Transcript of Pelosi 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. I wish we weren't wearing masks so we could see how exciting it is to come before you today with Joe Biden having the tremendous mandate that he has and that pretty soon the hyphen will be gone from Vice President to President‑Elect Joe Biden.
It's a happy day for our country because Joe Biden is a unifier, because he is determined to bring people together, because he respects all points of view. And as he has said, ‘I ran as a Democrat; I'll govern as President for all of the people, whether they voted for me or not.’
So, I am so officially pleased with the outcome that is imminent – and also personally delighted because of the quality and caliber of leadership that Joe Biden will provide. This morning, it is clear that the Biden‑Harris ticket will win the White House. His election is historic, propelled by the biggest vote ever in the history of our country, 73.8 million and counting Americans, the most votes ever received by any presidential ticket in history.
President‑Elect Biden has a strong mandate to lead, and he'll have a strong Democratic House with him and many Democrats in the Senate. This has been a life‑or‑death fight for the fate of our democracy, as he says, ‘the soul of our country.’ We did not win every battle in the House, but we did win the war.
In 2018, we won 40 seats, 30 or 31 of them in districts where Trump had won before. They were in Trump districts. In preparation for the 2020 election, I said to people, ‘You have to help us.’ They said, ‘Oh, you've won. Let's just do the Senate and the White House.’ I said, ‘No, we won in districts – Trump districts with Trump not on the ballot. In the next election, he will be on the ballot, and that makes winning those districts a steeper climb.’ I'm pleased that we've overwhelmingly won those districts, not all of them. Not all of them. But next time, he won't be on the ballot.
One of the reasons we were able to win so many seats was because of the caliber of leadership of our Members. Some of them won, a few did not, all of them excellent, and I hope that some of them will reconsider – will consider going at it again.
As you all know, the right to vote is a sacred right in our country, and having that vote counted as cast is the foundation of our democracy. So, we must be patient. I've said to people, ‘Be calm.’ I said this Monday, Tuesday – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, ‘Be calm. Be confident. Be patient.‘ And the votes are tallying. The races are called.
We look forward to continued victories in House races. We have some out there. And we look forward to progress For The People, which was our agenda in 2018, continues to be For The People: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks by building infrastructure in America in a green way, cleaner government, H.R. 1, which will be the first on the agenda in January. Again, it will be H.R. 1.
While we prepare for the new Biden Administration, we must also move swiftly for a new coronavirus relief bill because we can do that. We want the Republicans to come back to the table, the White House, the leadership, whatever. One hundred – for two days in a row, over 100,000 cases were reported. The imperative to act could not be greater. Over 9.5 million – nearly 9 million people infected, nearly a quarter of a million deaths and tens of millions on unemployment. Again, I'm calling on the Administration to come back to the table.
Congress is also committed to passing an omnibus appropriations bill. This is the core of our work in the lame-duck, when we don't have a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people and infecting millions and making people food insecure, housing insecure and the rest, but our responsibility to keep government open, to have an omnibus bill. And we intend to do that, not a CR, and we want to be able to do so in a way that gives confidence that we will have government open and continue to be rather than having a CR.
So, sadly, instead of crushing the virus, it appears that the Trump Administration will use its final moments in office in a desperate last step to destroy every possible protection for Americans’ health and well‑being. So many people have said to me, and perhaps some of you along the way, ‘What damage do you think that Trump will do between losing the election and the swearing – the inauguration of Joe Biden?’ Maybe you didn't phrase it quite that way, but that's how I heard it. And we knew that he would be up to mischief.
Separate and apart from trying to destroy the credibility of our elections, which we criticize other nations for doing, and now with all enemies foreign and domestic making assault on our elections – well, we have one domestic, but apart from that, on the policy side, which is why we are here, people asked that question, what will he try to do that is harmful? And one of the – this week they showed their hand. We had suspicions of it, but we couldn't speak publicly about it because – until they went public.
This week the Trump Administration put forward a radical new rule that would make regulations from the FDA and other Health and Human Services agencies automatically sunset unless the agencies undertake a cumbersome, time‑consuming process to renew them. This is a time when we need full attention of the FDA on the development and approval of vaccines.
This is an opportunity cost, but it is a reflection of their disdain for science and governance. You know, they've been messing with the whole process at the FDA, trying to diminish the importance of the trials that are necessary to approve efficacy and safety of a vaccine.
The lame-duck rule – this lame-duck Trump rule seeks to paralyze government and generations of lifesaving protections and try to burden our new President elected by the American people right out of the gate. So, the Trump Administration may well wish to seek this regulation – rule beyond HHS to other agencies as well.
People had been asking for a while, as I said, ‘What can he do?’ Clean air, clean water, food safety, you name it. This is the dream of the radical right wing. First, they started the – recently – on undermining the civil service, and now they're trying to say, unless we review these, all of these regulations, they will be sunset.
Now, we do believe that regulations should be subject to review. That's not any objection. That's part of the process. But there is a way to do it, and the way to do it is not to first zero in on the FDA at a time when we're trying to achieve a vaccine for the people.
And this is the work of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and that's why I'm so glad and honored by the presence of the distinguished Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. You'll hear from him about this. I refer you to the [Federal] Register of November 4th. The day after the election, they put this destructive rule in the [Federal Register]. More from our distinguished Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Pallone, for coming down to be here for this conversation, which is very important to the health and well‑being of the American people, with a respect for science, for governance, especially at a time of a pandemic when the FDA should be focusing on a vaccine and not on a Heritage Foundation agenda.
Chairman Pallone. Thank you, Madam Speaker. And let me say, like you and I think, like all Democrats and, I think, most Americans, it's a very happy day because we do believe it's quite clear that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our next President and Vice President, and so we can't help but be happy about that as the Speaker, obviously, is and I am.
But I just also want to commend the Speaker for still stressing so much that we have to crush this virus, which she has been saying now for so many months. And, of course, you know, I think the last time I was here with her, we talked about the need for robust national testing, tracing and treatment, which is in the Heroes Act and which she kept insisting on as she negotiated with the White House.
She realizes, I think as most of us do, that we're never going to get the economy back on foot, we're never going to create jobs and we're never going to make this country strong again unless we can crush the virus. And she's just, you know, like a laser beam, keeps insisting that that's so crucial.
And as she mentioned, you know, the numbers, the virus continues to spread. I mean, yesterday, more than 116,000 Americans contracted COVID‑19. It was a one‑day record since the pandemic began. So, when the Speaker says that this has to be crushed, it's because it's – part of the reason is because it's getting worse and we have to address it.
And the sad thing – and that's, you know, kind of my role here today, is to get into more specifics about what the Trump Administration is doing. What President Trump is doing in this lame duck and these last few months is exactly the opposite. In other words, rather than trying to help with the scientists, with the health experts, with those career servants who have been helping us try to come up with a response to this virus, he's trying to undermine it all.
He's trying to make it more difficult for us to crush the virus. He's making it more difficult for those health experts to speak out and to even be there at all, to help with this effort. And that is so unfortunate. He's moving the exact opposite direction of what the Speaker and most people say we need in order to crush this virus.
And so, I just wanted to talk a little bit about these two things that the Speaker mentioned. One is this Executive Order threatening the civil service employees. A lot of the people who are helping us within HHS and other agencies are career civil servants. And he issued this last‑ditch effort to fire career civil servants, on October 21st, this Executive Order, and, you know, this includes people at the FDA and the CDC, as the Speaker mentioned, and basically says that, over the next month or so, the President and his Administration could put out a new schedule classifying career civil servants, for example, somebody like Dr. Fauci, as essentially non‑civil‑service employees who can be fired.
You remember that at one of his rallies just before the election, he suggested that he might fire Fauci after the election. Dr. Fauci is an example of the type of person who could be fired under this Executive Order and possibly even be replaced by people like Dr. Atlas, who are not qualified, you know, to actually deal with this virus effectively because of their lack of background or their policies, and all of this before he leaves office on January 19th.
Now, some said, well, is he really going to fire these people?
I don't know, but he – but the very fact that this is in place is a threat, right? So, in other words, it's either, ‘I'm going to fire them,’ or ‘I'm going to threaten them with the fact that if they speak out and do things contrary to what I want to do with regard to COVID‑19, then they'll know that they might lose their job, they might lose their civil service job.’ So, the effect is, it's really basically the same thing.
Then the other one is the – that the Speaker mentioned, is this rule change that was put in place. He issued a proposed rule just this Wednesday that could be finalized, my understanding, by early December. And what that says is that there's something like 2,500 regulations within Health and Human Services. This is particular to Health and Human Services, but we may see it with other things – that says that if any regulation has been around for more than ten years, then you have a period of time to justify it; otherwise, it expires and sunsets.
Now, these are all regulations that deal with, you know, food safety, you know, approval of drugs, which has been such a controversy because, you know, he's always been trying to approve these drugs that we know the scientists think really are not effective. And beyond that, though, it also diverts resources; in other words, if the staff who are working to crush the virus has to be diverted to justify and, you know, spend all their time dealing with these regulations that they would not want to sunset, it's also a question of staff time that takes away from our ability to actually deal with the virus.
The comment period for that closes December 4th, and he could actually then put it in place and start this whole process to undermine not only the regulations that now are over ten years old but others that might become ten years old later, you know, during the Biden Administration.
So, we're just trying to emphasize, you know, why is this President doing these things that undermine our ability to crush the virus rather than working with the Speaker and trying to put together a plan, you know, like the Heroes Act that would make a difference and actually effectively crush the virus?
So, I just want to conclude by saying this: we need the scientists, and we need the public health experts. We need to scale up the testing, the contact tracing, the treatment. This is going to be – unfortunately, is likely to be a dark winter, and it just doesn't make any sense for the President to use this short time that he still has left to undermine the national response. It's also an insult to these civil servants.
And one of the things that we certainly are going to do, because I'll go back to the committees again, if I may, Madam Speaker, we're going to spend our time in Energy and Commerce and the other committees trying to shore up these agencies, like HHS, CDC, FDA, that he has tried to dismantle for the last four years.
Morale is very low, but I want everyone who works in these agencies to know that we, as Democrats, Speaker Pelosi, Joe Biden, our next President, we're on their side. We are committed to crushing this virus. We are going to support the public servants. We're going to work with a Biden Administration to undo the damage and ensure that civil service protections remain in place and that we have a national response to the virus.
And thank you for all that you do, Madam Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I do want to commend you for the testing, tracing, treatment, space, mask‑wearing, et cetera, that is in the Heroes Act that was a product of your committee under your leadership, as well as working with scientists about what really is necessary to crush the virus so that we can put our children safely back in school, open up our economy. That's what we really need to do, but we need to do it safely.
Further, to a couple of points that you made, in terms of the civil service. Civil service is a very important part of a democracy. It takes the politics out of the performance of civil servants. It is about public service being a noble calling. But if those civil servants are directed by political appointees to make certain scientific decisions or else they will lose their jobs, that is – undermines the purpose of safety and efficacy in terms of FDA but also the health and well‑being of the American people.
I want to commend Peter Marks, the head of one of the centers at the FDA, for an important op‑ed he had, I think about a week ago, talking about how the scientists were going to stick with the plan to do this in a way that gives people confidence in the vaccine that would come forward because a vaccine is only as effective as its merit, of course, but also how people will take it. The vaccine is a big hope for us, but it's not the only way for us to stop the spread of the virus, but it is an essential way for us to curtail the further, further spread.
So, again, I thank you for your leadership in that regard and the idea that you referenced and note January 19th is the date that they want this all done by, January 19th. Can it be undone? Yes, but it takes a great deal of time and effort to undo, which took a lot of time and effort to make matters worse in terms of approvals and etcetera at the FDA.
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So, with that, I'm pleased to take any questions. Garrett?
Q: Madam Speaker, you opened by talking about this big win that it appears Joe Biden might have and –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: – the popular vote and so forth.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: But in that same election, in that same environment, you're going to end up losing seats off your Majority.
Speaker Pelosi. Right.
Q: What does that tell you about what the American people want from their Congress?
Speaker Pelosi. We lost a few seats, but as I said, we won those seats in Trump districts. He wasn't on the ballot. He is now. I think that the – what happened with the Democrats for Congress across the country helped contribute to the Biden success. So, we're very proud to be part of that mandate, very proud of that.
Would I rather have – while I have the utmost respect for the Members whose districts were almost insurmountable with Trump on the ballot, I do believe that we'll be in a – with Biden in the White House and a Democratic Congress and hopefully a Democratic Senate – we'll see in January – we'll be able to do great things for the American people. As I've said, we've lost some battles, but we won the war. We have the gavel. We have the gavel.
Q: You don't see any sort of policy or any kind of corrective message from the American people there at all?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I do think that we should always be evaluating and respecting what the people have to say. I myself think that – and I have said this to the Members over and over again, income inequality – income – the disparities in income and equity in our country must be addressed, and everybody must be at the table to do that. That's something that Frank has – Chairman Pallone has worked on from the perspective of New Jersey and his Committee. So, we have to go to that place.
People are concerned about the threat to their jobs, from technology, from trade, from other people, just newcomers to our country, and we have to show them this is not a zero‑sum game. Somebody's success here is not taking away from your success there.
So, I see this as a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous opportunity where people are respectful of people's opinions, the diversity of opinion. And, again, some Members had some concerns about what happened in their district, but most of the people that expressed their concerns won. Most of them won. And we had no opportunity cost spreading a wide net.
I was disappointed that we didn't win some seats in Texas. I'll be very honest about that. But, nonetheless, we're paving the way. We're paving the way. We made our investments. We've won the – we held the House. That was our goal. If we could win more, that would be good. We're still in the hunt on a number of seats right now.
So, we can have this conversation probably next week with some numbers. But for right now, safely the gavel is in the hands of the Democrats, safely we have the prospect momentarily, if not happening while we're here, of President‑Elect Joe Biden, Vice President‑Elect Kamala Harris.
Q: Madam Speaker, good morning. Thank you. How do you address with a more –
Speaker Pelosi. You guys always get the front seats here. I don't know.
Q: I was in the back a few weeks ago.
Speaker Pelosi. Oh, okay.
Q: But how do you – with a more narrow Majority, how do you address – and this is something I asked you about last week – you know, some of these philosophical differences in your Caucus when obviously it's going to be more to the left? And from a governing standpoint, if you're going to get something done with the Senate, regardless if it's D or R, or the White House, that legislation has to be more in the middle. How do you sort that out with these pressure points at both ends in your Caucus?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let's just say this: it's not both ends of our Caucus. Our Caucus has its differences. I would not want to lead in a Caucus that was a rubber stamp, a rubber stamp, lockstep Caucus. That's called Republicans. We are the Democratic Party, and we have several exuberances in our midst, and that is representative of the districts that people come to Congress to serve, and we respect that.
But our unifying principle – and you agree, Frank – is America's working families. Everybody is there to make progress for America's working families, I always say in terms of the children, our children, our children, our children, their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a safe, healthy environment in which they can thrive, including from gun violence, and a world at peace in which they can reach their fulfillment.
So, about the families, the kitchen table issue, nobody is more attuned to that or connected to America's working families than Joe Biden as President of the United States. So, I think you will see, as we build consensus – we don't govern from on high; we build consensus. Not everybody, I didn't say unanimity; I said consensus. And I feel pretty – I see it as an opportunity.
I do say, and I have said publicly, I represent San Francisco very proudly, and some issues that would be wonderful in my district are just not winning issues other places in the country that we have to win. That doesn't mean we curb our enthusiasm for our boldest progressive agenda, but it does mean that we recognize if we're going to win in other places in the country, common ground with the – respectful of what works in my district for me but – and other Members in their districts but also respectful for how it works for Members in their district.
And Frank has a variety of points of view in New Jersey. Did you want to speak to that?
Chairman Pallone. Well, I mean, I think you could maybe use New Jersey as an example of what the Speaker is saying, right. In other words, we had four frontline Members who basically over the last two election cycles took back Republican districts for Democrats. These were Republican districts. You know, you look at the NC, IC or whatever performance, they leaned Republican by anywhere from two to five or six percent. And over the last two election cycles we captured them.
Would I have liked to have, you know, Jeff Van Drew lose? And he may still lose.
Speaker Pelosi. He may still lose.
Chairman Pallone. He may still lose.
Speaker Pelosi. There's a path.
Chairman Pallone. Sure, and then that would have been a net gain, and it may still happen. But I take pride in the fact that we were able to keep these four frontliners that took Republican seats over the last two cycles to contribute to a Democratic Majority.
So, you know, we stand here today – I stand here today with the Speaker. Joe Biden is going to be President. We retain our Majority. We've reelected, and using New Jersey again, you know, a lot of these Members in districts that were for Trump in the past. So, we're very proud of the fact of our success, and we have more opportunity now because we have the White House as well as the House and maybe even the Senate, depending on what happens in Georgia.
Q: But there's not tension here inside the Caucus at all?
Speaker Pelosi. Welcome to my world. We always have a beautiful dynamism in our Caucus. But, no, I think people are – no, some people – I would say we have a healthy difference of opinion within our Caucus but not in any way to be problematic in how we legislate. What the conversation was about, what is the winning message outside and the message in the districts that we have to win is the message that unifies us, a message for America's working families. And everybody knows that.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no, the gentleman behind you. Yes, sir. He had his hand up first.
Q: Madam Speaker, the previous four Presidents, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump, entered their first year with their party fully in control of Congress, the House and the Senate. How much do you have to trim back the ambition knowing that, at best, it's a 50/50 Senate and some think that the Republicans are favored in Georgia and you'll still have Majority Leader McConnell?
Speaker Pelosi. Well I'm – you know, how many times have you heard me quote Lincoln? ‘Public sentiment is everything. With it you can accomplish almost anything; without it, practically nothing.’ And that is what I think is going to save the day. The public wants the virus to be crushed. They want the economy to be open, they want children to go to school safely. The public wants a big jobs bill.
And I don't care if you're in San Francisco, Michigan, Alabama, wherever it is, people want jobs. They want jobs. And that is – when we talk about the health and well‑being of the American people, job security is an important factor of health for those people.
So, once we go forward with an infrastructure bill, that is usually not partisan. It isn't partisan. And we're going to blanket the country with a Build Back Better, as Joe Biden calls it. We called it Moving America Forward. We have a great deal in common between those two agendas, and we think that, you know – when we did For The People – remember, we did that in 2018 – we weren't looking for a fight, for lower the cost of prescription drug. The President said he would do that. He said he was going to negotiate like crazy to lower the cost of prescriptions by having negotiation. ‘I'm going to fight like crazy for negotiating prices,’ okay. He didn't, but he said that, and that was common ground.
He said he wanted to build the infrastructure of America. Every conversation I had with him starting in congratulating him and then, after that, every conversation before he was President and in months after, ‘I want to build the infrastructure. I want to build the infrastructure,’ until it came time to make the tough decisions about paying for it and the rest, and then he stomped out of the room.
So, those were two areas that he had espoused in the campaign. So, we weren't, as, again, we were looking for what we – most impactful initiatives to affect people in their kitchen‑table issues: the cost of health care, et cetera, preserving the pre-existing condition benefit. How many times did he talk about that? Never did anything about it.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Q: What about health care? Climate change? Immigration?
Speaker Pelosi. So, I think that – look, the Republicans are taking a lot of time saying how much they support the pre-existing medical condition. Well, let's just see what the Court does there because really, what that will be – and that's Frank's purview as well in terms of – do you want to speak to the health issue?
Chairman Pallone. Well, again, I think that, you know, if you listen to what the Republican leadership says in the House and the Senate, they – you know, they say they want everybody to have health insurance. They say, ‘We're going to repeal the ACA, but we are still going to make sure people have health insurance.’ Well, I don't believe that because I think the ACA is the most effective way to accomplish it.
But, you know, whether the Courts undermine the ACA, or certainly the President has, I think there's a recognition with both sides of the aisle that we need to have close to, you know, 100 percent or however close we can get of Americans covered. So, I think there's opportunities to work with them to deal with this.
You know, hopefully the Court doesn't repeal the ACA because that would be hugely tragic for the country, but it's certainly possible to work with them on a number of these health issues, and we will. And now we have the upper hand because we have the President.
Speaker Pelosi. We have the President.
Chairman Pallone. So, I think that they're going to have to come a lot closer to what we want than to whatever President Trump wanted, which I don't even know what he wanted, but –
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Now, let me just say on this score again, because this is where we go from here, we want to unify. Joe Biden, as I said, is the great unifier. Where are the issues that we can find as much common ground as possible?
Now, if we're talking to our supporters in the labor movement: jobs. If you're talking about the poorest people, Reverend Barber's Poor People's Crusade and all that: jobs. Everything in between, jobs, jobs, jobs, the four‑letter word. And that is where we should be focusing: health, jobs, education for our children.
And we have to show with our initiatives, for example – for example, the timetable that our planet is on, the climate issue is a big issue for us. It's also a jobs issue. It is we can create good‑paying green jobs, be preeminent in the world in green technologies as we advance it as a health issue, clean air, clean water, as a national security issue to protect the habitat and the resources and prevent some of migration that causes unrest as well as a moral issue.
So – but when we're doing it, we have to have everybody at the table so that people are not afraid of the future because it is inevitable. The future is inevitable. We will have to address the climate crisis. Technology has an inevitability to it. We have to address what it means when you're having precision farming and robots in the assembly line and the rest. Trade, we are a global economy. There is just no getting around that, and we want to be because we want markets for our products.
But people are intimidated by that, and we want to make sure that – again, as I said earlier, it's not a zero‑sum game: your section wins; your section loses. No. How do we go down this path together? As I say, I see everything as an opportunity, and that opportunity is greatly enhanced by Joe Biden and his knowledge – his vision for our country, his knowledge of the issues, his strategic thinking about how to get it done, and his connection heart to heart with the kitchen‑table concerns of America's working families.
One last question.
Staff. Last question.
Q: On the stimulus question, does the election change your strategy at all? Republicans are out today saying, ‘There's a good jobs numbers; let's do a smaller package now.’ Does that appeal to you at all with the fact that Biden will be here next year?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no, it doesn't appeal to me at all because they still have not agreed to crush the virus. If you don't crush the virus, we're still going to have to be dealing with the consequences of the virus. And that's why we have said, the three pillars of our bill: crush the virus, honor our heroes; that's our state and local. Over one million people have lost their jobs already in state and local, teachers and people in education, et cetera, because of the funds that had been used for – to address the virus and lost revenue because of the virus. So, no, that is – that isn't anything that they – that we should even be looking at. It wasn't the right thing to do before.
By the way, while they refused to sign up for the testing initiative, which is what science says we need, A, and they refused to give an Earned Income Tax Credit to poor families to keep them out of poverty, working families, working poor families, keep them out of poverty, where 8 million more people have gone into poverty as the COVID money has run out, they still insist on having $150 billion for the wealthiest, tax break for the wealthiest people in our country.
So, we are different – there's a difference between Democrats and Republicans. We have a responsibility to find our common ground, stand our ground where we can’t, but make it clear to the American people what the choice is, because public sentiment, as I said Lincoln said, is everything. But sentiment cannot weigh in unless people know.
For us now, the fact that we have the President of the United States to speak to the American people in these terms is such an advantage for us to be able to work together in a bipartisan way rather than the Republicans mischaracterizing what we're trying to do in the Congress of the United States.
Again, I see it as an opportunity. I think Joe Biden has a big mandate, a bigger mandate than John F. Kennedy when I was in school and a bigger mandate than others. But it's pretty exciting for the country because he respects every single person in our country, certainly every single person who voted and respects all of them.
And it is – we have challenges that need to be faced because of the future, which is inevitable, and all that it contains, but we want people to know that decisions about it start at the kitchen table and emit out, not at the corporate boardroom and trickle-down.
Thank you all very much.