Members on the discharge petition. Republicans have attempted – blocked Democratic attempts to bring it to the floor four times.
This is a matter of economic necessity for our families and for our country. For both. Education is essential to families and students. Remember this: nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people. Whether it is early childhood, K through 12, higher education, post grad, lifetime learning.
So by making college cost more for families, we are not only hurting families, we are not only hurting our economy, we are hurting our budget as well. They are trying to use students to reduce the deficit. But in the end, again, nothing reduces the deficit more than investing in education.
There is no time to waste. We could all just come to the floor and vote for the Courtney bill which would freeze the rate at 3.4 percent [for two years], as Senator Reid is suggesting for one year. This does as well. And give time for the American people to weigh in on the difference it makes in their lives.
As you know, this week was a very eventful one. The Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and on Proposition 8 for the state of California were very historic and very consequential to who we are as a nation, but to individual families in our country. So it was – that was a happy day. Not so happy the day before when the court ruled on the Voting Rights Act. Immediately, our Caucus, and some Republicans as well, have spoken out on what we can do in response to the court's actions. We had a Caucus yesterday. I tasked Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to take the lead on this issue to bring together in a bipartisan way the ideas that could meet the criteria, or be a set of criteria that could meet the court's judgment.
You have to remember, it's really important to know – and I remember this very well because our office was very much a part of it. We had [Congressman] John Lewis, [Congressman] Mel Watt, [Congressman] John Conyers, our distinguished chairman at the time – no, ranking at the time. We were not in the majority, but we all worked together with the Republicans in a bipartisan way to produce a bill, the Voting Rights Act of 2006 that received over  votes – bipartisan, strong support in the House, 98 to nothing in the Senate.
That bill has been law only about five years before the court decided to take it up. So, the fact that they think that this criteria should be changed, it's not criteria from 1966. It's criteria from 2006; 1966, that was a long time ago. The bill has been reauthorized since then, most recently in 2006. So, this is fresh and yet they think it needs to be changed. Hopefully we can do so quickly, most importantly in a bipartisan way as we did before, with a beautiful spirit of wanting to respect the precious right to vote for everyone in our country.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions you have.
Q: Madam Leader Pelosi, the Senate is due to take up the immigration bill either today or tomorrow, but Speaker Boehner told the GOP conference yesterday that he will not be taking up the Senate bill in the House. They have been focused on a piecemeal, piece by piece approach. What do you think the prospects are for immigration reform here in the House, considering you are not going to take up the Senate bill?
Leader Pelosi. The seven, there were eight, the seven Democrats and Republicans who have been working for a number of years have produced a bill that we discussed before. While again, not everything I would have wanted in a bill, nonetheless a compromise and one that we can all support. It was a bill that had poison pills, and as I said to you before, poison pills but not lethal.
I would hope that would be given some respect in the Republican Caucus, because as I said it was a bipartisan product fully participated in by the Republicans on that taskforce as well as the fact that many of the provisions in the bill are their provisions.
The committee is taking a piecemeal approach, different bills, that I think some of them are unacceptable. But on the other hand, let's put it together and if the Speaker wants to have a House bill, I fully share that sentiment. I always want to respect the prerogative of the House and to have a bill would be desirable, and I hope that we can.
I would just make this one hope for whatever the House decides to vote on to send to conference. I would hope that it would have a particular consideration that is in the recommendation of the bipartisan taskforce on the House side and that is a consideration on the H1B visas that give more visas to high skilled workers coming into the United States, that has fees that train Americans to be high skilled workers. We certainly have the talent here. We need more resources to train in science, in the whole STEM, science, technology, engineering and math. Some of that science going to health as well.
So, I would hope they would retain that aspect of the bipartisan proposal in the House to go to the Senate. Whatever else it has, it is a matter of discussion and a matter of what can pass on the floor of the House. But that would be a very important part of it because on the immigration bill, certainly we want to attract more high skilled workers, but we know we have the talent in the U.S. This bill affords us the opportunity to do both with the funds from the fees to invest. And some of those fees would be invested in Hispanic serving institutions and historically black colleges and institutions that educate Native Americans as well.
So, that is one piece – whatever it is they put together, that's one piece that I hope would survive from. I hope it all would survive, but one that I think is critical to going to conference to find agreement.
Q: Following up on that, do you think that the piecemeal approach, though, might be the smartest way forward in terms of getting to conference? If the Speaker brings up a comprehensive bill now that his conference doesn't like, its chances of passage or even coming to the floor could be…
Leader Pelosi. I don't want to even come near what the prospect of passing a bill in the Republican caucus is. But they have the majority. They run the floor. So, let's just move forward with something, but to do so in a manner that is results oriented and not obstruction planned.
Q: Madam Leader, to that end, obviously, the Speaker has talked and others talked about the importance of having a bipartisan bill. You talk about the bipartisan gang of eight in the Senate and the bipartisan group in the House. So, to what degree and what level can you and Democrats help Republicans in this debate? Maybe passing a bill, particularly after what happened on the farm bill last week. I am saying that is a bad sign for the immigration in the House, what happened to the farm bill.
Leader Pelosi. I think what happened to the farm bill is a bad sign for the farm bill in the House. I think every day is a new day here in terms of the legislation and what the public demand for legislation is.
But I do think that a bill has – in order to have a House bill, a bill has to pass on the House floor. So, are some Republicans who are not going to vote for anything ever, never? Does that work for you? And therefore they have a limited – a smaller number of Republicans who will vote for a bill and therefore they need Democratic votes. So, as I've said over and over, and which I would respect if I were the Speaker, if you want Republican votes, let's all sit down and put together what the product is. If you want Democratic votes, we are just not voting for anything. We know it has to be a compromise. We know who is in the majority. But if you want our votes it has to be something that our Members can vote for.
And as you know, this is an issue that we've been working on for a long time. We established our principles a long time ago. Secure our borders, protect our workers, unite families, path of legalization and now citizenship for those undocumented in America, and do so in a way that honors what we think immigration means to America – the constant reinvigoration of America, the hope and determination of all of these people to make the future brighter for their families, make the future brighter for America.
As I've always said, immigrants who come to America with that hope, that determination, that idealism, that optimism, they make America more American. So we have a value here as well as certain provisions in the bill. And let's be receptive and recognize that it's going to have to be bipartisan if it's going to pass both Houses and be signed by the President of the United States. I'm optimistic though because I think the American people have a heightened awareness of the need for us to do this. It's going to be good for our economy. The CBO has said it is good for our budget. So let's get moving.
Q: Leader Pelosi, following up on that, though, it does seem that the pathway to citizenship is obviously the big sticking point for a lot of Republicans. They couldn't vote for it to pass it if it had anything like that in it. I'm wondering for you personally, would you rather have no bill than have a bill that has no path to citizenship?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it's not a question of that, I think we just have to work until we have a bill. Because that's the point. What's the point of having a bill? Just to say we have a bill? The point is to get a result, that is a solution, and the solution is to have a path to citizenship, to have a country where we don't have different classes of people in our country who contribute to our society, to our economy, to our future, and say you're going to have another designation.
So let us be optimistic. Let's not rule out this, that, or the other thing. Let's just go forward to say what we want is a bill that secures our borders, protects our workers, and has a path to citizenship and see where we go from there.
Q: Leader, back on student loans, you obviously don't like the bill that passed in the House. But the Senate hasn't passed anything and it looks like they are going to go home without having passed anything. Are you discouraged by their progress? Do you think that the problem could be fixed? And do you think that the inaction in terms of getting something done in the Senate is causing this delay?
Leader Pelosi. They could do something by unanimous consent right now. They could get something by unanimous consent send it to us and it would be solved. Or they can put it off until we come back and make it retroactive. But the Senate will act and they will act in a way that really does help students instead of increasing their burden. And point is we have a solution, the Courtney bill, similar to what the Senate would do by unanimous consent, which freezes the rate to 3.4 [percent], does not increase them. And then we could continue the conversation. If they do it after we come back they make it retroactive, but something has to be done.
The House bill, though, makes matters worse for students and their families by not only doubling the rates but running the risk of having no cap and just being a tremendous burden on America's families.
Q: On student loans, the White House proposal and the bill that passed the House both would tether the interest rate plus add-ons to the Treasury yield. There has been spikes in that yield over the last two trading sessions. Does that concern you?
Leader Pelosi. I don't want to put the Senate bill – the House bill and the President's proposal in the same sentence. They are very different for what they mean to families. I think right now to go forward with the 3.4 percent is the wise way to go. We have supported what the President had suggested in our motion to recommit on the floor as sort of a place to be that does help. But it's by no means to be confused with what the Republicans are doing.
Q: Anthony Weiner, depending on what poll you look at, is leading the New York City mayor's race. I want to know how you would assess his leadership when he was in the House?
Leader Pelosi. I won’t.
I have enough to do here not to get involved in the mayor's race of New York. But it's up to them to decide. Mayor's races are also very exciting. I've made some statements about [Mr.] Anthony's leadership when he was here in relationship to his work in Congress and in particular to his relationship to the Affordable Care Act. That's on the record.
Okay? Thank you all very much.