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. As you know, yesterday, once again, for the - I don't know - 30 somethingth time, the Republicans tried to take away protections for patients in our country: a little baby born with a birth defect, a child with a disability or asthma, cancer, diabetes, or the senior who is getting prescription drugs much less expensive because of the Affordable Care Act or free wellness examinations once a year. Whether it is women who are getting services already, and those will increase in August. Whether it is this very, very powerful protection for patients and that is, removing lifetime limits on the coverage that they can receive. Whether it is young adults who can be on their parents' policy until they are 26 years old, enabling them to follow their aspirations and not make decisions only based on whether they have health care rather than what their aspirations and skills and talents take them to. So, once again, once again, the Republicans, on the floor of the House, spoke for and voted for the special interest over the people's interest.
Today, as we have been doing day after day after day, we are calling upon the Republicans in Congress to pass the middle income tax cuts. As you know, this week President Obama laid out a step that we can take right now that will bring more certainty and stability to our economy and be fair to the middle class. Republicans must stop holding middle income tax cuts hostage to their tax cuts for their very wealthy friends, Big Oil, special interests. What is really important about all of this is that the policies that you see them advocating are directly related to the politics and political climate that we are in. You cannot have fairness to the middle class in your policy if you have complete, unreported large significant special interest money pouring into the political process to suffocate the system, to suppress the vote and to poison the debate. That is why we have issued a DARE: to say we dare disclose, amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, reform the politics; and let's increase the role of small donors in the political system and elect reformers of any party who are willing to do that. Our founders knew that our system depended on a democracy, where the voice and the vote of the many determine the outcome of elections and, therefore, the policies that would spring from that - not the checkbooks of the very, very few, a plutocracy, a government of the rich, a government of the few, not of the many.
So, it is in the interest of our democracy that we have accountability and transparency. And that is why after the Supreme Court's misguided decision on Citizens United disclosure was one course of action, one of the few courses of action that was available to us. The person who took the lead on this strengthening of our democracy, holding firm to the vows of our founders is Chris Van Hollen. As you know, he is part of our Leadership. He is our Ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. And because of his knowledge of these issues, he sees the direct relationship between politics and policy. And we are very proud of his leadership on the DISCLOSE Act. And I am going to yield to him to talk about that next, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, Madam Leader. And as Leader Pelosi said at the outset yesterday, we saw the 33rd vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the important protections that are contained in the Affordable Care Act. There are a number of bills where we have had zero votes. One, of course, is the President's jobs initiative, which he presented to the House of Representatives last September. No votes on that. Another bill that we have had zero votes on is the DISCLOSE bill, which is designed to make sure that voters know who is financing these campaigns so that we can understand what special interests are trying to rig the rules of the economy in their favor.
Now this is a House of Representatives that is pretending that it is one of the most open House of Representatives in recent times. And yet they have refused to even hold a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act, not even a hearing. It has been requested many times by Congressman Brady, Congressman Gonzalez, and others on the Committee on House Administration. Nothing. Those Members had to hold an unofficial hearing to bring out the facts on this issue because the majority refused to have a hearing. So it is ironic that on a bill that calls for greater openness, the House Republicans refused to even have an open hearing to talk about it.
The DISCLOSE Act stands for a very simple proposition, which is that voters have a right to know who is bankrolling these campaigns. And we all recognize that when a lot of these groups are financing these campaigns, they are doing it to try to elect a Congress, to try to buy a Congress that will rig the rules of the game in their favor. Among the rules of the game which we know they want to change are those related to important pieces of our economy. So, for example, we have been working hard to try to overturn some of the parts of the tax code that reward corporations that move American jobs overseas to special tax havens, like the Cayman Islands, like Switzerland. We would like to close those tax loopholes. There are a lot of corporations and individuals who benefit from keeping those loopholes in place. There are lots of folks who would like to continue to have a tax code that tilts toward the very wealthy. And we see strong Republican opposition to our proposal to extend tax relief to middle income Americans unless they also get continuations of tax breaks for the very wealthy, instead of asking the wealthiest to help contribute to reducing our deficit so that we don't have to reduce the deficit at the expense of middle income taxpayers and seniors.
So, that is what this is all about, shining the light on those contributions. And it is unfortunate that our Republican colleagues oppose that. I think we want to both commend Senator Reid for the decision in the Senate to take up the DISCLOSE Act next week. And we think that Members of the House, Democrats and Republicans alike, should have that same opportunity, which is why we just filed a discharge petition in the House of Representatives. And we are encouraging all Members, Democrats and Republicans, who believe that voters have a right to know who is financing these elections, to sign that very simple measure, and let us have a vote on it in the House. Again, we had 33 votes on repealing important patient protections. Let's have one vote on allowing voters the right to know who is financing these campaigns through secret donations and trying to rig the rules. There was a time when Republicans favored disclosure. And I do think it is worth just pointing out what Mitch McConnell said not that long ago when he was asked by Tim Russert on Meet the Press. And here is what Senator McConnell said: ‘Republicans are in favor of disclosure. If you are going to do that, and the Senate voted to do that, and I am prepared to go down that road, then it needs to be meaningful disclosure, Tim. 527s are just a handful of groups. We need to have real disclosure. So what we thought to do is broaden disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax exempt business associations and trial lawyers so you can include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?' Mitch McConnell asked. We agree with the old Mitch McConnell. We believe that voters have a right to know. We believe in full disclosure. And all Senator McConnell and the House Republicans need to do to ensure that full disclosure is to vote in favor of the DISCLOSE Act when they bring it up in the Senate and sign the discharge petition that we filed today to bring up the DISCLOSE Act in the House of Representatives. So we hope that they will do that.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congressman Van Hollen. When this decision came down, under Chris Van Hollen's leadership, we did pass the DISCLOSE Act in the House. It went over to the Senate - which, of course, had only 59 Democrats - and we couldn't get one Republican. Even despite the public statements of Leader McConnell and others, they abandoned that because they knew that they didn't want accountability and transparency and contributions that are made under something that is so bizarre that the court would say, any and all money - secret, otherwise, from who knows where - should be allowed into our system. So, thank you for your leadership on that. It is very exciting for us that the Senate is taking it up again. And our Members are very enthusiastic about signing a discharge petition to that effect.
Any questions on that?
Q: I have a question on something else, on a completely different matter.
Leader Pelosi. Okay.
Q: In the Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, there was a lot of discussion about the intelligence leaks, and you used to serve on the Intelligence Committee. You are very familiar with this. John Conyers, the leading Democrat on that committee, had suggested that he would like to see the Judiciary Committee maybe conduct an investigation. And there has now been a letter that Lamar Smith has written to Conyers taking him up on that. Do you think that that is the appropriate course of action? And who do you think that they should possibly look at and question if they want to forge ahead on some sort of an inquiry?
Leader Pelosi. I believe right now the Administration has put in place a look at how these leaks occurred. It is not in anybody's interest, as I have said to you before. The sign in the intel room is: ‘loose lips sink ships,' so nobody wants these leaks. But I think that, let's exhaust one remedy; and that is the investigation that - the assignment that the Administration has given to look into this.
Q: But what about congressional oversight?
Leader Pelosi. Well, congressional oversight is a major part of it. And the committees can always bring in any agency of government under its jurisdiction to ask those questions. But you asked a very specific one about, do I think there needs to be a Judiciary Committee investigation. I said: ‘let's see how the other investigation goes first.'
Q: Madam Leader, what would you like to see happen with the Farm Bill that came out of committee earlier this week?
Leader Pelosi. I will be happy to tell you about the Farm Bill. But I just wanted to first focus on disclosure because Mr. Van Hollen has many responsibilities, and he was generous with his time this morning. If you have any questions about this legislation, which is fundamental to our democracy and for the vitality of the middle class.
Q: What efforts did you make to get Republicans to work with you on disclosure? I mean, as you quoted Senator McConnell, they at least in theory support this? Did you make overtures to get their cooperation? What happened?
Mr. Van Hollen. The short answer is yes. We have tried over a period of time to get Republicans onboard. A number of Republicans have privately indicated that they are totally in favor of the DISCLOSE bill. But the Republican leadership has been very clear on this, that they don't want to allow any kind of transparency and any kind of disclosure. And we have seen the total flip flop from Senator McConnell on this issue. Interestingly, while the Citizens United decision created big problems for our democracy, there was one issue on which eight of the nine Justices agreed; and that was that disclosure is not only constitutional but good for the health of our democracy. The only dissenter on that was Justice Thomas. So we hope that, on a bipartisan basis, we can take this up. I mean, there has been a disturbing trend among many Republicans against transparency. One is their opposition to this. We are now seeing their Presidential candidate refuse to divulge his tax records. His father set the standard for doing that. And yet now he refuses to disclose in that area. So, we believe transparency and disclosure are important. As the leader said, and as I indicated, there is a very important link between these secret donations and an effort to elect the Congress that will rig the rules of the game in favor of certain economic interests which do not serve the interests of middle income Americans.
Leader Pelosi. It is important to note - just following up on what Mr. Van Hollen said - that Governor Romney could not be considered to be a member of a Cabinet because it is required that disclosure be made of tax returns and the rest. So he is running for President, wanting to win and appoint a Cabinet which would have more disclosure than he would have as President. Well, that is not going to happen. But nonetheless, you see, he could not even become a Cabinet member for that lack of disclosure. And now with that lack of disclosure, he wants to be President of the United States.
Q: Mr. Van Hollen, is this at this point, though, about legislating for disclosure or messaging? And I ask it because in your preamble you went right to buzz words like ‘Cayman Islands' and ‘Switzerland;' and then in your answer here, you go right to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is not a member of this legislature.
Many Republicans, the ones who you say privately come up to you and say that they are all for it, might turn around and say, the election is a few months away. Your messaging. There is no way I can do this even if I wanted to.
Mr. Van Hollen. Well, I don't know why any Member should ever say that we shouldn't provide the voters…
Q: Because you are beating up other candidates as you promote the bill.
Mr. Van Hollen. But all people have to do is disclose. I mean, that takes care of the issue. So all they have to do is vote to allow the voters the right to know who is financing those campaigns. If they believe in that, they should vote for it. And in the case of Governor Romney, all he has to do is disclose, just like his father did. I think the person who wants to be the chief executive in control of the finances of the United States should tell the American people how he conducts his own finances. So. this is a question of disclosure and transparency. And all people have to do to address the issue is vote for disclosure.
Leader Pelosi. And many of the Republicans who have spoken out on disclosure in their own states, they have had to come under the strict requirement by their leadership in the Senate that they have to vote with them on 'no disclosure,' despite the public statements of the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and their own efforts for transparency in their own states at home.
Q: Senator McConnell always says that the DISCLOSE Act treats corporations and Republican leaning organizations differently from unions. How do you respond to that? And is there some ground to give on the union question to get Republicans on board?
Mr. Van Hollen. Well, that is just totally not true. Take a look at the House DISCLOSE bill. Take a look at the Senate DISCLOSE bill. It treats all interests uniformly, business interests, union interests. So I would be interested in hearing from Senator McConnell exactly what provision in that Senate bill or the House bill treats unions any differently than businesses. It is not true. There were, on some earlier versions of the DISCLOSE Act, provisions that people pointed to to make that argument. We didn't think that they were accurate then, but we removed those provisions. So to the extent people were relying on those earlier provisions to make the argument, there is no longer any grounds to make them.
Leader Pelosi. Except if he is always thinking that his friends in the special interest world should get special treatment and to be treated like everybody else is a disservice to them, which could be.
Mr. Van Hollen. If I could add to that because he is making two arguments now. He is actually making the argument you just made, which is no longer valid. Well, I don't think it ever was, but certainly it is not. But he has gone way beyond that at this point. He is now taking the position that Justice Thomas took. In fact, in his speech the other day at AI, he quoted Justice Thomas, which puts Mitch McConnell, you know, way outside the mainstream here. You had every other Supreme Court Justice, as I say, say not only saying this was constitutional but saying that this was important to the health of our democracy. And I think virtually every American would agree that the idea of disclosure and transparency is important to the democratic process. So, I understand why Mitch McConnell is out there fighting this kind of preemptively. He recognizes what a vulnerability this is because the overwhelming majority of the American people believe in the very simple proposition that voters have a right to know who is financing, who is bankrolling these campaigns.
Leader Pelosi. And many of the people who are bankrolling these campaigns fall into the category of anti government ideologues. So that is why I said earlier, you cannot have fairness in policy unless you have fairness in the politics outside. And for them to have this undue weight; which is, if they have the money and they have the freedom of expression that they do, then let's give the American people their right to know. So, the reason it is so damaging to a democracy is that it not only undermines the voice of the many, it also suffocates any vitality of ideas in the Congress. If you own it, you get your tax breaks. The cost of doing business of $100 million, $400 million into campaigns is very offset by the tax cuts you will get and at the same time diminish the public role and the public private partnership that exists in our country. So, there is a special interest and there is ideological orthodoxy here that is served by big money suffocating the system, suppressing the vote, poisoning the debate. We think nothing less is at stake in this election than our democracy, and we think that there is a path to at least legitimizing what they are saying by having them admit that they are identified with that.
Q: Madam Leader, if I could, just respectfully, how much of this really is about the fact that Republicans are out raising money…
Leader Pelosi. Nothing.
Q: They are raising far more than you are.
Leader Pelosi. We, the Democrats, have been on record for a long time wanting to reform the system. We passed a bill as long ago as President Bush Sr., which he vetoed, for citizen financing of campaigns. You know what has come in between there, McCain Feingold and that. But I say, even if we could out raise them, everybody should disclose. No, it has nothing to do with that. This is about our democracy. It is stunning that the Supreme Court would take such an undermining of democracy approach to how we go forward. I completely disagree with what they did. But everybody should disclose, and I think we should. That is why I say, amend the Constitution to do away with that, and reform the system so that we have citizen participation and get rid of these PACs. I would like to form a pact to end all PACs. I mean, the big secret PACs like that. A pact to end all PACs. So, no, this is something that is, again, fundamental to the democracy. You cannot have big money on any side making that determination.
This gives us an opportunity, though, because it is so apparent when people say, I am going to put up $400 million, what is it that they want? They want their tax breaks, but they want government shrunk. And we don't want any government bigger than we need. But we need to have public private partnerships. And this is a subject that many of us have spent our lives in politics on, increasing the voice of the many in our country.
Q: Leader Pelosi?
Leader Pelosi. I promised to go to the Farm Bill at some point before they shoo us out of the room.
Q: It passed committee early this morning. What do you think of what was passed? And what would you like to see done? And would you be open for an extension of current policy?
Leader Pelosi. Well, because it did pass here in the middle of the night or early, early in the wee, small hours of the morning, I haven't seen the whole bill yet. But what I do know of it is that I would have voted with those Democrats on the committee who voted against it. However, I hope that the bill, in whatever comes next, comes closer to the Senate bill. I think the cuts in nutrition are totally unacceptable to the extent that they are in that bill and would hope that there would be more bipartisan agreement on something that looks more like the Senate bill. And I hope we do get a Farm Bill. I don't know if one will even come to the House floor to be voted upon. Do you know?
Q: No. But I was hoping you might.
Leader Pelosi. I asked somebody who should be in a position to know, who you might be seeing soon. And he said he didn't know either. So I guess we will all see.
Q: Madam Leader, I wanted to ask you about an ABC News report last night about the Olympic outfits for the opening ceremonies. I know Make It In America has been a central focus of the Democratic Caucus, particularly the Whip, but yourself too. And these uniforms are made in China. I am wondering if that strikes you at all as unfair to American companies?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. Yes.
Q: Do you have any further comments?
Leader Pelosi. I think that we take great pride in our Olympic athletes. I have tried to watch as many of the trials as possible. I can't wait to stay up all night to see as much as possible of them. We take such pride, and I know they work so hard. They represent the very best, and they are so excellent. It is all so beautiful. And they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.
Q: Leader Pelosi, there has been increasing frustration from Members about the actions of Congressman Jackson.
Leader Pelosi. Really? There has been increasing frustration?
Q: I heard from Members who wanted more of an explanation. So last night, his office did put out a statement, saying he is suffering from a mood disorder. Do you feel that is a sufficient explanation for both his colleagues to explain his absence, his long term absence, and to his constituents?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let's talk about that long term absence. How many legislative days have we been in since Congressman Jackson...
Q: Today's the 12th.
Leader Pelosi. 12 days. Okay. So, if you are going by the calendar, which you can't really do that around here because we meet very infrequently and not for very much time or to any good product at the same time. But let me say, as I said yesterday, about Congressman Jackson, our prayers and thoughts are with him and with his family. We wish him the comfort he needs to get well. I said at the time when he knew - when they had a handle on what the evaluation was, that they would make it known and they have. And I think that - I don't know how many Members have said anything to you. But none of them have said anything to me about it.
Q: Have you spoken with his family or anyone?
Leader Pelosi. Well, not since his statement. Not since his statement, no. But I think that that statement should enable him to have the care and time he needs to get well and his constituents to know that this is what the nature - because we just didn't know and now we do.
Q: Madam Leader, now that the election is being passed as a referendum on, in part at least on tax policy and where we go, if Republicans were to win, would Democrats drop their objections to extending the top marginal tax rates?
Leader Pelosi. No. Tax rates under the Bush administration that increased the deficit and did not create jobs, that got us into the fix that we are in now, no, it is just not fair. And Mr. Van Hollen, in addition to his other many accomplishments and responsibilities, also has served on the Ways and Means Committee, and perhaps he would like to speak to that.
Mr. Van Hollen. Well, the only thing I would add to that is that the consequences of saying the folks at the very high end of the income scale don't have to contribute more to reducing the deficit, which our Republican colleagues say we should do and which we have said repeatedly we need to do, if you don't ask the folks at the very top to contribute a little bit more toward reducing the deficit, it means you whack everybody else. Giving them another round of tax breaks comes at the expense of the rest of America. It comes at the expense of seniors on Medicare. It comes at the expense of important investments that are necessary to make our economy grow.
So, that is why this is such an important issue. If you are serious about long term fiscal discipline, then you have to make choices as to how to achieve that. And if you don't ask the folks at the very top to contribute a little bit more, simply go back to what they were doing during the Clinton years, then you are asking the rest of the country to pay the bill.
Leader Pelosi. And I remind you that going back to the Clinton rates for these folks would be a very good thing for the country. Just to remind, when President George W. Bush took office, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent. When he left, it was almost double that. And his tax cuts at the high end were not helpful in terms of deficit reduction or job creation.
Thank you all very much.