Pelosi Remarks at House Democratic Leadership Press Conference
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Chairman Joseph Crowley and members of the House Democratic Leadership for a press conference following House Democrats’ Caucus meeting. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi Opening Remarks.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Madam Vice Chair. I thank the Chairman [and] Vice Chair for calling a Caucus meeting. Who can soar with the eagles in the morning after hooting with the owls last night for a late night? And I commend all of you for doing both as well.
It was a transformative speech for some of us last night because our expectations for greatness and vision for the President are not high. He stooped to a new low in terms of how he dealt with issues. For example, the immigration issue and what it has meant to our country and how he characterized it. The opioid epidemic, which is, in every district in the country, a challenge for many families, a tragedy, and the President treated it in such a disdainful way. Actually, it is one of the items on the agenda that we are fighting for—increased funding for opioids in the discussion that we are having on the caps, on the parity issue on the budget.
Last night the President delivered a speech of unwarranted self-congratulatory comments. He acknowledged the courage, the sacrifice of the people in the audience as if he had something to do with the successes that they had achieved. Of course we all salute them. It is an interesting story, but more importantly, it is about the fabric of America that his speech was not about. Again, devoid of vision—so sad. The President presents this GOP tax scam as something to help the middle class, but at the same time his tax scam calls for 86 million middle class families to pay more as he pads the pockets of the top one percent.
The President represents himself as generous towards DREAMers, but he is holding them hostage with the most extreme anti-immigrant agenda in generations. We heard more insulting words of ignorance and prejudice towards patriotic immigrant families last night. I just remind you, and I have said this to his people, this is a first in a long time: President Reagan was great on immigration, he did more than Congress did after the Congress passed a bill. President George Herbert Walker Bush was great on immigration.
The two of them, with their executive orders, protected a higher percentage of people than President Obama did with his executive order. President Clinton, of course, President Obama, President George W. Bush—one of the best presidents in advocating for immigrants and what immigration means to America—could not convince his own party. And now a president in complete departure, complete departure of Republican presidents in modern times. Republican presidents are in the lead, taking us down a road—just red meat for the base.
The President presents himself as a man of big ideas and then he presents a lame, puny, infrastructure proposal, completely underestimating or ignoring the infrastructure challenges our country faces. $200 billion over 10 years—that is $20 billion a year—and he advertises it as a $1.5 trillion agenda. But again, giveaways to the private sector.
Meanwhile, President Trump is completely silent about Russia’s ongoing assault on our democracy and his administration’s outrageous refusal to impose sanctions. What is that about? What is that about? Overwhelmingly, what was it, more than 500 people voted for the sanctions against Russia? And the President is ignoring them. What do the Russians have on him—politically, personally, financially—that he would ignore his responsibility in that regard?
President Trump’s first year in office has been a wasted opportunity in meeting the needs of the American people. Again, he had an opportunity for unity and we always are hopeful for that. Instead of a hand of friendship, as some have said, he presented a clenched fist.
We were proud of our response. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts did such a beautiful job in responding. Delegate Elizabeth Guzman of Virginia responded beautifully and officially on behalf of a Democratic point of view. Democrats believe that the American people deserve better than what the President talked about last night. They deserve A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Pay, a Better Future—and that is what we will be working on. I found it liberating—it freed me of my personal thoughts about the President. I said, ‘this is so much bigger than that, none of us can afford the luxury of minor disagreements. This is major.’ With that, I yield to our distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer.
Q: Have you or have any of you gotten any indications the Republicans leaders or the White House is willing to negotiate when it comes to family-based immigration. If so, do you have a deal?
Leader Pelosi. In terms of that, first of all, the very idea that the President refers to ‘chain migration’ is totally insulting. We’re talking about, actually one of the guests that he had up there had family reunification and that’s why his family is here in the United States, of course, but the President of course couldn’t face that fact.
And that’s what the whole problem is, with – facts, data, evidence, truth have no place in the discussions with the President. There is a path to finding an immigration agreement.
Sometimes the President likes to say, ‘Well I put something way up there and then we negotiate back.’ But that hasn’t been the case. He’s just setting another bad standard from which we have to reject.
There is, if you just keep this strictly, as Congresswoman, Vice Chair Sanchez said, if you stick to what the Hurd bill does, it is about DREAMers, it is about security at the border. It captures most of what the border patrol says they need.
But on the family unification piece, that’s for a larger comprehensive immigration debate. And this is not what this is – right now, the clock is ticking for protections as we stand here every day – more than 15,000 already and that number will continue to grow until we pass a bill, with those protections for DREAMers. So, why don’t we just do that, build confidence, build bridges and then come to the table and say, ‘now let’s come to the table and talk about comprehensive immigration reform.’ In a way that addresses the Temporary Protected Status of so many people in our country, which the White House from time to time expresses some interest in dealing with.
They keep moving around, whether that’s a negotiated tactic or whatever it is – as I’ve said to them before, that may work on Wall Street or in New York real estate but here the vote is the currency of the realm.
What are the votes there for? People in Congress want to know, what will the President sign? Without any basis on evidence, data and the rest about newcomers to our country equating it in a criminal way? What was that about? What was that about last night? I would say confusing. It was worse than that, it was dangerous what he said last night. And it has instilled fear. What he is doing brings tears to the eyes of the Statue of Liberty and instills fear in the hearts of those who are concerned about DREAMers.
Q: Leader, are you saying then that if Republicans keep pushing for family-based legal migration on part of this agreement DREAMers, it’s a non-starter for your Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. Well it depends on what it is. If they want to listen, to understand what family unification is instead of calling it chain migration –
Q: Be honest, I’m asking!
Leader Pelosi. I understand that, what they’re doing is redefining the nuclear family in what they’re saying. So again you have to have the facts.
Whip Hoyer. Let me reiterate the point. Because I think, I don’t know whether you were watching on television or not, I was sitting next to the President, [Senator] Durbin was on his right. [Senator] Grassley who has never voted on an immigration bill said, ‘we need to take care of these DREAMers who after all, didn’t do anything wrong. There were 25 of us, including Lujan-Grisham the Chair among the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the President says, ‘does anyone disagree with that?’ Not a single voice was raised in opposition to dealing with the DACA students.
Remember how this happened? The President threw the protections of the DACA eligible and said this was not done correctly. He didn’t say he disagreed with the policy. In fact he said, ‘I love the DREAMers.’ He said was, it should be done legislatively. Do it legislatively, send me the bill. I will sign it.
I left the White House, frankly, thinking to myself that the President said to Senator Grassley and to Senator Feinstein, ‘Yes that will be the first phase.’ That’s how he referred to it. Take care of the DACA, get them off the table, everybody agrees. 87 percent of the American people say, ‘You are not going to send these kids to a country they don’t know and is not theirs.’ 87 percent of the American public respond in polls: keep them here and give them a path to citizenship.
Q: Where do your negotiations stand?
Whip Hoyer. We are trying to get that phase done. Now, Majority Leader McCarthy, as you may recall if you watched, jumped in and said, ‘What the President meant’ – he called it chain, I corrected him, family reunification, border security and what they call diversity. Now, we weren’t entirely clear about what they had in mind until 48 hours later when the President profanely and bigotedly talked about people coming from countries of color.
So, the answer, in my view and in the part that I am playing with – by the way – [Congressman] Pete Aguilar and [Congresswoman] Michelle Lujan Grisham representing the tri-caucuses, not just themselves – is to get an agreement on what the President said – DREAMers and what the American people overwhelmingly want to see resolved and so we are trying to get there.
Q: Madam Leader – anybody on this – as you enter these negotiations, trying to get something on DACA, trying to get something on immigration, trying to get something on the CAPs, is there a difference between your position and Senator Schumer’s? And the pressures of your Caucus? You may have to address some of the liberal concerns in your Caucus whereas he might have to address the conservative?
Leader Pelosi. Absolutely not. We are in total unison. For some reason, perhaps it attracts attention, there has been some effort to make it seem like we are not. We are in total unison on this. If there were never one DREAMer in the world, thank God there are many, we still have a problem on the caps. This is about the parity, the budget bill. Maybe people don’t understand when we say parity and caps what this is. What we are trying to say to the Republicans is, ‘We take an oath to protect and defend the American people, and we want the security that we need, in terms of the defense bill.’
But our security in the domestic budget is one third of the domestic budget. It’s about Homeland Security. It’s about the Veterans’ Affairs Administration. It’s about the State Department. It’s about anti-terrorism activities of the Justice Department. One third of the domestic budget has a security function, in addition to the investments we have to make in the health, education and well-being of the American people, a source of our strength as well as our military might which is important as well.’ So this debate is about – if you want to increase defense spending, and we are not objecting to that, we have to have a commensurate increase on the domestic side.
You cannot increase defense and bleed the domestic budget and think we are going to be a strong nation. Part of what we are putting out there is bipartisan. Everything we have talked about: bipartisan bill in terms of the Affordable Care Act – excuse me, that too. By the way, when the Republicans cheered when the President said they were lifting the mandate that was a Republican idea. Mitt Romney, Heritage Foundation that was no free riders. That was no free riders, a mandate that everyone had to participate.
To get back to this point, so we had been proposing has been bipartisan – what we are talking about in terms of infrastructure has never been partisan, it has always been bipartisan unless President Obama suggested something, that is, Republicans would resist. Now, we are saying: Let us increase the domestic budget in the following ways: important investments in stopping the opioid epidemic – the President said it was important, you have to put the money there. Funding for our veterans. We know they need more funding. It’s on the domestic side of the agenda. Increase the funding for our veterans. National Institutes of Health, the biblical power to cure, if you have scientific opportunity, you have a moral responsibility to honor it and that’s job-creating as well. Addressing our pension issues.
Separate from that, the whole emergency funding issue of disaster assistance in terms of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands having a big shortfall but addressing the needs of states with hurricanes and dangerous fires and the rest.
Everything we are talking about, it doesn’t have a partisan tilt to it at all. All issues where if you ask people, you bring it to the Floor, it would win a bipartisan vote. So again, if there never were one DREAMer, we would still have this fight because they don’t want to fund the domestic side. That’s what it’s about and they have to sell that to their Members by increasing defense but at the expense of domestic. We can do better and so, yes, DREAMers are a part of that negotiation but we are not there yet on the money so nobody should say the DREAMers are holding up that negotiation.
Q: Madam Leader, when you worked with George W. Bush you had big disagreements over the war, over Social Security, but you had a relatively productive relationship, probably helped by the fact that he wasn’t going to be running for reelection. When you look forward to being potentially in the Majority next year, can you forge a productive relationship with President Trump?
Leader Pelosi. May I just say, I thank you for calling everyone’s attention to the fact that even though we had serious disagreements – I think the war in Iraq was a tragedy for our nation, hopefully one day there will be an admission of that – but, nonetheless, not to hold us back on issues we had to move forward with for the American people so we were able to find agreement. We passed the biggest energy bill in the history of our country. He wanted nuclear, our Caucus wanted renewables, we came an agreement, like taking tens of thousands of cars off the road in terms of lowering emissions and rest, addressing CAFE standards. He wanted PEPFAR, we wanted big PEPFAR – that was addressing the HIV-AIDs crisis throughout the world. He was a champion on it, he takes pride in it and he should. And he and Mrs. Bush continue to be involved in that issue and they should be saluted for that. Using the tax code to help people on the low end of the tax scale – very progressive agenda.
The list goes on and on. Contrary to what the Republicans did when they took the Majority and President Obama was there, ‘The most important thing we can do is make sure they don’t succeed.’ Unpatriotic. Un-American.
We always have a responsibility to find common ground in the minority or the majority, that’s our responsibility to the American people and when we can’t find it, we must stand our ground, that’s our responsibility to the American people as well. We are constantly open to finding solutions that meet the needs of the American people, but not to do so, that appeals to the lowest-common-denominator, but to do so, that appeals to a vision. A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Pay, Better Future. Who can disagree with that?
Q: Leader Pelosi, you spoke earlier this week about how if the Democrats take back Congress, that you’d want to work on a more fair tax system. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean? Would that be a repeal and replace of the tax law?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it may have to be a replace and repeal – replace them and repeal the bill. Mr. Crowley and Congresswoman Sanchez are on the Ways and Means Committee so I will defer to them but I have always said that you cannot do a tax bill with it being bipartisan. Perhaps we want to recognize that we should lower the corporate rate, maybe so, maybe not. But if you are going to have sustainability in tax reform, it has to be bipartisan.
Instead they came up with something where 83 percent of the benefits go to the top one percent. 86 million middle class families will pay more in taxes. They took us deeply in debt to the tune of two trillion dollars or more when you include interest on the national debt. Giving a permanent tax cut of over a trillion dollars to corporate America. Just not right. Just not right. So there is a better way to do that and our path – to use one word to describe what it would look like – it would be bipartisan. I yield to Members of the Committee.
Chairman Crowley. I would only say, briefly, that the benefits of the ’86 bill was that it was a bipartisan bill, done in conjunction with then-Speaker O’Neil and President Reagan. That was totally lacking in this process. There was no Democratic input. It was never asked for and it’s reflected in the bill that was passed, quite frankly, we would look to have a more fair and a more balanced approach to tax writing in the Democratic Majority.
Congressman Lujan. Can I just add something to that? On the tax bill, 83.1 percent goes to the top one percent and corporations. 16.9 percent to everyone else. When you further break that down and see what actually made it to the middle class, I recognize that there was something there, but it doesn’t add up. This is simply not fair. The American people see that. That’s why they are overwhelmingly rejecting that. It’s the why the SuperPAC connected to Paul Ryan said, ‘Go out, Republicans, and try to sell this to the American people.’ Because they see it as the scam that it is.
Number one, I would say the Republicans continue to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people and they are smarter than that. The one thing not being talked about, Chad, once upon a time, Fox used to profess these commitments from our Republican colleagues about budgets that would be adopted and their commitments to get this done and certainty for our military.
They seem to be ignoring the call from Secretary Mattis when he says that these short-term CRs are bad for the country, bad for national security and bad for military preparedness. They need to be called out – my Republican colleagues need to be called out for that. This is not good for the country. Democrats are willing to work together – to the question about President Bush and going forward – Democrats are willing to work together in bipartisan way today.
But we don’t see that outreach from the President nor our Republican colleagues. That’s what the American people want. They want to see what we are going to do. There’s enough reasons with concerns on the other side, they want people to come together and get real results. I’m certainly hopeful that we can carry that conversation forward and that 2018 is a year that we can put the American people first and earn back their trust and get back to work.
Chairman Crowley. Thank you all very much.