Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic women participated in a press conference highlighting the historic number of women elected as part of the House Democratic Caucus and announcing that she is running for reelection as House Democratic Leader. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Okay, I think that most of them are here. Good morning. Good morning. More are coming, more are coming. Yesterday, when we gathered here, I began my comments standing here with our new Members of Congress by saying: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ That’s what they say. I said then, and I say now, that this picture before you is worth millions of votes. Millions of votes. Millions of women’s votes that it took to reelect President Barack Obama. Millions of women’s votes who helped us elect a record number of women to the Congress of the United States. As you look forward, understand that you are looking into the future, the future of empowerment of women in America. We saw some of these faces yesterday among the new Members-elect. I said then that they were part of the most diverse caucus in the history of the world, the first time a parliamentary body would have a party who had a majority of women and minorities as its strength. And we’re very, very proud of that. I said yesterday, ‘we did not have the majority, but we have the gavel.’ Excuse me, we don’t have the gavel. We don’t have the gavel. We have our own gavel. We have something more important, we have unity. We do not have the gavel, we do not have the majority, but we have unity. I think our Caucus this morning demonstrated that very clearly.
So, I come here with my sisters – when I came to Congress 25 years ago, there were about 23 Members of Congress who were women out of 435. Just think of that. Twelve Democrats, 11 Republicans, something like that. Today, we have over 60 House Democratic Women. Very good.
Not enough. We want more. But all of us who were there, that dozen early on, that dozen of us there, we all took responsibility to try to pull more women into Congress in our state delegations and across the country. I’m very proud that in California our delegation of Democrats is a majority of women, not even counting our two Senators – Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer – so women are empowered in California. I also want to acknowledge that, although our numbers are great here, two of our colleagues have gone on to the Senate. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin and Senator-elect Mazie Hirono – only the second women of color to serve in the Senate.
[Members Applaud & Cheer]
So, that’s pretty exciting. And unfortunately we won’t have Kathy Hochul and Betty Sutton in this next Congress. But the future is seen and coming upon us, and we know they will be making a great public contribution. So, here we are. In the past week since the election we’re still finishing up some of our campaigns. We’re very proud of the success, as I said yesterday, and as you see here today. Why is it important for us to make this statement of the strength of women in Congress of the United States, of the House Democratic women? Because this is where the hopes and dreams of America’s families are riding. They may not know that, they may not know one party from the next and the rest, but we know that without Rosa DeLauro we would not have Lilly Ledbetter and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Without Gwen Moore we would not have the Violence Against Women Act being put forth the way it is, Gwen Moore, thank you. Jackie Speier, working so hard with other Members of our Caucus, Loretta Sanchez, to protect women in the military. We’re so very, very proud of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman -Schultz. I could stand around here and talk about the leadership, certainly Susan Davis, women in the military has been her issue for a long time. But in any event, the point is that if America is going to reach its full fulfillment as a nation, we must have the further empowerment of women. Women in the military, if we want to be at our strongest, we must give women every opportunity in the [workforce] to hold every job so that they can one day attain the top job. We want women in business, how could it be that the Fortune 500 [has] fewer than 20 [women] CEOs of Fortune 500 [companies]? If we want our economy to flourish and grow, we must lift up women’s leadership in our economy. Very important. Women in the academic world. Women in health care, any subject you can name, is more wholesome, more successful, more efficient, with the involvement of women.
And so, when women came to the polls, when women came to the polls last week, they registered their support for those who understood the challenges that women face. It’s really, really a remarkable thing. Under the leadership of the women standing here, the voices of America’s mothers, daughters, and grandmothers will be heard. Women are the breadwinners for our families in many cases, the small business owners in our communities – isn’t that right, Nydia Velázquez? And the workers that will spur our prosperity. They’re holding jobs but they also are creating jobs as entrepreneurs and owners. And we keep our focus on women’s rights and health, equal pay, and choice. We also know that women are focused on the same issues all of us are – the economy, jobs, the future of the middle class, and the national security of our country. They’re concerned about fiscal soundness for America because they think about the future. As we move forward to debate our economic and fiscal challenges in the weeks and months ahead, one thing is clear: our economic agenda, choices and decisions, will be viewed through the perspective and the eyes of our nation’s women and their needs and those of their families.
So, I have decided and in light of all of the excitement accompanying our beautifully diverse caucus – in San Francisco I always say the beauty is in the mix. That’s also where the strength is, in the mix. And the size of our women’s caucus, I’m not satisfied, we want more, but we are the largest element of political leadership for women in the country, at larger than it’s ever been. So, I have made the decision, that some of you may have some interest in, in order to continue work on empowering women, to making sure our Affordable Care Act is enforced in a way that no longer will being a woman be a preexisting medical condition, to work with the President to create jobs and grow our economy in a way that empowers women in the workplace, to talk about a healthy political climate, to work with women to say: ‘we know one way to increase the involvement of women in the government and the politics, you must reduce the role of money, and increase the level of civility.’ And that would be a very good thing for our country and would elect more women than we did last week. So, a healthy nation, a healthy political arena, a healthy planet – and look I’m so pleased to hear what the President said about clean energy jobs of the future. As you know, that has been a priority for me and I want to look, I look forward to working on those issues as we go forward. So, it is about, again, a healthy, fair economy, healthy people, healthy planet, healthy politics. You cannot separate the policy from the politics. If you want – what Walter Reuther said: ‘you cannot separate the breadbox from the ballot box.’ If we want the right policies for America’s working families, you must have politics that is fair and enables people who share those values to be elected.
So, in order to reignite the American Dream – that’s what we’re about – to build ladders of opportunity for those who want to work hard, play by the rules, take responsibility, to have those ladders have sides about small business and entrepreneurship and a strong and thriving middle class, we have work to do. And I have made a decision to submit my name to my colleagues to once again serve as the House Democratic Leader.
[Members Applaud and Cheer]
I’m so proud to stand here with you my sisters. A lot of our male friends really wanted to come out here. This is girls morning out. Any questions?
Q: Was there ever a moment that you considered not staying on? And can you talk about that – about your decision-making process?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there wasn’t really much time because when the election was over, it wasn’t over. Because we still have about five races that we’re watching very carefully. So, my first time was spent, okay, working with Steve Israel to make sure we had the intellectual, financial, whatever resources to prevail in those races. My second time that I spent was to call people who were not successful in this particular election because everybody here was getting a lot of calls. Winning is very noisy, not succeeding is kind of, the bells don’t ring that much and so I wanted to hear from them, what their views were about how we go forward and then to absorb the calls of my colleagues to see what their view is. But what I talked about here, about changing the role of money in politics is really a very important motivator for me to stay in the Leader’s Office. I think it must be done. When they say that, oh and I’ve read in the course of this week – money didn’t make any difference in the campaign, they all wasted their money. Well, that really wasn’t true. The President of the United States, the most well-known, famous, respected, person on the planet, had to spend about a billion dollars to set the record straight from what that other big money was putting out there. Senate races, House races – Tammy Duckworth had $4.5, $4.6 million…
Ms. Duckworth. Seven at the end.
Leader Pelosi. Seven million dollars spent against her. But I just meant of the outside money, seven million outside money. This is a congressional race. This is not right. Our founders had in mind a government of the many, not the government of the money. You’ve heard me say that over and over again. So that was a motivating factor to me. And of course, it’s at the will of my Caucus and they conveyed to me their will that I should stay. So I’m proudly doing that.
Q: Madam Leader the…
Leader Pelosi. Wait a minute, you had a question yesterday.
Q: Some of your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership and hurts the party in the long run. What’s your response?
[Members Audibly Disagree With Question]
Leader Pelosi. Next! Next!
Leader Pelosi. I guess. Oh, you’ve always asked that question? Except to Mitch McConnell.
Q: No, excuse me. Mister – you, Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Clyburn – you’re all over 70. Does your decision to stay on prohibit younger leadership from moving up?
Leader Pelosi. So you’re suggesting that everybody step aside?
Q: No, I’m simply saying it delays younger leadership from moving up.
Leader Pelosi. I think that what you will see – and let’s, for a moment, honor it as a legitimate question, although it’s quite offensive but you don’t realize that I guess. But the fact is that everything that I have done in my almost decade, decade now, of leadership is to elect younger and newer people to the Congress. In my own personal experience it was very important for me to elect young women. I came to Congress when my youngest child, Alexandra, was a senior in high school practically on her way to college. I knew that my male colleagues had come when they were 30. They had a jump on me because they didn’t have children to stay home. Now, I did what I wanted to do – I was blessed to have that opportunity to sequentially raise my family and then come to Congress. But I wanted women to be here in greater numbers at an earlier age so that their seniority would start to count much sooner. And it wasn’t confined to women, though we wanted to keep bringing in younger people and some of the decisions that we made over the years to invest when we won the House in 2006 and then in races before and since, was to encourage people to come. And when they come here, to give them opportunity to serve. So I don’t have any concern about that and as I always say to you, you have to take off about 14 years from me because I was home raising a family, getting the best experience of all in diplomacy, interpersonal skills.
Q: Madam Leader…
Leader Pelosi. No, the answer is no.
Q: Madam Leader, did the President at all encourage you to return as Democratic Leader? And I’m wondering also, to follow up Dana’s question, when did you actually reach a final decision that you would stay on?
Leader Pelosi. As you know my conversations with the President are not ones that I share. Okay? But…
Q: When did you make your final decision?
Leader Pelosi. My colleagues made it very clear. In fact I think they must have coordinated with each other because their message was clear: don’t even think of leaving. That was what I got over, and over, and over, and over again. And I thought well is this a coincidence or what? But my decision really – do I love what I do? Of course. Am I honored by the support of my colleagues? Endlessly. But I had to talk this over with my family because it an enormous time commitment and the encouragement I got from them really made the difference. Now, my brother Tommy wasn’t as keen on it as my children were. I guess he wanted to spend more time with me, but my kids were busy.
Leader Pelosi. In any event, I probably, I’d say final yesterday. Yesterday.
Q: Right after this news conference in here?
Leader Pelosi. Probably. I was revved. Weren’t you revved? Didn’t you want to run for Leader after that news conference yesterday? Yeah, but probably, finally, yesterday. In fact I called my brother Tommy this morning to tell him my final decision because it really, being actively involved in politics at this level is really insatiable. There is no – what I said to him is: ‘they’re not enough hours in a day for me. There is so much more I want to do, I don’t know how to get any more hours in the day.’ You can only sleep less, right? And I know anything I say really is something that any one of these women up here could be saying about their own personal decisions about their lives, to continue in the role that they have. Each one of those roles is very important. So they have vested in me this title of Leader and in two weeks, perhaps they will again. So, but we all have to husband – maybe there’s a better word – we all have to mete out our time, which is the most finite commodity of all, in a way that keeps us in balance. But from the standpoint of the victory that we had at the polls, I wouldn’t think of walking away. But we had a fabulous victory. As we talked about yesterday, we did win 25 seats, we didn’t net 25 seats, but there’s 16 Republicans over there right now who won’t be back in January. And they will be replaced by the beautiful diversity of America, that looks like America. The vitality – the 49 new Members, about 25 percent of our Caucus is brand new. I want to see them succeed here and I want to see them return. But it’s always more about the issues than the politics. It’s about, again, a healthy political system. A healthy America. A healthy planet and a healthy economy that is fair to – spoken like a mom – it’s always about health.
So, I feel pretty good about the decision. Decisions are fabulous, they’re liberating, you know that. When you make a job decision, how liberating it is once you accept that.
Q: Madam Leader, how difficult is it for you to leave without the gavel?
Leader Pelosi. Oh, that’s no problem at all. And in fact, I’m glad you asked that question. I think we all share an enthusiasm; and my colleagues correct me if I’m wrong. There’s something very positive about this election. That this President, who was held under such terrible comments by the other side, was reelected. That was important for the issues that we care about – health care, Medicare, you name it. But it was also important because it did not, we did not have a rejection of President Barack Obama and this is what will carry in our hearts. This is a very, very important decision America made. And the world was watching. At the same time we got, I think, still the record shows, more votes than the Republicans in terms of reaching out for our Members to reelect them and to increase our numbers. So that was very positive. And so, it’s almost liberating to be here with a Democratic President, whose commitment to the future is based on values, shared values with the American people – a commitment to strive for bipartisanship – that’s all, we all come here to do that same thing. And so, it’s, I don’t want to say it’s better than having the gavel, but it’s better than it would have been the last term. It’s better than the last term, infinitely better than the last term. Because some of the people who were anti – the anti-government ideologues – some of them are gone and that message has largely been rejected by the American people.
So, it isn’t about the gavel. Although we’d like to have it. It’s about the unity we share. It’s about the important work that we can do and it’s about thinking a little longer term of the path that our country is on and where we would go.
Q: How much of your decision was tied to the idea that you’ll be able to be around and be at the table now to defend some of the things that you worked so hard for from ’08 – ’10. How much did that play into your decision?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it played in the decision of and encouragement of some of my colleagues because they said to me and to others: ‘don’t even think of leaving’ and for some others it was: ‘you’ve done all the heavy lifting, now sit down at the table.’ And that really was important to a large number of our colleagues that, well, for some people in the general public the thought of four men at that table was not an appealing site. However excellent they might all be – however excellent. So, the idea that I would walk away from the table was not – outside the Congress that was something we heard a lot about, but inside the Congress, I think my colleagues knew what I could bring to that table.
Q: A moment ago you claimed victory, but in fact your stated goal had been to get that gavel back. Having failed to do that, why do you deserve being returned to this position?
Leader Pelosi. Well, our stated goal was a “Drive to 25.” And on that drive down that path we did elect 25 new Members of Congress, we did not net 25. But we made enormous progress. We made more progress than anybody thought we would do. The Republicans the morning of the election said they were going to win 16 seats. And we won 16 of their seats. When President George W. Bush was elected President, in his reelection the Republicans picked up three seats. When President Clinton was reelected in 1996, the Democrats picked up two seats. When President Eisenhower was elected in 1956, the Republicans picked up two seats. We’ve picked up as many seats as all three of those Presidents did in their reelect. So, we believe that it was a stunning evening for Democrats. It was a stunning victory for Democrats. I salute our Chairman Steve Israel, as I did yesterday, for just being a spectacular Field Marshal in all of this. And I commend all of my colleagues and my co-leaders, Steny Hoyer, co-members of the leadership, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn, John Larson, Xavier Becerra, Chris Van Hollen, the list goes on and on. And all of the women standing here who traveled into districts.
So, we were thinking that it was possible. And it was. I would say the one disappointment that I had was that the Medicare message, which was at stake, was so misrepresented by the Republicans that the public was confused. People would say: ‘well, why are the Democrats wanting to cut Medicare?’ We weren’t. Democrats used the savings of Medicare to extend it for another decade to provide benefits immediately, immediately for seniors right now. Republicans took that same money and gave tax cuts to the rich and that was a message that outside money spent a fortune to misrepresent. And that is why the election of Barack Obama was so very, very important to protect Medicare. Even though we could not get the majority, we knew when he won that many of the issues – Affordable Care Act, Medicare, etcetera – were protected. So, we have a different view of what happened that day. You saw some of the view of the Members that we elected, the intellect that we brought in here. So, it’s not about quantity so much for us, as the quality of leadership, the quality of our Members, the ideas that they have, the talent they bring, the commitment and dedication to a better future. We are solidly, we may not have the majority, and we may not have the gavel, but we have the unity. And we have the unity to go forward to create jobs, to build our economy – simple as ABC. American made, as Steny would say, Make It In America. B: build the infrastructure of America, right? And C: tax cuts for the middle class, tax cuts for the middle class. We can do that, we can prevent us from going over the cliff. We look forward to working with our great President and we congratulate the Senate on adding to their numbers, especially adding so many women to the Senate.
Do we have time for one more question?
Q: Madam Leader, after the election the Republicans are still demanding some structural changes to Medicare as part of the discussion to solve the – how far are Democrats willing to go to make adjustments?
Leader Pelosi. As I have said to you, and this will be familiar to you, when we go to the table and everything is on the table, we will make judgments about how we grow the economy, which is the best way to reduce the deficit – jobs, reduce the deficit – how do we create jobs? What cuts are necessary to achieve that without hurting investments in education, which brings more money to Treasury than any initiative you can name, and what are the revenues that will come to balance all of that? Our commitment as Democrats is that we believe that Social Security and Medicare are pillars of economic and health security for America’s seniors. They should not be used – have cuts made to them in order to give tax cuts to the rich. Any adjustments we would make in them would be to make them stronger, as we did in the Affordable Care Act with Medicare, to prolong its life, increase its benefits and keep America’s seniors healthy.
I think now that it’s time for us to go back to votes. Because there’s so many of us here. But aren’t we proud of the fact that we have 61 women, now we just have to double, just have to double our number. But, again, there is nothing more wholesome in the politics or government of our country, than the increased participation of women, the empowerment of women in the political process.
Thank you all very much.