Transcript of Weekly Press Conference Today
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning, everyone.
Today is a very sad day for us, as we all are waking to the sad news of the passing of our dear friend, revered and respected colleague, Congressman, Mr. Chairman, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, my brother in Baltimore. He was, in the Congress, Elijah was considered a North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity.
He lived the American Dream. In his own family, his parents were sharecroppers. He was Phi Beta Kappa from Howard, and a Chairman, very important Committee in the Congress of the United States. He lived the American Dream and he wanted it for everyone else.
He spoke with unsurpassed clarity and moral integrity when he spoke on the Floor. I had the just coincidental opportunity to be at breakfast with someone who served with him in the State Legislature in Maryland and they said when Elijah Cummings would stand up in the State Legislature, in the House of Delegates, as it is called there, the room would fall silent as everyone wanted to hear what Elijah has to say. And that is, of course, what was the case in Congress, in his Committee and in the country.
He used to always say, ‘Our children are our living messengers to a future we will never see.’ So, he wanted to be sure that that future was going to be better for them and that they would bring with them our values.
In that regard, in terms of a better future, I'm so proud that this morning Richie Neal announced in the mark-up – in the hearing, the hearing that they were having on H.R. 3, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, that he was suggesting to name the bill for Elijah Cummings.
So appropriate, because Elijah was a fighter for lowering the cost of prescription drugs, reaching across the aisle to do so. He always strove to reach across the aisle and treat all of our colleagues with respect and even had dialogue with the President for a while on this subject. So, it would be very appropriate that H.R. 3 will now be the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now legislation, whatever the formal title will be.
It's very sad, very sad for all of us. We've all lost a friend. I'm devastated by the loss. We conveyed our condolences of our Caucus to Maya, his dear wife, this morning. And, she said what we all knew: he just fought to the end. But, that's the way he was, not only on his personal health, but what he believed in in the Congress of the United States.
So, we're back now after our District Work Period where Members all over the country were part of a drumbeat for H.R. 3, for our For The People agenda. Our first, number one, was to lower the cost of prescription drugs. They presented H.R. 3, heard feedback, and we are benefiting with two mark-ups this week: one in Energy and Commerce, the other in Education and Labor – the hearing in Ways and Means this week and then the mark-up next week. And, then, we'll be well on our way to reconciling different versions and bringing something to the Floor.
I think it's really important to note that since the break, toward the end of the break, we did get this Congressional Budget Office, the CBO score of $345 billion in savings just in the Medicare Part D part of the bill. Other savings, $158 billion in savings for family households, 50 – $46 billion in rebates and the rest.
So, the savings are considerable and the Congress will decide how they will be – some of it will be reinvested into innovation at the National Institutes of Health, perhaps in community health centers across the country, in expanded benefits for Medicare, visual, hearing, dental, perhaps, that's up to the Committees, we'll hear back from them, and just trying to lower the cost to the community.
Bobby Scott's Committee is marking up this bill, but, as many of you know, earlier in the week, we announced his College Affordability Act, and we're very proud of the response from the Members on that, and that will be making college less expensive.
We're still at work on the U.S.‑Mexico‑Canada Trade Agreement and making progress every day on our path to yes, but we're not there yet. As soon as we can get the assurances from the Administration and from the other – everyone involved that there will be enforceability of some of the provisions of the legislation, that it will really be an improvement on the current NAFTA, then we'll be able to proceed. But, I'm optimistic about that.
I'm still hoping that – and this came up when we were focused on the For The People agenda: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America, cleaner government, that was our agenda in the campaign – one of our priorities in this session has been to reduce the risk of gun violence in our country.
It's now been 232 days since we sent our bipartisan legislation to the Senate. Every day about a hundred people die from gun violence, nearly half of them children up to the age of teenagers. My colleague, Frederica Wilson, when I was in Florida during the break, gave me this bracelet made from a bullet and the orange color of gun violence prevention. So, we're not going away until we get legislation passed to reduce gun violence in our country.
As you know, this has been a week of some issues that relate to our foreign engagement. I was very proud of the work on the Floor of Congress to associate ourselves with the democratic aspirations of the young people of Hong Kong. I've been working with now three generations of Hong Kong democratic leaders just for the Chinese regime to obey the Basic Law under which Hong Kong was to exist, One Country, Two Systems, living under the Basic Law, which made certain guarantees that are not being lived up to.
But, Congress came through this week, spoke very clearly in a bipartisan way about our support for that. Now we're eager that we have bipartisan support in the Senate, too, so hopefully that will come up soon there.
As you know, yesterday on the Floor, 354 Members voted in a bipartisan way to oppose the President's dangerous decision in regard to Syria. By two to one Republicans voted to oppose the President's action. There were only 60 votes [not] in favor of the legislation.
The legislation would have called for Turkey to use restraint, for us to help our friends, to be a trustworthy ally to Kurds, especially in humanitarian needs now that they're being bombed by the Turks and being attacked by the Turks. I also called for the President to show a clear plan for how Americans will be protected from ISIS, which has been further unleashed. Green light to the Turks, actions taken that renege on our handshake with the Kurds, and now, and now, we need to have a plan to deal with what happens with ISIS.
As you know, that was the subject of conversation yesterday at the White House. I also pointed out to the President I had concerns that all roads seem to lead to Putin. The Russians had been trying to get a foothold in the Middle East for a very long time, unsuccessfully, and now the President has given them the opportunity with the Kurds reaching out to them for support in Syria.
They have – the Russians were the beneficiaries of any withholding of assistance or encouragement to Ukraine. Again, Putin benefits. The Russians benefited, Putin did. The President placed some doubt about our commitment to NATO right from the start of his Administration. All roads lead to Putin.
Then the President said, ‘Well, the reason I'm taking the troops out of Syria is because I promised in the campaign to bring the troops home.’ My question to him was, ‘Is Saudi Arabia home? Is Saudi Arabia home? Why are our troops going to Saudi Arabia if you promised to bring them home?’ He said, ‘Well, the Saudi Arabians are paying for it.’ Really? We're putting our troops in harm's way for Saudi Arabia because they're paying? It just didn't add up.
But, what it did do was cause a meltdown on the part of the President because he was unhappy with those questions. And, it was unfortunate because we really went – we were invited to the meeting. The President started off the meeting by saying, ‘I don't know who asked for this meeting. I didn't.’ And we're like, well, then, well, let's proceed anyway, and we had hoped – our real mission was to find out what the plan was.
Leader Schumer was very forceful in that discussion with the President on what is the plan. ‘My plan is to protect America.’ So that's a goal, that's not a plan. What is the plan for us to be protected from ISIS now that some of them have been unleashed in Syria because of the green light that the President gave the Turks and reneging on our trustworthiness as an ally with the Kurds who had been our friends? So, for these and other reasons that was most unfortunate.
On a separate front of all of that, I'm very proud of the work of Chairman Adam Schiff. Again, this is so solemn. None of us came to Congress to impeach a President. That's not what we come here to do. And any such actions are to be taken very solemnly, seriously, and, in my view, prayerfully.
It isn't a unifying thing for the country to have to go through this, but we do have to honor our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, our democracy, and our republic. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘A republic, if we can keep it.’ Well, it is our fight to keep it. As I've said to you before, the times have found us, to do just that.
So, I'm very proud of the work that Adam Schiff is doing. And, this isn't about politics or partisanship, it's about patriotism for our country. And, I value the way he is conducting this with equal time on all sides for the questioning that are there. You've heard from him. We were here together when he presented how it is proceeding.
He also sent a letter to Members yesterday, which is in the public domain. I call it to your attention in case you have some questions about the professionalism and the fairness with which these hearings are being held.
Speaker Pelosi. Any questions?
Q: Thank you. First of all, my condolences on Chairman Cummings.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah. That's so sad.
Q: On the impeachment inquiry, how important is it to you not to let this bleed over into an election year?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I think, I've really – thanks, Nancy, for your question, and thank you for your condolences on Elijah.
I keep saying to people impeachment is about the truth and the Constitution of the United States. Any other issues that you have, disapproving of the way the President has dealt with Syria, whatever the subject is, reluctance, the cowardice to do something about gun violence, the cruelty of not wanting to help our Dreamers and transgender people, the denial about climate crisis that we face, the list goes on – that's about the election. That has nothing to do with what is happening in terms of our honoring our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution and the facts that might support.
We don't know where this path will take us, but could take us down a further path, but the two are completely separate.
Q: But at what point would you just say let's let the voters decide?
Speaker Pelosi. Who said that?
Q: No, I'm saying, at what point might you say let's just let the voters decide?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no. The voters are not going to decide whether we honor our oath of office. They already decided that in the last election.
Q: Republican Leader Mitch McConnell seems to think that an impeachment trial in the Senate could wrap up before the end of the year.
Speaker Pelosi. I have no idea.
Q: Does that seem unrealistic to you?
Speaker Pelosi. I'd have no idea. The path – the timeline will depend on the truth line, and that's what we're looking for.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker. On the Syria policy, and this is sort of a two‑part question: number one, do you think that we've gotten into this question about what should be the right policy in Syria because there has not been an AUMF since 2001 and 2002?
Speaker Pelosi. Right.
Q: And the second part, and this dovetails a little bit with what Nancy was asking, would there be a scenario where – because you said yesterday it was dangerous what the President had done in regards to Turkey –
Speaker Pelosi. It is.
Q: – that this could bleed over into the impeachment issue –
Speaker Pelosi. No.
Q: – because it's such a grave problem?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no, no.
Let me answer your second question first. When I became Speaker the first time, you – well, maybe not, but there were those who were here who –
Q: I was here.
Speaker Pelosi. Okay. Who knew that people, hundreds of thousands of people were on the street asking me to impeach President Bush because of the war in Iraq and because of the misrepresentation that was made at the time as to why we should be going into Iraq.
That's a policy matter. That isn't, in my view, an impeachment matter. And, I said if they had any case to make they could make it, but I was not going down that path.
Again, what could be worse than the war in Iraq and the misrepresentations that were made to the American people?
And, as you know, says I, I was the senior Democrat on Intelligence. I had the Adam Schiff job, the one he had before becoming Chairman in the Majority. But in the Minority, I was a member of the Gang of Four, I saw all the intelligence. I knew that there was no intelligence to support the threat that the Administration was putting forth, and I said at the time the intelligence does not support the threat.
Senator Graham of Florida was actually the Chairman, because they had the Majority at the time, the Democrats, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and he came to the same conclusion. We both voted no on the war.
So, I think that the war in Iraq was one of the worst mistakes in our country. I did not think it was about impeachment. It's about policy, and that's a different debate. Impeachment is about the law, not being above the law, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, about honoring our oath of office.
Q: Thank you very much. On the USMCA you just said a short time ago you're making progress every day.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: Leader McConnell, however, has charged in recent days, as has the President, ‘Speaker Pelosi is still blocking the USMCA because Democrats' impeachment obsession is blocking urgent work for American families.’
So much of the work and negotiation here, Speaker Pelosi, is kind of happening behind closed doors. Are there ways for Democrats to better convey the good faith progress to prevent the President and Republican leaders from charging that you are trying to block this –
Speaker Pelosi. Anybody else want to put all the Republican talking points on the table, because we could just get rid of them all at once?
Q: Well, it's not a talking point. Can I ask you to respond, because Republicans –
Speaker Pelosi. Let me just respond to your second – let me respond to your question rather than their misrepresentations, okay?
First and foremost, it might be interesting to you, but a negotiation of this nature – and the Administration would support this, not only support it, it's what they want – these negotiations are not in the public domain. The exchange of proposals, and this or that, I can't even share them with the Members. In fact, I have a hard time getting some of it myself from time to time, and when I do it has ‘Pelosi’ written across it so should it go astray, I try to copy it to show anybody that wouldn't happen.
So, these are confidential back and forth, and I can honestly say that I think every day we're becoming closer. There was a meeting yesterday with the Trade Representative with some of our Task Force. I think they're going to meet again later today, perhaps one more time, and then we should just see. The issue is, do we have enforcement?
So, the people who are saying that don't know what they're talking about or have a different agenda that they want to present. But we feel very good about being on a path to yes. We're not there yet because we don't have the enforceability assurance that we need to have.
While we had some good things in the bill, it's only a list of good things unless it can be enforced.
Q: Environmental standards continue to be the Democratic –
Speaker Pelosi. So, there are three things. Overarching is enforceability of the whole thing. And, then, the three concerns, as we have discussed before, are environment, the environmental concerns. And as a Californian, I can tell you firsthand that needs to be addressed, but all the border states could probably tell you that as well, vis‑a‑vis the southern border. But, the agreement has to be respectful of global agreements that are there on the environment. This is about what is realistic that we can get done.
In terms of the prescription drug, that's a very big issue in our Caucus and we hope that we can resolve that. And then the third are the workers' rights and the rest. We don't see a situation where diminishing the prospects for workers in Mexico is any good for our hemisphere. So, we want that to be very fair in that regard.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker, and again, condolences on Chairman Cummings.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah. Yeah.
Q: There was a picture yesterday that was taken at the White House with you standing up at the table speaking to the President. Can you tell us a little bit about that picture and what was being said at that time?
Speaker Pelosi. I think I was excusing myself from the room. I think I told you what my – the thoughts that I conveyed to the President in the meeting about the 354 to 60 vote in the House disapproving of his Syria actions, A.
B: my concerns about all roads leading to Putin. And, if the President is saying, ‘I said during the campaign I was going to take the troops home,’ then is home Saudi Arabia? That would be about the essence of, either sitting down or standing up, what my conversation was with the President.
But, most important part of the meeting was, what is the plan? And, that was part of my report on the legislation on the Floor. What is the plan for fighting ISIS now that we have reneged on our handshake with the Kurds to do that fighting for us there? And, that was strongly presented by Senator Schumer. So, one or the other of those things what was being said.
I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices, because – oh, they come out and say, ‘Oh, this happened and that happened,’ you're like, we must have been at two different meetings because that didn't happen.
But, nonetheless, then you've got these kinds of questions and the rest that have no fidelity to fact, but it's true that that's what they said. It is true that that's what they said.
So, I don't know, at that moment I was probably saying, ‘All roads lead to Putin.’
Q: Madam Speaker, as you pointed out, Chairman Schiff sent out the letter yesterday –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: – describing the process that he's going through in his Committee right now, saying there could be public testimony ahead.
Speaker Pelosi. That's right.
Q: I'm curious, how will you determine, and when in the future, rules for this process, including whether the President will be allowed to have counsel or representation down the road as part of impeachment?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, you know what? This is a matter for the Committee. And the rules are – we have rules of the House that govern all of this.
But, I think it's really important to reiterate the following. The process that the House is going through right now would be the equivalent of a special counsel in the case, whatever the name was at the time for the Clinton or Jaworski and Sirica, way back when, before you were all born, on the Nixon [impeachment].
So, they had prosecutors who were doing the investigation and they were not doing that in the public domain. And so, this is the part where we gather evidence.
And, as I've said to the President over and over, if you have some – I said this to him on the phone the day that we made our announcement about proceeding with the inquiry – that we've asked for your taxes, if you have nothing to hide, show us your taxes. We've asked for Mazar, your accounting. If you have nothing to hide, show us that. We've asked for this, that, and the other thing. If you have nothing to hide, we're giving you opportunity to show that you have nothing to hide, but what you're doing is just going further up into the courts. Then, last Friday we had five court decisions, five court decisions in our favor. Another one this week.
So, in terms of the law, this is about the Congress, the courts and the Constitution. And, in terms of the Congress, our responsibility is to fairly get the information, according to the rules, and Mr. Schiff is running that show for us now.
Thank you all very much. That's it.