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. This morning on the floor, we were observing that tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary since the Newtown tragedy. Floor speeches, conference calls, visits from the families, that has been taking up some of our time – all in the hope of bipartisan legislation for gun violence prevention manifested in legislation for background checks. It is very sad.
To some of us, the role of government is about doing things for the American people, to help them reach their fulfillment. It's been nearly six months, certainly over five and a half, since Congress has been in session for this Congress, and still no jobs bill. I believe we almost have a moral responsibility to have policy which helps to create jobs, whether it is to incentivize the private sector, to make sure that our children are educated, our neighborhoods are safe from crime, and our first responders have the resources they need to protect the American people. To protect and defend is our first responsibility. But not one single jobs bill. Nearly six months.
Now, it's over two months since we've had the opportunity to go to conference for a budget, a budget that would create jobs, which would grow the economy, which would reduce the deficit, and to do so in a timely fashion.
Republicans asked for regular order, which means they wanted to go to conference until it was time to go to conference. So I call, once again, upon my colleagues to allow us to appoint conferees to go to conference again, to grow our economy.
At the same time, now, on this clock that is ticking, in 18 days interest on student loans will double. Will double. It's shameful, putting college out of reach for millions of American families and children. If Republicans had their way, it would even worse than double with the legislation that they passed. It would more than double.
So we, again, have a critical responsibility to keep America competitive. Innovation, education, job creation keep us number one. And without the investments in education, making it affordable for more families, families [and] children cannot reach their fulfillment. America cannot be as preeminent as the vows of our Founders would require us to be by creating jobs here in America which contribute to innovation. It's not just in the classroom. It's in job creation in the U.S. that innovation springs from.
Again, we have to go to that budget table. Instead we are in a world of subterfuge, smokescreen, any subject you want to talk about, just pick one out of the air. And yesterday was really just another day in the life of the Republican Congress. They passed legislation [out of committee] that was disrespectful of the rights, health, and safety of American women. All the people who voted for the bill were men. Disrespectful. Yet another, another – this is a week, this Monday marked the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act. With great enthusiasm we remembered that day. We used it to recall that four years ago President Obama has signed as his first legislation the Lilly Ledbetter Act to move to end discrimination against women in the workplace.
We saluted [Congresswoman]Rosa DeLauro for her paycheck fairness legislation, a place to take – who, what man here, wouldn't think that his wife, his daughter, his sister, his mother should receive equal pay for equal work in the workplace? Apparently that does not apply to the Republican Congress.
So, instead of moving from – President Kennedy set a small step to end a shameful, an abominable practice of not paying women equally, we still do not have it on the agenda. It passed in the House, as you may know, when we had the majority. The Republicans held it up in the Senate. And so far, not much progress. But we are not going away.
So, this action yesterday where the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill without any exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or protecting the health of the women, all the people who voted for the bill were men.
Okay. So today on the floor, we have the defense authorization bill. One hundred seventy-two amendments are made in order. Only six amendments related to sexual assault, but none of them, none of them, among the more critical and effective measures. They are about curriculum, and it is about this and that, and they're interesting, and they're improvements, but they do not get to the heart of the matter. No [Congresswoman] Jackie Speier amendment, nothing to resemble what is necessary to get to the heart of the matter. How could they not put one of those amendments in order? Instead, good amendments, little tweaks here and there that are important, but nothing, nothing essential and crucial to changing what is happening in the military.
And Republicans are saying no to Members on both sides of the aisle concerned about sexual assault in the military and on both sides of the aisle ready to vote for amendments to effectively and truly address this challenge.
So, it is an interesting time. We have a bill on the floor that could make a significant difference of ending sexual assault of men and women in the military. We need a jobs bill. We have a need to do our budget. And yet what are we doing? Amendments that, again, are disrespectful of women.
With that, I will be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Leader, you mentioned the bill that passed out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier. Members who have proposed that bill have done that in the wake of this murder trial in Philadelphia. They argue that there really isn't much of a moral difference between what someone like Dr. Kermit Gosnell did to infants born at 23, 24, 25 weeks in the pregnancy and what can happen at a clinic down the road in Maryland, where a doctor says that he will perform elective abortions 28 weeks into pregnancy.
So the question I have for you is what is the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth?
Leader Pelosi. Ok. You are probably enjoying that question a lot. I can see you savoring it.
Let me just tell you this: what was done in Philadelphia was reprehensible, and everybody condemned it. For them to decide to disrespect a judgment a woman makes about her reproductive health is reprehensible.
Q: So, what is the moral difference? I just asked what is the difference? You said – I mean, I didn't savor that question. What is the moral difference then between 26 weeks, elective abortion, and the killing of that same infant born alive? This is the issue that they are talking about.
Leader Pelosi. This is not the issue. They are saying that there is no abortion. They want to make it a federal law that there will be no abortion in our country. You're taking the extreme case. You're taking the extreme case. And what I'm saying to you is what happened in Philadelphia was reprehensible. And I do not think you use – I am not going to have this conversation with you because you obviously have an agenda. You're not interested in having an answer.
Q: I'm interested in..
Leader Pelosi. But, I responded to you to the extent that I am going to respond to you, because I want to tell you something. As a mother of five children, my oldest child was six years old the day I brought my fifth child home from the hospital. As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. I don't think it should have anything to do with politics, and that is where you're taking it, and I'm not going there.
Q: Next Wednesday, there will be a dedication, finally, for a statue in the District of Columbia of Frederick Douglass.
Leader Pelosi. Isn't that great?
Q: How do you…
Leader Pelosi. I knew that was – what else would bring you to one of our…
You used to come before Frederick Douglass.
Q: I know. I try to make my appearances more varied.
But for this, when will the day come? First of all, what does the statue mean? I have read some of the Speaker's remarks, which say: “It's a gift from the District.” It took a long and tortuous path to actually get the statue placed. But, it is only one. When will the day come when there will be two statues? And then when will there be the day where there will actually be not a lump of bronze, but actually a vote in the House and…
Leader Pelosi. I guess that depends on your effective activism because so far you have made great progress. You have increased from nothing to something. We're very excited about Frederick Douglass' statue being unveiled in the Capitol. What you're saying is you want the District of Columbia to have the same right as every state, and I completely and entirely agree with you on that score.
I think that if I were orchestrating it – and, as you know, our Member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has been relentless, relentless and persistent. And from her committee that she serves on, on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has the jurisdiction over these public buildings and that, she has been an effective advocate, and that is why we have the statue we have today. I would just keep making suggestions of people to have statues here for.
What I am pleased with is that in the past few years – and I take some credit for this – we've had just recently the statue to Rosa Parks, a beautiful statue of her, seated, seated and I love that part, in the Capitol. And one of the first statues, a bust of an African American woman, Sojourner Truth. I say this because one of the things I wanted to do when I became Speaker was to expand the diversity of statues that exist in the Capitol. Some we can do. Mostly they depend on the States making the change in a statue that they have here.
But thank you for your relentless leadership on the subject, and I look forward to working with you for the next statue of a prominent representative of the District of Columbia.
But more important than that – now, it may not seem more important – but more important than that, we want the representative of the District of Columbia to have a vote in the Congress of the United States. And, of course, I, myself, support statehood.
Time does not allow me to go into my history on this subject. My father was the chair of the District of Columbia Appropriations Committee when I was born, and he had been an advocate for home rule and more authority for the District of Columbia. And, of course, as time has gone by, we want even much more than that.
So, I'm with you. I would be willing to help Eleanor in any way possible. But, understand how relentless she has been and effective.
Q: I believe just a few minutes ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller was at a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. He was talking about the PRISM program. You were the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee for many years, during the time of 9/11. And he indicated that had PRISM been in place prior to 9/11, he believes that they could have possibly intercepted one of the hijackers.
Do you think that's possible with your understanding of the program and your point on the Intelligence Committee at that point?
Leader Pelosi. Obviously, I have not heard the Director's testimony. It's just happened this morning. But certainly it would have improved the chances of doing that. I can't say with certainty that it would have, but it certainly would have improved the chance of – now, he may have some specific evidence and connection that he was testifying about that I'm not aware of. But, yeah, it did give more opportunity to surveil.
I want a woman.
Q: Following up on that, his point, do you think that Mr. Snowden should be prosecuted for leaking the information about the programs? And do you think that Americans – now that you've had more briefings, the dust has settled a little bit. We've heard testimony from General Alexander on at least a dozen plots being disrupted because of these programs. Should Americans be supportive of the government basically taking all of their cell phone data and looking at the servers of Internet companies?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, I do think that on three scores, that is, leaking the PATRIOT Act, section 215, FISA 702, and the President's classified cyber operations directive on the strength of leaking, that, yes, that would be a prosecutable offense, and I think that he should be prosecuted.
I don't agree with your characterization then should the American people want all of their cell phone calls and data and all the rest surveiled, because that is not what either of these bills does, not the PATRIOT Act nor 702 – I mean, the FISA Act.
I'm going to have for my Members, and I'm sure you will see it, a side by side of what the war was under President Bush – what the actions were under President Bush, what they had proposed in their Protect America Act, which was not acceptable to us, and what we passed in the FISA Act of 2008. And all of the protections that Jim Cole and others have had said were abided by in going to a FISA court were insisted upon by the Democrats in that legislation.
So, there are many protections for the American people, including strengthening the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, and I think this is really important because we have to have a balance between liberty and security. And liberty is very important to us, and privacy is essential to our liberty, so this Board is very important. And I think we strengthened it in the 2008 bill, but I think, obviously, there is a need to strengthen it further, A. And B, the Congressional oversight has to be increased, and that can only be increased with more information being made available to Congress from whatever the Administration it is.
The thwarting, was it the NSA? The Director of National Security Agency, that he talked about, certainly I don't know the exact number, and I don't know the exact cases he's talking about, but I do know that there was a thwarting of some actions against the U.S. American people that were protected.
But, there is a lot of misinformation out there on this, and before everybody makes judgments about it, it's important to know what did – I mentioned three leaks that occurred, but what beyond that? Were there leaks just made to the public, which would be one thing? Is information being exchanged with other governments? I don't know that. People are charging that. I don't know that, A. B, how do we have a system, though, that has so relied on the private sector and on contractors to make our security so vulnerable and so exposed that one person could go out and leak information that could be detrimental to our national security in the manner in which this was done?
So, again, we have to protect the American people. Laws have been passed to determine how that is done with great protection for civil liberties. And I'm getting this ready for my colleagues because they want to know what they knew when. Well, some of them voted for it in 2008. But when the President says everybody knew, well, everybody didn't know all of the particulars; maybe were exposed to it, briefings were held, but everybody didn't have the fullest understanding of what the word "surveillance" means.
Q: Leader Pelosi, returning for a second to the abortion issue…
Leader Pelosi. I'm not going to. What else?
Q: Ms. Pelosi, on this idea, Mr. Hoyer said that perhaps it might not be a bad idea for Congress to relook at 215, that section, that seemed, after that bipartisan briefing you guys had a few days ago, that was a general consensus. What do you see as the next steps? I mean, will Congress use their legislative muscle here to possibly change these programs? And some have even said declassify them whereas the public has more awareness. Would you support that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it depends on what you are talking about declassifying. I have always been for much more declassification than we have. I think that keeping so many things classified, for what purpose? Is it in our national security to keep them classified? Does it just invite more opportunities for people to convey information they shouldn't, and, therefore, a law is broken when it isn't even information that is that harmful?
We always used to make a joke up in Intelligence. They would say, you better read The Washington Post before they stamp it "classified" this morning, because they classified everything that came past them. And then once that happens, then you can't talk about it.
So I thought far too much was classified, and even if it was justified at that moment, then in a short period of time, there should be much more declassification, which President Obama has been doing, has been doing.
We should always be revisiting. Technology demands that we – what we're talking about now is something that could not even have been imagined a couple of decades ago. It was a big deal for us 20 years ago in Intelligence to – the biggest secret we had, one of the biggest secrets we had was that we could detect faxes. Oh, don't let anybody ever know that we could detect faxes. You know, I'm talking internationally now; I'm not talking domestic. No domestic content, but internationally, because if they ever found that, they would stop using faxes. And that was a big deal. It seems like the stone age compared to the volume of metadata that can be used.
But, I really seriously had some concerns about your characterization of should we be willing to allow them to do this, that, and the other thing. No. And that's not what the collection is about. The American people are saying they can have access to my records, to my data, to my information. That's not what this is about.
Q: Madam Leader, you spoke before about private contractors, them sharing some of this intelligence with foreign countries. Just to be specific, are you opposed to the volume or the blanket use of private contractors? And would you also be opposed to the government sharing some of this stuff with foreign governments, as has been alleged?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't know what you're – if you're talking about the U.S. government sharing information with foreign governments in the interest of our mutual national security, I'm not opposed to that. I was saying if anybody acquired this information and made it known. For example, in this case if they were sharing this information with a foreign government, that would be a wrong thing to do, you know, in terms of saying, this is what the U.S.' capability is, and we want you to see what their capability is. Clearly, there is a gigantic distinction there between how we have relationships with other countries in terms of sharing intelligence to protect our country.
I think there's a real question about the use of contractors, and to the extent that they are there without, you know, they work for the private sector. There are enormous profits to be made. Maybe we should bring some of that more in house with employees of the federal government, with the oath of office that we take to protect and defend our country and that seriousness of purpose there.
And maybe we need some private. I'm not saying we shouldn't have some private, because that can facilitate our security, but let's take a measure of how much that is. I think that's a worthy question, how much intelligence that is in the hands of private sector.
And don't you think that, I mean, of all questions, let's just be completely removed from – how on Earth can we have a situation where we are so vulnerable, so exposed, with so much information about how we acquire intelligence to the point that the head of the DNI is saying that it seriously hurts our national security, is that what he said, words to that effect? How could we be so – by one person walking out the door with access to so much information? I think that's a question that Congress has to ask and that we have to make a judgment about.
You asked about any laws to be changed, about how these things are done. But all of these things, every step of the way, the PATRIOT Act, of which 215 is a part, we had the sunset of some of the more offensive aspects of the bill. We have had the, and, of course, they have been extended, but we've had the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board in that bill much more strengthened. And FISA, you saw all the routine that people have to go through.
And I will close by saying this: It's very important to note that on – we have said that FISA is the sole route that an administration can go. They have – I don't have any of that here. They had wanted, the Bush administration had wanted, and I'm not making this a partisan thing, I'm just saying their thinking at the time was that: “we don't need to go to a FISA court, we don't need a court. We can just unilaterally decide that we are going to surveil.” And that was the fight that we had in 2007 and 2008, and that is why the 2008 FISA bill has as many protections built into it as it does.
One more. Yes, ma'am.
Q: May I ask about immigration?
Leader Pelosi. Sure.
Q. Because the bipartisan House group is still struggling to unveil any legislation. Some of the Republicans continue to suggest that you are the holdup and that you would rather have the issue than the accomplishment, and I’m just wondering how you respond to that? And if Boehner decides to move bills in a piecemeal mode, do you think that could essentially end up with the kind of comprehensive package that you would want?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me just say, first of all, that I disagree with the characterization that you put forth. We are working now just on them writing the language – the leg counsel of whatever – to put it in legislative language so that with the principles that they agree to, are that that language, when translated to legislative language is what everybody understood it to be. As you know, around here, going from principles to leg language, well, the angel is in the details. I keep saying that because it’s really important for us to have an immigration bill.
I think that anybody who would say that I would rather have the issue than the bill, just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. This is something that is so glorious for our country that we will have a bill that many of us are willing to swallow. Some things that we don’t like about the bill, some terrible poison pills, but not deadly, and that we’ll make progress on it.
But I don’t – I mean, you say that some of those Republicans are saying that. Maybe one of them, I don’t know. But I don’t – I think the other ones know that we’re moving forward with the legislation. They’ve worked very hard in good faith, over-time – and now they’re putting into language and even one of the Members who is not still part of the group had an impact on the substance of the bill that is acceptable – you know, it’s part of what is moving forward.
I think it’s very important not only for us have a bill, but the House have a bill, the House have a bill. I wanted us to be first as a matter of fact. But one thing and another, they couldn’t reach agreement and the Senate has moved ahead. And that’s good too.
So, we would hope that this bill, because it is a consensus, it is, again, not a bill that I would’ve written. It is a compromise – and we never, any one of us, write a bill, it is always a consensus. This is a consensus times a compromise. And – but, it makes good…
Q: What about the process?
Leader Pelosi. Well, they’ve been working for years. They’ve been working for years.
Q: I mean in terms of moving a comprehensive bill like the Senate is doing, or perhaps doing it and chopping it up in pieces and going to conference. Do you think that would…
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don’t know. It depends. You know, you have to see what it. I mean I think it’s easier if you have – because they always, on all of these compromises you always say: “Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” because you’re making concessions, you’re swallowing things you really don’t like. But, they’re worth it if the other part of the bill is there. So, when you take a piecemeal, you might get the bad part without the good part. Or, you know, depending on which side you are of the issue, you might get your part and not their part.
And the point is to protect our borders which is our right, secure our borders, protect our workers and that means not exploiting people coming into our country. I would like to see unification of our families – so, some consideration for how we do that – and path to citizenship for 11 million people in our country.
Stop the deportation – taking action in that way, and you can say this to whomever is saying I don’t want a bill, passing a bill stops the deportations immediately by and large. If you don’t have a, you know, if you meet the criteria, if you don’t have a criminal record or whatever, haven’t violated the law in some other way than being overstaying your visa, or entering the country without full documentation. So, having all of it together as a vehicle – and then it’s subjected to the committee process, it’s subjected to the floor amendment process, that’s Congress working its will. I would hope it would go that path.
If they chop it up, what would be the view of it? It just depends how they chop it up as long as it has the component parts that can be joined together at the end. If that’s a way to get there, we just want to get there – you know, just want to get there. And it is going to be a glorious thing because it will be a step forward in terms of recognizing the dignity of every person in our country and that immigration has been a constant reinvigoration of America, the determination and hope and optimism that families bring to make the future better for themselves is the spirit of America that, a commitment to make the future better for every generation.
So, you know, I’m very excited about the prospect of the bill. I would, myself as I say, have concerns about this bill, but I’m willing to support it because in its component parts it makes great progress. Would I have written it, would I have – would a Democratic bill have looked different? Yes. But, we’re in a Republican House. And I think that, but over time, the four, the eight – they don’t call themselves a ‘gang,’ it’s a task force – they have acted in very good faith with very good consideration of lots of aspects of it and recognizing, you know, that there’s an amendment process ahead.
I think we're going to have to give up the room.
Q: Just one quick question about surveillance. Do you think the Justice Department or the FISA court should release the pleadings and the rulings on the government's interpretation of section 215 so the public would have more confidence in the legal rationale for what's being done?
Leader Pelosi. Are you saying either or?
Q: Well, both.
Leader Pelosi. Let me see what the request is. You can never do things that are going to jeopardize sources and methods. You know, again, protect and defend, that's our first responsibility. Privacy and security, liberty and security, that's a balance we must heed. But, I don't want to say here that they should release something which I don't know what exposure it gives to sources and methods.
Enlarging the issue, should we have more knowledge in the public – the public should be more aware of what technology enables us to do? Yes. And people say, oh, they're saying that if our opponents knew that our capability, then – but they must know it. Well, maybe they do, maybe they don't, but we don't have to necessarily confirm it. But we can take people down a path that science and technology enables us to do a lot more than you could do 20 years ago when I first went on the committee.
But, again, I welcome the discussion. I think it's a healthy one for our country. I think that what I hear people saying in the news is so off base in terms of what is actually happening. But, they don't know. And it's important for them to have more information to make better judgments, and also for public policy to be informed as to the, shall we say, threshold that the public needs to – will not go beyond in terms of the balance between liberty and security.
So, I will look forward to continuing this conversation with you on whatever detail you wish, but it's really important if we know what I'm talking about. So, I don't know what some of these things are that people have said and what has actually happened. The more we know, the more we can say about it.
Thank you all.