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.
Yesterday, President Obama gave an address to the nation in which he put forth ideas to grow our economy and create jobs, upholding the principle, shared by House Democrats, that you grow the economy best from the middle out, rather than the top down.
This is accomplished with a budget that promotes growth with good paying jobs, invests in innovation, our future, grows the infrastructure of America, expands the economy, and responsibly reduces the deficit. Investments in job creation, education, a secure retirement, and quality, affordable health care are the core building blocks of middle class security.
In sharp contrast to the President's speech was what was scheduled to happen today in the Appropriations Committee. The Republicans’ Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill that they were going to put forth would cut $32 billion – that is 22 percent – out of these core building blocks of the middle class. Today, Republicans had to pull the bill, some of us think because it was in such sharp contrast to the vision that the President laid out yesterday and to the gloom that they would be presenting.
Democrats stood ready to fight. They have 40 amendments already, put forth 40 amendments to address some. For example, they take billions of dollars out of the National Institutes of Health. Every family, every one of you is one phone call, one diagnosis, one accident away from needing the benefits of the National Institutes of Health. The biblical power to cure, science, an answer to our prayers, cut.
And not only that, not only about the health and wellbeing, but also a cut in investments in innovation to keep America number one. The Republicans are simply building on, again, the gloom of the Ryan budget, which, by the way, also voucherizes Medicare, which is covered in the Labor HHS bill and makes seniors pay more.
As the President said, one step that we can take to advance the economy and the middle class is to raise the minimum wage. As those of you who keep track of these things, yesterday was the four-year anniversary since the latest, the last increase in the minimum wage. We have put forth legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and to ensure that it keeps pace with the cost of living.
Securing a living wage is part of our Democratic agenda that I talked to you about last week: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. It is about valuing work. It is about pay equity, and lifting the minimum wage is one part of that. It is about paid leave. We are now, in the next few days, observing the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act. One hundred million Americans have availed themselves of that opportunity. But we need it to be paid, at least some piece of it to be paid, so that women can have balance between work and home, and men, too.
And the third part of it is affordable, accessible, quality child care. When children learn, parents can earn. This is all good for the children, for the family, [and] for our country.
The agenda unleashes the power of women in our economy in every aspect of our lives, whether it is the protection of our country, our national security; whether it is our economic security; whether it is the education of our children; whether it is quality, affordable care; whether it is moms staying home, as I did while my children were growing up. I am in awe of these young women in Congress and in the workplace who balance work and family. Child care is essential to that. Our agenda is about the future of America's families, the growth of America's economy, because we know when women succeed, America succeeds.
As we approach the district work period and look forward to the debate on the debt limit that will transpire when we come back in the fall, Democrats are committed to working in a bipartisan way to address the challenges we face and to grow the economy. We extend a hand of friendship to try to work together to resolve it. But there are certain lines that we will not cross. We will not destroy jobs, which is what the Ryan budget does. We will not harm our senior citizens by cutting Medicare and Social Security. We will not put insurance companies back in charge of health care, while ending critical patient protections that are in the Affordable Care Act. This is the standard the American people want us to meet. This is the standard Democrats will uphold. But there is plenty of room for us to find common ground.
So here we are, 204 days since the start of the 113th Congress, and still no jobs bill. A hundred and twenty four days, four months, since the Senate passed a budget bill [and] still no budget. The Republicans never intend to act on solutions and results for our country. When it comes to job creation and finding results and solutions to American problems, “never” doesn't work for us. We have got to insist.
And over the break, we will be talking to the American people about how we can work together in a bipartisan way, again, to create jobs, to take us into the future as we responsibly reduce the deficit.
Any questions? Yes, ma'am?
Q: Can you explain why you voted against the Amash Amendment yesterday? And when Section 215 is up for reauthorization, do you see any possible changes to satisfy the – or better balance the privacy and security?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I didn’t vote for the PATRIOT Act the last time it was up. So, I had my problems with Section 215 – or the actual act at that time. I don’t want anybody to misunderstand a vote against the Amash resolution yesterday. In fact, right now I’m putting together and circulating a letter to be signed by people who vote, Members who voted, on both sides of the issue, and it says just that: we voted on both sides of the resolution, but we stand together in the concerns about how the meta-data collection is conducted.
And we talked about – I had recently sent a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, I think I mentioned that last week to you in which I talk about the scope of the definition of relevant to national security. Mr. Conyers, Congressman Conyers, Ranking Member Conyers, has the legislation that addresses that. And the transparency, going from [Section] 215 to the FISA bill – the transparency in terms of how the FISA courts work and the rest. I think that addresses – we address some of the concerns.
But as you may probably recall, I have had a long time, shall we say, candid, ongoing conversation with the intelligence community about how Congress is informed, what we know, who knows what, in the aggregate over what period of time. And I said at the time, no matter who’s President, it’s really important to recognize all of that information, for all of that information the Administration is the custodian of the information. The ownership belongs to the American people. And we, as their Representatives, have to make decisions about it, we have to know more about it.
And if I may just depart from the original thrust of your question, one thing we want to know is: how on Earth could there have been such exposure at the NSA? Just so much information that was really important to our national security and relationships to sources and methods in addition to priorities.
Q: Madam Speaker, do you feel that immigration reform is dead?
Leader Pelosi. No.
Q: And why not?
Leader Pelosi. No. Well, I am ever hopeful. I mean, again, as with all of these things, we come here to cooperate and to collaborate and try to find common ground.
And I have great confidence in the work that is being done by our task force of seven Members – four Democrats, three Republicans. It was four and four but now four and three. But even when the other Republican was on there, he contributed in a positive way to what will be the product, which we hope to see in a week or two. And pretty soon I think they are coming down to their freezing the design on it and releasing that information.
But I do think that the American people have expressed in overwhelming numbers their support for a path to citizenship. And the polling that we are seeing is consistent with what we have been saying all along: that comparing the Senate bill with the path to legalization which then leads to citizenship to a bill that would not do that, the disparity is two or three to one against no legalization.
So, again, public sentiment is everything. I am sure during the August break people will be talking to Members of Congress. We are very, very proud of the coalition that is working on this. And it has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans. It is totally nonpartisan.
The “BBB”: the badges, the law enforcement people who have come and spoken to us about the importance of passing the legislation; the business community, in many of its manifestations. Whether it is the Chamber of Commerce or the high tech community, with whom we met yesterday, or whatever, the business community has come. A state delegation from Texas, our industry wide delegations from all over the country, in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
And then the third, of course, badges, business, leading up to probably the most important, Bible – and that is the religious community. The evangelical community is all in. They have been telling me that for years. And they have manifested that commitment in the advocacy for an immigration bill. And I would hope that as we go forward, we would heed the words of President Bush, which I quoted last week, which he stated last week, that as we go forward we have a beneficent attitude toward the people who are caught in this immigration reform debate.
Q: Do you think that August could ignite this issue for good or ill? Sometimes we have seen that with these big issues, where August, you know, sort of – it generates a lot of attention on it.
Leader Pelosi. I have confidence that we will get – I mean we have to find a way. We have to find a way. And the Speaker has talked about bringing bills together to the floor. Whatever it is, whatever the path is, we have to find a path to go to conference to come up with a bill that the President will sign, that we can all support in a bipartisan way, and recognizes that we will have some unease. As I said to you before, there are some poison pills. But they are not lethal, and we can live with that.
So, I am optimistic about it because it has to happen. We just cannot let this languish. And I think that August will be a positive time for us.
Q: Madam Leader, as one of the most prominent Democratic politicians, I am curious about your take on former Congressman Weiner's latest transgressions, having repeated the same action that occurred for his resignation in Congress. Do you have any new…
Leader Pelosi. So shall I be thinking of you as sort of a social issue kind of a guy here?
Q: I am never – no, I…
Leader Pelosi. We are legislators. But I appreciate your question.
I think I have spoken and acted in terms of Anthony Weiner, in terms of when he was in the Congress of the United States. In his case, in the case of Mayor Filner, clearly, they have both admitted they need therapy. I think maybe that therapy could better be accomplished in private.
Q: Should he stay in the race?
Leader Pelosi. That is up to the people of New York.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, next week it looks like the House is going to take up this…
Leader Pelosi. Let me just say before I leave, let me be very clear: the conduct of some of these people that we are talking about here is reprehensible. It is so disrespectful of women. And what is really stunning about it is they don't even realize it. You know, they don't have a clue.
And it is really, if they are clueless, get a clue. And if they need therapy, do it in private.
Q: So, next week it looks like the House will vote, at last, on a student loan package.
Leader Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: And Republicans have been saying this is their bill. They are very proud of it. And I wonder if you think that they deserve credit for bringing this to the floor and if you think, especially because a lot of Democrats, it appears, will be voting against it.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't know about that because they may just bring it as a suspension. So, it would require a large number of Democrats to vote for it.
I believe the bill that was passed by the Senate is far superior to what happened here in the House. So if they want to take credit for calling attention to the shortcomings of their bill that were corrected in the Senate, well, give them credit for that. But the fact is that this is a far superior bill. When it comes back here, it isn't the bill we would have written, but it is a bill that can pass and will have Democrats for and against.
Our Ranking Member, George Miller, and the leader in the House on this subject on our side, [Congressman] Joe Courtney, have both advised a “yes” vote, recognizing it is a vast improvement over what the Republicans in the House passed and it is the best we can do at this time. And we would hope that we could revisit the bill before too long.
Really, what we have here is a situation where the Republicans are insisting on pay-fors. In order to do more for the students and their families, Republicans are insisting on pay-fors, while they make arguments about not heaping mountains of debt on future generations, so we can't, you know, we can't invest in nutrition and education and the rest because we have to cut that because we are heaping mountains of debt. We are instead heaping mountains of personal debt on these young people by saying: “if we were to do more, we would have to find a pay-for.” It is just not right.
But nonetheless, it is much better than what the House proposed, and…
Q: Will you vote for it?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, I will vote for it.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you talked about the President's speeches. But Republicans on the Hill have been highly critical of the fact that the President didn't really seem to be doing much in terms of reaching out, that he is sort of leaving town and making these political speeches. There is very little time before the government funding runs out before we get to a situation with the CR. Do you think the President needs to get more actively involved in negotiations with top congressional Republicans?
Leader Pelosi. It is interesting because the President, in my experience, I have been here since President Reagan was President. Now, don't get me wrong, I was very low on the totem poll. But as I observed Presidents, and then becoming part of the leadership over time, this President has been so respectful of the ideas, of the initiatives, of the offices that the Republican leadership and Republican Members hold. If anything, he has taken some criticism from his own party for being overly accommodating with no reward, with no reward.
And so they have rejected his overtures, and then they say: “He doesn't pay attention to us.” So this is a false claim.
I am excited about the President going out and communicating with the American people. You have heard me say over and over, Lincoln said: “Public sentiment is everything.” And hopefully the initiatives, the priorities that the President put forth will resonate – they do resonate with the American people, and hopefully that message will come back individually to Members of Congress. Nothing is more eloquent to Members of Congress than the voices of his or her own constituents.
So, it is important for the President to be out there. I am glad he is. And I am glad it is a simple message about jobs, about retirement, about homeownership, about the education of our children, about the health of our people – bread and butter, kitchen table items that the American people need results and progress on.
But that is a false claim, that the President has not tried to work with them. I have said to him over and over: “I am too busy to be in these meetings where, over and over again, you reach out to them; you must be busier than I am. But nonetheless, you are willing to take the time, in the hope, in the face of not much by way of result, that they will eventually say: ‘okay, let's find some common ground.”’
President Bush did that. President Bush senior did that. There is always a respect for the role that we all play as representatives of our constituents, as leaders in our party, as leaders in the Congress of the United States. So, I think it is great that the President is going out there. I know why they don't want him to go out there: because it establishes the contrast. Why would the President be making this pitch on something that should be so obvious?
Is there anything partisan about good jobs and education, retirement security, and that? No. But if you see the budget priorities of the Republicans and you see, for example, what was in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, you will see a stark contrast not only between the President and the Republicans in the House, but between the American people and the Republicans and by the way, between Republicans out there and the Republicans in the House. Many Republicans out there know that we have to invest in education to be number one, that we have to create good paying jobs if we are going to grow the middle class. And the list goes on.
Q: You talked in your opening about protecting Social Security recipients in the debt ceiling budget negotiations.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: And I think we have talked about this a bit before, but there is this idea of changing the inflation adjustments. And I was wondering about two related questions. A, would you consider that a benefit cut and, therefore, unacceptable to Democrats? And if you don't, would it then also not be a tax increase because of the effect that the CPI would have when used on tax brackets?
Leader Pelosi. I would rather back up from your question and say, I don't think Social Security should be on the table in the budget talks.
If they want to have another table where we talk about sustainability for Social Security, sustainability for Medicare, let's do that so that we can have them serve the purpose they are there for, rather than “wither on the vine,” as Republicans would prefer. Strengthen Social Security, rather than say: “It has no place in free society, so that is why we want to privatize it.” That we just say: “These are pillars of economic and health security for America's families, how do we strengthen them, how do we prolong their stability, their solvency, and the rest?” They are separate arguments from what we do about the budget. And that is what I will say about that.
I want to just get back. At some point today, I will have that letter ready on the NSA. I don't know if we need a day or two to get the signatures but when we do, you will be the first to know.
Thank you all very much.