Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference at the U.S. Capitol
|Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy held a press conference in the U.S. Capitol in the wake of the midterm elections. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. And a good afternoon it is. It's a great day for the American people.
The biggest winner yesterday was the health care for American people, for our seniors, and hard-working American families. Health care was on the ballot, and health care won.
Yesterday, Americans elected an extraordinary class of dynamic and diverse Democratic candidates, Members-Elect who reflect their districts and who embody the bountiful diversity of our nation.
Women led the way to victory with at least 30 new women coming to the Congress. Is that not exciting? And there are still some races that are not finalized yet, so there could be more.
Democrats also secured big wins in the governorships across the country. And while it is my responsibility to win the House for the Democrats, the winning of governorships is essential, essential to good policy in our country and open elections and the rest.
So victories in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada. We are very proud in New Mexico that our colleague, Michelle Lujan Grisham, is now the Governor. In Colorado, Jared Polis is now the Governor, our current colleague, even though that's replacing a Democratic Governor, great Governor, Governor Hickenlooper, so that wasn't a pickup, but it is a Democratic Member there. Tim Walz in Minnesota, our colleague, again, winning in Minnesota.
So, for us, seeing the extraordinary leadership of eight Members going into Governors' offices, seeing an increased number of Democratic governorships, it was a great night for the American people.
We won because from the beginning we focused on health care. Two years ago today, the day after the election, not the same date, but the same day after the election, everyone came together and said we see the urgency, we want to take responsibility, and that gave us opportunity to protect the Affordable Care Act. That was so essential to the health and financial security of America's working families, and we knew it would be a target of the Trump Administration.
So just so you know, that by that Sunday, we had mobilized many of the groups outside. They were self-mobilized as well, but we all came together, depending on where we might be on the spectrum in other issues, to say this was our focus.
We made a plan to launch our campaign on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day. You know when that is, in January. And we did. After the President's inauguration, as you know, something historic happened in our country, the Women's March. And much of that was about health care, women's reproductive health. Health care, the beat goes on.
Over the course of that next year and a half, working with the outside groups – and they deserve a great deal of credit – and I'm proud of our Democratic unity in the Congress of the United States and our inside maneuvering. That unity was essential to the clarity of our message and our differentiation from the Republicans on that subject. But working together, voting together, we were able to make our case.
The outside groups, and we participated in some of this, but the outside groups had 10,000 events across the country speaking out about the risks that were involved in the Republican policy in terms of health care in our country, their assaults on Medicare, Medicaid, their assaults on the benefit of a pre-existing medical condition being taken away, all of that, so much more. The issue about the cost of prescription drugs, all of those issues by groups, coalitions, Protect Our Care, Little Lobbyists, patient advocacy groups across the country, labor unions, veterans, the list goes on and on, so many people who were involved in that leading up to this being on the ballot.
And some of you have said to me, how did this emerge as the issue in the campaign? My answer is, we made our own environment because we knew how important health care is, not only to the good health of families, but to the financial well-being of their families, health care costs being such a major assault on their economic security.
It was, and when we put together our For the People agenda, our first priority was to lower health care costs by lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Leader Mitch McConnell went forth and really admitted that Medicare and Medicaid and some aspects of Social Security disability benefits were on the chopping block. The President pulled his punch when it came time to lowering the cost of prescription drugs by enabling the Secretary [of HHS] to negotiate for that.
So this is very important. That was For the People, lower health care costs, bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America, integrity in government by reducing the role of big dark money in the political spectrum. That was our agenda. Our candidates ran with it. But health care, health care, health care in every household in America is an important issue.
The man whose office I occupy now, Speaker Tip O'Neill, he said all politics is local. When it comes to health care, all politics is personal.
And so, again, we made our own environment. While the GOP tried relentlessly to distract and divide, our candidates kept their focus on that subject. When I say ‘our candidates,’ our candidates for reelection as well.
Voters delivered a resounding verdict against congressional Republicans' attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, and people with pre-existing conditions in districts everywhere in America. They want new direction, a House that will – now they want a new direction, a House that will work to make progress in the lives of America's families and seniors.
Democrats pledge, again, a new majority, our For the People agenda, lower health care costs, lower prescription drugs, bigger paychecks, building infrastructure, clean up corruption to make America work for the American people's interest, not the special interests.
Yesterday's election was not only a vote to protect America's health care. It was a vote to restore the health of our democracy. The health of our democracy. Under the Constitution, I'm proud that the legislative branch is Article I, the first branch of government, the legislative branch, right after that beautiful preamble stating our purpose, Article I, the legislative branch. It is there as a co-equal branch of the other branches of government and a check and balance on other branches of government.
The American people had put want to put an end to unchecked GOP control of Washington, restoring again the checks and balances envisioned by our Founders. That's a responsibility we have when we take that oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and we, as Democrats, are here to strengthen the institution in which we serve and not to have it be a rubber stamp for President Trump.
House Democrats will honor our responsibility to the Constitution, as I said, have a conscience. How we will open, how we will do things, we will open the Congress with a rule that will insist upon openness and transparency so that the American people can see the impact of public policy on their lives, putting an end to what the Republicans did with their tax scam in the dark of night, the speed of light, no hearings on a bill that would have trillions of dollars of impact on our economy. That's over.
We will strive in that openness with the American people as our partners because they will see the impact of legislation on their lives. We will strive for bipartisanship. We believe that we have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can. Where we cannot, we must stand our ground, but we must try. And so openness and transparency, accountability, bipartisanship, a very important part of how we will go forward.
We believe that's the responsibility we have to honor the vision of our Founders. They gave us in their Declaration a call for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How beautiful. They also gave us guidance on how to achieve that: E Pluribus Unum, from many, one. They couldn't imagine how many there would be or how different we would be from each other, but they knew that we had to strive for oneness.
Recognizing that this is a marketplace of ideas, we have different views on the role of government, and that's a healthy debate for the American people to witness and for us to have. We do so with confidence in our values and our proposals, but also with humility to listen and hear what others may have to say. And so that will be the kind of Congress that we have, one again that honors the guidance of E Pluribus Unum.
Last night, I had a conversation with President Trump about how we could work together. One of the issues that came up was part of our For the People agenda, building the infrastructure of America, and I hope that we can achieve that. He talked about it during his campaign, and, really, didn't come through with it in his first two years in office, but that issue has not been a partisan issue in the Congress of the United States.
Over the years, we've been able to work together regionally, bipartisan across the aisle, across the Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue. I hope that we can do that because we want to create jobs from sea to shining sea. We want good paying jobs, whether it's about surface transportation, water systems, my colleague Congressman Eshoo is here, a champion on broadband, always on high-speed broadband across America to end the digital divide, especially into rural areas as well as urban areas, and then in schools, housing, and the rest.
Those jobs, those initiatives will create good paying jobs but will also generate other economic growth in their regions. So we hope that we can work in a bipartisan way in that way.
The other issue that we could hopefully work on is lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and that is something the President has talked about. We had it in our ‘6 for '06’ 12 years ago when we won the House. Five of those six became law. The one we couldn't get 60 votes in the Senate for was enabling the Secretary [of HHS] to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. We hope to get that done now because that is a big impact on America's families' budget.
And then the third really caffeinating issue for us is integrity in government, to reduce the role of special interest money, and I commend all of our candidates for their commitment to the health care agenda, to a bigger paycheck agenda, and also to the good government agenda.
They have written letters saying that they want H.R. 1, which is our Better Deal for America's Democracy, to be something they vote on. But I say to them, when you come here, you will have an impact on what that legislation is. You may want to make some additions or some tweaking, but nonetheless, our newcomers will be part of putting together how the agenda goes forward, and we look forward to that invigoration of the Congress.
I also spoke to Mitch McConnell, Leader McConnell this morning on how we can work together, especially on infrastructure. I did receive a call of congratulations from Speaker Ryan, and I welcomed that, and we discussed how it is to win and how it is not to win.
In any event, the concern that he was expressing was about some of his colleagues who will no longer be serving. On that point, I want to make a couple of I want to say something because in winning this election, not only are we on the right side of history, we're on the right side of the future. This is where we have to go. But once we talk about the challenges that we face, we had to jump over gerrymandered lines all over the country.
So when we talk about our success, it's about the grassroots operation owning the ground. All of these groups that care about health care, many of them out there helped elect people who share their values about lowering health care costs, removing lifetime caps, even annual caps on insurance coverage, and certainly restoring the benefit of pre-existing conditions not being a barrier to coverage.
Most importantly, though, the quality of our candidates, they are spectacular from every walk of life, and some of them from a couple of different walks of life. And when they come here, they'll bring their experience, their knowledge, and especially their values to the Congress. We look forward to that. This is no easy feat to win this election. I hear the President attributed it to this, that, and the other thing, but when we think of how gerrymandered the country is, how we hope to change that, but nonetheless, how we were able to succeed in this election is a tribute again to the quality of our candidates, the determination of our grassroots folks across the country, and the values that we share with the American people.
In terms of working with the President, I will I just would say that I worked very productively with President Bush when we had the majority and he had the Presidency. We passed one of the biggest energy bills in the history of our country. We passed one of the biggest tax bills in terms of stimulus for low income people as well as middle income people in his Presidency, and the list goes on. PEPFAR, he wanted PEPFAR. We wanted and there was so many issues that we worked together although we vehemently opposed the war in Iraq.
But the point is, is that we worked together. The President said: I'll wait for them to send me something. Well, we have ideas, and we can send him something, but the fact is that we'd like to work together so our legislation will be bipartisan. We're not going for the lowest common denominator. We're going for the boldest common denominator. Our position will be a consensus within our own party for what we can support but also welcoming other ideas.
So we look forward to a new kind of a new era in terms of what is happening. This past two years, it seemed like a very, very long time in terms of the path that it's taken us down. And I think of our Founders and their courage, their vision, what they had in mind for us, E Pluribus Unum, from many, one, when I think of the American people and how beautifully diverse we are and how newcomers to our country have constantly reinvigorated America, when I think of our beautiful planet, and, of course, our own country, God's gift to us and how it has been neglected and degraded in this past couple of years, I think that there is plenty of opportunity for us to match our legislation with the rhetoric that we are hearing.
It might surprise you to note that the President I quoted the most on the campaign trail – what would you think? Ronald Reagan. And I'll just – I won't read you the whole quote, but I'll read you just one paragraph. Ronald Reagan said: ‘This is the last speech that I will make as President of the United States, and I want to – it's fitting to be leave final thought, an observation about a country which I love.’
His last speech. That's quite a headliner, right, in your business, Ronald Reagan's last speech.
He said: ‘Thanks to each new wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we are a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation.’
He goes on to say: ‘If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost. If we ever close the door, our leadership will soon be lost.’
So in that respect for the vision of our Founders, the diversity of our country, the beauty of our land, the values in our Constitution, first and foremost, we think there is an opportunity to work together. One sign of good faith on the part of the President to work together [would be] for them to withdraw their assault on the pre-existing condition benefit, which the Republican attorneys general across the country have put forth, and which this administration has said they will not defend the law of the land, they will join in that lawsuit. That's just wrong. That's just wrong. So we think, again, as a sign of good faith and in keeping with what they are saying on the campaign trail, prove it. Withdraw the lawsuit. So that would be one place that we could start.
In any event, next week we look forward to welcoming our new class of freshmen. We will celebrate their diversity, the freshness of their thinking and the rest, and they will immediately be incorporated into our building a consensus of how we go forward in a very open, transparent, bipartisan, unifying Congress.
Any questions? Yes, sir.
Q: The President warned against, in his a press conference, a Democratic investigation into the White House and Trump Administration. He also said that the tax returns wouldn't be released necessarily because they are in a continuous audit.
So my question is, are you concerned about Democratic overreach in any way in your investigations, and two, how far are you willing to take the push to get the President's tax returns in this new Democratic majority?
Leader Pelosi. The President also said this was a good day for Republicans. So let's put that in perspective as well.
We have a constitutional responsibility to have oversight. That's the balance of power. I'm an appropriator. It was one of the places I was forged in the Congress, on the Appropriations Committee, as well as on the Intelligence Committee. Both places whose hallmarks were bipartisanship. Nothing. We could always, left to our own devices, find our solutions. That, of course, has changed now when the poison pills rain down from on high.
But in Appropriations and in many of the other – all of the other committees, we have a responsibility for oversight, and, hopefully, in the course of asking for information, we can just make the request and the information will come in.
We're concerned about what's happening at EPA, for example, to degrade of the air we breathe and the water we drink, despite what the President said today. So that's only one example.
I don't think we'll have any scattershot freelancing in terms of this. We will have a responsibility to honor our oversight responsibilities, and that's the path that we will go down. We're, again, trying to unify our country.
Q: How far will you go to try to get those tax returns?
Leader Pelosi. Look, when our committees – I'm a big believer in the committee system, always have been. Our committees will make their decisions and make their recommendations to the Caucus. But you can be sure of one thing. When we go down any of these paths, we'll know what we're doing, and we'll do it right.
Q: Madam Leader, there is going to be an historic number of women in Congress, 100 of them. I wonder how are they going to change the institution, and also, with you and your leadership team staying at the top, how are they going to have room to advance?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I have always advanced Members into the leadership. They have to decide if they want to run. Many people like making their mark in their committees, and that's a decision they have to make, but to your first part of your question, what I – some people have said to me – and I appreciate your question.
Some people have said to me: Now that we have more women coming in, will we have more emphasis on things like child care and this or that? We have a big emphasis on that, and we need to make it stronger in the majority, but that's across the board in our caucus. I don't want women only to be – as important as that is, and it is vitally important to women's role in the workplace – I want women to not just be talking about those issues, because we view every issue as a women's issue. We believe the national security of our country is a women's issue. The economic security of our country, national security, economic security, the issues that relate to energy and the rest, they are women's issues.
So my – what I have always tried to do with everyone here is to – if they're interested and trying to introduce them to be interested is to have a security credential, whether it's on Armed Services, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Veterans' Affairs, Mr. Cummings' committee of Government Oversight, Judiciary and fighting terrorism, to have a security credential. I think this is very important for the face of security in our country, not to just be the men who have been doing it all along, with all due respect to their terrific leadership, but for women to take command and have standing on those issues, and many of our new Members coming in bring standing with them already. Some do, some do not.
I do think that in terms of the economy and our committees, we have Maxine Waters at Financial Services, so there is already a record of high leadership on issues that relate to the economic security of our country. We have, I think, four new women members on the Ways and Means Committee just this past year. Usually it would be one or maybe one or two, but we have four more new members.
So, again, all these issues, I want women to take ownership of what would be traditionally not as high a visible role for them, and that's one of the ways that they will change the Congress. So that when people – when the White House or the Administration, whatever administration it is, has to report to leadership in the Congress at any level about the safety of our country, they will be talking to the full diversity of our country, our women, people of color, LGBTQ, and I think that's a very positive thing, because people in the public will see people who share their values, their experiences, their concern making decisions about the safety and security of our country.
Q: If I may, many of the women that have been elected have said that they're not sure they can support you to be the Speaker of the House. You were the first woman Speaker of the House. Are you confident that you are going to be the next Speaker of the House, and what would you say to those women?
Leader Pelosi. What I say to those women: Congratulations on your election. Welcome.
Q: Madam Leader, may I ask you, just for the moment, state your case to the members as to why you should be Speaker.
Leader Pelosi. I have answered that question. Let me just say this in one sentence. I heard the President say I deserve to be the Speaker. I don't think anybody deserves anything. It's not about what you have done. It's what you can do. What you have done in the past speaks to your credentials, but it's about what you can do, and I think I'm the best person to go forward to unify, to negotiate. I'm a good negotiator, as anyone can see, in terms of how we won every negotiation so far.
The only one we didn't win that wasn't a negotiation, was the GOP Tax Scam in the dark of night and speed of light, as I said earlier. So I think that my case is about being the best person for how we go forward, and I'm not going to answer any more questions on that subject.
We have an important – we saw something this morning that challenges the conscience of our country. We saw something this morning that shows a differentiation in respect for the diversity of our country. We have to try to bridge that gap, to bring people together, and that, I think I can do a good job at that, but I'm not going to spend any – I'd rather answer questions about policy and the rest. The record will speak for itself.
Q: Madam Leader, to follow up on what the President said this morning, he made clear that if Democrats launch investigations, that any hopes for bipartisanship is off. Do you have any concerns that these investigations could jeopardize your opportunities to legislate?
Leader Pelosi. We do not intend to abandon or relinquish our responsibility as the Article I, the first branch of government, and our responsibilities for accountability, for oversight, and the rest. This doesn't mean we go looking for a fight, but it means that if we see a need to go forward, we will.
But that will be the work of our committees. Every committee has oversight responsibility.
Congresswoman Eshoo's on Energy and Commerce, and that's a big oversight committee, as some of you are probably aware. But specifically, to some of the concerns that the President may have with the Judiciary Committee, the Intelligence Committee, the Oversight Committee – well, there are a number of committees, depending on how we go down that path, Financial Services Committee – did I say Intelligence? Oh, Homeland Security Committee because, of course, we are shamed as a nation by a policy that takes babies out of the arms of their mothers, that builds tents and all the rest to house people, and there's separation of families.
So we will look into that, and we would hope that we could do so by simply having oversight. If, in fact, it requires a subpoena, I hope not, but so be it.
Q: Leader Pelosi, can I have a follow up on that? In hindsight, do you think it was a mistake for Democrats to stay silent on all the heated rhetoric from the President and some Republican Senators? I mean, the Republicans kept control of the Senate and some of them ran on this anti-immigrant rhetoric, so are you, in hindsight, you know, maybe thinking that that was a mistake for Democrats to stay silent?
Leader Pelosi. No, I do not. I urged our colleagues not to take the bait in what the President was putting out there. It's a very dangerous issue on the campaign trail because of the misrepresentations that are put out there. We don't win a fight by fighting that same fight. You win by sticking with the program For The People: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, cleaner government. That produced a big victory for us, in spite of the gerrymandering that the Republicans have done. I have no regret.
Q: Leader McConnell is pledging to again vote on the border wall and border security funding that he claims Democrats push back on.
Leader Pelosi. Sorry. I didn't watch his press conference. I don't know exactly what he said, but I will say this: one of the biggest resources that we have – when I say ‘we,’ the American people, and we, as representatives, is public sentiment. You have heard me say, many of you, again and again, Abraham Lincoln, President Lincoln said: ‘Public sentiment is everything. With it, you can accomplish anything. Without it, practically nothing.’
And I do believe that one of the reasons that we will be successful in our negotiations is because the people will see the impact of what is being proposed on their lives, on their values, on our country. And so that is – look, President Ronald Reagan, President George Herbert Walker Bush, President Clinton, President George W. Bush, President Obama all valued the contribution of newcomers to our country, their hope, their determination, their optimism, their courage to make the future better for their families. They are all American traits, and when they come with those values, they make America more American. Other Presidents saw that.
This President used it as a – in fear mongering. I just don't think that's right. But in order to get in a position to fight it, we had to win on the issues that strike right to the financial security of America's working families, and those are our values.
Q: Leader Pelosi, both you and the President have spoken about opportunities for bipartisanship. President Trump said that he actually believes there will be less gridlock with a divided Washington. What gives you any confidence that with Democrats in control you can reach deals on issues that you haven't been able to reach deals on in the past two years?
Leader Pelosi. Public sentiment, our biggest ally. I believe Martin Luther King said: the ballot, the ballot, the ballot. Legislation, legislation, legislation. Your life, your life, your life. Calling to people's attention clearly that voting was important because what happens legislatively can impact their lives. With our transparency in government, we intend for people to see the impact of legislation on their lives and to weigh in. That is our strength. That is our strength.
Another person who marched with Dr. King, Walter Reuther, he said the bread box and the ballot box cannot be separated. Decisions made at the negotiating table, successes after negotiating can be overturned by what's happens in legislative halls. People have to see more clearly the connection to voting policy in their lives so that they will vote and they will have an impact on the public policy.
I feel very confident about it. I think Democrats come into this majority with a responsibility not to Democrats. It is not about Democrats or Republicans. It's about the United States of America. It's about the country that Ronald Reagan talked about that he loved, the President said he loved, that we all love. We have a great obligation to honor the vision of our Founders and what they were so courageous in fighting for and so brilliant in presenting to us.
We have a responsibility to our men and women in uniform, the sacrifices they and their families have made over time to keep us the land of the free and the home of the brave. And we have a major responsibility to our children and their future, because this is all – elections are all about the future.
And I think there might, there needs, has to be a place where we can find common ground to end the situation in our country, which is 1 in 5 children in America goes to sleep hungry at night, and 1 in 5 children in America live in poverty. How can it be in the wealthiest country that ever existed in the history of the world? How do we address that? By lifting up everyone in our society to speak to the bigger paychecks for everyone, including the lifting up those at the bottom.
The middle class is the backbone of America. Some of us believe that the middle class has a union label on it. So the more we can do about people making – having involvement in the determination of their fate.
If I just may say, I brag about our candidates saying they know their ‘why.’ They know why they were running, they know what they cared about and to speak to it authoritatively, they know how to communicate with their constituents and relate to their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and concerns. My ‘why’ has always been the 1 in 5 children who live in poverty because I think it's a symptom of something else in our society about everybody not participating in the full prosperity of America.
And when I say that, I say it to say that there are many ways to solve problems. Some of it is direct, some not, but I do think the American people have good hearts. I respect them, those who vote with us, those who do not vote with us, and I respect all of you. Our Constitution is central to it with checks and balances, but further to it was the Bill of Rights, and I do believe that the freedom of the press is the guardian of the gate of our democracy.
While we may not always like the press we get, that's not the point. The point is that it's important that you're there to speak truth, to hold us accountable, and I don't think that it's a good idea to undermine the freedom of the press in our country because we are an example to the world, this great beacon.
Ronald Reagan talked about our Statue of Liberty, the beacon of hope to the world, not only to incoming people but to what we stand for.
So God has truly blessed America with our Founders and our values in the Constitution, as I mentioned, with the American people and their beautiful diversity, and with this beautiful land that God gave us. I work with some of the evangelicals because we believe it is God's creation. We have a moral responsibility to be good stewards, so when we build the infrastructure, we have to do so in a green way.
For these and other reasons, I look forward to working with you along the way. Thank you for being here today. Again, we are very excited about our new Members who will be coming next week to start with a fresh start in the new Congress. Thank you all very much.