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. That's the thing about these votes. They all seem to come around the time we are supposed to be meeting, so we will have to use our time very – husband our time very economically here, because the room has to move on.
Really, it is so, so sad to even think about what happened in Oklahoma. Our hearts remain very much with the people of Moore, Oklahoma, and all that were caught in the path of this week's deadly and devastating tornado.
For those of us who don't live in tornado country, it's really hard for us to understand the impact, but we live in earthquake country, some of us, and just any one of these interventions into the lives of people, loss of life, loss of a sense of community in certain respects. But, that seems to be a very strong community, and the character of it is what is, that strength of character is what is carrying it through.
Nonetheless, no words can comfort those who lost a family member or a loved one. The small children lost is just heartbreaking. I spoke on the floor yesterday about having visited an earthquake site in Italy years ago where the seventh grade class was in church rehearsing for holy communion, and in the earthquake the roof came down on the class. It meant every seventh grader in that village was gone. Imagine the devastation that that causes, and losing these children, at least seven of them in the school, seven in the school and then three otherwise. Such a sad thing.
Of course, we will work with our colleagues from Oklahoma to make sure that they get the assistance they need. President Obama has already deployed the head of FEMA to visit and will travel to the region himself this weekend, as you know.
And as we witness the aftermath of the tornado, we commend the teachers who – they are always there for the students, who protect their students from harm; and the first responders who immediately ran to the wreckage to search for survivors, rescue their neighbors, and begin the work of recovery. And they had some level of success, thank God. For those heroes for all the people of Oklahoma, we will send – I hope it is a comfort to them that so many people share their grief, mourn their losses, and stand by them to help them recover and to rebuild.
On Monday, Americans will mark, will gather to mark Memorial Day to remember those, the men and women in uniform, who have lost – that we have lost in battle, and to honor the service and sacrifice of our service members in every generation.
Yesterday, really, and for the history of our country, yesterday Democratic Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee rolled out a package to ensure timely access to benefits to veterans and their families. I was very proud of the work of Congressman Mike Michaud, our Ranking Member on the committee, as well as other Members of the committee who had introduced legislation, which I hope will be moving forward in a bipartisan way.
The backlog of claims to our veterans is a challenge to the conscience of our country. How can this be? Our legislation will promote innovation, speed up the claims process, empower the VA to reduce and eliminate the backlog, and really pay – when a claim is long overdue – pay up front what it is and then work it out later. It’s money that we are going to have to pay anyway; we might as well allow our vets to pay the rent and their other responsibilities.
Secretary Shinseki has taken steps already to end the backlogs, and Secretary Hagel yesterday, I think, testified very directly that he has directed the Pentagon to find ways to better integrate military health records with the VA. And that’s one of the problems is the compatibility, the interoperability of one technology with another.
More must be done. We know that with Memorial Day drawing near, we will all be, all of us, from right to left, Democrats and Republicans, all Americans, reaffirming our basic promise to the military, to our men and women in uniform, our veterans. And that promise is that in the military, in the military they say: ‘on the battlefield we leave no soldier behind.’ And when we come home, when they come home, we leave no veteran behind.
As we prepare to start another recess, the clock is continuing to tick. The Republican leadership still prefers to do nothing on jobs or the budget.
The legislative branch. The first Article of the Constitution: the responsibility to legislate – and we just are not getting the job done. One hundred and forty one days since the start of this Congress, no jobs bill. Sixty-one days since the Senate passed a budget, no conference.
What is the – Republicans ask for ‘regular order.’ That's music to our ears. What does that mean? It means open, transparent discussion at the table between the House bill and the Senate bill as to what we can, differences we can reconcile. They ask for regular order; they didn't take ‘yes’ for an answer. Again, over 61 days ago.
We’ve even seen – we are not the only ones, House and Senate Democrats, and the President, calling for going to the table in a transparent and open way. In recent days, as you know, Senator McCain and Senator Collins have demand that Republicans answer their own call for regular order by going to conference and bringing both budgets to the table.
Instead of working to enact a budget, or to create jobs, today the House Republicans will vote on the “Make College More Expensive Act.” This is really stunning. I hope you pay attention to the debate with the charts and the rest. It clearly demonstrates how damaging this is to college affordability, to those who want to go to college, to their families who want to help them to do so. This will, this would be worse.
You know, we've talked about trying to keep it at 3.4 percent. It will double at 6.8 [percent]. We want to stop that from happening. The Republican remedy to that is to go beyond 6.8 and market rates, so to speak, without a reasonable cap. And so, it's just wrong. They try to masquerade it as looking like the President's proposal, which it is not. So, please pay attention to the debate today, because this is a kitchen table issue for the American people.
Again, it’s no time to waste. We must secure a budget that creates jobs, reduces the deficit, gets rid of sequestration, and takes us into the future.
One of the areas that we are focusing on in a bipartisan way, and I'm very hopeful that we can achieve success in just a matter of weeks or months or before the August recess, is immigration, comprehensive immigration reform. We have to be, restore confidence in who we are as a people. By and large we are a nation of immigrants. Every immigrant who comes to our country, every generation of immigrants who come to our country with their hopes, their dreams, their determination, their optimism for the future makes America more American. It's an invigoration, it's an enrichment, and as soon as we can pass the bill, we can more fully avail ourselves, our country, all of us, including them, to proceeding into the future.
In order to do this, though – and I want to be really clear about that, because I hear some misrepresentations reported in the press; if you check with me, I'll tell you, but let me tell you all right here: we must, again, have comprehensive immigration reform. We must value the contribution of immigrants to our country. In doing so, we must protect our borders, we must protect our workers, and we must protect the taxpayer.
And we have said since day one, we said it in the Affordable Care Act, and we'll say it here again that undocumented people will not have access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. Any representation to the contrary is simply not true. It's stated very clearly in the Affordable Care Act. It is our position in the immigration bill: no access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.
Secondly, no access to Medicaid. No cost to the taxpayer. That has always been the Democratic position. So, any thought that we want to do something different than that is simply not true. It is a bottom line. No need to even discuss it. No subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. No Medicaid. That's it.
And so, again, we're optimistic about the prospects. There are some differences of opinion as to what is an insurmountable obstacle, what might be a legitimate condition, and when is that an insurmountable obstacle? Because at the end of the day, we don't want to place any doubt that if the bill passes, and the conditions are met, that so many people in our country will be on a path to legalization and eventually citizenship.
I congratulate the Senate for passing their bill two nights ago out of committee. Again, it's not everything we want, but it is taking us forward. And hopefully we can make improvements as we go along. And it is my view that it would be very helpful to have a bipartisanly-supported House bill to go to the table to reconcile our differences and before the summer is out, to have that dream come true for so many people.
I just close this by saying that yesterday we had a reception honoring Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame, honoring his 70 years as a priest – ordained 70 years ago in January, and now another few days we'll celebrate his 96th birthday. It was really beautiful. It was bipartisan, it was happy, it was lovely. It followed a meeting that he had with the President at the White House for the President to pay his respects as well.
And I bring it up because at the beginning of Father Hesburgh's remarks, he said: "America is a beautiful dream." Imagine. And then, his remarks flowed from that. Well, it is a beautiful dream for all of us here. It was a beautiful dream for our founders. It is a beautiful dream for our men and women in uniform who protect our freedoms that make our America so beautiful. And it is a beautiful dream for many people in our country, whether they are immigrants or not, but about the aspirations of our children.
So there is serious work to do here: to improve the lives of the American people. That's what we're urging our colleagues to do. Step one would be to go to the table for the budget bill.
We only have a short time for questions now.
Leader Pelosi. Now, let me see, who was at the veterans meeting yesterday? Oh, it’s two nights ago, when the [Senate Judiciary Committee passed immigration reform]. Just seemed like last night to me. Thank you, Drew. Two nights ago. The record stands corrected.
Q. Madam Leader, since the IRS happened on President Obama's watch, how much of a hit – or do you think at all – [do you think] the Democrats will take a hit on the IRS in the 2014 midterms?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it happened on his watch. It happened under the appointment of the head of the IRS, who was appointed by President Bush, whose length of stay extended into President Obama's stay. But, I think that that points to the fact why is this, you know, a politicized issue? Because we all are concerned about how the IRS does what it's supposed to do, supports the law, but does not do it in a selective way.
I've said before what they did was wrong. The Inspector General has said over and over ‘it is not illegal,’ but the subcommittee wants to challenge the Inspector General on his findings, so that will unfold. But, again, the IRS is an independent agency, so the inference to be drawn from it happened on his watch is that it happened on his watch the way some other Cabinet agency, any agency of government would. Now, this is an independent agency headed up by a Bush appointee. What they did was wrong. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again. Selective review, we don't like it on our side; we don't like it on their side. It has no place.
Q. But, doesn't the buck stop with him? Shouldn't he have known about all of these things? He said he didn't know about any of this. Is that…
Leader Pelosi. The President doesn't know about everything that is going on in every agency of government. Should Mr. Boehner have known that in the neighboring district in Cincinnati, where the IRS office is? I don't think you can hold him accountable for what happened in that IRS office.
But, I think that obviously the public will make its decision about it. But, that's it. You know, it’s a Bush appointee, under his [President Obama’s] leadership this happened. It was wrong. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again.
Q. Leader Pelosi?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q. In yesterday's hearing, both Democrats and Republicans seemed disappointed that Lois Lerner would not testify. She pled the Fifth, even though she gave an opening statement. What was your reaction to her pleading the Fifth? And do you think that the committee should bring her back in front to answer more questions?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, I've been in Congress for a long time, so I've had people take the Fifth in front of the committee, and it's really interesting. I don't know that – it's in the public interest. It's not like somebody has some culpability. The Inspector General said, ‘no, nothing illegal was done.’
But, I do think the American people deserve answers. I wish that she would have provided them. I don't know what her basis is for taking the Fifth; it is her legal right to do. But, I think what we all want to do is to find out how we can have better management, better clarity about how some of these new mechanisms that are, again, proliferated since the Supreme Court decision can be dealt with, if that's the only issue. I hope that's the only issue.
Let me just say this does, in a larger sense, give us an opportunity to say many of these groups – not to paint them all with this brush, because they all have their motivations – but many of the big ones are motivated. And they have told us this directly, this is not me. This is what they have told us directly, that if they had to disclose, they wouldn't be putting money into these 501(c)(4)s. The Chamber of Commerce said that when we had the DISCLOSE Act before the Senate, that the companies would not put their – they don't want their employees, their customers, whatever, their shareholders to know what is happening with their money. I'm talking about the big money now.
So, it might be time for us to once again revisit the DISCLOSE Act and say, while reviewing the taxes of it has to be the same for everybody. The fact is, the problem here is they're using this nondisclosure and these groups with nondisclosure as a place to go hide. And what is – how far do they go with promoting the social welfare as their primary purpose and engaging in politics otherwise? That is something that the IRS must legitimately look into. We can reduce their caseload by passing the DISCLOSE Act.
Leader Pelosi. I think one more. Yes, ma'am?
Q. On immigration, just two questions. So, just to clarify, do you support the Group of Eight agreement here in the House? And second, you talk about health care and immigration, and I was wondering what happens in cases where a person is extremely sick? Under this agreement, this person will probably be bankrupted because of the health laws, and then, will be deported. Is that something…
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me say, first of all, we haven't seen the full complement. It is a work in progress in terms of the Gang of Eight. I respect the work that they are doing. Each one of them has, I think, in good faith gone to the table to find common ground, shared values about what immigration means to our country, that we have to protect our border, that we have to protect our workers, and that we have to protect the taxpayer. And that's why for the first point I'm saying that there is no obstacle to our support of the bill if it says no taxpayer funding. That would be a subsidy in the Affordable Care Act, and it would also be Medicaid.
Since 1986, signed by President Reagan, there has been a provision in the law that people with medical emergencies would not be turned away if they went to the emergency ward, and the Supreme – and the courts have even weighed in on that. So, that is untouched by any of this. But, again, that was a bill signed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. So, this goes back a long way in a bipartisan way.
In terms of having health care, we're doing an immigration bill. We are doing an immigration bill. We couldn't pass that in the healthcare bill. So, we can't pass it in an immigration bill. But, we should find a path, and that's what we are working on, so that we have – as we have an invigorated America, we have a healthy America as well.
There's time for one more.
Q. Madam Leader, if you don't object to what Republicans want, which is to make sure that taxpayers don't foot the bill for subsidies on the exchange, what’s holding up the agreement, then, on this issue?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there are other issues. We're talking about an immigration bill. They have a trigger in there that says if E-Verify is not fully accomplished in five years, it would be six from the start, if you start now just to begin the process and the five years on top of that. If E-Verify is not effectively accomplished in five years, then all of these people revert to the status they have now. I think that's pretty drastic.
And so we have to weigh the equities as to what is the reality of E-Verify being fully complete and what it sets out to do. It's a really important measure. We support E-Verify. Employers are supposed to have it and the rest, and use it. But, what does an immigrant have to do? It's not the immigrant's responsibility to make sure E-Verify works. So, we just have to hope that E-Verify works or the whole deal is off, the whole arrangement is off, and millions of what we call ‘probationary immigrants’ would then revert to a status that is not a path to legalization.
So, just to see, okay, what's – okay, that's one barrier; is it an obstacle that is too much to overcome? If not, then maybe that's a path to go, but let's see what that is. These are new ideas that are coming forth – and to remove all doubts, because there are some who don't want a bill, and they are saying, ‘well, the Democrats want affordable care.’ We didn't do it in the Affordable Care Act, we're not doing it in the immigration bill. That’s simply not the case.
Unfortunately, we have a very important guest coming into this room. And last week we didn't get out in time for you all to powder your noses or whatever.
So, I'm going to excuse myself and see you next time. Thank you all very much.