Transcript of Pelosi, Luján Press Conference Today After Tour of Santa Fe Community College
Santa Fe – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Ben Ray Luján held a press conference today following a tour of Santa Fe Community College. Below is a transcript of the Leader’s opening remarks, as well as a question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi’s Opening Remarks:
“Thank you all very much. Thank you very much, we call him ‘Mr. Chairman,’ Ben Ray Luján, in Washington, D.C. It is an honor to be here with you always, once again. I think the last time we came together it was about ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,’ and that’s still part of our theme.
“Mr. President, President Grissom, thank you for your great leadership here at Santa Fe Community College. And yes, if my coming here brings rain – any excuse will do for me to come to Santa Fe, or to come to New Mexico, the ‘Land of Enchantment’ – aptly named. So whether it’s for weather or whatever, I’m happy to come. Kathy, thank you for your wonderful words about Mr. Ben Ray Luján. I know how respected he is in the community here. I want you to know how respected he is in the Congress. It’s especially wonderful to be here with his mother, Carmen. And one thing he didn’t say about Speaker Luján introducing the bill, passing the bill to establish Santa Fe Community College is that it won by one vote. It took leadership. It took courage, and he got the job done. Thank you to the Luján family for that, and for so many other things.
“It’s clear, listening to August – what more can anyone say, what better testimonial to an institution than to hear a student speak to it in such a beautiful way. It’s clear also, that although he may be the first in his family to receive a college degree, [with] what he brings to this institution, it’s clear that there were others who went before him in his family who clearly could have had that opportunity. And if it’s a financial consideration, that’s really harmful – not only to the individuals, but to our country. So how do we pay for all of this? I’ll get to that in a moment.
“But first, I want to thank all of you for sending Ben Ray to the Congress. Again, as a Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he’s just a spectacular voice for the future, for innovation, for entrepreneurship, for everything you do here. His legislative agenda is one that is in furtherance of all of that. The respect he commands there – he’s a no-nonsense guy. If he’s suggesting it, people listen, and they take heed, and they help him – in a non-partisan way I might add, in that regard. I intended to come up here and talk to you about what I saw today. But I really want to enlarge it for a moment, to say – beyond the technicalities of what I saw today, because I would surely demonstrate my limitations doing that. It was so spectacular, so new, so wonderful. But what I also saw was a spirit of what the President said. President Obama said this, and I’m going to tell him when we go home what we saw here – not home, home is where we live, Washington is where we work – so when we go there again.
“President Obama said: ‘Community colleges are the unsung heroes of the nation’s education system, providing a gateway for millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life.’ What institution demonstrates that better than Santa Fe Community College, so beautifully? And that is in the context of when we talk about our budget, which we are debating right now in the Congress, being a statement of values. It’s important to remember that nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people, whether it’s early childhood education – which President Grissom showed me is happening right here on this campus – earliest childhood, or k-12, higher education, post-grad, an important part of it, lifetime learning. All of that is happening – so much of that is happening on this campus. It’s the best investment a family can make in its children and its family members – sometimes it’s not just the children; it’s parents going back, and I know you have a large number of older people on the campus, probably in their late 20s or something like that.
“Nonetheless, and it is in fact how to keep America number one. It’s not just about the aspirations – but that would be justification enough, because that is so fundamental to our democracy, that we have education available to all Americans. But it is how we keep America number one. Clearly, from what August has said, innovation begins in the classroom. And here, you see a classroom that has facilities, whether it was welding, everything that we saw today, which has already been reviewed. What’s important about it all is that this is really a model to the country, and I can go back and say all the things we argued for in the budget – they really are working. They really are working. And here’s one place where they’re working in such a forward way – transformational, I would say.
“And it is also a situation where entrepreneurship springs from it, and that entrepreneurship is really the lifeblood of our economy. And it’s a place where veterans – Cheney, it’s such a joy to see you here, where Cheney, where veterans find a place to make their contribution and the rest, and enrich the student body by their presence. Thank you, Santa Fe Community College, for opening that door to our veterans. Thank you, Cheney, for your service to our country.
“The thing about all of this, whether it’s in the private sector, in business – we saw Caterpillar, I don’t know if Caterpillar is still – but other private sector entities saying how they would be hiring some of the students who are trained here by showing what they need in the private sector. But in any event, whether it’s private sector or educational institutions or whatever it is – talent attracts capital, capital provides the facilities, facilities attract talent. It’s just this circle. So having a model like this that shows – with the ingenuity – Cheney was telling me they built the greenhouse from a kit, and then it has enabled all of this other science to emerge. Eric described [it] to us.
“So it is a remarkable connection – all of it that is happening here. That the connection to the Luján family is such a clear one is almost an emotional experience for me, but the fact that he will be able to take all of that back. Now, there’s something you should know about Ben Ray that you may not have talked about before. Since you may have seen him, he is now a part of the Democratic Leadership of the House of Representatives. He is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He is in the leadership because he commands so much respect from our Members, for all the reasons that you know and that we talked about earlier.
“He talked about middle class economics, to lift up the people of our country – not only the middle class, but those who aspire to it. Community colleges are an essential part of that. So Ben Ray – leadership, education, entrepreneurship, honoring our veterans, innovation – it’s all connected, and to do it recognizing the beautiful diversity of America. We couldn’t be better served or better led than by Ben Ray Luján. So I thank you for sending him here. And I thank you, Mr. President, for all that you are doing here. It’s so remarkable. I’ve seen things that are transformational. I can’t wait to go back to tell our colleagues about it, and hopefully raise the capital to help continue this. But thank you for being a model for the nation. I’m proud to be here with you.”
Q: How did you get Leader Pelosi to come out here, or is this part of a bigger trip?
Congressman Luján. Well, so – we just asked.
We were fortunate that the Leader was willing to come out to New Mexico. And we’re also here – we have people from around the United States that have come to New Mexico this weekend so that we can talk about the path forward, making sure we’re talking about the middle class economics around the United States, that it’s a staple of what we’re talking about around the dinner table.
And look, middle class economics is about putting milk in the refrigerator, milk, eggs, maybe saving a little bit of money at the end of the month to help get your friends through college and making sure that’s really a staple of what we’re talking about across America, especially with the family that I grew up in.
But I’ll tell you, the Leader has just been extraordinary in making sure that we’re able to get to all parts of the United States. And we’re very fortunate to have her here in New Mexico this week.
Leader Pelosi. I can’t even count how many times I have been to New Mexico over the years. Maybe I’ll go back and try to figure it out. But any invitation I accept and initiate some of my own – whether it’s personally, politically, or officially – to come here. It’s such a wonderful place, and clearly, what I came here and saw today was the future.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about this meeting taking place this weekend, who’s participating and how it’s working?
Congressman Luján. Well again, we have guests from around the country. We have Members of Congress that will be coming to visit on different topics. But middle class economics will be center stage. I’m sure that we’re going to be talking about, as well, the Voting Rights Act, the 50th anniversary of Selma. I had the honor of being with the Leader and John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, for the commemoration.
Leader Pelosi. President Obama.
Congressman Luján. And President Obama – what amazing words that he shared. I think the Leader captures the sentiment that she shares with so many across the United States with words that were shared that day as well. And it’s centering around how we can how we can make sure we’re moving together, to stand together for all of the working people all across America to make the country stronger – again, putting middle class economics ahead of trickle-down economics.
Leader Pelosi. If I just may add to that, I’m excited about all of it because it’s connected – fairness in our economy, middle class economics versus trickle-down economics. But the voting rights piece of this is a very central piece for the following reason: it’s the 50th anniversary, you all know that. The crossing of the bridge in Selma – the Edmund Pettus Bridge – was a bridge to the ballot. Leading up to that time, Rev. Martin Luther King always talked about the ballot, the ballot, the ballot being the path to legislation to improve the lives of people, to make the middle class stronger, and pull more people up into the middle class – the ballot, the ballot, the ballot.
This 50th anniversary gives us the opportunity – under the leadership of not only our Chairman, Mr. Ben Ray Luján – but also Mr. Clyburn who’s going to be here, and John Lewis who’s going to be here, and Barbara Lee will have a conference or seminar or whatever this evening on this subject because only one-third of the electorate voted in the last election and there has to be a way for us to say to people: “This is why this is important in your lives. Decisions that are made at the legislative table affect you.” Walter Reuther said the bread box and the ballot box cannot be separated. If you win at the negotiating table, what you win there can be removed by elections and those who do not share the views about America’s working families.
But it’s really important for another reason, and that is: the increased involvement of more people in the electoral process is the most wholesome thing we can do for our country, but it also slams the use of big money in politics. And that is what we have to do for our democracy: empower people more, have more people see the connection between their lives, the ballot box, and decisions that are made after as well as reducing the role of money – reducing the skepticism that the American people have about how strong their voices are in the political process.
Ben Ray Luján is the perfect person to bring all of that together – his commitment to middle class economics, his appreciation for expanding the vote to many more people, and again, his effectiveness in getting the job done. So thank you for planning this conference.
Q: Is the idea of fully-subsided community college for the first two years …
Leader Pelosi. It’s hard. You know, that is the President’s proposal and it is something that should happen. I don’t want to turn this into a political conversation but we have a fight about these kind of things. You would think that a budget would be a statement of our national values. What is important to us as a country should be where we put our assets. And by the way – I harken back to what I said before – nothing reduces the deficit more, because it brings more money to the treasury, than the education of the American people. So the investment in community colleges and reducing the cost – but what Ben Ray Luján said was true about what we did but much of that has expired, and what we’re trying to do is renew it. And the fight that we have in the battle of the budget is a reduction in commitment to Pell Grants – they want to freeze the amount of money for Pell Grants for 10 years thereby limiting the number of people who could access a Pell Grant and also how much money the Pell Grant will be for a family. Sometimes that difference makes that difference of a person going to higher education or not.
So, we think the two-year [community college plan] is the most logical thing that you can do. It may happen in some states before it happens nationally because of the battle of the budget that we have there, but again, it saves money as do Pell Grants, as does reducing the costs of student loans. And Ben Ray referred to it: it frees people, liberates people if they don’t have this anvil – I call it the anvil of student debt – this anvil of student debt so that they can be entrepreneurial, they can take risks. August talked about discovery and invention and that entrepreneurial spirit that he has. If a student has all of that and massive debt, they have to make choices that are quite different than if they didn’t. And as I say as a mother of five children: they might even get married.
Take risks. Go out there. What could be more of a risk than starting a small business? It requires more optimism than maybe getting married. But it any event, it frees them to have choices and options – what we want the American people to have.
Congressman Luján. Thank you. We have time for one more.
Leader Pelosi. The question is: can I speak more about the role of women and girls in growing the economy, expanding the economy.
Yes. When I was – well, I don’t know if it was the last time, but a recent time when I was in New Mexico, we talked about ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds’ which really is very important for our economy to understand that. Other countries do. The Prime Minister of Japan was in Davos last year. They asked: “How are you going to turn your economy around?” He said, “The involvement of women in our economy.” The President of Colombia was in my office. He said: “We have a secret to grow our economy.” I said: “Will you share it with us?” He said: “The involvement of women in our economy.”
It’s really so important. But for it to happen, we have to recognize that some changes have to happen. We have to have affordable, quality child care; we have to have paid sick leave; we have to have equal pay for equal work so that women can really thrive in the economy. But you can’t say: “Our country is going to grow and be great but we’re going to limit the involvement of half the people in our country,” and expect that. Now it doesn’t mean women are smarter or better or anything, it just means the beauty is in the mix. Having women at the table is very important. And I would extend that to women and minorities at the table. That’s our country. That decision-making should happen with a full participation.
But we know – we have the facts, the figures, the data, the analysis and all the rest of it – if you involve women at every level – whether it’s in the military training, whether it’s in the academic world, whether it’s in corporate America – the more women in leadership, the better. And of course, when it comes to government and politics, the most wholesome thing that we can do is to have more women appointed, elected, and not only having a seat at the table but having a seat at the head of the table.
And that’s why I’m so proud that in our Caucus, we are a majority of women, minorities, and LGBT community folks. That’s our Caucus – it’s a majority of that beautiful mix, ‘A’. ‘B’, not only there, but in our leadership, the people who would be chairs – in other words, when Ben Ray leads us to victory – those Ranking Members will be Chairs. The majority of people who would be Chairs are women, minorities, LGBT. So it’s a pretty exciting thing because, again, not only a seat at the table, but a seat at the head of the table. And leading us all in all that is Ben Ray Luján.
Congressman Luján. Thank you, Madam Leader. And again, if everyone can help me thank Randy Grissom, Kathy Keith, August, Izaiah, Cheneyand everyone who helped us today, again. Thank you, Madam Leader for having us today. Thanks everybody.