Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good morning. Good morning. Busy day.
This morning we started off in the Triangle with Democratic Members of the House and of the Senate to welcome Team 26. I’m so honored they gave me a shirt. Team 26 is in honor of the 20 children and 6 teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook School.
Every year this bicycle ride starts in this area, in the Washington area, and bikes up to Newtown. It’s a constant reminder and inspiration. The question that people asked at the time, “Well, if they’re going to kill 20 little children in first grade, that must have a reaction in Congress.” Of course, it did not. Twenty children, six of their brave teachers and supervisors.
So, again, we’ll never forget. We’ll never stop our work on this subject. And even today, a day where the focus is on Republican attempts to take health care away, we will keep the focus on just give us a vote. We think that there is bipartisan support for background checks in the Congress. We have bipartisan support that we know of. We just want them to give us a vote.
I keep reminding my colleagues, if this is about their political survival, their political survival means nothing compared to the survival of 20 children in first grade in Newtown and their teachers.
Today, as you know, with only hours’ notice and no CBO score, Republicans are maliciously, again, attempting to destroy health care and coverage for the American people. This is really almost, I would say, a welcome debate. I would hope that they realize that this is really bad for the country. But I do say that it is good in one respect: It’s going to provide a great civics lesson for America.
Let’s face it, as important as we think we are when we’re in Congress, most people don’t even know who their Congressperson is in many places. And now they’ll find out. They will find out that their Congressperson voted to take away their health care. They will find out that their Congressperson forced families to pay higher premiums and deductibles, increasing out‑of‑pocket cost.
They will find out that their Congressperson said it’s okay to take health care away from 24 million people, and this could mean you. They will find out that their Congressperson voted to gut key protections. Trumpcare destroys protections for preexisting conditions, yes, it does. But not only that, it guts essential health benefits such as maternity care, prenatal prescription drug and emergency coverage. The list goes on and on.
And they will find out that, if they’re between 50 and 64, that their Congressperson voted to make them pay a premium five times higher than others pay for health coverage no matter how healthy they are. And they will find out that in addition to that crushing age tax, that it steals from Medicare. You know most Americans will say, “Don’t mess with my Medicare”? They’re messing with the Medicare.
So that’s what they are doing today. And all of this for what purpose? All of this to give a $600 billion transfer of money from working families to the richest corporations and people in our country. That’s why they’re timing it this way, in time to get that money to give a tax cut.
It’s really stunning. And that’s why I’m so pleased that so many organizations have made their voices heard on this.
I just want to spend half a moment really on this bill. The first bill, 56 to 17, the American people disapproved of it. So they couldn’t pass it.
So what did they do? Make matters worse. They went further to the left. So while they eventually got a CBO report on their first bill, when a CBO report comes out on this, it’s going to be even worse because the bill goes in the wrong direction.
And in terms of the fraudulent representation that they’re making that this is about preexisting conditions, it’s so untrue. Let me just quote some people.
Now Republicans again are fraudulently claiming the Upton amendment covers Americans with preexisting conditions. It does not.
Robert Graboyes, a healthcare expert at the conservative Mercatus Center, conservative center, said, “The amendment at hand focuses on high‑risk pools, but the $8 billion amount is a pittance. Spread over 5 years, it’s a fifth of a pittance.” You have the President of the United States saying it’s more money that we need. He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.
And then Karen Pollitz, a healthcare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, she said it would cover the cost for only 1 percent of those in the individual market. They’re big on 1 percent, whether it’s money for the 1 percent or health care for the 1 percent, where we’d like that to be 100 percent.
Under Trumpcare, Americans with preexisting conditions will be pushed off their insurance, segregated into high‑risk pools, and they will face soaring costs, worst coverage, and restricted care. It’s serious, and it’s very frightening.
This disastrous bill has been condemned by almost everyone. They have no support. And let me just read you a list of some. And I think you have, whether you have it there or electronically, but among the list: American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, AIDS United, the Children’s Hospital Association, AARP, the March of Dimes. The list goes on and on and on.
But Trumpcare was never about strengthening the health care of the American people. It was all about a tax break for the wealthiest people in our country.
As I said, the CBO score for the original Trumpcare bill was devastating enough. Forcing a vote without an updated CBO score shows that the Republicans are terrified. They’re terrified of the facts of what that CBO report would say. They’re afraid of the truth of what it means to the American people.
And people are understanding what this means to them. And they are afraid that the American people will realize that they’re destroying health care just because they want to give a tax break to the high end, the biggest transfer of wealth, one of the biggest transfers of wealth in our history. Robin Hood in reverse, from the middle class and those who aspire to it to the wealthiest.
Republicans are in a lose‑lose situation. They’ll lose if they don’t bring it up and it doesn’t win. They really lose if they pass it because then you can clearly say this is not an intention, this is a decision that they have made and acted upon, voted upon. They’re deluding themselves into thinking that they can hide the truth or hide from their constituents when they take their vote.
So we welcome them to this great civics class. As you can see, since the election, there has been a heightened interest in what goes on in public policy and how it affects people in their personal lives. We look forward to having that debate.
Q: You wrote in a Dear Colleague letter last night encouraging Members of the Democratic Party to be on the floor during the vote.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Are you encouraging any sort of disruptions of some sort or something like that?
Leader Pelosi. No. Any disruption would only give them more time to try to get their votes, which they may or may not have. But no.
Q: Hi. A lot of Members that I have spoken to, Republicans Members this week, have said, these are people who are kind of on the fence, that they’re trusting the Senate to promise to fix things once it gets to the Senate, and they’ll vote “yes” on that. I was wondering, do you think there’s any chance this bill can be improved in the Senate?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me just say that they have this vote tattooed on them. This is a scar they will carry. It’s their vote. It’s not the Senate vote. It’s their vote they are taking.
So that is really a poor choice, cowardly choice, I might add. Why would they vote for it if they don’t think it’s worthy of support, but because the Senate will change it? From what I hear the Republican Senators saying, they don’t have any interest in passing this bill as is.
And by the way, whatever happens down the road, the Members of the House Republican Caucus will be forever identified with the worst aspects of the bill they passed.
Q: I’m wondering what lessons you might have learned from the omnibus negotiations that might apply to the fiscal 2018 spending bills that are coming up, particularly with regards to dealing with the Republican Congress and a Republican White House.
Leader Pelosi. There’s only one lesson that matters: You have to know how to count, count dollars and count votes. The Republicans were aware of the fact that they, what did they get, 131 votes on the omnibus yesterday? You need 218. They knew they needed Democratic votes to pass the bill. And you also need to be sensitive to what the Senate may do in order to take up a bill.
So it’s something I think they probably learned and some of them have an unease with, 101 of them voted against the bill to keep government open. Now, that’s part of their history, part of their history, that 101 people would vote against the bill that’s main purpose was to keep government open as it meets the needs of the American people.
I remind you that in 2013, some of the people were in the administration, then Congressman Mulvaney, then Congressman Price, voted to shut down government. In fact, Mulvaney was one of the ringleaders. And when the bill came up to open up government 17 days later, the vote was actually 16 days later to open it up on the 17th day, 144 Republicans voted to keep government shut down.
So if there’s any lesson, I mean, I’m never surprised at anything here, so you have to know that. But what’s important to note as you observe this is that there’s a recognition of a strong number of Republicans who have a very easy comfort level in shutting government down. So that just empowers us.
Q: Do you think today’s vote is going to cost Republicans the majority?
Leader Pelosi. This isn’t about politics. This is about the American people. It’s about a pillar of economic and health success, health security for America’s families, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act. For them to, in a very cavalier way, what is really a stupid bill, it is a bill of deconstruction of government. It’s not a bill of saying, “We have a better way to do this.” They’re saying, “We don’t want to do this.”
So that will be up to the American people. But as I say, the American people have a heightened awareness of what’s going on here. You’ve seen them march, you’ve seen them go to town meetings, you’ve seen them go to the airports, you’ve seen many things, and they are paying attention. And you know what they’re learning? Who their Congressperson is. And that isn’t always something to be taken for granted.
Sometimes people say to me ‑‑ when Barbara Boxer and I both represented the districts that we do that are part of, as a Congresswoman, part of San Francisco, people would come up to me and say, “You never send me anything. I’m so disappointed. You never send me things. I never hear from you.”
I said, “Well, do you live in my district?”
And they say, “Yes, I live in your district.” And then they say, “And I hear from Barbara Boxer all the time.” So they’re going to know whose district they’re in.
We have a little habit of whoever is here first.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: Yeah, just going back to health care, it’s obvious that a lot of Americans are not too excited with this Republican bill. We’ve that in polling. But a lot of Americans still want to see changes to the healthcare system in America.
Leader Pelosi. Sure, of course.
Q: Do you feel like the move for Democrats now is to make single payer a plank in the 2018 platform?
Leader Pelosi. No, I don’t. I was carrying around single payer signs probably before you were born. So, you know, I understand that aspiration. But when we passed our bill, while we didn’t get public option, which if I were jamming the bill, as I’m accused of doing, we would’ve had, we won it in the House, we couldn’t get it in the Senate, we mitigated for many of the provisions that were there.
So I say to people, if you want that, do it in your States. States are laboratories. It can work out. It is the least expensive, least administrative way to go about this, but the comfort level with a broader base of the American people is not there yet. It doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. States are a good place to start.
But I’m not here today to write the Democratic platform for 3‑1/2 years from now. But I thank you for your question, as I say, as one who was in the streets with single payer over 30 years ago.
Okay, then, and then you.
Q: Sequestration spending levels are set to return in fiscal 2018 if we don’t see another bipartisan budget agreement. Can you give us an indication of when those talks might begin, who might lead those talks for Democrats, and what the key positions for Democrats will be?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, again, we’re in the appropriation process for 2018. You know, this was just to finish off 2017. And I have always said, as an appropriator myself, left to their own devices, the appropriators can find common ground respectful of people. We grant people their position and then you negotiate, get the votes.
So those within the different groups within the Appropriations bills, the different subcommittees of Appropriation, that is ongoing.
And I was concerned about the President’s statement that what this country needs is a good shutdown. What? Do you have any idea what the consequences are of a shutdown? And why glorify it? But it is a sentiment shared by many people in the Congress.
So it’s ongoing. Again, as I said to you all along ‑‑ well, if you were here ‑‑ in the course of the consideration for what we just passed yesterday, I always had confidence in the appropriators. It’s a place where you try to act, work in the most bipartisan way.
Q: Madam Leader, I wonder how you view the process here. Back when ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act was moving through Congress, you were shepherding it through Congress as Speaker, the mantra was, “Read the bill.” Republicans excoriated you for backroom deals, what they considered backroom deals, for rushing the bill to the floor, in their estimation.
Last night, the bill was made public at about 8 o’clock. Today there’s a vote. Do you feel vindicated? Or what’s your take on that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first, let me say that I do not stipulate to the set of facts you presented. You’re right, that’s what the Republicans said. They were wrong, it isn’t what happened. For 1 year we worked on the bill, hundreds of hours of hearings and markups, all public, considering hundreds of amendments, some Democratic, some Republican. Some we accepted on both sides and some we modified and some we rejected of Democrat and Republican amendments.
The process for us was to build consensus in our Caucus and to try to accommodate what some of the Republicans were putting forth. The bill that we ended up with is a Republican initiative. The idea of an individual mandate, that’s RomneyCare. That’s what Heritage ‑‑ what’s the foundation? One of those things. The conservative think tanks, that was their idea, the individual mandate, no free riders. That’s the words of Romney.
So when the President had his first meeting, I think it was in March of 2009, a bipartisan way, all the stakeholders there from providers, insurers, pharmaceuticals, Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate, from that time it was 1 year before we brought a bill to the floor.
And part of it was not because the Republicans were saying it, but because it’s the way we do things. We had very intense drilling down on every word in the bill so that Members knew what it was that was proposed, what it was that was settled on, so that they knew what they were voting for. And that was historic. It was the reading of the bill and then the Q&A about what the ramifications were of that. You can ask John Larson, he was chair of the Caucus at the time, many, many, many hours.
I thank you for your question. It gets me another time to kind of set the record straight, if anybody wants to know that. It was completely different.
You know, our party is a consensus‑building party. We could have never passed a bill that I said, “Tomorrow morning you’re going to vote on this.” That’s just not the Democratic Party. It might be the Republican Party.
But you point out the hypocrisy of what they are doing. Hours, from last night to today, a matter of hours, not even a full day, they’re putting forth a bill. One of the Members is quoted saying, “Read the bill? No. Some of any staff have read part of it, others have read others of it. No, I don’t think any Members have read the whole bill. That’s what staff is for.” That was one of the Republican Members.
I always find with the Republicans, including the President of the United States, that their modus operandi is to project: “We’re going to say about you what it’s probably likely we would do ourselves.” And that’s what they did. They put forth a bill, no CBO report, where they were demanding one for us and we were demanding it ourselves. So it was like, “Yeah, of course, we’ll have a CBO report. We can’t ask our Members to vote for something that they don’t know what it is.”
And so, yeah, no, let’s be gentle and say it’s totally inconsistent and, shall we say, a softening of their sotto voce, as we would say in Italian, of their loud voices, that they had to have a CBO report and you had to have 3 days’ notice and you would always have transparency and everyone would read the bill.
But you know what? That’s incidental. What is important is the consequence of it. The American people will not know at the time of this vote what cost it is in terms of coverage and in terms of their out‑of‑pocket, the tax on them, what it does to Medicare, that it does not cover preexisting conditions no matter how many times they say it.
And so we have to stay focused on that, on the substance of it, not the process. But the process affects what the public knows and transparency is a big thing. Now the public knows who their Congressperson is and what he or she did in their interest or in the interest of providing a tax break for the wealthiest people in our country.
I think the Speaker is coming in about 2 minutes, right?
Yes, sir, one more.
Q: Quickly. In the middle of this debate a lot of the insurance companies have pulled out of ObamaCare and Republicans –
Leader Pelosi. Some have.
Q: Virginia just today, Iowa this week. Do you see those decisions as coincidental? A lot of Republicans are pointing to those decisions as the reason that they’re flipping their votes this week.
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, let me just say this: The Republicans in Congress are a “yes” for transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest corporations and people in our country. Everything else is an excuse. “Well, I was a ‘no’ until I found out that they were going to cover 1 percent of the people on preexisting conditions.” Oh, really? That’s a reason to change? That’s a reason to stay a “no.”
So there’s a lot of, shall we say, Kabuki here. But the Kabuki doesn’t kind of play back home, and we’re going to make sure that people are aware of the inconsistency of it all.
One of the first companies to pull out, Humana, they had 157,000 policyholders, 157,000. The press made it look like the sun, the moon, and the stars. Part of the unease of some of the insurance companies now relates to the fact that there’s uncertainty as to whether the President will cover the costs that are there. And hopefully he will do the responsible thing, because it’s only going to cost the taxpayer more if he doesn’t.
I don’t think they were totally aware of that. I said to them, “It’s going to cost the taxpayer more.” And they said, “No, we’re going to save money because we’re not covering.” I said, “No, you’re going to lose money because you have to increase the subsidies.”
Q: But you don’t think it’s political calculation on behalf of the companies themselves?
Leader Pelosi. You’d have to ask them. But I think they would like to stay in, but they have to have a little more certainty. One of the reasons, when we talk about single payer and we talk about the bill, this was a market‑oriented bill. You have to have some certainty in the marketplace for people to stay. If you don’t want that, you go to single payer or public option.
But the fact is this is a private sector initiative with an individual mandate, and it works, unless you, as the majority and the White House, decide that you’re going to place uncertainty as to whether the funds will continue to flow and whether you’re going to stop funding navigators to reach out to people to sign up, to do the outreach, to increase the pool, which always makes the pool healthier and the cost lower, some of those kinds of things.
Okay. Well, it’s going to be an interesting day.
Q: I have a last question for you. Have you had any conversations with your Republican colleagues over the last couple hours that lead you to hold out hope that there might not be enough votes to pass this bill, or is it a done deal in your mind?
Leader Pelosi. Hope? Hope that they don’t want to tattoo themselves with a bill that will forever be held against them? No.
There are people who have said to me, “Why do you keep stopping this, trying to stop this bill? Let them pass it.” Now, I don’t like that because we are, first and foremost, looking out for the American people. But as has been indicated, there’s very little chance that this bill will be passed by the Senate.
So they’re making a very bad move. I’m easy either way. If they do it, it gives us a chance to say, “Okay, public, this is what they have done. This isn’t what we said they would do or you thought they might. This is what they have done.” And so that’s important.
And it’s important for our country, for our democracy, for people to understand what Martin Luther King, and I’ll end with this, Martin Luther King said, “The ballot, the ballot, the ballot, legislation, legislation, legislation, your life, your life, your life.”
People have to see that elections have ramifications in their lives, and this is probably one of the most personal manifestations of that connection between the ballot and their lives. But Martin Luther King also said, “Of all the forms of injustice and inequality, the most shocking and unfair is the inequality in health care because people can die.”
Thank you all. Bye‑bye.