Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference with Sarbanes, Members-elect on H.R. 1
Washington, D.C. – Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, Congressman John Sarbanes, Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force and Freshman Members-elect held a press conference today on H.R. 1, a bold reform package to restore the promise of our democracy — a government of, by and for the people. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Still morning. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here.
It’s quite an honor to be here with so many Members of our freshman class, this historic class, by dint of size, experience, enthusiasm, just diversity and the rest. Thank you.
It’s been an exciting week. I’m just proud of saying three words ‑‑ majority, majority, majority. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
The American people gave us a Thanksgiving of hope, and we must act upon that charge that they have given us. They’ve asked the Congress to be a check and balance on the other branches of government.
They, the public, are the ultimate check and balance. And we want to operate our Congress in a very open way, with transparency, of course, so they can see what is at hand here, that they can see our attempts at bipartisanship and that we are unifying in what we do.
One of the issues that emerged in the campaign that the new class of House Democrats has as a priority is the integrity of government, as part of our For The People agenda. For The People: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, integrity in government.
For a while now, Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland has been working on an initiative, H.R. 1, that was signed by so many of our candidates as the first order of business when we come here. The impact on that will be transformative to Congress when we reduce the role of money, amplify the voice of everyday Americans, so that they know that their voices matter.
I’m very pleased to see the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that our new Members are bringing. I want to acknowledge, we are joined here by Dean Phillips, Minnesota.
Dean, want to give us a wave. Give us a wave.
Veronica Escobar of Texas.
Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, already sworn in as a Member of Congress. She has seniority.
Angie Craig of Minnesota.
Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. Tom.
Chris Pappas of New Hampshire. Where’s Chris? There.
Susan Wild of Pennsylvania. Susan is already sworn in as a Member of Congress as well.
See, when you’re sworn in by yourself like that, you have hundreds of guests to cheer you on. When you come as part of the class, it’s like two tickets. Not only are they Members of Congress with seniority, they had the whole Chamber to themselves.
Mike Levin of Michigan.
Congressman-elect Levin. California.
Leader Pelosi. Excuse me, of California. Another Levin. That’s Andy Levin. I know full well Mike Levin is from California. We’re so proud of him. He started the drumbeat in California.
And Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Ilhan?
Congresswoman-elect Omar. I’m here.
Leader Pelosi. Right there.
So, in any case, you know what the purpose of it is, to reduce the role of money, advance fair elections. And one part of that is to have the Voting Rights Act early on the agenda.
We’re very pleased to be ready for that, with the leadership of Terri Sewell of Alabama, whose legislation we have been advocating for a while, we’ll be building a record for. But she’ll talk about that in a moment, and I thank her for her leadership.
In the meantime, it’s my pleasure to present our champion for democracy, John Sarbanes of Maryland. Thank you.
Congressman Sarbanes. Thank you, Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everybody.
I want to thank the Speaker‑designate for giving a broad charge to our Caucus over the last few Congresses, but particularly over the last two years, to assemble the proposals that have been coming from Members of Congress to try to restore our democracy and make it work again, because there’s a lot of people out there in the country who feel right now that Washington doesn’t listen to them, their democracy doesn’t work for them, they’re kind of left out and locked out.
And we pulled these proposals together. And what H.R. 1 represents is a broad, comprehensive package of democracy reforms that fall into three broad areas. And they really answer what the public is saying to us.
So, the first thing you hear from people is, let’s make it easy, not hard to vote in America. It’s ridiculous that it’s an obstacle course to get to the ballot box still, 240 years into this Republic.
So we have to make it easier, not harder, to register, to vote. People have to have confidence that when they exercise their franchise, that vote will be tabulated and it will be protected. So there’s a whole set of key reforms in that basket.
Secondly, what people are saying to us is, when you get to Washington, if you’re going to serve the public, whether it’s in the executive branch or the legislative branch, behave yourself. Act with ethics and integrity. Do the right thing. Let’s have accountability and transparency. So, we’ve got a set of reforms that focus on that idea ‑‑ of ethics, guidelines, and accountability.
And the third thing you hear from the public repeatedly is, when you get to Washington don’t get tangled up in the money, don’t work for the special interests, work for the public interest. Work for us. Don’t represent the insiders. Represent the American people.
So, there’s a whole set of reforms to make our campaign finance system more transparent, to make it work better, to make it work for the people.
So, that’s it. It’s pretty basic. But these are transformative reforms that we’re putting forward. And it’s a once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity to make a bold, proud declaration back to the American people that we get it, we hear you, we want to give you your voice back.
This class that is arriving now, the class of 2018, has that message of reform pinned to their chest. They understand, you talk to any one of them, that this is what the public wants to see. They want to see it as the first priority, H.R. 1. So, we’re very excited about this opportunity that’s coming.
Nobody knows more about the promise of our democracy, the struggles behind it, than Terri Sewell, because Terri grew up in Selma, Alabama. She understands what’s at stake here. Terri Sewell.
Congresswoman Sewell. Thank you.
First, I want to thank our Leader for her leadership and the efforts to bring more democratic reforms to the American people. And I want to thank my colleague from Maryland for his leadership on H.R. 1.
We are here today to make a promise to the American people. In the 116th Congress, our first order of business is giving democracy back to the people.
That means starting work on day one to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That means passing legislation to end partisan gerrymandering, reform our campaign finance systems, and strengthen ethics reform.
This past election, we saw American voters in state after state speak with one voice, demanding reforms that make it easier to vote, not harder. The Voting Rights Advancement Act does just that, by restoring protections for voters in states with a history of discrimination.
We believe that no matter what state you live in, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you should have a fair voice in our elections. Your vote is your voice.
As a daughter of Selma, Alabama, I look forward to welcoming, with Congressman John Lewis, our colleague, a delegation, a bipartisan delegation to the pilgrimage this year from Congress to Selma, Alabama, to, as John says, walk across that bridge one more time.
This time we hope, in March, when we go, that we would have delivered a democratic reform package that will do just that ‑‑ deliver the voice of the people back to the people.
Before we head to Selma to march across that bridge on another anniversary, the 54th anniversary, we’re promising action on democracy reforms. I want to thank again my colleague, John Sarbanes, and my Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and I want to welcome the class of 2018, the Majority‑makers, to Congress.
Thank you very much.
Congressman Sarbanes. Next, we’ve got Dean Phillips, I think is speaking next.
Congressman-elect Phillips. Right here.
Congressman Sarbanes. There he is.
I had the chance to be with Dean in Minnesota. We did a very powerful townhall on money in politics. He understands exactly what we’re talking about here.
Thank you, Dean.
Congressman-elect Phillips. And I took Congressman Sarbanes to the Minnesota State Fair.
Leader Pelosi. I’ve been there.
Congressman-elect Phillips. Oh, that makes three of us.
Leader Pelosi. I learned how to make pork chops on a stick.
Congresswoman-elect Omar. Four.
Congressman-elect Phillips. On a stick. Everything on a stick. Now we need campaign finance reform on a stick.
Representation begins with listening, and everybody on this stage and my new colleagues have been doing just that all around the country for the last number of months, listening to every corner of the country and every political perspective. And there’s a voice that’s in unison. It’s time to tackle the culture of corruption in Washington. It’s time to elevate the common interest over special interests, and time to return to a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
It’s as simple as that. That’s what people want, that’s why we’re here, and that will be our first order of business beginning on day one amongst my freshman colleagues and I hope everybody else in this entire Congress.
And my new colleague, Veronica Escobar.
Congresswoman-elect Escobar. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Well, good morning, everyone. I first also want to thank Leader Pelosi and Congressman Sarbanes for their incredible work during one of the most tumultuous times in American history and for preparing such a bold, ambitious package for new Members to vote on day one.
We are, the new Members are coming hot off the campaign trail, and I can tell you in my community I heard very loudly, very clearly that Americans want bold proposals that are going to help everyone.
They want health care, affordable health care and access for everyone. They want great jobs and an economy that works for everyone. They want comprehensive immigration reform that is done in a just and humane way. They want us to take care of the planet and have a planet for future generations.
But if we are going to accomplish the bold, aspirational things that everybody wants in America, what we’ve heard from our constituents about, we have to have a government that they can trust.
And this is the first step to building a government that they can trust, a government that they know is not ruled by dark money, a government where they know there’s one vote for every person, regardless of interests that might be happening behind the scenes, that we can have elections that we can trust.
And so, I’m very grateful that we, as new Members, have the opportunity to vote on this right out of the gate. Once we do, once we pass this, we can then get on to tackling all of the big‑picture issues that the American public expects us to tackle.
And I’d like to introduce Congresswoman Scanlon.
Congresswoman Scanlon. Thank you, Representative‑elect Escobar and Speaker‑designate Pelosi and Representative Sarbanes and all of the Members of the Democracy Reform Task Force, for your commitment to protecting and restoring faith in our democratic institutions and for the work on the bill I’m so excited to be able to participate in, H.R. 1.
Our elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and during this election cycle the American people charged us, the new Congress, to make sure that our government works for them. They put their trust in the Members of our incoming congressional delegation to champion our uniquely American creed for a government of the people, by the people, and certainly for the people.
H.R. 1 is our commitment to that trust. This reform package will address many of the barriers to democracy that prevent too many people from having their voices heard, including seniors, communities of color, servicemembers, college students, and low‑income families. But it’s up to us to see it through.
My home State of Pennsylvania has been a prime example of the rise of modern‑day voter suppression, with things like extreme gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws, and restrictive absentee voting deadlines.
So, I want to thank Leader Pelosi, Representative Sarbanes, and so many others for making this the top priority for the 116th Congress. As one of the first Members of the incoming class to be sworn in, I’m proud to stand with my current and future colleagues today in support of H.R. 1.
And to the American people, we have heard you. Our Caucus is eager to restore the promises of our democracy and give you the government you deserve, and that work is starting now.
Congressman Sarbanes. So, again, thank you for being here. And I want to thank that class of 2018 again, and the couple who got there a little bit sooner, for your incredible advocacy on this point.
We have been working in the Democracy Reform Task Force for the last couple of years, but even prior to that, because Speaker‑designate Pelosi had made it clear that she wanted to reach out to the country, to the people, and certainly to our Members, and get that input as to what we needed to do to restore our democracy.
And so we’ve been toiling away in the salt mines to put together a strong, bold package, and we did it just in time, because the class of 2018 is arriving, telling us this is exactly the statement, the package we need to take back to our constituents, our new constituents, the people who sent us here.
So we’re proud of this effort. We’re going to work as hard as we can to move it quickly and boldly in the next Congress.
And again, I want to thank the Speaker‑designate for all the support that she has given to this effort and leadership.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congressman Sarbanes, for your extraordinary leadership on this subject.
Just to put it in historical – in a perspective, when I first became Whip, the first bill that I acted upon was to work with Senator McCain to pass campaign finance reform, McCain‑Feingold, as it was designated in the Senate. We had a discharge petition that wasn’t moving. The Republicans were in power. We got the job done, and we were very proud of that, to reduce the role of money, getting rid of all kinds of corporate money and the rest.
However, resourceful as they are, the special interests found ways. And now here we are again, at a time when we are in the majority, invigorated by this outstanding reform‑minded caucus, to come forward with H.R. 1.
And we will be addressing, by way of some of their additional ideas they may have brought from the campaign to act upon this legislation, which seems to have strong consensus as we go forward, and of course, as part of that, to pass the Voting Rights Act, long overdue, to build a record that is ironclad about its constitutionality and its intent.
So this is exciting. This is a transformative, as I said earlier, occasion. This historic class of freshmen is going to make not only a difference on the Congress, but the entire country. And we have seen, just from our interaction with the public, that when they trust you on this issue, as John Sarbanes said, they trust you on other issues as well. And that confidence is what our democracy is all about.
Now, if you have any difficult questions, the new Members who have not spoken, they volunteer to take whatever you might say. Yes, ma’am?
* * *
Q: Leader Pelosi, you’ve talked about your legislative agenda. When you talk to your new Members, which investigations do they want you to prioritize? Or do they worry that investigations could overshadow the message you’re trying to send?
Leader Pelosi. Well, perhaps we should hear from a freshman on that score. Who wants to address that
Congresswoman-elect Escobar. May I?
I can tell you that two priorities for my district are the separation of families on the U.S.‑Mexico border – El Paso, Texas, which is the district that I am fortunate enough to represent, was the testing ground, we found out a year later, for President Trump’s policy of separating families.
There are still children who are separated from their parents. We have seen child detention grow. We have learned recently that the President waived FBI checks, background checks, in Tornillo, Texas. That is in El Paso County. That’s number one.
Number two, Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are still without the federal funding that was allocated that would help them rebuild their lives. And those are the two that would be priorities for me.
Q: So you think those should start on day one?
Congresswoman-elect Escobar. Yes. But, again, I’m a new Member. So I know my place.
Leader Pelosi. Well, a place for all of it is that we have a committee system and that everything goes through the committee and when the legislation is ready. But H.R. 1 has precedence.
Tom, did you want to speak to that? Tom Malinowski of New Jersey.
Congressman-elect Malinowski. Yes. There’s been a lot of discussion about legislating versus investigating, and I think that’s sometimes a false choice. My constituents want us to legislate. They want us to come here and get things done.
The package that you just heard described is in many ways a response to the lessons of what we already know happened in the 2016 election. Because what we learned was that our lax rules against corruption, our lax campaign finance rules in this country, in addition to allowing things that were wrong, were a national security vulnerability and enabled some of the foreign interference that we already know, without even further investigation, took place.
So this is, in part, a response to demands from the freshman class and others to actually start doing something about what we already know happened.
Leader Pelosi. The American people want us to address their bread‑and‑butter, kitchen‑table issues. That’s what we promised in the election for the people – lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, integrity in government – and that is what we are here to do. The committees of jurisdiction will determine how they proceed.
But make no mistake, oversight is a congressional responsibility. The Administration may try to say oversight is investigation. No, oversight is our responsibility. Article I, the first branch of government, a check on the other two, following a beautiful preamble to the Constitution. So we will honor our responsibilities.
Q: Can we ask about a kitchen‑table issue then in that case? About trade. And I’d be curious to hear from some of the freshmen, the new Members about the President announced this – he’s signing off on this agreement with Mexico and Canada. There seem to be a lot of questions about whether they could get this through, and obviously Democrats are concerned about everything from LBGTQ issues to just the working wage issues. How do you see that playing out in the new Congress? And, again, I’d like to hear from you and some of the freshmen.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I’m going to, of course, yield to our freshman members on it, but just to say the following. Whatever they’re calling it now, it has some kind of gobbledygook name. The trade agreement formerly known as Prince.
– no, I mean, formerly known as NAFTA , is a work in progress.
We are admiring of the Trade Representative and the attempts he has made to make sure that we are aware of what is in it. But what isn’t in it yet is enough enforcement reassurances regarding provisions that relate to workers and to the environment. There also has not been a law passed in Mexico in terms of wages and working conditions in Mexico.
So when all of that happens, people will make a judgment about whether they will be supporting it. So it isn’t – this is not something that we have a piece of paper where we can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, but open to that.
Any of my colleagues? Come on up.
Congressman-elect Phillips. I think it’s fair to say that if we want to raise all the boats in this country, the only way to do so is ensure that middle‑income Americans have more money to spend and that businesses in our country have access to foreign markets for their goods and services. Absent that, we’re all in trouble.
Those are priorities, I know, of all of us on this stage. And we should have free trade and fair trade, if you ask me. That is one of my prerogatives. That’s certainly what my district demands.
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Levin of California.
Congressman-elect Levin. Mike Levin from California’s 49th. My district is in San Diego and Orange County. Cross‑border trade is extremely important to our district.
The President has taken our relationships with Canada and Mexico to the brink, unnecessarily. And while we don’t know the final details of the USMCA, we do know that they largely resemble in many ways what was there before. A lot of this for show.
Ultimately, as an environmental advocate, I’m going to be looking at the worker protections, the environmental protections. And until we actually have some details, we can’t make an educated decision. But I look forward to those details, as I know my freshman colleagues do?
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Pappas?
Congressman-elect Pappas. Thank you. Chris Pappas from New Hampshire.
Just to say that I think what’s wonderful about this freshman class is that we’re close to the ground. And that’s why these democracy reforms are so essential, to make sure that Congress is always embodying and reflecting and translating the voices of the people of this country.
In my district, we benefit from international trade, particularly with Canada, and I think we’re always well served by calm and sober talks, by ensuring that we’re respecting the businesses in our country, the workers, the environment and the protections that we need to realize in these agreements.
So we need to certainly see the details of these agreements. But I think the sort of haphazard policy of tariffs is not well serving the consumers or the businesses of my state, and I think we’re always well-served by calm and sober talks.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, ma’am?
Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you, back on oversight a bit, in light of the Michael Cohen major revelations yesterday, what would you like to see come January for your committees, specifically looking into, of course, Trump’s potential ties and business dealings with Russia?
Leader Pelosi. Well, that will be up to the committees. But as I say, our focus is on showing results for America’s working families, by lowering their health care costs, raising their paychecks and giving them confidence that their voices are heard in Washington, D.C.
As events unfold, our committees will honor their responsibilities as we go forward. But I’m not putting forth an agenda of that kind now.
Does anybody want to speak to that? No.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you designated this bill H.R. 1 in part for the symbolic value of that. As people are getting used to a Washington that’s got a Democratic House and Republicans on the other side and at the White House, how should we look at what you all are doing here? Is this symbolic in that Democrats will do it, or is this the kind of thing where you actually think you can get Republicans in the Senate and the President of the United States on board with this kind of effort?
Leader Pelosi. Our best friend in this debate is the public. You’ve heard me say over and over, many of you, President Lincoln said, ‘Public sentiment is everything’ – paraphrasing him – with it, you can accomplish almost anything; without it, practically nothing. And as the public observes this H.R. 1 agenda going forward, we believe that it will have great support and that message won’t be lost on the Senate or on the President of the United States. Do any of our colleagues want to speak to that? Yes.
Congressman-elect Malinowski. Yes. A lot of us who supported this ran in districts where we have to get Republican support to be here. And I can tell you, I did not meet a single Republican voter who thought it was a good idea that our laws allow, say, a foreign government to channel money through nonprofit organizations to a super PAC in the United States to influence the outcome of our elections.
So this is bipartisan when it comes to the American people. The only question is, will it be bipartisan when it comes to, say, the United States Senate? And that’s up to them to decide.
Congressman Sarbanes. Let me just say on that, H.R. 1 is not being built for Mitch McConnell. It’s being built as the Speaker‑designate said and Congressman‑elect Malinowski just said. It’s being built for the American people.
This class has told us that this is what the people want to see. So we’re building that package for them. But it’s folks from across the political spectrum that are demanding this. It’s not just Democrats. It’s Independents; it’s Republicans.
So if you put that forward, I think you create political pressure that says to every Member of Congress, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on, you need to step up and support restoring our democracy.
So we think there can be some very productive results for this, and potentially bipartisan productive results, as we move forward. But that’s what you get with the force of a powerful, strong statement right out of the gate. I think that’s part of the strategy of making this H.R. 1 and really setting the table on this conversation.
Congresswoman Wild. I’d just like to add to this. Susan Wild. I am currently the Representative of Pennsylvania 15th. But as of January 1, it will be Pennsylvania 7, it’s the Greater Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. And it’s an area that’s made up very much of working families.
And the issues, all of the questions that have come out today, are very, very pertinent to my district. But what I’ve heard the most from people is that they want their voices to be heard.
And so the questions about investigations and about trade and that kind of thing, as Leader Pelosi said, public sentiment is everything. And the people I have spoken to for the last year‑plus have all been concerned that their voice, through their vote, didn’t really matter because of the influence of dark money and outside interests.
And I think that having H.R. 1 be our first bill that is introduced will very much set the tone for whether the public believes that their will will be done.
And I think this is the right message to send to the public so that they understand that what we want to do going forward, whether it’s an issue of trade or investigations or immigration or anything else, that we will be paying attention to the American people. And I think that’s the real important thing about why this is being done first.
Congresswoman-elect Omar. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota 5th.
Throughout, I think, the last two years we’ve heard people say that they didn’t just want to be part of a resistance; they wanted to insist on a set of values. And I think for us it’s really important to remember that accessibility, transparency and the trust of the public is the cornerstone of our democracy.
And so what our voters were interested in and what we heard from the American public is that they didn’t want to just send us here to resist and to only work on oversight; they wanted to make sure that we were insisting on furthering a set of values.
So for us it is a priority to make sure that we are restoring hope in our democracy, that we are reshaping our government to make sure that it works for people, and that we are reenergizing the American public to again believe in a system that was built for them and can be transformed by them as well.
And so we are just really excited to get to work and make sure that the words that we said on the campaign trail transform into legislation that will transform our government and our democracy.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much.
Q: Can you talk about the historic nature of the number of women in Congress now? The historic nature of the number of women in Congress, what would be the impact?
Leader Pelosi. Fabulous, it’s fabulous. We’re so excited.