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, everyone. So much is going on here, but I know that anyone who watches TV or reads the papers has to be very saddened and deeply moved about what is happening in the Philippines. I am very blessed to have in my district a large and vibrant Filipino American community, as is our country in general blessed with such. And many of these families have family and friends in the Philippines.
To see the loss of life, the property damage in terms of how are these people ever going to be made whole is just so very, very tragic. It was emotional for me on Monday at Arlington, where we were there for the placing of the wreath, and some of the Filipino vets who risked everything for our country. One of the ones I met at Arlington was on the Bataan Death March. We owe them so much. So all of this connection that we have drives home even further. It would be tragic no matter who it is, but our connection there heightens our responsibility to help in any way we can.
Yesterday the Obama administration released figures for the first month of the open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. As you know, nearly one million people have completed the eligibility process. That is really a very important figure. More than 500,000 Americans, if you combine those on Medicaid and the over 100,000 who did enroll, already have secured quality coverage. I am particularly proud of California's excellent numbers from our state marketplace in California.
These figures were lower than what we had hoped, of course, but a product of the fact that the website is not fully up and running. But we know from the implementation in Massachusetts that with healthcare reform, the pace of enrollment is expected to increase in the next five months. That was their experience. And of course, if you combine that to access to the website, when that improves, millions of Americans will gain access to quality, affordable health care.
Tomorrow the House Republicans once again plan to cast their 46th vote to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act and to put insurance companies back in charge of America's health care. This Republican initiative would undermine healthcare reform laws by causing premiums in the marketplace to spike, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Upton Bill is opposed by a broad coalition of groups: the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, Action Network, National Partnership for Women and Families, Paralyzed Veterans of America, to name a few.
As budget negotiations continue this week – when I say continue, sporadically it appears. I wish we could see a lot more activity on the part of the Budget Committee in session and in preparation for what I hope would be having a proposal before we leave for Thanksgiving. There is no reason we shouldn't. There is no good reason that we shouldn't. Everybody knows what the choices are that need to be made. And we have always stood ready to find common ground, bipartisan common ground, for common sense solutions that will grow the economy, create jobs, lift the sequester, and reduce the deficit.
The makings of a small package, I believe, are readily accessible to get this done before we leave so that over Christmas – the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is a high consumer confidence time – we want confidence high then, as well as year end confidence in the markets. They will rest when we have removed all doubt that government will not be shut down, that we can find common ground at least on a small package. We ought to just address it and find out if that is possible. And if it isn't, the American people should have to know why.
We do know that the sequester, if it stays in place, will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, by one estimate 800,000 jobs. It must be lifted. By the comments of the Republican chair of the Appropriations Committee, the sequester does not enable us to meet our responsibilities to the American people. That is a Republican chairman saying that.
So we need to lift that sequester, reduce the deficit, create jobs, and grow the economy. We have initiatives to do that. We have urgency, and we have the time right now. But with only 12 legislative days left – is it 13? Very few legislative days left in this session, we should not be squandering it. We were off for 12 days – isn't that unbelievable? Leading up to a time when we are supposed to be doing a budget – why were we off last week when we were only here a half a week the week before?
So again, the clock is ticking, time is a-wasting, we have important work to do. And while they try to figure out what they want do on the budget, which I hope is to work in a bipartisan way to have a package by Thanksgiving, we still have other issues to deal with.
We have said over and over again, spoken publicly and directly to the Republican leadership, that the votes are there for comprehensive immigration reform. They can bring that to the floor. We have 191 cosponsors, three Republicans. That is good. And another 28 of them have spoken now publicly that they would vote for comprehensive immigration reform. That takes us to where we need to be to pass that legislation.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), 199 cosponsors – that includes delegates, so 195 voting Members. Ninety-five percent of our Caucus supports ENDA, ending discrimination in the workplace for people in the LGBT community. This is a huge number of cosponsors for an immigration bill and for ENDA. Why can't we just take a vote? Let's just have a vote. We know that there are a large number of Republicans who would vote. Again, 95 percent of the House Democrats – probably more – but at least 95 percent of House Democrats support ENDA.
Then, background checks. Yesterday, perhaps some of you were there when we observed the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Brady Act, the Brady legislation, the Brady bill, when it became the law. And 20 years ago we were there with them and now with Sarah Brady, saying, “We have got to finish the job.” We have got to finish the job. Ninety percent of the American people support background checks. And in the House we have 185 cosponsors on our bill. I think we might get one more today – 185, three are Republicans. But nonetheless, a large number of them have said, “If it comes to the floor, I will vote for it.” So we respect that. You know, when it comes to the floor, then they will have the courage to vote for it.
So ENDA, background checks, and comprehensive immigration reform. It is right there. It is right there. And, again, it requires it to be bipartisan because we don't have the majority. But I say to the Speaker, “bring up immigration any way you want, singly, jointly, severally, anything. Just bring it up so we can take some votes on it.”
So I don't know if they ever intend to do anything. Again, the legislative branch, the first article of the Constitution, the first branch of government, the legislative branch, and we are not legislating. We are not legislating. But we could. We could be. And hopefully we will get past this weekend on the ACA. The President will make an announcement soon. We will all see what it is in about a half an hour.
We are meeting today, our Caucus, at 2:30 p.m. If you are interested, we will have some statement after that about how the House Democrats will proceed. And I look forward to seeing you then if you are interested.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: So have you not been briefed on the President's plan?
Leader Pelosi. No, I have been briefed.
Q: You have been briefed, okay. That said, how is it possible to implement this so that people could keep their existing coverage without legislation in lieu of the Upton bill on the floor tomorrow?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I am not – you know that I am not going to tell you what I was briefed on. The President will. We will all see it together. It is in the public domain. I have seen articles about it already. But nonetheless, until the President speaks and we see exactly what he is proposing – and my understanding is that it will be administrative. We will see. I really don't know. We will see when he comes out to say that. But I have been briefed all along on what the possibilities were, and now he will speak today, and then we will act upon that in our caucus later today when it happens and we see what it is.
But the Upton Bill is a very dangerous bill. You know what it does. It undermines the Affordable Care Act. It might as well be vote 46 against the Affordable Care Act. And it does so by disrupting the pools and expanding the market of people who can buy into these plans that people had grandfathered in. So it’s completely disruptive. And I don’t know how much Republican support it has. They’re not of one mind on the subject either. But we’ll have a proposal that addresses the problem, that is a fix. We don’t have a likelihood of passage.
Q: Meaning an MTR.
Leader Pelosi. We will see what form it takes. We will see what the Rules Committee allows us. We would love for them to give us an alternative, but we will see. They are likely to do that. But we will exercise our parliamentary options with something tomorrow. So think of a belt and suspenders. Do any of you wear belts or suspenders?
Q: I wear a belt.
Leader Pelosi. Well, think of a belt and suspenders. What the President will put forward will be one, and what we will do will be the other, but everything will be under control after tomorrow afternoon. And then we just – you know, I have to remind that nobody was writing stories about how glorious it was when the Affordable Care Act was rolling out for over one year. Whether it was eliminating the preexisting conditions for children, whether it was kids staying on their parents' policy up to 26 years old, whether it was extending Medicare's life, having wellness prevention, check ups for seniors, no copay, no anything, and having all kinds of tests that are important to seniors. When it was issues that related to the early implementation of the bill, that all went very smoothly. You know what we went through to pass it, you know what we went through to meet the court challenges. It survived all of that.
This is a valued entity in America. It is about economic and health security for America's families. So, we will take the back and forth of the glitches and the website causing problems. And it is problematic. It is not just about people not being able to enroll, it is about those who are grandfathered in not being able to transition as easily. So it has exacerbated some other challenges. But they will be worked through. We will be sailing, and millions of people will be healthier, and our country will be as well.
Q: Leader Pelosi, without going into details, though, considering you have been briefed, what is your assessment of this fix that they are going to announce here?
Leader Pelosi. Two-thirty is our meeting. Probably 3:15 p.m. will be when I see it. Then I will let you know what I think about it. But I'm not going to be talking about it now. You know that.
Q: Leader Pelosi, are you confident that this will quell some of the uprising that has been coming out of House Democrats? There has been a lot of anxiety among rank and file, not just the conservative to moderate Democrats, but some solid liberal blue Democrats as well.
Leader Pelosi. Well, some of the people fought very hard for the Affordable Care Act and were instrumental in writing it and helping to pass it. And nobody is as unhappy as I am that the rollout – well, maybe the President of the United States. Let me not put myself in that category.
But the fact is that we are all of one mind. There is no disagreement in our Caucus. We have to have a fix. So if Members are saying, “We want a fix,” that's our normal conversation in our Caucus. We're interested from time to time in what the conversation is, but we are always, shall we say, a Democratic Caucus. So we are in agreement. We must have a fix – and we will.
Q: And this will calm some of the anxiety among your Members?
Leader Pelosi. I think for some of them. You know, as I said, two of them are co-sponsors of the bill that never even voted for the Affordable Care Act, so I don’t think they have an anxiety. But we’ll be good, we’ll be good. We do what we have to do, and that’s what we will do. And it will be: take us to a path – you see you have to, while you want to make a fix, you have to make sure you aren’t sowing seeds for higher costs to people down the road. So this is not just PR or, you know, “I need a vote.” It’s about what we do and how that safeguards the affordability down the road, which is something that the Upton Bill, of course, just throws to the wind.
Q: So yesterday, the Speaker said that he has no intent to ever go to conference with the Senate immigration comprehensive bill. Do you see any sort of avenue to take next year that will give Congress the ability to enact something to reform? Or, do you think that's dead until after the next midterm elections?
Leader Pelosi. I haven't given up on this year yet on immigration reform. I think it's outrageous that the Speaker would say that we're not going to pass anything. We're not going to pass anything? First, I thought it meant he wasn't going to pass the Senate bill, which is understandable. Nobody expected him to do that. But is that it? Is it over? Is that your understanding? ‘It's over.’ We're not going to have immigration reform?
Q: He was kind of coy on whether there would be any incremental steps in the next…
Leader Pelosi. Well you know, I keep talking about President Lincoln: ‘Public sentiment is everything.’ And the public has to understand if we don't have a bill, this is why.
The bill that we are advancing is very bipartisan. Our Members wanted more of this, more of that. If it hasn't passed in the Senate, or in the House in committee – because we haven't had a chance on the floor yet – in a bipartisan way, then it's not going to be included in the bill.
So, we have gone away from the bill that I perhaps may have written to a place that is bipartisan and that doesn't have a wish list of everything anybody ever wanted to see in a bill, but subscribes to our wish to pass a bill. And the very idea that there wouldn't be immigration reform, I think that that is outrageous. I don't know whether people are taking it seriously or not, but if that's the indication, well that's just a dereliction of duty in terms of what our responsibilities are here and removes any credible moral authority on the subject of immigration from any of the Republicans because either their vote doesn't count in their conference, or their word means nothing to their Speaker.
But many of them have said that they would publicly – recorded by many of you – would support comprehensive immigration reform. And others don't want to support it, but they're okay if it goes. They just don't want to have to vote for it. And then there are others who are vehemently against it, and I guess that's who the Speaker is – I don't even accept that as a serious statement because if it were a serious statement, there would be much more uproar about it. Is it over? That is it? It's over as far as the Republicans are concerned. When they had a bipartisan bill passed in the a Senate, bipartisan bills passed in their Homeland Security Committee.
So, I'm not even getting giving up on this year on that. It could come to the floor like that, go to conference –whatever it is they want to bring up – go to conference, work out the differences. We may not have a signed bill this year, but we certainly should have a path to the table, which is a path to comprehensive immigration reform.
Q: Leader Pelosi, a number of Members of your own Caucus have called for changes to the NSA data collection program. This is something that you have generally been against. It is likely to come up as…
Leader Pelosi. Generally been against changes?
Q: You like the program as it is as far as…
Leader Pelosi. No, no, no, no. I didn't like Amash. I didn't think that we should categorically, just right away, just summarily say this is an end to the program. What do we have as a substitute if there is something that can protect the American people?
But I have been a critic of this program for a very long time, and I have taken my heat from the intelligence community for opposing them on this. This is something that is of the most serious nature that has to – I like the fact that we will be having a public dialogue on the subject. And you see two things. You see Senator Feinstein in the Senate saying, “It is okay, just leave it.” And you see Conyers and others in the House saying, “get rid of it.” So we are saying: “Well, what is it that we would do that would protect the American people, that is necessary to protect the American people?” Maybe meta-data collecting is not necessary. Maybe it is. But we have to find that out. And I think having two bills – one for eliminate, one keep – is a proper place to go to a conference to iron out the differences.
Q: So should the House take this up before the end of the year?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know what the agenda is around here. It is not only family friendly, it's family friendly for a family of retirees. Nothing gets done. “Let's just go home early, if we come in at all.”
So I think the discussion should take place. I mean, we have these other priorities right from the start, which was to build confidence in who we are as an economy, creating jobs. Let's have a good budget agreement that at least shows we can come to that place, even if it isn't large, but is significant. We have confidence in who we are as a people, a nation by and large of immigrants, with all respect and love for our Native American brothers and sisters. Let's pass an immigration bill that has a path to citizenship and stops the deportation of 1,100 people a day. Let's end discrimination in the workplace. You would think in this time, in this day, in this age that it would be shameful to say, “I oppose ending discrimination in the workplace for people because of their sexual identity.” And then, of course, the background checks.
So that is the priority we laid out at the beginning of this year, at the beginning of this session: jobs, immigration reform, background checks, ENDA, and of course, there are other things we want to do. There doesn't seem to be time to do the priorities. I don't know how ready the committees are to take up this bill on the floor. You have the Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee having differing views on this subject. So there's more work to be done, but I think it should be done. Whether it's going to happen in the next 12 days, again, that's a very small amount of time, especially when we don't even work many hours legislatively in those days.
Q: I just wanted to follow up on the vote tomorrow, because you talked about preparing your own proposal and having the belt and suspenders. But how will your proposal differ from the administrative fix that the President is proposing? And is this more about giving your Members something to vote for as an alternative?
Leader Pelosi. Three-fifteen p.m. outside the room, because we have to discuss this with Members as to what path they want to take. Contrary to what you might think, we build consensus, and then we get behind that.
Q: But you must not think the administrative fix is sufficient if you are offering…
Leader Pelosi. No, I don't know that at all. I don't know that at all. And one thing I do know is I like to see what it is we are talking about, and not think I understand what it is before it is said, so my Members can appreciate what it is as well. But I can't decide between a belt and suspenders. I want to do both. I'm going to do both. And so we'll do this.
Again, as we are talking, hopefully the website is improving. I am a big believer in technology, so I believe that it's possible for that to happen in a short period of time. And that will solve a lot of the challenges that we have. But I salute the President for coming forth with a fix. I look forward to his public presentation of it. And I myself, I would probably not have had so much in the public domain before, because you're asking me what I think of it. So people might be asking other people what they think of it before we even really see what it is. And my impression might be very positive; others might not. I would just rather see what the President says.
I promised you yesterday you could have a question.
Q: Thank you so much. I'm sorry for the delay. I was wondering if you can comment on the immigration reform and what kind of a plan B do you have in order to move this agenda? Not this year? Next year? So I would like to hear some comments on that. Sorry if you already commented on it.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I did. But I will just say that, quoting Lincoln again: “public sentiment is everything.” The only way this is going to happen is if it's too hot to handle. This is a "too-hot-to-handle" agenda. This is an agenda the American people overwhelmingly support: immigration reform, background checks – now called Brady background checks, and ENDA. ENDA, immigration, and background checks. Those three things are strongly supported across the board by the American people, A.
B, on the subject specifically of immigration reform, it is absolutely essential that we get something done. We have a problem that we must address as soon as possible. And so I haven't given up on this year. I hope that somebody will wake up on the other side of the aisle and decide that it's the right thing to do, at least to have a vote. Just to have a vote.
And why wouldn't they bring it up? Two reasons why you wouldn't bring it up: because they know we have the votes, right? Or they think we don't have the votes. Well, bring it up and prove that. And then that's the end of the day. But they're not bringing it up because they know we have the votes to pass something, to go to conference, to come back and be voted upon, go to the President's desk.
So to answer your question, over and over again this has to be more about outside pressure. Too hot to handle. That's how we passed the Violence Against Women Act. You remember they didn't want to take it up. They didn't want to take it up. Six hundred days passed since the expiration of the authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which, boom, outside, outside, outside, pressure, pressure, pressure. Finally, they brought it to the floor, but only if they could bring another bill that said we don't – ours was ending violence against women and all the beautiful initiatives that spring from that legislation. Their bill said: “We're opposed to violence against women unless you are an immigrant woman, a Native American woman, or an LGBT woman.” That gave, I guess you would say cover. I don't know if that is the proper word in this thing – to their Members so that some of them could vote for the Violence Against Women Act.
I add over 60 percent of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. Over 60 percent of the Republicans voted to tolerate violence against women if you are LGBT, if you are a Native American, or if you are an immigrant. So we have a difference of opinion here.
Now, getting back to immigration, I think we have to do what we did with Violence Against Women Act: Take it to the people and have them weigh in with their Members of Congress. Even if they're not going to win their vote, they could win their support to urge the Speaker to bring the bill to the floor. By the way, $150 billion to our economy in the first year; nearly a trillion dollars, over $900 billion, to our economy over the 10-year period, which is how we do bills, budgeting, 10 year periods. So, this is an economic initiative as well as being an immigration issue, and as well as being a moral issue for our country. Our economy will benefit, our prestige will grow as a country because we do, as we say, respect every person in our country.
Thank you very much. I'll see you soon. It’s 11:30 a.m. I have to get to my office. See you at 3:15 p.m. Would you say 3:30 p.m.?
Q: You tell us.
Leader Pelosi. As my kids say, everybody who cares was there. We'll see who really cares.
Q: You have votes from 2:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., though.
Leader Pelosi. Then we’ll be a little bit later.