Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone.
Here we are. The saga continues. The Trump Administration’s reaction to the explosive revelations about secret communications between Russian intelligence agents and senior Trump officials has been very revealing. It reveals how much Russia’s grip on the Trump Administration is undermining our democracy and compromising our national security.
And it also reveals that President Trump’s top priority in all of this is shutting down leaks. He’s saying he wants to hide the truth from the American people, so he’s focusing on the leaks rather than addressing the challenge to our democracy and our security. It’s a deflection. You know, the Deflector-in-Chief strikes again.
The American people have a right to know the full extent of the financial, personal, and political ties, and the grip that the Russians have on President Trump, and the Republican Congress needs to stop stonewalling and helping him cover up.
Ranking Member Adam Schiff and I have written to the acting DNI calling for a comprehensive intelligence briefing on Russia, including the unredacted transcripts of [former National Security Advisor] Michael Flynn’s intercepted conversations with Russian officials. You probably have a copy of that. We put it out this morning. Congress must establish a bipartisan, independent, outside commission to investigate.
In another assault on our values, in the past week we have witnessed ICE raids across our nation targeting parents, students, and a DACA-protected DREAMer. We talked about some of this yesterday with our Members. We have seen press reports of federal immigration agents [who] went to the El Paso County Courthouse and arrested an undocumented woman who had just received a protective order after suffering domestic violence. The agents apparently detained the woman after receiving a tip, possibly from her alleged abuser.
What is this? You know, it’s supposed to be that they are only supposed to be – well, in one case ICE even lay in wait for undocumented immigrants outside a church hypothermia shelter. These are some places in the churches and all the rest that we’re really supposed to be more respectful of.
The only result of the Trump Administration’s cruel and arbitrary approach is to instill fear in our immigrant communities. We all share the responsibility of protecting the American people and doing so to protect and defend the Constitution of our country. ICE must focus on removing violent criminals, not on dividing law abiding families.
Later today there is a bipartisan meeting with the acting Director of ICE, Thomas Homan. ICE has told the Speaker that they will designate – you may remember, yesterday we had Members of the Judiciary Committee, the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a representative of the [Congressional] Asian Pacific American Caucus addressing some of the issues on the raids and the ban and the rest, and they were supposed to have a meeting yesterday with the acting ICE Director. They canceled the meeting and said, “We are not having any meetings just with Democrats. We are only having bipartisan meetings.” So that meeting is scheduled for today, but ICE said they would designate which Democrats could attend the meeting.
It’s a stunning thing. I mean, we’ve never seen anything like that, nor have we ever seen other issues that relate to nondisclosure agreements between people who work on the Hill and work with the Administration. But in any event, not good. Later today, as I said, we will have that bipartisan meeting.
Tomorrow is February 17, you all know that, 4 weeks from the Inauguration. Eight years ago, when President Obama was sworn in on January 20, on the steps of the Capitol, he called for swift, bold action now for jobs and education of our young people, jobs for the 21st century, and more.
One week and 1 day after the President’s call to action, the House passed – 1 week and 1 day – passed the Recovery Act. One week later, the Senate passed the Recovery Act. On February 17, that would be tomorrow, President Obama signed a bill protecting or creating 4 million jobs, 4 weeks from his Inauguration. In the course of that time, he also signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill, SCHIP legislation, other things. But jobs, jobs, jobs right from the start.
This election was about jobs. All elections are. Show us the jobs. Where are they? Not one – let me just, Republicans have had time to undermine women’s reproductive rights on the floor today, to enable polluters of our air, water, and environment to thrive, to serve Wall Street’s profits and weaken workers’ retirement and savings, but no action to create good paying jobs, no action to raise wages, no action to build infrastructure. Republicans continue to waste time on their failing plan to dismantle America’s health care as they Make America Sick Again.
On Saturday, I’m so excited about this, House Democrats will be having over 80 events across the country on defending Americans’ right to quality, affordable health care, preserving the guarantee of Medicare and stopping the cuts to Medicaid. So it is going to be pretty exciting.
And I am very proud of our Members working very hard on what works in terms of what the needs are in their districts, whether it is visiting rural hospitals or meeting with administrators of those, and the consequences on doing the Affordable Care Act are to them, whether it is about stopping the progress we made on extending the life of Medicare, reducing the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, having a free checkup for prevention.
But the important thing is that, I think I said yesterday, 20,400,000 Americans now have health care who didn’t have it before. The important figure is the 155 million people who receive their health care in the workplace whose benefits have been extended in terms of preexisting conditions, no lifetime limit, your child can stay on your policy until 26, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing medical condition, insurance companies must pay 80 percent of the money they take in on your health care, not on advertisements or CEO pay in extreme, and this is what the Republicans are trying to undo.
So we are very pleased with the response we have received from our Members. This Saturday, the beat goes on. It isn’t the only day. Members have consistently been having town meetings, tele town meetings, all the rest. But on our Day of Action, we have large participation and we are very excited about it and they are getting a tremendous response to it.
Any questions? Yes, sir?
Q: Chairman Chaffetz has said that he wants the FBI or the Department of Justice to look into the leaks. I know you said that that was a major distraction a few minutes ago.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: But I am wondering if you are also a supporter of getting to the bottom of where all this information is coming from.
Leader Pelosi. Sure. But that is not the point. In other words, what they are concerned about is the American people are finding out what they have been up to. And we are saying, let’s find out what they have been up to, let’s see what that means to our national security and to our democracy as they undermine our election, disrupt our election, and have a President who is flirting with lifting sanctions on Russia, undermining the New START Treaty, criticizing our own government while elevating Vladimir Putin. The list goes on.
So what is the hold that the Russians have on President Trump that is dangerous to our democracy and dangerous to our national security? And so what they’re saying is, let’s not pay attention to that, let’s pay attention to something – which probably came from the Trump Administration, the leaks.
So investigate them. There is no substitute for giving the American people truth about our democracy, the threat to our democracy, and to our national security.
Q: I guess my question, though, is are you, as you see the turmoil play out at the White House with the resignation of General Flynn and on down the line of just all these controversies that keep coming on to the media, do you feel angered by that, are you worried, are you entertained? What kind of emotion?
Leader Pelosi. No. I feel very sad about it. And as I think I’ve said to you almost every time we’ve come together, we really have to take a very deep breath, because this is deadly serious. It involves Russia in a way that is unwholesome for our democracy, to say the least, and dangerous to our security.
It shows the incompetence, the recklessness, the rashness of this Administration, the strategic incoherence in which they have proceeded, the poor judgment on the part of the President of the United States to select Flynn in the first place.
One good thing coming out of it is that he is gone. Now [Stephen] Bannon is in charge of everything, including our national security. We’ll see who comes next.
So this is, it’s really tragic. So forgetting Democrats and Republicans, that is the least of it. As Americans, we should all be concerned about what is happening there, the disarray. And the fact is, they don’t want the American people to know. The President keeps tweeting about leaks. Let’s address the challenges. Let’s address the challenges.
I have more to say, but I’d rather take some questions.
Q: Two part question. One, have you heard from any Republicans privately who may feel like they can’t publicly say they want an independent investigation but are glad that you’re doing it? And, two, can you think of any other instance where you guys have asked for unfettered access to the transcripts of an Administration official? It seems unprecedented.
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, no, to your first question. No.
Leader Pelosi. Actually, you have to remember that the Republicans are completely simpatico with the Trump Administration on their policies, whether it’s, you know, all the things that I just talked about here, doing these CRAs to undermine everything, to enrich Wall Street, to pollute the environment, to reduce a woman’s health by her having options in terms of reproductive health. The list goes on and on.
So they are completely simpatico. In fact, in some ways the Congress is worse than Trump, because the Ryan budget says that we should remove the Medicare guarantee. Medicare is a guarantee. You remove the guarantee, and that’s not Medicare anymore. I don’t know if President Trump would subscribe to that. I don’t know about privatizing Social Security, as Vice President Pence has voted to do.
And I am very concerned about the nomination of [Congressman Mick] Mulvaney as OMB Director. Remember this about Mulvaney – and he’s a product of this Congress. So, again, there’s not a big difference between the two. You remember, some of you were here for the shutdown of government a few years ago. Mulvaney was the leader of the pack, and he voted against, 17 days later, opening up government.
He has been willing to hold our full faith and credit of the United States of America hostage to his radical agenda. He is totally unsuited to be the Director of OMB, Office of Management and Budget.
Our budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us should be how we allocate resources. There are some who say there isn’t even an interest in biomedical research.
But be that as it may, an overarching issue, leader of the pack to shut down government and vote against 17 days later, after tens of billions of dollars’ cost to our economy in a very negative way, he voted against the bill that would open up government. Many of his colleagues did, too, but we, working in a bipartisan way, we were able to open up the government.
That is a whole other story. If you want to know more about that, I don’t want to take the time, because I want to hear your other questions. So totally unsuitable.
I am not at liberty to say what we have asked for in the past, but this is not so unusual. It’s not so unusual. Actually, we’d like to have it to a broader – our letter talks about the leadership and leadership of the committees and the rest. I would like all of the Members to have access to it. But they will come back and say, “Sources and methods, we can’t tell everybody,” and the rest of that.
So we want this information to other Members of the leadership of the House and Senate, Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee, full committee. The full committee has to act upon these things. They should know, they should have access to the information.
Hopefully, once we get that there will be a step in the direction of truth and openness and transparency for the American people rather than the President said, “While you are talking about my connection, my Russian connection, I want to talk about leaks.” Again, a deflection.
Q: What do you make of – on the subject of the ICE raids – what do you make of General Kelly saying these are relatively routine and 75 percent of those targeted were prior criminal convictions?
Leader Pelosi. I haven’t seen any statistics that support that claim. I have a great deal of respect for Secretary – I was almost going to call him General – Kelly, but my observation, that is hard to support, unless you say violation of status is a serious crime, in which case, as I said yesterday, 8 million people will be deported, because they meet this standard.
Prosecutorial discretion relates more to serious violent crime. People should go, nobody’s complaining about that. But we’re asking for the numbers, show us your numbers, but there is nothing to support that.
And what we do know, as this woman who was getting a court order to protect her from domestic violence, probably reported to ICE by her abuser, this person coming out of a church shelter, things like that, that is not prosecutorial discretion. That’s across the board raids. But, again, show us the facts. What do you have to substantiate that? We haven’t seen anything yet.
Q: Leader Pelosi, last year you said Speaker Ryan was going to face a big tub of fish by delaying the 2017 appropriations bill until this year. Do you still hold by that assessment? And if so, could you talk in a little more detail about the problems that are facing the Republicans and President Trump as they try to get this omnibus through and avoid a shutdown? And with that spending money, what complications does funding for a wall with Mexico add to that?
Leader Pelosi. That’s quite a comprehensive question. You’ve covered a lot of territory. Let me see if I can remember all of it.
First of all, I said it is going to be a huge kettle of fish. It was thought at the time that there would be a concurrence of the debt limit. I don’t know when that is, that could be a couple months later, and that will be its own kettle of fish. So he may be facing two kettles of fish.
But on this one, it is hard to see how they can come together. They have their own difficulties, you’ll have to ask them, on legislation when you see that Mulvaney, one of their stars, is going to be OMB Director, had very bad judgment in terms of value in a budget.
So we haven’t seen the President’s budget. We may never see the President’s budget. They may never be able to put anything down. And we don’t know if the House can pass a budget, the Congress can pass a budget, which would be the blueprint for how we go forward.
So nothing has happened 4 weeks after the Inauguration. Six or seven weeks since we were sworn in, we still haven’t seen anything. So it is hard to tell how they will pull it together by then.
They’re supposed to have their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We haven’t seen hide nor hair. We might get an outline today or something like that. So they haven’t come to terms themselves.
But it’s very hard to do a continuing resolution, it’s very hard. You have to really know how to legislate, you have to have your priorities in order. And the priorities that Mulvaney has are in sync probably with the Tea Party. Is that in sync with what the Republicans in the House and Senate want to present to the American people? It certainly will not meet the needs of the American people.
So we’ll just see how they go forward with it, but if they need Democratic votes, because some of their people will vote for nothing, as you well know, then we’ll have to talk. But I fear that if they don’t need Democratic votes the product could be something very horrible for the American people.
I think we’re getting into a place where we don’t even have shared values, and that’s a difficult place to be. And I say that sadly because I’m an appropriator, forged in the Appropriations Committee, and we always found our common ground. And usually the Appropriations Committee can. It’s just when people weigh in from on high that the ideology sets in, and that creates a problem.
And the wall? Well, I think the wall is – how do I say this? I am, from a substance standpoint, critically, substantively, officially, spiritually, religiously, personally opposed to the wall. Where is the money going to come from?
First of all, it really undermines who we are as a country. But apart from that, where is the money coming from? Is it going to come from education? Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education, early childhood, K-12, higher-ed, postgrad, lifetime learning, that’s what brings money to the Treasury. A wall does not bring money to the Treasury. Where is that money coming from? Do you think Mexico is going to pay for it? And even if they did, again, it undermines who we are as a country.
I spoke to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce yesterday and said, you know, we see our country and that part of America as a community with a border running through it. In some places we have to protect our borders, that’s our right, to secure our borders. But to do so with a wall doesn’t make sense.
If they want to invest in more personnel or more technology or something like that, that might make some sense. But a wall?
Let’s make a distinction just for future reference as we come together. The wall represents these two things: They’re fear mongers, so that’s why they’re doing the wall, and they’re notion mongers. That doesn’t even rise to the level of an idea. It’s a notion. So it feeds into their fear mongering, their notion mongering, but with no real idea about how to define the purpose, know what they’re talking about, have a plan of action, and attract support for it. So I think it’s a bad notion.
Okay. One more. Yes, sir?
Q: Yesterday Senator Schumer said that he is concerned about the Administration destroying some of these communications…
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Between General Flynn and the Russians. And you mentioned that yesterday on this stage with Representative Schiff. How real is that fear? And what recourse would you have if they were to do that? How would you even know?
Leader Pelosi. Well, that’s the problem for the American people. And as I’ve said before, secrecy is a tool of an authoritarian government. Openness is a manifestation of a democracy.
Your role in all of this is very important because, as you know, they’re making assault on freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is one of the best defenders of a free, open, and democratic society. So I’m counting on all of you.
I agree with the concern, as I said yesterday – or was that the day before? Whenever it was.
Q: Whenever it was.
Leader Pelosi. I’m afraid they’re going to destroy the documents. But the fact that I’d even say that, the level of trust has gone so far low in all of this, that’s too bad, because we are talking about the national security of our country, our intelligence and the rest.
The other part of what Senator Schumer said yesterday is he thought that Attorney General Sessions should recuse himself as the person to appoint a special prosecutor, and I completely agree with him in that regard for the reasons he spelled out, his association with the Trump campaign, et cetera, along the way.
It’s interesting that when [Acting Attorney General] Sally Yates, when she was put up, Senator Sessions asked her, “Do you think you can be independent of the President who appointed you?” That’s an interesting question for him. At this point, we don’t think he can be, because his ties to Trump are political in the campaign. She didn’t have those ties to President Obama. And so he shouldn’t be appointing any special prosecutor, he shouldn’t.
Now, it’s hard, it’s very hard, because there’s a stonewall going on. And as I say, we are always hopeful. And, again, the other place I was forged in Congress was the Intelligence Committee for many years. I am still ex officio in that capacity. So you’re always hoping for a bipartisan path, because that has been the tradition of Intelligence.
And so, hopefully, people will follow the path to truth and not stonewall when they see and change the subject to leaks, which is a legitimate subject, but it’s not a substitute for the investigation.
So we have a moment in our country where we can recognize suppression of fact and truth and intelligence, making it aware to Congress, which must act upon things, prevent Congress from seeing what they need to see. Now, let’s hope they won’t. We’ve made the request, we’ve made the request, and we’ll see what happens.
But, you know, when we get briefed, the Gang of Eight, that’s eight people, and sometimes it’s just the Gang of Four, the committee chairs and the ranking in House and Senate. So by and large, the Congress is not exposed to all of the intelligence that it should be in order to make the judgments that it needs to make.
This is very serious, because stonewalling is really an abuse of power, it’s an abuse of power. And while the Speaker is saying, “Oh, the House Intelligence Committee will cover this,” the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is saying, “I’m not doing that.” Our Member, Adam Schiff, is hopeful that there will be a fair investigation. So I respect his judgment.
Q: On that note, Mr. Schiff met with Nunes yesterday, and he came out of that meeting saying that Nunes was open to expanding it in the way that the Senate might. Have you talked to Mr. Schiff about that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I’m hopeful. I mean, as I say, I respect – in our letter we say, “We fully expect that the committee’s inquiry will contribute to our full understanding.” So that is a reflection of that conversation. But we’ll see.
And, again, public sentiment is everything. President Lincoln said it, I say it every week: Public sentiment is everything.
You know, look, would we like this? I wish they could find something exculpatory and that everything would go away. But you can’t do that unless you find out the facts and the truth. So let’s hope that they allow that path.
So I will just leave you with one question: What are the Republicans fearing in the truth? Again, the Russian connection. The American people have a right to know.
Thank you all.