Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good morning. Are you all ready for St. Patrick’s Day? We have a little earlier start because we have our traditional St. Patrick’s Day lunch today, and it is always a happy occasion. And while I do not have Irish grandparents, I do have Irish grandchildren named Sean and Ryan, who all of us are celebrating today.
This morning, the President, the White House posted the President’s budget blueprint. The budget, as we have said over and over again in this room, the budget, the Federal budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us as a country should be reflected in how we allocate our resources in the budget. This budget is not a statement of values of anyone. President Trump has shown that he does not value the future of our children and working families. It fails to recognize that the health of America, the strength of America does not just depend on our military might, which is very important and we all support, but also our strength springs from the health, the education, and the well-being of the American people. Our strength depends on the power of our diplomacy, the health of our economy, and the vitality of our communities, all of which are undermined by the President’s budget.
So it throws billions of dollars at defense while ransacking America’s investment in jobs, education, innovation, clean energy, and lifesaving medical research. It will leave our nation weakened. Again, we all understand and respect our responsibility to protect and defend the American people and to have a smart and strong defense budget, not a budget and actions that are reckless and rash.
And so here we are. You know, here are some examples of what is in the budget. NIH, the National Institutes of Health, the Biblical power to cure, investments that could stand – could compete with any investment you could name, this budget cuts $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, one fifth of the budget of the National Institutes of Health, when in fact we should be increasing that budget. Pell grants, $4 billion cut from Pell grants. More than $9 billion cut from education. Now, remember this: nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investment in education. So when the Republicans say we need to reduce the deficit because – and so, therefore, we must cut education, that is a stupid economy, because it would – again, nothing brings more money to the Treasury to reduce the deficit than the education of the American people, early childhood, K through 12, higher education, post grad, lifetime learning of our workers.
It cuts 31 percent – that would be 3,200 jobs – from EPA. Protection for the air our children breathe, the water they drink, the atmosphere in which we want them to thrive.
The State Department is cut by 29 percent. Our diplomacy, the power of diplomacy, is so important to keep us from having to initiate hostilities, and yet it is cut.
Anybody in farm country? Agriculture is cut by 21 percent; Commerce by 16 percent; the Army Corps of Engineers, 16 percent. The Army Corps of Engineers is the place where we make judgments about how we go forward with infrastructure, a priority the President has. The list goes on and on. If you want, I can give you some more examples. Just read his budget, and you will not be reading a statement of values.
So now we have – this week, the American people – in terms of the Affordable Care Act, this week, the American people did see the truth about the Republicans’ ‘Pay More For Less’ health bill. The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office [Director], appointed by the Republican majority in the Congress, personally selected, is my understanding, by Secretary Price – so he can’t disassociate himself from that choice – well, the Congressional Budget Office [Director], appointed by the Republicans, exposed the Republican bill as a merciless assault on families across America. This bill, which was called by Speaker Ryan an ‘act of mercy’ – he called that bill an ‘act of mercy’. Is it an ‘act of mercy’ to throw 24 million people out of health insurance so Republicans can hand billionaires a massive new tax giveaway? The bill steals $600 billion from working families and gives it to the rich. It is Robin Hood in reverse. In fact, at a hearing I was just at earlier this morning, my colleague, Ranking Member Pallone from New Jersey, said Robin Hood in reverse in this bill, it is Ryan Hood. One of the largest transfers of wealth from working families to the rich, the richest in our country.
And now Republicans are reportedly planning changes which would significantly worsen the already disastrous impact of their bill, including a proposal to destroy millions of Americans’ Medicaid coverage as soon as the end of the year. Now, understand about Medicaid, many people think Medicaid is an initiative for poor children, and it is, and that is important; many poor children benefit from it. But that is the smallest amount of allocation of resources. A great deal of the money is used for middle class entitlement for seniors for long term health care, whether in a facility or at home. Long term health care, well over 50 percent of Medicaid – of the money spent on that are Medicaid dollars. And, of course, we have opioids. You know the statement by the Governor of Ohio, but it is echoed by others as well: Thank God for Medicaid; that is how we are going to fight the opioid epidemic. That is where the dollars will come from, he said.
So they may end that in the Medicaid – the bill has it stretched out a bit. They may just make it end it by the end of this year. The bill is so bad, but it is not still bad enough to get the votes in the House.
I wrote to the Speaker yesterday that the public deserves to see an updated CBO score should they make changes in the bill. I haven’t heard back.
What is interesting about this is you see the resistance in the Senate to the House bill. Some in the Senate, the Republican Senators, are saying: “I hope it dies in the House so we don’t even have to consider it.”
But if it doesn’t die in the House, this Speaker has asked his Members to walk the plank on a very bad bill that has damaging consequences across the country that might not even become law. So they walk the plank for nothing except to damage the well-being of their constituents. The American people deserve the facts, and so do the Members deserve the facts before the House acts to destroy affordable health care in our country.
So now where do we go?
Today, as you know, the court – yesterday a court in Hawaii, another court in Maryland again rejected, thankfully, the President’s brazenly prejudiced, barely repackaged Muslim and refugee ban. It met the same fate as the original bill in court, a victory for security and for our Constitution. The Administration has practically boasted that – there are two things: the ban and the deportations. But on the ban of refugees, the Administration and their just overall immigration attitude, the Administration has boasted of a proposal to separate children from their mothers and fathers crossing the border, an inhumane plan that they wouldn’t dare to propose for any other population.
It is consistent with statements made by Congressman Steve King, his most recent racist remarks. What did he say? “We cannot restore our civilization with everybody else’s babies.” This is a Member of Congress, of course reflecting the attitude in the White House of a white supremacist as the chief strategist for the President of the United States, Steve Bannon, and really creating an atmosphere where it is okay for people maybe to say some of the things they are doing and acting upon prejudice in our country.
I have called upon the Speaker again and again to strip Congressman King’s chairmanship of the Constitution – imagine, he is the chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee. He should be relieved of that responsibility.
So, while all of this is going on, the President is desperate, once again, the deflector in chief is desperate to distract attention from the dangerous incompetence of his Administration, an Administration that has not put forth a jobs bill, has not put forth an infrastructure bill, all the things he talked about doing, and, again, to distract, to deflect attention from the devastating consequences of the Republicans’ assault on working people.
After 2 weeks of his – I don’t know what adjective to use about his charge, irresponsible for sure, about President Obama wiretapping him. We have seen no evidence to support his outrageous allegations. He really is making a fool of his Cabinet and his people because they have to defend something that is so indefensible, unsubstantiated, and just a stunt to deflect attention from some of the nasty stuff that is going on under his leadership.
The Deflector-in-Chief’s desperation demands answer to our original question, the one I ask almost every day: What is Russia’s political, personal, and financial grip on the Trump Administration? What do the Russians have on President Trump? They have stonewalled over 100 letters from House Democrats requesting disclosure and transparency on his ties to Russia, his conflicts of interest, and other Administration actions.
You have heard me say before: this has an impact on our national security. What do the Russians have on him that he should flirt with the idea of weakening sanctions on Russia, undermining NATO and Europe? Secondly, undermining and questioning the value of the New START Treaty. Also, praising Putin at the expense of the greatness of America. What is it that they have on him? Show us your tax credits – your tax deduction – returns. Every – they did do something the other day, which was curious, to do a transom report. Who knows where that came from. What we want to see are the President’s tax returns in the same manner that every President and candidate for President – nominee of the party for President has done since Nixon, but, of course, that was demanded, but then followed through with wonderful President Gerald Ford. So, if the President wants to strengthen our security, he should come clean with the American people.
With that, I would be happy to take any questions you may have. I have some other things to share with you.
Q: The budget, some Republicans have already started to distance themselves from parts of it that they don’t like. In the end, will they end up owning this budget, and do you think it is something they will have to answer for in 2018?
Leader Pelosi. I can’t see how this budget can survive the light of day, but when you think of all of the – for example, the NIH, $6 billion, one fifth of the budget, so that they can spend more money on defense. Now, what is their mission? What is their purpose? What is their security mission that justifies all of that money that would break the agreement we have on parity between domestic and defense? The NIH, it is job producing. It is cure producing, and at the same time – and, by the way, we need more money at the National Institutes of Health, more investment, so that we can respond to more grant applications. We don’t even come close to – I say there is a moral responsibility, when we see scientific opportunity to honor the Biblical power to cure that the National Institutes of Health has, we have a moral responsibility to honor it. And in this case, we are not only adding, we are subtracting one fifth of the budget. I don’t know how that can be justified by anyone. I think they should ask every Republican, do you agree with this?
So I don’t – you would have to talk to them about what this means to them. Hopefully you will get maybe a statement of President Trump’s values. I hope it is not a statement of our colleagues’ values.
Q: Mike Morell, certainly no fan of Donald Trump and a Clinton supporter, he mentioned to NBC very recently that he sees no fire, only smoke right now, in accusations that Donald Trump or anyone of his association had any sort of collusion with the Russians, and he is seeing perhaps, you know, a lot of claims, but no real evidence. Can you respond to that?
Leader Pelosi. Did he – I didn’t see what he said, and I don’t understand what you are – perhaps you have an accurate characterization of it, but I will say this: We need an investigation. We need an investigation. We need an independent, outside investigation because there are plenty of indicators that there is a connection. And until we can have an investigation, what are the Republicans afraid of? If there is no “there” there, they should be happy to go forward with an investigation.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on this Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act that is on the floor today?
Leader Pelosi. I think it is really unfortunate that the Republicans have taken it to that place. I am sensitive to the concerns of what the due process is involved, if someone is incapable of performing some of the duties that people do at a certain age, as is one of the judgments they make about the capability of a senior, I think there should be a little better due process as to how those judgments are made, but I am concerned about guns being – without a better process. I support Elizabeth Esty and the comments that she has made about the legislation, and I will vote with her on it.
Q: Back on the Russia issue, what is your response to Chairman Nunes saying that he does not believe that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, that he thinks the President is wrong if you take the tweet literally? And, also, is there anything specific you would like to hear from Director Comey in Monday’s testimony on this?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. I think, Monday, the President’s comments should be rejected by the Director. I would have hoped that the Department of Justice would have done something already, but one might assume, but we don’t know, that that question might be asked of the Director. It should come as no surprise to him, but he should answer it directly.
Q: What do you make of the Administration proposing, at the same time that they say that they are supporting massive infrastructure investment, proposing in the budget to cut Amtrak, to cut rural air service, to cut transit grants? They say that they are looking for more efficient ways of funding these kinds of programs. What do you think about that?
Leader Pelosi. I appreciate your question. It is TIGER grants, EAS subsidies for air service to small airports, support for Amtrak’s long distance routes, other things like community block grants, LIHEAP, and the rest that are related to infrastructure, ARPA-E. ARPA-E was a remarkable bipartisan achievement that we accomplished during the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration working in a bipartisan way. They are eliminating – ARPA-E is how we invest in energy resources across the board, but – and that is really a very important part of not only our economy, not only our atmosphere, but also our international competitiveness in those areas.
This is a budget, the deconstruction of the Federal Government. They are deconstructionists. They have said that, and they make no bones about that. They have – one thing, listen to what they say; there is clarity. They want to deconstruct. In this case, you see what they are doing in terms of infrastructure. And in the case of Speaker Ryan, he has in his budget over and over again that we would take the guarantee away from Medicare. Without a guarantee – Medicare is a guarantee. Without a guarantee, you are reverting back to how it was for seniors before we had Medicare.
So this is all about a philosophical distrust of the role of the Federal Government in any way in meeting the needs of the American people.
Should there be a debate, should we subject all spending to the harshest scrutiny? We certainly should. And those of us who have advocated for some of it are the harshest critics to make sure that those investments accomplish what they set out to do. So we don’t have any argument about saying, okay, are we getting our money’s worth in what we need to do for the American people.
But that is not what this is about. This is systemic deconstruction of the Federal Government and the role.
So it is very hard to see where the President will come out on infrastructure. Perhaps this is paving the way for what I fear, which is that he is going to have a bill that will be a tax bill for the rich disguised as infrastructure, where the Federal taxpayer will subsidize the construction of something to give opportunity for somebody to own it in the private sector and charge fees so the taxpayer is paying twice: subsidizing it and then paying for use of it while somebody profits from it. So that is what we have to be careful of because the Republicans in Congress and this White House, as we are seeing now just in a few weeks, never miss an opportunity to suck up money from the middle class and working class families to the richest people in our country. And you see that in the health care bill. You see that in how they established their budget priorities in this bill so that they can say we can give more tax cuts to the rich and we can be in balance in the budget because we have cut education, research, infrastructure, and the rest.
And by the way, the President today – the supplemental came down today, which is, again, disrupting the balance between defense and domestic: $25 billion for base defense; $5 billion for OCO; Department of Homeland Security, $6 billion. And of that $6 billion, $1.4 billion is for building the wall. $1.4 billion is for building the wall. We are taking money out of building health security – National Institutes of Health and the rest, and we are putting $1.4 billion to build the wall, which is just a small start on the wall. And then they are cutting $18 billion in nondefense discretionary funding. So there are more cuts on the discretionary side.
So, again, I think that we should return to a place where we had parity with defense and security. Now, remember, the discretionary side of the budget does include many security functions. Homeland Security, the State Department, Veterans Affairs, that all is on the domestic side. So when they are shrinking the domestic side, increasing the defense side, and then saying, “Well, we are going to increase Homeland Security,” then you are further shrinking any investments in education, health care, the judicial system, transportation, housing, any of the other responsibilities that we have to the American people.
So the budget – you know, I always used to say: Show me your budget; show me your values. Show me your values; show me your budget. This is the blueprint, this is the place to go to see what the purpose is. And their purpose with this budget is to deconstruct government. It is a philosophy that they have, that they are ideological about.
And what is sad about it is one of the biggest differences between Democrats and Republicans, we really do want to work in a bipartisan way. We have enough humility about ourselves to think there might be a good idea on the other side. In any event, people voted for them, and we want to hear what the wishes are of those people. So we would be happy to sit down, put it all on the table: What produces growth? What produces growth, good paying jobs in our country? Without any ideology, how do we come to the conclusion of a budget that produces growth? And that is not exactly what this is about. In fact, it is not anything like what this is about.
Q: On that point, on looking for areas where you could be able to work together…
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: …is there anything anywhere in this budget that you could support, any glimmers of potential compromise?
Leader Pelosi. Well, they have to come to their own conclusion on the budget. We will have our own budget too, and that will come forth shortly. That will be something that creates jobs, reduces the deficit, and creates growth for the American people. We are very proud of John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who is our ranking member on the committee. And you will see a sharp contrast between the two budgets.
I really – to tell you the truth, as low as my expectations have been, this budget really goes beyond. They have called it their “skinny budget.” I don’t know exactly what that means. I don’t know what analogy they are calling. Maybe they are going to have a fat budget later. I don’t know what that – maybe you can find that out. Maybe you could ask them that question.
But, you know, the thing is – I appreciate your question because the fact is, while the American people want us all to stand up for our values, they also want us to work together. We come here with that purpose. We don’t come here to say, “There are 218 districts just like mine; so whatever one of us wants to do, that should be the product.” That is not what it is about. It is about finding common ground. It is about sustainability of any proposal that you put forth, but you have to have some agreement that at least you agree on governance. Our Founders would expect us to have at least that common ground, that we recognize that there is – we have responsibilities to the American people. How we have the debate about what the role is at any given time has been the story of government and politics in America, has been a kaleidoscope. Sometimes regionally people come together who might not otherwise be in sympathy, but you are always open to what that can be. And right now we have something that says that arc of legitimate differences between progressives and conservatives is something that is no longer valid. We are off that chart. We are just saying “deconstruct,” and that is the debate.
So it will be an interesting one, and we tried to do it as respectfully as possible to the vision of our Founders as our responsibility to our people, to honor our commitment to our men and women in uniform as we provide for the common defense and honor our responsibility to protect and defend the American people, but also protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and recognizing that our mission is about the future. It is about the future, and that future demands that we invest in education and health, the health and well-being of the American people and our families for our children, our children, our children.
I wish you a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps as we have St. Patrick’s Day lunch, we can have a common – a moment of – what? A moment of comity, of comity, of goodwill in honor of St. Patrick, and hopefully that will carry us through, but this budget is really a slap in the face of the future.