Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference on Unfinished Hurricane Recovery in Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was joined by Small Business Committee Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett for a Press Conference to discuss the new threats to communities from Hurricane Florence and the need for renewed action and accountability for the federal hurricane recovery response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone.
We’ve come together very prayerfully this morning with prayers in our hearts for all our fellow Americans who are facing the terrible winds and waters of Hurricane Florence. We’re praying for the safety of the families in harm’s way and for the heroic first responders who have come from across America to help.
We owe the communities facing Hurricane Florence a solemn pledge: in these critical months of recovery to come, the government will do everything it can to save lives and make them whole – the promises we owe every American facing disaster.
But sadly that promise was not kept for our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. At the end of the July, we led a bipartisan delegation of sixteen Members to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to see firsthand what still needs to be done. It was our goal to expedite the assistance, the cooperation that would be necessary.
It was my honor to be joined on that trip by Representative Nydia Velázquez of New York, Ranking Member of the Small Business Committee and member of Financial Services and Natural Resources, both of which have a role in this.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who will be joining us shortly, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigation, and also a Member of the Homeland Security Committee and the Budget Committee. So she takes about three bites of this apple, at least.
And of course Representative Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Ranking Member of the Interior, Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and a Member of Transportation and Infrastructure and Agriculture.
The three Members and I were part of a sixteen Member delegation.
This month marks one year – I always like temporal markers so that we can see how far we have come and remember the loss of life, the real loss of life. This month marks one year since Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit, and the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still struggling to heal and recover.
The suffering endured by our fellow Americans over the past year has been a challenge to the conscience of our nation, yet President Trump tweeted yesterday that the death toll of 3,000 people, 3,000 Americans, was made up to discredit his Presidency.
Think about that. Pray over that. Think of the people who are affected by that.
The attitude from the Administration and from the Republican Congress is unacceptable. We have a moral obligation to do better, not only to finish the job in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but to prevent the same type of inadequate response from ever happening again.
And right now, in real time, as we see the suffering on our East Coast, in the Carolinas, and we’ll see what happens next, we have to understand that it’s not just about the physical destruction of property. That’s traumatic enough in terms of the impact it has on people’s lives. More importantly, it’s about the personal consequences.
I think there’s been – I don’t know if there’s been any loss of life, but hopefully in the recovery, it’s not just about rescue, but the recovery will be about the well-being of the people there.
And that’s one of the manifestations of natural disaster that we saw in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the personal consequences of it all. And really so sad for the President to add salt to the wounds by making the most unfortunate statement that he made. But let’s put that aside and let’s be serious and real about it.
Now it’s my honor to yield to a person who has been relentless, persistent, dissatisfied, constant in her advocacy for the people, the American citizens in Puerto Rico, a person who was born there, who knows the territory, and knows the Congress and knows our possibilities, Congressman Nydia Velázquez of New York.
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Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Ranking Member Velázquez.
It is important to note that we planned this meeting with the press long before the President made his statement. We went to Puerto Rico. We stayed in touch with each other over the month of August to be up-to-date. We met last week as a delegation to talk about additional steps we would take, whether it was with FEMA, whether it was with HUD, whether it was with the Small Business Administration, et cetera, with the Administration, and what we needed to do in the Congress. And so we planned to report on our trip and what we want to do next.
Unfortunately, the President put in clear focus part of the challenge that is there in terms of not understanding that when a President speaks his, words weigh a ton, and when he says something so demoralizing that the weight of it all is just incomprehensible.
When we were there we went to the Virgin Islands, that was a main part of our trip. We’ve been very magnificently served in the Congress by Congresswoman Plaskett.
She took us all over the Virgin Islands, whether we’re meeting with people and hearing their concerns, whether we’re talking about health care facilities, whether we’re talking about rebuilding the economy by having reconstruction of some of the facilities there.
Clearly, she commands great respect there and she does in the Congress and as a Member of the important, now, Member of the Transportation Committee, among her other assignments. We saw there the importance of infrastructure in the Virgin Islands as well.
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Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Plaskett.
Obviously, one of our purposes is to remove the obstacles of participation of individuals having access to the money, whether it’s for housing or whatever. And, again, the intent of Congress was that this would be facilitated.
With that, I’m pleased to yield to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, of Houston, Texas. When she came on our CODEL at the end of the last session she brought her fresh eyes from having experienced not only Houston receiving recipients from Katrina, experiencing their own natural disasters, but recent.
And so she as a Member, as I mentioned before, of the Homeland Security Committee, the Judiciary Committee, wears several hats, including a Representative of people who have suffered through a natural disaster and has that experience to share with us. Sheila.
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Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, Congresswoman Velázquez, and Congresswoman Plaskett.
As you can see from these three leaders, our brief is well-documented, there is great knowledge and experience that went behind our going on that trip and continues as we try to expedite the assistance. There were many other Members on the CODEL, but we’re not in session today, so we have three Representatives of the different aspects of it.
Let me just say this. When I first was a new Member of Congress we had the earthquake, Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, and you learned right off the bat the only thing that really matters in terms of people and their relationship to the public sector is if you are there in their time of need, at a time of need that is beyond their control. It’s not need of something incremental, it’s drastic need.
And for there to be any doubt in anyone’s mind in a time of these very predictable natural disasters that we have to be there in a timely fashion, time is the most valuable commodity and the money that goes with it. The sooner the money, the better it is.
Now, we expect that this is an opportunity, that in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands there could be a new grid. Not restored to where it was before, as the law says, we have to restore it to the standard where it was before. That’s not good enough. We have to leapfrog over that, because that did not serve us well.
What we saw was interest in having renewable energy sources so that we can help to slow down, to lessen the heat that accelerates the pace of these hurricanes. So there are all kinds of opportunities here.
But first and foremost, we have to be there to meet the needs of people, whether it’s Community Development Block Grants or whether it’s removing obstacles of participation to access housing money, whether it’s thinking about how we build the committee by thinking in new terms about what that grid would look like if it is really about the future. The list goes on and on.
As Congresswoman Plaskett said, these are Americans and they are our veterans. They’re our children. It’s for us to hopefully not think in a different way about a disaster in one place and a disaster in another. But let’s remove all doubt and get this done.
But we are determined, as you can tell, by the determination and the knowledge and the vision that our colleagues have on this subject.
Unfortunately, we’re coming to you, again planning this well in advance, but not knowing that Florence would be taking its toll at this time. So, again, our thoughts, prayers and actions have to be to have that immediate rescue, emergency recovery, and then go on to what comes next after that.
Any questions on this subject first?
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Q: Madam Leader, thank you. Good morning.
You talk about the role of public servants in the natural disasters and what you did after the earthquake in California. And I’ve spoken with Congresswoman Velázquez about this a little bit yesterday. Do you think the idea, as they probably will have to approve a supplemental spending bill, but the difference here in maybe how they address North Carolina, South Carolina, how they addressed Texas last year, is different because in Puerto Rico, in the U.S. Virgin Islands we are dealing with Delegates to Congress, not to full voting Members here, and that’s part of the problem, and that they will react differently and that will make it easier for them to approve something for North Carolina and South Carolina versus what was done last year in the Caribbean?
Leader Pelosi. I certainly hope not. I’m going to defer to my colleagues to respond to that.
But I will say this: this is about the American people wherever they are. And I know that the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico would take great issue with what you just said about her role here and any diminished response to appeals that she has made.
Q: But the premise is they don’t have a vote on the Floor and they don’t have any representation at all in the Senate. Doesn’t that create a problem?
Leader Pelosi. But let me just erase all of that, what you just said. These are about the American people and our obligation to them. I don’t think that it has anything to do with the representation in Congress, but it has to do with other attitudes they have.
I will defer to my colleagues.
Congresswoman Velázquez. They are American citizens and there’s no distinction between an American citizen, a fellow American citizen here or on the territories. No one questions that we need seven votes from Puerto Rico whenever there is a conflict where people have to show up to serve in the military. We are proud veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and that includes Puerto Rico and all the territories, Virgin Islands, Samoa, and so on.
Congresswoman Plaskett. I would just add, I understand somewhat of your premise that as Members of Congress, Members may not feel as inclined to support legislation because there isn’t, as you might be discussing, a bartering of voting between Members on particular issues.
But I’d have you note that,if you noted, the President requested $43 billion for all of these affected areas in the supplemental. It was Members of the House and the Senate who decided that it really should be double what the President requested, which means that the relationship that the Members of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, myself, are able to effect change in that area in terms of Members.
Whether we don’t have a vote on the floor, you know, I’m on the floor all the time, and I know Jenniffer Gonzalez‑Colon and myself have committee votes as well where you know, are aware, that most of the work of this Congress gets done.
And so I would propose to you that Members of Congress are very aware of the importance of the territories by increasing that. I think they also are aware that the fiscally responsible thing to do is to do changes to the Stafford Act as were done in this legislation to not only build as was, but to build as should be, because Members of Congress understand their constitutional obligation. And under the Constitution it was Congress which has responsibility for the territories.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee. I just might say as someone who has watched the Delegates work, I think the broad concept that we’re talking about Americans is an important point.
But it also stands juxtaposed against the Administration in this instance who was confused. I don’t think they understood – and I’m being polite – that they represent all Americans. And some of them happen to live in the Virgin Islands, some of them happen to live in Puerto Rico, some of happen to be wearing uniforms around the country and around the nation and around the world.
They also represent, if I might say, Californians. And I’ve heard Republicans say that the state of California needed to find a better way to go through forests to make sure that the fires don’t continue across the road.
So it is a question of leadership at the level of the Administration in terms of bringing us all together and recognizing one person’s disaster is everyone’s disaster. And I hope we ask that question of the administration: What is their intent in going forward in responding to the needs of Americans who are going to face disasters almost every year?
Leader Pelosi. If, in fact, your question is about is there any difference of opinion in the Congress about whether the voice is of a Representative of a territory or a Member, no. I assume your question was about the White House. You’ll have to ask them. But I can tell you that in the committee, in Caucus, and in the Congress, Congresswoman Plaskett’s voice is a very strong and respected and informed one.
Q: Are you anticipating that Congress is going to need to consider a supplemental emergency spending relief request for the Carolinas or are you confident that there’s enough money in the FEMA account to move forward?
Leader Pelosi. I think we’re going to need more money.
Q: Can I ask why you think that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, because we don’t know what the extent of it is now. And I think if you saw, it was like a month ago – well, right as we went to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, a report about FEMA and how ill-prepared they were and how underfunded they were, because their sources had been tapped for other natural disasters. It was a very damaging self‑report that they put forth.
So now, on top of it all – now, we have a new year coming after September 30th, I mean, assuming that we pass our bills and the rest. So there will be a new infusion of money for FEMA, but we’ll have to see what the needs are.
But, look, last year the Republicans in the Congress of the United States itself acted so irresponsible, taking our country $2 trillion into debt to give tax cuts that benefited the top 1 percent, to the tune of 83 percent of it going to the top 1 percent, giving tax breaks to corporations, giving them an advantage to create jobs overseas.
If they could do that and squander and increase the debt, and then nickel and dime us on meeting the needs of individuals in our communities, that’s just not right. I don’t think they would go down that path. Let’s hope that with the visibility that all of this is receiving and the firsthand knowledge that they are seeing in the Carolinas that they will know.
Now, one other point I want to make, and maybe Congresswoman Jackson Lee will speak to this as well. We don’t think it was appropriate for the Administration to take millions of dollars from FEMA and give it to ICE. What’s that about?
Congresswoman Jackson Lee. I’m in the southern border, and I can tell you that we are under siege. And we base or we think a budget of the Administration that has the responsibility for the entire nation is based on need, and sometimes on crisis, or sometimes on policy.
This was about getting more beds for people who, obviously, have come under a more distorted immigration policy that does not match the needs of homeland security. These are about my constituents who are driving a bread truck or they are on a construction with five children and a family who, obviously, could be adjusted.
They are Dreamers who are either on the edge of their status, that now they are expanding the reach of ICE to go into these homes and neighborhoods, and they are doing it in my constituency. That’s the made‑up need for beds.
And FEMA, as I indicated, we have no ability to pre‑ascertain disasters. We know we’re in a hurricane season. We know that we had one of the most horrific fire seasons and maybe continuing in the history of the United States, to my knowledge, as a Member of the Homeland Security Committee.
But there are certainly other disasters. There are explosions going on in the State of Massachusetts, I believe, gas explosions. No one can again understand what that is. That may be an ongoing disaster.
So we are against, and we fought against the ludicrous act of going to what you thought was going to be just money sitting there for, as I have said, rescue and it is emergency recovery versus long‑term recovery, which is what FEMA is looked to do, and so you’re crippling them.
And as my colleagues have said, they don’t have enough staff that are in particular expertise that can be bifurcated for those who have to stay on the ground and help people get back on their feet.
There may be a team that Congresswoman Plaskett will need, as we learn, that is a tourism team or an infrastructure team, they stay on the ground and they help with that. Or as those who lost their lives in Puerto Rico, there are many things. There’s the grid, the electric grid. But there is also the idea: Do we need a team that is dealing with the social, societal needs and they stay there and they know what they are doing?
So, Madam Leader, it was disastrous to make the decision, but the monies are not going for any emergency needs. And all they wanted was ICE beds because they were increasing the detaining and the securing of people who were regular neighbors and individuals working in our communities. They are now going out and raiding and pulling these people in and putting them in detention.
Leader Pelosi. I just may say, as we learn more about what happened in Massachusetts, our hopes, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Massachusetts as well.
What I did see early this morning was that one of the law enforcement people there said it was like Armageddon, it was so explosive, literally explosive.
And so, again, we don’t know what the needs might be there, but we do know that we want people to have comfort in the thought that if they need help, that there’s no question that it will be there.
Any other questions on this?
Q: Yes, Leader Pelosi. The Governor of Puerto Rico has been very careful in his comments about the federal response, especially he has been avoiding criticizing directly President Trump. I know that you have met with him in the past and I would like you to comment about that and if you have mentioned to him that is a problem to pressure the White House.
Leader Pelosi. I’m going to yield to Congresswoman Velázquez on this, but not before I say, yes, I’ve met a number of times here and in Puerto Rico. Our group met with Governor Rossello in Puerto Rico on our visit.
At that time we questioned the number. It was at 47 when we went down there. Well, he told us of course they don’t have the pathologists in order to do the autopsies to confirm that a death was for this reason or not.
And that was part of his appeal. He requested federal assistance to reduce the backlog of processing corpses caused by a combination of pathologists leaving the island, funding shortages, and many doctors not trained to certify disaster‑related deaths. This is an intense issue.
But in terms of the overall attitude of the Governor and his, shall we say, being hopeful about the President, I’m going to yield to Congresswoman Velázquez.
Congresswoman Velázquez. Why are you putting me in this position…
Leader Pelosi. It’s a prerogative of the Leader.
Congresswoman Velázquez. Thank you, Nancy.
Well, yesterday for the first time you and I and the Puerto Rican people saw a tweet by the Governor directed to the President’s tweet. And so it was forceful and demanded the President, you know, we not continue to subject mental abuse of those who are suffering and that it is our collective responsibility to do right by our fellow citizens.
Well, the Governor is doing what he thinks is best in terms of getting the cooperation by this President. I think he knows that there are some others like me that would call the President out when he is lying to the American people and when he is failing fellow citizens.
Ms. Plaskett. May I just say this, and I’ve seen this in the Governor of the Virgin Islands as well, that you put governors, particularly of territories, in really rough positions when their people are really desperate and need the support of not only the federal government in terms of the dollar figures that they are going to get, but in the actual execution of the funding and it coming to the ground.
And they understand and they believe that a phone call from the President or the Administration may in fact speed that up for them. And so they are walking a very tough line in terms of how they deal with the President, and in particular this President, who can take personal umbrage at individuals doing their own job rather than kowtowing to him.
You know, I was very upset with our Governor of the Virgin Islands when the President elected not to come to the Virgin Islands but instead invited our Governor to a ship to visit him off of the waters of Puerto Rico. How disrespectful is that? But yet our Governor felt compelled to go and be a part of that discussion because his people needed them.
Well, I told our Governor behind closed doors and in public that you be the good parent and I’ll be the bad parent, and I will be the one who calls him out on a daily basis if that’s, in fact, the case, and you play good cop with this guy if you think that that’s going to be helpful to us, right? Because you need a good cop and a bad cop sometimes when you deal with people who don’t follow the law.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we want the truth to prevail and you have to have data, evidence, facts in order to address the needs that are there in a very timely fashion.
And so while I completely and entirely agree with Congresswoman Plaskett that we’re dealing with a sensitive instrument in the White House and you don’t want to tilt it one way or another on any given day, especially when you see the capacity to tweet and the impact that that has on the lives of somebody who lost a family member, that you do, though, in a forceful way have to make sure that if we’re going to make the decisions in a timely fashion to the substantial degree that they need to be made financially and policy‑wise, you have to know the facts.
So, again, understanding they don’t want to alienate the President, but understanding also that we all have responsibilities to the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to do the right thing.
One more? Yes.
Q: You mentioned earlier the issue of potentially remaking the power grid in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: And there has been some Republican interest in that as well, Chairman Bishop, Senator Murkowski. But it seems to have died down. So what’s the outlook for that? I mean, is there going to be – do you foresee a revival of that conversation?
Leader Pelosi. Well, those of us who have been here a while have been to – unfortunately, have witnessed many disasters, not only in our own country, but around the world. And there is, in all of the sadness in the world, the chance for a phoenix to rise up, for a boom economy to emerge as we address the needs of people.
And one of those in the islands where these hurricanes have such a toll is to recognize the role of the climate crisis there and that what we saw there was a very big interest in renewables, whether it was wind or solar, with storage and the rest, in order to take us to a better place and a better grid.
There are still some naysayers who stand in the way of investment that has been attracted there. We visited a solar site where the investment had been made. There had been some obstacles to having it reach its fulfillment. Those are the kinds of issues that we have to deal with.
But there is no choice, there is no choice, you cannot just be a sitting duck for another hurricane unless we address the opportunity that is there to diminish the dependence on fossil fuel, which is contributing to the heat on the ground, the ferocity of the hurricanes. And it is too expensive anyway, it is too expensive anyway to import it in.
So for all these reasons, growth is about new green technologies which will hopefully diminish the ferocity of these hurricanes. And that’s not just Puerto Rico. They told us when we were there hopefully no hurricane will hit Haiti, because Haiti had been hit so many times.
When we visited Cuba with President Obama, President Castro told us then climate is a big, important issue to Cuba because they’re an archipelago, with at least 90 islands, rising sea levels, ferocity of the hurricanes. So this is something that we have to look at in a big way and it is not served by denial of the facts.
Congresswoman Plaskett. May I add, when you talk about renewable energy and your talk about the energy grids, this in the Virgin Islands will be the fifth time that the Federal Government is repairing the grid due to disaster. And we were able to make the argument, and Congress accepted it, that in the disaster supplement money was set aside particularly to create resilience in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
That includes burying more lines, that would be composite posts rather than wooden poles, that includes renewable energies that will be able to not just harden the system for other disasters that come, but driving the cost down of energy.
Most Americans on the mainland don’t even know how much they pay per kilowatt hour, and it’s anywhere between 10 and 14 cents. Every Virgin Islander, everyone in Puerto Rico, children, elders, know that we pay between 36, 40 something cents per kilowatt hour, which also impedes economic growth, it impedes individual families being able to make the choice between paying a utility bill or buying food.
And so the ability that Congress has given us now with this funding will not only harden our system so that we are better prepared for hurricanes and other disasters, but will also allow us to jump‑start an economy, drive down the cost, so that we can attract other businesses and increase jobs and employment and activity, economic growth in the territories as well.
Remember we have an isolated system. We’re not able to pull from other areas as well to get scale. And so that isolation as long as our dependence on fossil fuels and antiquated generator systems, because we have not had the capital investments to be able to make those, is really an ability that Congress’ funding is going to allow us to change, do a paradigm shift in terms of energy and economic growth in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee. Just one point on that. Earlier our colleagues mentioned the fact that we need a provision that allows enhancement of the grid, not fixing it back to where it was. Right now in the Southeast region I think we all know there are thousands the people without power pursuant to Hurricane Florence.
The overall electric grid in the United States needs reform, because in Texas during Hurricane Harvey and other in the region power goes out because our lines are not underground, as they are not in most places. In fact, they are antiquated wooden poles.
So to answer the question about a supplemental, certainly a supplemental and the prospective commitment of this country to look at our overall electric grid and to deal with disasters where we make things better than what they are – and of course that’s the Stafford bar that we have. Every year we keep talking about can we overcome that provision to just go in and make it the way it was because then we’re back the next year in the same horrible condition that we’re in.
So throwing paper towels is not an answer. Denying the tragedy of death is not an answer. And certainly it is not an answer to raid FEMA for a nonemergency. And I would hope our colleagues would join Leader Pelosi and all in saying we do need more money and we need a supplemental that will help those who are in disaster at this time.
Leader Pelosi. If I just may say, part of our For the People agenda is to build the infrastructure of our country, to create bigger paychecks, to build the infrastructure of our country. So this is not just about responding, it’s about anticipation and thinking in terms of the future in a bigger way.
And if I just may say in terms of Puerto Rico, one piece of it, because it is part of a bigger thing, one piece of it is the privatization.
Do you want to speak to that, the privatization?
The point being is we want the privatization to be a Puerto Rican product and not dictated by the Interior Committee to say what company in the United States should be the privatized company for Puerto Rico.
Congresswoman Velázquez. So the power authority in Puerto Rico right now, they are working on a plan. And the Governor shared with us that it is their goal to achieve 45 percent renewable energy in Puerto Rico. So I would strongly suggest to my colleagues: do not waste time coming to Puerto Rico to promote fossil fuel, because the people of Puerto Rico will not buy it.
Q: May I ask a question on another topic?
Leader Pelosi. Are we finished with our questions on Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands?
Again, let me thank our colleagues for their tremendous leadership. On the plane, my plane was very, very late yesterday, but I did see [Congressman] Luis Gutierrez on the floor of the House with a Puerto Rican flag. And I know he would have an answer for you if you want to call him about the Governor’s attitude toward the President.
But all of our colleagues care very much, know a great deal about this subject, are prepared to act, and we know and try to do so in a bipartisan way to help the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as we now face the challenge of the Carolinas.
But, again, we don’t want anybody to think for one moment, as they had to think during Sandy when very few Republicans voted for Sandy aid, think for one moment that there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that the assistance would be there, should be there, in the way it should be there, and help to not only rebuild, but relieve the heartache that these natural disasters cause.
Yes, sir? Thank you.
Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about some allegations that are facing Judge Kavanaugh.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, do you want to answer these questions, my colleagues? They’re delegating to me.
Q: So there are some new allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh from when he was in high school at Georgetown Prep. The New Yorker is reporting that he had attempted to hold down a woman and as she fought him off that he tried to cover her mouth. She did get away, according to The New Yorker.
But I’m just wondering whether you’ve spoken to your colleagues, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who I understand has come to you with this allegation, then she sent it on to Senator Feinstein.
Leader Pelosi. I have not seen such a letter. I do know that Congresswoman Eshoo as a Member of Congress respects the confidentiality of a communication from her constituent to her, and that is how we all run our offices. So she has not shared that, but the constituent is a constituent of Senator Feinstein as well.
Q: If I may ask more broadly, what sort of impact do you think that these allegations should have –
Leader Pelosi. I have no idea.
Q: – on his nomination?
Leader Pelosi. I have no idea. You just told me more than I knew on the subject. What I know is what’s in the public domain. I’m unaware of a New Yorker article. Did that come out this morning?
Leader Pelosi. Okay, so I haven’t even seen that. But nonetheless, as the Senator – Ranking Member Feinstein said last night, she has passed it on to the authorities and they have said that they have passed it on to the White House as part of a vetting of any candidate for a judgeship.
I’m eager to go see what that article is. I mean, it’s very sad, but I’m learning more from you now than I’ve known.
Q: Just a couple of questions.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we’ll see. It’s up to these guys if it’s one or two.
Q: I’ll let you make the decision.
Why do you think it is that in a GOP‑controlled Congress we failed to see the appropriations acquired for the President to build his wall? Why is it that you think the Republican Party won’t let it happen despite the President’s repeated promises to his base?
Leader Pelosi. You’re asking me why the Republicans are allowing the President to talk about a wall? I wasn’t understanding the question.
Q: Why hasn’t it happened? Why hasn’t the money been made available to construct the wall?
Leader Pelosi. Why hasn’t the money been made available to construct the wall? Well, maybe it’s because the wall is a complete indecency. It’s ineffective. It not the appropriate way to ‑‑ if you ever went to the border, you would see that it’s a community with a border going through it.
Should we protect our borders? We have a responsibility to do that, and there’s technology and innovative solutions to do that. Some of us do not see a wall as the solution. That’s why I would not be for it. I think we’ve used our leverage in our negotiation to say there are better ways to protect our borders, all of our borders, north and south, and our coastal borders as well. A wall is not an answer for that.
Q: And can I ask, now that primary season –
Leader Pelosi. What is your affiliation?
Q: It is Gabriel Pogrund at The Washington Post.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you.
Q: Now that primary season is over, what do you say to candidates who stood on a platform that they wouldn’t support your being Speaker?
Leader Pelosi. Let me just say this to you. I’m not here to talk politics today. We have people suffering with storms and all the rest, we’re to talk about Puerto Rico. I’ve answered that question over and over, but I wouldn’t be answering it today anyway. But I’m okay with it.
Q: Quick question. Our sources say that in the coming days there may be a new NAFTA deal with Canada. What do you need to see in that deal? It probably will come before a Congress next year in which you may be Speaker.
Leader Pelosi. Well, this morning I asked my staff to see how we could set up some briefings for our colleagues so that we can actually see what is in the arrangement. Any arrangement of that kind, of that length of being in effect should be subjected to some scrutiny, I think. We certainly would like to see more in terms of lifting wages in the United States and that’s our top priority. But you don’t lift wages in the United States by suppressing them other places. So we’re concerned about the ability of Mexican workers to organize and improve their economic status as well.
But we have to see it, you know. And my understanding is the following, that whatever it is now, if Canada is not in agreement, they may have to make some changes in the U.S.‑Mexico proposal. Even though they’ve sent us a letter about it, we want to see what is actually in the agreement.
So we’ll have our sessions, as we did, as we do, on these subjects. We’re very well served by our Chairman of the Committee, Richie Neal, and our Subcommittee Chair, Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, has kept a close eye on what is going on there. And when we see what the facts are we can make a determination.
Q: Is a Mexico‑only deal acceptable to you?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it should be trilateral. I don’t see how you can say ‘We renegotiated NAFTA, except we made it bilateral instead of trilateral.’ So I just don’t think that that’s in the interest of this hemisphere to be able to prevail in the global marketplace.
Q: I would be interested to hear your opinion. You talk about suffering. As a Catholic American in a prominent position what do you think of the current sexual abuse crisis, and is it being handled in the best way possible right now?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as a practicing Catholic, I feel great sadness for what has happened in the church. I feel sadness for what it means to the church writ large, but more sad about what it means to the individuals who have been abused, and that they should be respected, protected, and that we have to get to the bottom of it.
And I would hope that what His Holiness is putting forth now will result in this meeting that he’s going to have in February in Rome, would get to the heart of the matter.
And Cardinal DiNardo, Houston – my daughter lives in Houston, so I’ve had the benefit of his pastoral leadership there. I’m hopeful that he can take this to a place that says – what we’re seeing now is first it was the United States, then it was Ireland, now it’s Germany, then it’s in Latin America, too.
First it was like U.S., but now we see that it is more systemic than just in the U.S. Something’s wrong there and it has to be addressed. It’s very, very sad. It’s very sad, again, for the lives of the young people who were affected by it.
I’ve seen friends who had the most devotion to the church be the most disappointed in it. But I think we have to stay strong because we are, in our view, the Eucharist, the body of Christ, we are all part of the church. And if we have some cancerous elements there we have to remove all doubt, again, that that will not be how we proceed. It’s very sad.
Yes, sir? This will be the last question.
Q: Just following up on that, is there a sense that the church can self‑police here? There is going to be this meeting in Rome and they are promising reforms in all of this, but clearly there is an investigative and a law enforcement component and State AGs have taken on that role in Pennsylvania and now beyond.
Is there a congressional role here at all? Is there any type of oversight? Because right now it’s a very piecemeal, state‑by‑state investigative regime happening. What’s Congress’ role?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I haven’t seen any suggestions for anything in the Congress of the United States to affect the Catholic Church. But I do respect the work that is done, for example, in Pennsylvania, and hopefully that will serve as a model to our places, which I understand it is, to undertake their own research or investigation into the matter.
You see what was just released in Germany, I mean that’s not the U.S., but in Germany, when the veil is pulled back and people see what is happening. Evidence, facts, data are what, again, should be how we go forward, and maybe that’s best achieved in a parish, in a diocese, in a State, because that’s where the responsibility is.
But there should be no doubt, there should be no doubt that if there is a reason to believe that this happened, that it be turned over to law enforcement.
Q: But, I mean, isn’t that the concerns, that they have not been transparent at all, that they’ve buried all of these cases?
Leader Pelosi. No, but it’s been shameful. And I don’t think that a number of people who had responsibility – for example, Cardinal Law of Boston – what did they do? They made him a Prince of the Church in Rome to be the head of Santa Maria Maggiore, the second most important church in the Catholic world, after Saint Peter’s, the next. They made him that. What?
So there really has to be a brighter light shining on this. Again, I keep using the term remove all doubt. This isn’t what the church is about. And, again, as big as all of it is, I still trust and believe that it’s a small percentage of what the good is that is happening in the church and with our clergy and the rest. But only the facts will tell us that.
Q: But the bright light can come from within then.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it can come from within. And I would like to see some women at the table, too, when they do these reviews, because they are just – not that women are better than men, it’s just a different perspective, a different perspective, a different experience.
And we’re talking about in many cases young people. Even if they’re young seminarians, we’re talking about young people who trust and then are betrayed. It’s very, very sad.
But we have to be prayerful and we have to hold everyone to a high standard, including those who are reviewing the tragedy of what has happened, happened to the church.
There are still – I mean, I still know people who say, oh, gee – because they are so protective, the church is on the ropes, we shouldn’t be attacking. Just, well, no, the people who did this are on the ropes. We can make that distinction between those who violated their responsibilities, their faith really, and the dignity and the worth of every person.
It’s a very interesting time and I’ve tried to encourage people to be prayerful within the church and we’ll make a judgment when we see what comes. I’m hopeful that what His Holiness is calling for will have the results that hopefully it is intended to do.
But they should have no thought that anything less than a complete change is anything that would be acceptable. How that happens, we’ll see when they make the review of it. But it can’t be done in a way that is protective of this or that or the other thing, it’s about the church.
And everything that we do has to be about renewal, redemption, taking us to a better place. This is a terribly sad, sad tragedy, but it shouldn’t diminish our faith. Faith is a gift, not everybody has it.
And so, depending on how strong it is in you, you may have a reaction that is very negative on the church because your faith is so deep. So it behooves our church leadership to – I keep using the same expression, you remove all doubt that this is not what the church is about. It’s heartbreaking, but we have to be prayerful.