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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 morning.  A busy day, a busy time.  It seems we're always expressing our sadness.  Our thoughts and prayers today remain with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in the tragedy at the Navy Yard.  Yesterday, we were joined by families from Newtown, from Aurora, from Chicago, and across the country who had lost children and siblings to gun violence. 

Whether at a military facility like the Navy Yard, or wherever violence occurs in the country, our commitment remains the same: we must honor the memory of those lost, not just by moments of silence, but by using our time to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.  We need more than that moment of silence. 

Tomorrow, the Republicans will hold [a vote on] their Tea Party continuing resolution.  That Tea Party resolution is to shut down government, to double down on the Republican sequester that will cost us a million jobs – it is a job killer – by the end of 2014, and that is a conservative estimate, it could be 1.6 million jobs, and gut investment in education and research.  To put American companies – what's really interesting about it is it's a wolf in wolf's clothing.  It is a terrible appropriations bill, the [continuing resolution], but it is also a bill that puts insurance companies back in charge of medical decisions for America's families. 

This is a resolution that devastates health care in other ways, other than just defunding the Affordable Care Act and related to that.  It effectively eliminates the strongly bipartisan Children's Health Insurance Program.  You may recall that when that passed in the Senate in a bipartisan way, it was a veto proof majority.  It has a 70 percent cut in the CHIP program.  It wreaks havoc by disrupting provider payments on Medicare, and it also, again, the Children's Health Program, and cuts billions of dollars, billions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health.  This is not a healthy thing for children.

I call to your attention to a letter from the Ranking Members, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Levin, about the impact on Medicare and SCHIP of this.  The Democrats have a responsible, balanced, alternative authored by our Ranking Member, Mr. Van Hollen, whom you know very well, to reduce the deficit in a responsible way, to end the devastating across the board cuts of the sequester, and to instead make investments in the future and keep the government working, open and working, for the American people.  On the subject of the debt limit, it's my understanding that that we will be voting on – something is being prepared for us to vote on next week.  Shutting down the government is one bad thing.  You shut it down, you open it up again.  Not lifting the debt limit is unleashing a torrent, a river of no return.  It is beyond cataclysmic. 

As if a government shutdown wasn't bad enough for the American people, the Republicans – actually I don't even like to use the word “Republicans” because this is a name that has been hijacked by a segment of the Republican Party, the Tea Party element in the Congress.  The Republicans are determined to hold the full faith and credit of the United States of America hostage to their radical agenda. 

Refusing to raise the debt limit poses a cataclysmic danger to the stability of our markets and the economic security of our middle class.  But don't take that from me.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “A government shutdown, and perhaps even more so a failure to raise the debt limit, will have very serious consequences for the financial markets and for the economy.”  And what does that mean to you?  What does that mean to the average, everyday, working American? 

Raising interest [payments], if we were to not lift the debt limit, the last time; just the conversation about it lowered our credit rating.  But if we were not to raise the debt limit, it would have this impact on America's families.  It would raise interest rates on your credit cards, on your mortgage, on your car payment, on your student loan, and, if you own a small business, on your business loan, for one. 

Two, jeopardizing the markets, as the Chairman has mentioned, would impact your 401(k) account, your pension, and your retirement account.  The impact on the markets would have a devastating effect on individual 401(k)s.  In addition to raising interest costs for families and harming the 401(k)s, even the talk, as I say, of default in 2011 led to a downgrade, which dramatically slowed economic growth, impacted the markets and caused consumer confidence to plummet.  Democrats support a clean increase in the debt limit to ensure America can pay its bills and prevent another debilitating crisis in our country.  The votes are there.  We will provide a huge number of votes for a clean lifting of the debt limit.  It only takes some Republicans to do that.  This is playing with fire.  Legislative arsonists are at work when they start using the debt limit for their own agenda.  Our country cannot afford another Republican manufactured crisis, which this is.  It's time for Republicans and Democrats to join together to put people to work, to grow the economy, to strengthen the middle class. 

As we leave here, I'll go to the floor and address what we are doing today, and that is reduce the funding for SNAP.  Last week, I was in church in Houston, and the priest cautioned people that were in his sermon.  He said to be careful about praying in church on Sunday and not preying on other people during the week.  And this is exactly what this legislation does.  Its quarry are our children, our seniors, our returning vets, [and] so many people affected by this cut in the SNAP program. 

On the floor, we have a Republican majority ready, ready to do just what I said.  In the debate today we will share the real faces of hunger in America, chief among them, again, our children, our seniors, our veterans and their families.  One in five kids struggles with hunger.  Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children.  Nearly four million Americans over the age of 60 rely on nutrition assistance.  Nearly three million veterans and their families don't get enough to eat each month.  This bill would jeopardize food aid for many of our vets and their families.  

It's time for Republicans to abandon this dangerous bill and work to enact a five-year comprehensive Farm Bill.  It's necessary for our farmers, it's necessary for our consumers, for food security, and for, again, farmers and ranchers, and strengthens rural communities.  A five-year Farm Bill, it shouldn't be this hard.  And then to have as a path to the conference – taking food out of the mouths of babies, this is remarkable.  But it is a manifestation of the budget policies that I talked about earlier. 

Any questions? 

***

Q:  Leader Pelosi, yesterday at the [Newtown] event for the families, you called on the House to act on gun violence legislation.  Would you like to see the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, vote again on gun violence legislation before the end of the year, whether or not they're absolutely certain of having the votes?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, as you know full well, the reason that the bill did not pass in the Senate is because it required 60 votes, and while it had a majority of the Senate voting for it, it did not have the 60 vote margin. 

What I would like to see is for us to pass legislation, not, not to pass legislation.  And again, as I said yesterday, we have no right to have a moment of silence unless we're going to spend our time trying to reach legislation that will reduce gun violence.  It's in an agenda of things that we have told you: restore confidence in our economy by creating jobs, and stop this foolishness of this talk of shutting down government and not lifting the debt ceiling.  It's about who we are as a people by and large, with respect to our Native American friends, a nation of immigrants.  Let's pass comprehensive immigration reform.  We've taken an oath to protect and defend.  Let's restore confidence in the safety of our neighborhoods, our schools, and our communities by passing the background check legislation. 

Q:  Would you like to see Senate Democrats take another shot at the legislation in this Congress?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I'd like the Senate to take another shot so that we can win on it.  And I don't know what changes they can make, but certainly we believe that if the Senate bill that did not prevail for lack of 60 votes would come up in the House, that it would pass, that it would pass in the House of Representatives.  So, I think that the support is there.  What more?  I mean, 90 percent of the American people support background checks.  How come that's not reflected in some way for this bill to pass the Senate and the House?  We're not giving up on this.  We're not going away on it, and as you saw yesterday, we owe it to those families. 

But, you know, for such a long time we've had this problem of violence in inner cities and the rest, and now we see Aurora, a movie theater, and we see an [elementary school] in Connecticut, and the rest.  Everyone, your children, my children, everyone is at risk.  This is really – as protected a facility as the Navy Yard, 12 people being killed by a lone gunman, we really have to act upon it.  Many other factors are involved, but all of them come to a place where background checks would be the answer. 

Q:  Ms. Pelosi, the President of Iran recently said in an interview with NBC News that perhaps they would not use any – they would not try to develop any nuclear weapons.  That they would be open to opening up their country to more freedom of the Internet.  And the idea, when he was asked about the Holocaust, the denial of Mr. Ahmadinejad, he sort of deflected that and said: “Well, I am a politician, not a historian.”  He seemed to have struck a moderate tone. 

Do you have any faith in the new President of Iran that he could be a more able bodied and willing partner to work with than Ahmadinejad?  And what are your thoughts about his most recent comments? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I hope that it's not just a public relations campaign, but is an accurate reflection of what their views are.  We always want to see a diplomatic path.  And I do think that, again, to salute the President for his courage to say, we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons, and we will act upon that, is a message to Iran, too. 

I think the conversations with the Russians about how to deal with chemical weapons in Syria would serve us well as far as Iran is concerned in terms of something [former Congressman] Tom Lantos advocated for years, which was to have the spent fuel, et cetera, under international, not only inspection, but custody. 

My daughter, as you may know, received one of those emails from the – I am bragging.  Usually, I'm bragging about my grandchildren.  Christine responded to the Foreign Minister.  Not the President, the Foreign Minister put out a Rosh Hashanah message, “happy Rosh Hashanah greetings for Rosh Hashanah,” and she said: “Interesting, sir, but how about stopping the denial of the Holocaust?”  To which he responded to her saying: “That's not Iran, that's one person, and he's not here anymore,” or words to that effect.  So, that was encouraging, and more encouraging, of course, are the words coming from the President of the country. 

We'll see.  We're all looking forward to his speech to the United Nations, to perhaps to a meeting with the President.  I don't know if that's a reality.  But, again, any engagement, any diplomatic efforts are welcome. 

Q:  Madam Leader?   

Leader Pelosi.  Let me take two because I really called on him before.  Quickly, because we need the room for the Speaker. 

Q:  On the CR here, the bill has been written for the House at the $986 [billion] level. 

Leader Pelosi.  Nine hundred and eighty-eight [billion]. 

Q:  Nine hundred and eighty-six [billion] after the rescore. 

Leader Pelosi.  After the rescore?  Ok. 

Q:  So, [Senator] Chuck Schumer said yesterday that they would try to get as high a number as they possibly could.  If they strip out health care in the Senate, and it comes back, can your side take it at $986 [billion], or does it have to be at $1.058 [trillion], or anything higher than $986 [billion]?

Leader Pelosi.  We're not demanding $1.058 [trillion], or $1.057 [tillion], or whatever the score is, but we do think that there's a compromise that can be reached.  But I can't tell you what we will take until we see what the bill is.  And the Democrats can supply votes if Democrats have a say in what the legislation is. 

So, again, we'll be interested to see if the Senate is successful in stripping out the – I don't characterize it.  Senator Reid already has, very well, the attempt on the Republican side with the Affordable Care Act, restoring your health decisions in the hands of health care companies.  But if they strip that out, we’ll see what they do after that and what can pass the Senate. 

But if they want Democratic votes in the House, our Whip has been very, very forceful and I think he speaks for our Caucus; almost across the board when he says: “We just can’t have that number,” which is really $20 billion less, as you know, by January, it is $20 billion less, plus perpetuating [the] sequester and be something we can put our imprimatur on. 

But let’s see what the bill is.  We’ve suggested splitting the difference.  That didn’t seem to work so far from our side, the House side.  But obviously, we always stand ready to try to work together to reach a solution to keep government open and to raise the debt limit because of what it means to households across America.  And we’ll see when it comes back.  But right now, the mood is not favorable to a $986 [billion] number.    

Q:  That was my question, but let me ask another one now.  I was going to ask you on the [continuing resolution].  I'm going to ask you something else. 

Leader Pelosi.  And I will decide whether we have one more question or not. 

[Press corps silence]

Leader Pelosi.  Now, that passes for humor in certain circles. 

[Laughter]

Q:  You and other Democrats have suggested that [Speaker] Boehner has lost control of his conference.  Could you explain the frustration, the difficulty of trying to make a deal, any deal, with the Speaker given that the rebellious conference he’s got and the fact that he doesn't seem to be often, the perception that he is not in charge? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, let me say, I haven't said that he's lost control of his conference.  Maybe he's in full control of his conference.  I don't know if he's a reflection of his conference, or they're a reflection of him.  But let's just say I wish the Speaker well.  He's the Speaker of the House.  We have a responsibility.  For example, the debt that has been incurred, that we have to raise the limit, was incurred by the Congress of the United States.  So, we have a responsibility to lift the debt ceiling.  And that's not for new spending, that's for spending that has already occurred. 

So, I think that it's not just up to the Speaker, but the outside has to weigh in and say: “We understand the consequences of not lifting the debt ceiling, even if you don't.  Let us explain that to you because that means that our house and car payment, credit card payment, student loan, mortgage payment, small business loans across the board, what that means to my 401(k)” – anybody out there with a 401(k)?  It's very much in danger. 

So, again, this has to be, I think, a national discussion because I'm not sure people know, again, the pyrotechnics that are going on by the Tea Party in the Republican conference and what that means directly to them.  So I wish the Speaker well.  I respect the Speaker.  I wish him well and I hope it doesn't hurt him too much that I said I respect him. 

Thank you all.