Washington, D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi participated in a conversation at the Women in the World Summit, a gathering of women leaders in business, government and politics sponsored by Newsweek and the Daily Beast. Leader Pelosi, in a conversation moderated by Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center for Media, urged women to take more leadership roles, called for the end of secret money in elections and spoke out on the critical issue women's health. Below is a transcript of the conversation:
[Event begins with a clip from Leader Pelosi's appearance on “The Colbert Report”]
Colbert. Now you've been in Congress for a long time, started in 1987.
Leader Pelosi. Twenty-five years. This is my anniversary.
Colbert. Twenty-five years, congratulations.
Leader Pelosi. And that's why--I came for my twenty-fifth anniversary.
Colbert. Now, they're holding hearings in the House of Representatives right now, about women's reproduction. Okay--it's a bunch of guys up there
Leader Pelosi. Right. Five-guys, five guys--it might be alright for hamburgers, but not for…
Colbert. What do you have against five guys up there holding this, aren't guys really the ones who should be talking about reproductive rights? Because, we're the ones who have the responsibility of telling the lady it's really her responsibility.
Leader Pelosi. [Laughter] You have defined the problem very well.
Colbert. Thank you very much.
[Women in the World Conversation Begins]
Q: Welcome to Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Q: He did define the problem very well. But, we're thrilled to have - you know it's so hard for me to say “Leader Pelosi,” I keep wanting to say Speaker Pelosi. It just feels…
Q: Having been the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and for 25 years, as you referenced on the show, has served this country, and with an outstanding record of fighting for women's rights and women's health, and the health of families.
So let me set the context for our conversation today. This has been an extraordinary week for women -- I mean, the U.N. convened the Commission on the Status of Women - many of its members are here. It was the week of all of these annual reports that came out, on the status of women - the Economic Forum, the World Bank, the White House, everybody documenting our accomplishments and pointing to these widening gaps in certain areas. Particularly, in the areas of economic parity, women's health, and of course, economic competitiveness. And against the backdrop of all of this, Leader Pelosi, is this primary campaign in the United States, which many have characterized as a “War on Women.”
How do you characterize this strategy and is it a winning won?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all thank you for calling attention. To all of you who are here, to Tina Brown, to all of the organizers on this Women's History Month - and this week being such an important one. When Pat invited me to come join her here, several weeks ago, we had no idea what was going to be ahead for us. We just didn't know. But we knew what the possibilities were because for 25 years, I myself can personally attest to the fact that there has been this idea that women shouldn't decide about women's reproductive health, and a lack of respect for the opinion of women making their own decisions. So all of a sudden, all of a sudden, they decided in the Congress to have a hearing on the Affordable Care Act really, but on the President's decision to say that health insurance in our country should include reproductive health for women.
What a shocking idea.
And so we have the hearing, and it was shocking. We had a fabulous witness - as the Minority, we were only allowed one, they were allowed five. So, they had five men - you know what happened - they had five men, and they said that our witness, who was a woman, was not qualified to speak about women's reproductive health. I mean, just think of it, they don't even have a clue. They don't even have a clue. They don't even suspect anything is wrong with that thinking. So, this is our moment - five guys won't let her be heard. As Ms. Carolyn Maloney, my colleague from this area said: “Where are the women?” One week later we had Sandra Fluke come to speak to the Congress, wasn't she wonderful?
And lo and behold, an assault is made on her, and words that are beneath the dignity of a conversation about public policy for people in our country.
Q: So, let's talk about what's happened since you, and other Members of Congress said: “This is insane, and disrespectful,” to say the least, “to have a conversation about women's health with no women present.” So, she testifies, she's now been made infamous by the words of certain radio commentators, and others…
Leader Pelosi. …Who shall remain nameless and hopefully advertise-less…
[Laughter and applause]
Q: So, to that point. Women go online, 1.9 million tweets, take 14 advertisers to task, they leave the show. The New York Times today has a full page ad from a group, which seems to come from Catholics in this country saying it's time to exit the Church over this issue of reproductive freedom. Texas is threatening to pass laws - I mean, we're an environment, Leader Pelosi, that frankly, to women of my generation, seems almost impossible - a nightmare. We fought these battles in 1960. Why are we fighting them again?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think this: I think we have to take the opportunity to make the change that is necessary, so that nobody has to fight this fight again. Whether it is in, as you just heard, the military, whether it is in corporate America, whether it is in the academic world, wherever it is, whether it is in politics, whether it is in the privacy of our own homes, women need to free themselves of what the status quo is. I believe that they have just gone too far and we can do something about it more easily now because they have.
What I would suggest is the following: let us make our own environment. Why are we having these discussions on somebody else's turf? Let us make our own environment. Let us say, if we're talking about politics: “we want more civility in politics,” that's where we can have a conversation - you start shouting, we shout, you know who wins that fight. So, let's have civility. Let's take money, the big role of money out of politics, so more women can run and take office and take charge and make policies that affect everyone in our country, including women.
When you look at the military - you heard what was said there, about the numbers and the rest, and I'm so proud of all of the presenters, but Jackie Speier, my colleague in the Congress, I'm so proud of her, women Members fight this fight all the time and they have some men allies. But if you're in the military, and you can only do certain jobs, you can only rise so high. So they've already defined your limitations - our limitations, your limitations if you're in the military. We can't let that stand. We just have to say: “We're capable of doing any task.” Now, we have to prove that we can do it. Some men can't do certain tasks - but they're allowed to do, and some women may not be able to do certain tasks, but let's have everybody have a fair shake at it.
And so we want to change the political system by returning civility to the debate. So that our voices of reason have a stronger say. We want to reduce the role of money, so many more women step forward and say: “I can do that and I'm not afraid of big money coming-in against me.” We want to - again, whatever the arena is, it is stacked against us, and if we make our own environment, which we can, because I think women have sufficiently impressed now that the lack of respect that is demonstrated here is something that is completely intolerable as we go into the future.
Q: So, let's go back - that was a great call to action and there were many outcomes, and I think everyone in this room would agree, women in leadership can affect, and getting them there is obviously got to be one of the goals. But, let's make the connection that keeps getting lost in this debate - the connection between reproductive rights, and women's health. Next week, or soon, the Supreme Court is going to be reviewing a case on the Affordable Care Act, and I find, and I'm sure you do too, that there is a lack of understanding of what's really at stake here. What's at stake in the Affordable Care Act? As well as this reproductive rights battle?
Leader Pelosi. Well the reproductive rights battle is now tied to the Affordable Care Act because, as you know, that was the provision that the President had, the Administration had to make a decision about how women would have access to reproductive health. When the bill was passed, it was passed as a bill that said: “never again would being a woman be a preexisting medical condition.” It's true.
Q: Seems a good place to begin, doesn't it?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it does because women are discriminated against in terms of price, in terms of access and in terms of rescinding policies if you get sicker - they tell me “sicker” isn't a word - worse. If you need surgery or something, they can rescind your policy. And in our cases - you know I have five children, I remember they said to me once when I was talking to them about insurance for my back: “oh, we can't give you insurance, you're a poor risk, you have had five children.” I thought, I thought I had proved my strength by having five children.
But, here's the thing, in this Affordable Care Act, if you're a young woman, your reproductive health must be covered. And that includes pregnancy and all that goes with it. They thought a preexisting condition was having a baby. That's a preexisting medical condition that could be an obstacle to your having health insurance. If you're an older woman, in terms of Medicare, you have preventive care right now - I'm talking about right now, today. You don't have to wait until 2014. And you have lower costs for your pharmaceuticals, you have free preventive care, and free preventive care for women - mammograms, etcetera - are very important. If you're a young, young woman, you can stay on your parents policy until you're 26 years old. This is really very important for women, young women and girls, coming out of college, coming out of school, so that they can take chances, be entrepreneurial, get a job, change jobs, start a business, be self-employed - but to know that they will have health insurance. The list goes on and on and I think it would be important for us to tweet it out to you - I don't know if it all can get into a tweet, because women have so much to gain on this. And the simple coming together, in terms of women's reproductive health, is a place where many women's health issues cross the Affordable Care Act.
So when they say: “we don't to have that covered,” that's a big swath of care for women. It's not just about the size and timing of a family, it's about needing those kinds of contraceptives that have an effect on other women's health issues. And you know what? It doesn't matter. It's up to the woman to decide what it is that is important to her reproductive health. It's about respect. It's about rights. It's about the health of the family.
You know, when I went to Congress 25 years ago, one thing - I'm fairly surprised, cause I study motivation, and people, and I've tried to respect their opinions, and the rest - but one thing that really surprised me was that the fight about women's reproductive rights was not about terminating a pregnancy. It was about contraception and family planning. It was very hard to tell that to people because they'd say: “oh, can't be, they're not against birth control.” Yes they are. Yes they are. I'm sorry to tell you this. I've even had situations where I'd be on the floor, speaking for a woman's right to choose, as a Catholic, mother of five, in six years, by the book - as far as the Catholic's were concerned - and my colleagues would get up and say: “oh Nancy Pelosi, she thinks she knows more about having babies then the Pope.”
Leader Pelosi. Yeah. I do. I do.
[Audience applause and laughter]
But that's - but when I would tell people outside, and you ask any of my colleagues who are women, when you tell people outside they'd say: “it can't be true. How could they be against contraception? How can they be against birth control?” Well, they can be, and they do, and they're on record, and they're proud of it. But now is a moment of truth for them. This is our moment. You know, all of the things that we've all talked about. This is our moment.
How do we change the environment? To give more women the opportunity to call the shots, as we should, and actually, support what women are about - they say 90 to 95, whatever it is, percent of Catholic women of childbearing age, use family planning, contraceptives - beyond the “rhythm system.” You know what they call people who use the “rhythm system?” Mama and Dada.
That would be me. I mean, 40 years ago, that would be me.
Q: You are so right, in that this current battle, in putting the focus again on reproductive rights, is framing all of this -- women's leadership, women's health -- framing it for a generation of women, too, actually, that have never known what it was like not to have access to birth control or to safe abortions, or to any of the family planning that women do take -- most women take -- as a right.
How do you see this working out, then? Has it gone to a place where, as you say, it's now a moment of opportunity, rather then -- it's a war that we can win?
Leader Pelosi. Well here's the thing: in some very distorted, strange, weird way, some very distorted, weird individuals may have done us a real favor in this in that, all that you talked about, the answer -- and there's many ills, one cure -- the increased participation of women in the leadership and the decision making of all of it. We want the entrepreneurial spirit of America and the world -- but let's talk about America -- to grow and thrive, and to be competitive and to keep America number one. Involve more women in the entrepreneurial spirit of America. And health care, and the freedom from being job-locked - you know, this healthcare bill is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- a healthier life to pursue your own happiness. And that means that you can change jobs, start a business, be self-employed, do whatever, and not worry if a child has a pre-existing condition, or that someone could be ill in your family. So, it's all connected; it's all connected: many ills, one cure.
So whether it's the growth of America, the growth of America will be much more dynamic, if women have much more opportunity to participate in that. The military of our country would be much stronger, if we let women just compete, if we let women just compete. So every issue that you named is strengthened, improved and much more exciting with women in the lead.
Q: Leader Pelosi, buying all of that, why are the numbers of women in leadership, both in business as well as government, going down? I mean, all of these status reports point to the business case for investing in women is done, the business case for reproductive rights and women's health is done, proven by the numbers. So why are the numbers going down?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't know why they're going down. We're all interested to see the backup of some of the reports we saw this week, but we have seen a tide. But let's recognize that and turn it around. Let us abandon incrementalism. We're not going to turn it around by saying: “we lost three, now we're going to get ten.” Kick open the door. Make it all for all of us. I mean, I was the Speaker of the House. This is the third most important position in the country: President, Vice President, then Speaker of the House, in terms of the Constitution and how they spell it - I don't mean the most important, just, in terms of the Constitution. That's a very big deal. It's a very big deal. Why did it take so long? And why aren't we just thinking that the ranks will continue to grow and grow and grow? We cannot, we do a disservice to our founders and what they envisioned for our country, what it could become, our soldiers, men and women in uniform fighting for freedom in our country for everybody, our children, and our girls and their aspirations -- we owe everybody, from the history of our country to the future of our country, and everything in between, for us to have the courage of the suffragettes, and all that they did, for the women in Asia and North Africa and all the rest who are fighting these fights, the Arab Spring, all of that. People are fighting, women are struggling to make their mark there. We in this country really have to say: “in the normal course of events, it didn't evolve to a place where we have our rightful place.”
I'm very serious about this. I've tried, over the years, to keep increasing the number of women in Congress, and we have. But not enough. It'll be two-more-hundred years before we have any level of parity, or go beyond these numbers, unless we make a decision to do it for the growth of our economy, for the strength of our military, for the health of our people, for the warmth of our families. For every category you can name, there will be progress.
Now, when I became Speaker, they said: “you made history.” I said: “I made history. Now we have to make progress.” So let's go forward with that.
Q: That is a terrific call to action. Do you see, looking back over the 25 years now, that there are many reasons why women have declined to serve, to step up and volunteer and become leaders, but the lack of civility, and, frankly, the lack of progress on Capitol Hill has been a deterrent. Do you see that changing any time in the future?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think we have to make it change; we have to make it change. I mean, all that we talked about, about civility, it's very important. We do better in an arena that has a civil conversation. That's why they don't want that arena.
Look, we have a situation here where there's unlimited, unidentified, endless, endless money poured into campaigns from God knows where. Secondly, we have a suppression of the vote that says you have to have all these IDs and this or that, that are really not necessary, but are an obstacle to participation. And we have a rejection of civility as the manner in which we - none of those things is to the advantage of women. A more civil, removing obstacles of participation and reducing the role of money -- I guarantee you, you reduce the role of money, you will increase the number of women. You increase the role of civility, people will listen; women will listen. Women listen to women.
There is a sisterhood when you come to an issue like the issue you started this conversation with.
Q: We're listening. Leader Pelosi, one additional question, having to do with where you are in your own years of service -- 25 years is a great legacy. And we've heard so many important narratives and stories at the Women in the World conference. So, what, if you had to say now, what would you want the narrative, the story, the message of Nancy Pelosi to be?
Leader Pelosi. Well, my proudest boast is, of course, the Affordable Care Act because I think it is the most important change in the lives of women of all ages. So I'm very proud of that; I'm very proud of that.
When I went into my first meeting as a woman Leader, I sat down at the table and it felt - with the President, the Vice President, and the other Leaders - I felt that I was very crowded in my chair in that meeting. And I thought: “what is happening here? I'm not alone in my chair.” And all of a sudden I thought I could hear Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, you name it, sitting at that table, right on that chair with me. This never happened to me before or since. And all of a sudden I could hear them say: “At last, we have a seat at the table.”
And then they were gone.
My first thought is: “we want more.” And that's what I want more of. Many of us have stood on the shoulders of people before us, we on others, and others on others, too, the suffragettes. My generation has people standing on our shoulders. What I want it to be is a legacy of much more participation of women. Nothing is more wholesome then the participation of women in whatever you can name, but in my case, politics and government.
I assure you, every one of you, please look inside of yourself and see if this is something you would like to do. It's not for the faint of heart. It's worth a struggle. The contribution you make is very unique; there's nobody like you. You have to be yourself and go into the fray. But I assure you, it's urgent, you're needed and you will make a tremendous difference.
So, part of my legacy Is the increased participation of many more women in the process to change America in a way that is stronger for every single person in America. And this conference is just an inspiration in that regard.