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Transcript of Press Conference at Conclusion of Democratic Issues Conference

Leesburg, V.A. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, and Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen held a press conference at the conclusion of the Democratic Issues Conference.  Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi’s opening remarks and the question and answer session of the press conference:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  I thank you and Vice Chair Joe Crowley for the absolute excellence of this issue conference.  Thanks to your staff as well for bringing us together to talk about the issues we’ve talked about from the first day of this Congress – restoring confidence, restoring confidence in our economy, job creation, growth with jobs, growth with jobs.  Madam Christine Lagarde talked about last night.  Secondly, we talked about restoring confidence in our democracy, we had excellent panels to that effect – informed our thinking, focus our strategy on how we go down that path to restore confidence, that the vote of the many, not the vote of the money, would determine the government of our country.  Restore confidence as to who we are as a people.  We are, by and large, a nation of immigrants and so we focused on immigration and the path we will go down, and hopefully a very strong bipartisan way for comprehensive immigration reform.  And we focused on restoring confidence in the safety of our homes, our schools, and the safety of our children as we talked a day ago.

“To protect and defend, that is the oath of office that we take and we had a very informed discussion about gun violence prevention throughout – I would say that was part of almost every discussion that we had.  Our theme has always been reigniting the American Dream, building ladders of opportunity for those who want to work hard, play by the rules, take responsibility.  In introducing President Clinton today, our distinguished [Democratic Whip], Mr. Hoyer, talked about – well, he’ll tell you – but how the President is a living manifestation of the American Dream and he helped make it possible for so many people.

“Thank you for doing that, Mr. Hoyer, and I yield to you.”

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Q:  President Clinton’s remarks seemed to suggest that the Republican party that you guys are going to face in 2014 is not going to be as weak as it is now, so I wonder if you are counting for that, because surely, I’d imagine you agree with him.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, to be clear – let me just say that our Chair of the DCCC cannot be with us because of the storm in the northeast, there were power outages already in his district last night, but the President did praise him for his efforts and recognized his astuteness as we go forward.  I don’t think we ever underestimate an opponent in a race and that’s what the President was telling us: don’t evaluate them as to where they were a month ago, but what manifestation of the Republicans will be there as we go forward? 

Certainly, I don’t underestimate any opponent.  I don’t overestimate them either.  We’re ready for this challenges.  We believe that with our freshmen class – 40, we’ll be 50 strong in a matter of weeks, 50 new Members, 25 percent of our Caucus is new, and they are an invigoration of our Caucus, an invigoration of the Congress, they want to serve and they want to serve in the majority.  And in order to do that we must increase our numbers.

But I would say that the issues that we care about, that we talked about – securing jobs, securing democracy, as Mr. Crowley said, securing comprehensive immigration reform, the rest, that sense of security for our country is what we are here to work on; hopefully in a bipartisan way.  So, hopefully the issues will prevail – the election, well that’ll happen when it happens, but right now we’re going work to get the job done. 

My colleagues, anything to add?

Q:  Senate Democrats retreat seemed to focus more exclusively on budget issues and sequester, you guys seem to have more emphasis on gun violence and immigration, do you feel that you have more leverage on those issues?

Chairman Becerra.  Well, let me correct the record if that’s the way it appears.  We had a very in-depth session that lasted longer than most, dealing only with the issue of the economy, jobs, and dealing with deficits – and Mr. Van Hollen was one of the co-moderator’s of that conversation we had, most of the speakers, our keynote speakers dealt principally with the issue of how to move the economy forward.  And so, while we know that we have many issues to deal with, very big issues, and where we want to make progress in making our schools and our neighborhoods safer for our kids, reducing gun violence, and finally fixing a very broken immigration system which, by the way, when you fix it, will help the economy.  Our principal topic of discussion: the economy and jobs.  And there’s no doubt about that.  And I suspect my colleagues here will want to comment on it as well.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I just want to say that subject permeated our entire discussion and I would add to what the distinguished Chairman said, that we had Christine Lagarde talking about the global economic challenges that we all face and the leadership role of America in that global economy.  So, that’s what this issues conference was about.  But our friend, Rush Holt, in the Q and A with President Clinton just now, he said – he’s not here, I’m pointing to the other building – he said: “it’s not just about numbers, it’s about values.”  And that’s how we were viewing all of this.

Q:  President Clinton in his remarks said that you should use the gun control issue as an opportunity, rather than as some sort of political landmine, in the questions that followed – we didn’t get to hear those – did anybody say: ‘look, I’m up for reelection, this is a landmine for me’ and what was his response?

Leader Pelosi.  No.

Q:  It did not come up?

Whip Hoyer.  I think our Members, I’ve talked to Members across the spectrum in our Caucus, are looking at this in a very thoughtful way to determine what they believe will make our country safer, which, at the same time, as Mike Thompson stressed over and over again, honors the Second Amendment rights of people to have guns to protect themselves in their homes, in their business, and to participate in hunting and recreational [activities].

Vice Chair Crowley.  I would just add to that third point – I don’t think we’ve ever used the issue of guns as a political wedge, there really isn’t a value in that sense.  What we have done is to promote common sense legislation to ensure, as best we can, the safety of Americans.  That’s what we’ve been about.  It’s not about the politics, we need to get beyond the politics, I think that’s what the President is saying: use this as an opportunity, get beyond the politics to get common sense legislation through.

Q:  I’m curious what you all, after this retreat, after hearing the President yesterday, what do you want to hear from him on his State of the Union address on Tuesday and do any of you plan to bring victims of gun violence as Congressman Langevin is asking colleagues to do.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I want to hear what the President wants to say, I’ll leave it at that – I have confidence in his priorities and we want to hear what his plan is to go forward.

But I’m going to yield on that score to Mr. Van Hollen because, as we have indicated, everything is about the budget, everything is about the budget, our values debate, our numbers debate, our priorities, and our sense of fairness.

I have received a letter from a little girl from [a] Newtown elementary school – from Newtown, [where] Sandy [Hook] Elementary School is, and she and her mother will be coming as my guest on Tuesday.  And many Members have invited.  The problem is we, most Members get one ticket and a lot of young people, people we’d like to invite, usually you need to be accompanied by somebody, or feel more comfortable in that highly charged arena with someone else, so we’re all trying to balance out the tickets.

Mr. Van Hollen.  Well, I think the President’s – obviously we don’t know what the President’s going to say, but I think he’s likely to talk about the budget issues, but as Leader Pelosi and others have said, in the context of our values and the importance of strengthening the middle class, the importance of investing in our children’s education in our future, and making sure that as we reduce the long-term deficits, which we have to do, we do it in a way that doesn’t hurt economic growth now, or in the future, and that means taking a balanced approach to doing that.  And that is why our proposal to replace the sequester – we do it over a period of time and again, in a balanced way.

But I think the President’s going to talk about immigration, for example, in the context of fixing a broken system, but also in the context of reaching our full potential in this country economically, making sure we can take advantage of everyone’s talents.

On the question of guests; yes, my guest is a woman by the name of Carol Price, who lost her son to gun violence many years ago.  And her son’s death actually stimulated the Maryland gun legislation eight years ago to require trigger locks be sold with guns so you wouldn’t have these awful tragedies, and actually President Clinton came to Annapolis for the bill signing at that point in time.  So, Carol Price was really the reason.

Q:  Can I ask about the bipartisan work on immigration in the House and just what, what do you guys know so far?  I heard it might be coming out next week and where leadership is on some of those proposals?

Chairman Becerra.  You wouldn’t know it from the hearing this past week in the House Judiciary Committee that there have been extensive conversations, bipartisan conversations, on having a solution come forward.  But the reality is that there are people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle, but more importantly than there goodwill, are being very pragmatic about how to get this done.  And the fascinating thing about these conversations is that if you had the average American sitting in the room, the proposals, the solutions that are being discussed look a lot like what the average American has been saying for about the last 10 years. 

Very simple.  We’ve got to have safety on our borders.  I mean, we’re a sovereign nation, we can protect our borders.  Make sure the workplace doesn’t become a magnet for folks to be hired without the authorization to be here.  And then let’s be realistic and sensible about how we approach all of those folks that made America their home, established businesses, have children who have gone on to be valedictorians in their high school, and let’s do these things in a very sensible way.

And so, the reality is that we are on the cusp of actually having an opportunity to put forward a bipartisan proposal in the House of Representatives, as we hope that our colleagues in the Senate will be able to do soon, to join with the President who has been talking about this for quite some time very publicly about how we need to get this done.  I am optimistic that the conversations will bear fruit but, make no mistake, there are voices out there that would love nothing more than to destroy a chance for us to make progress and to heal wounds and, really, let this economy launch by dealing with one of the aspects that keeps us from immediately moving forward – talk to any high-tech company who says: ‘we just want to keep jobs in America, but it’s tough when we can’t hire the engineers we need.’  Talk to the agricultural community that says: ‘we just want to put food on the table, principally of Americans, but around the world, because it’s one of our biggest exports, but we need folks who can harvest that crop.’  It is clearly an issue that has spanned every corner of this country and I think everyone agrees: it is time to fix the broken immigration system.  And fortunately there are some good, quiet conversations that have occurred, bipartisan, that I think are going to bear fruit.  But we want those conversations to be completed so that we can actually get out there and bipartisan-ly fight for the product that will be.

Q:  Congressman Van Hollen, I just had a question for you about the budget, Republicans have been harping on the idea about having a budget that balances in ten years, when you produce your budget do you intend to produce a budget that will eventually balance – do you intend to provide the year in which it will balance?  And do you have any idea when that will be?

Mr. Van Hollen.  Our focus throughout our budget process, and we’re in the process now of reaching out to all parts of the Caucus, our focus will be the question of economic growth, whether it’s in the near term, or in the out years, and any budget we put together will be guided by that particular principle.  As you know, one of the reasons we’ve run high deficits now was because there was no private sector injection of capital for consumer demand and as a result of the Recovery Act we were able to stop the free-fall, turn the corner, and begin on an upward trajectory so that the key principle that will guide everything we do with respect to the budget is jobs, strengthening middle class, and shared responsibility.  And so we’ll keep you posted as we go through those conversations.

Chairman Becerra.  Thank you very much.

Whip Hoyer.  Can I just make a comment on that?  I intend to work very closely with Mr. Van Hollen in seeing what Mr. Ryan has in mind.  As you know, the budget being presented in the last two years did not balance until well into the ‘30s, the 2030’s, as late as 2040.  As you know further, I think, the ten year window was as a result of trying to get votes for a couple of the bills that we passed just recently, which kept our country from going over the cliff, or having an immediate sequester so that I think the American public is going to be very focused on what they have in mind in terms of a ten year budget, we think we need to invest in growing the economy, growing jobs, and I think this will be a very important thing that Mr. Van Hollen will lead our party on, engaging the Republican party on what their priorities are, what they want to do for the next ten years to grow our economy, create jobs, and make sure that America’s national security is protected.

Chairman Becerra.  Travel safe, thank you for having been here.