Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today
Speaker Pelosi. Votes on the Floor. That's the tyranny of the bell, as I call it. When the bells ring we have to be there, and when the Members are there that's a very important time for us.
Sadly, this week was marked by the great tragedy of our losing our brave men and women in uniform killed in a terror attack in Syria. So very, very sad. This horrific attack is a stark reminder of the reality of the security threats that we still face around the world.
Later today we'll hold a vote on the Administration's termination of sanctions against companies controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We will have very informed debate on the Floor on this. As I've mentioned before, we had a classified briefing on this last week, which was with stiff competition of the worst classified briefing I have seen from the Trump Administration. But very proud of the Democrats in the room who asked very specific questions to the Administration.
You'll hear some of that debate on the Floor. It is very, very important. I'm proud that in the Senate the vote, while they did not achieve 60, was a strong majority, 57 to 42, to disagree, to disapprove of the actions taken by the Administration.
Once again, I'm always at temporal markers. So, that's today. Next week, as you are aware, we have cancelled our District Work Period next week to stay here to work on legislation to open up government, to continue our ongoing drumbeat of bills to open up government, starting with the bills that the Republicans themselves passed in the Senate but now won't take up. But we will go to the next step next week on that.
At the same time we will be working on our agenda, For the People: to lower health care costs, to increase paychecks by building the infrastructure of America, and by passing H.R. 1 in the very near future to bring dignity to government by lowering the role of big, dark special interest money in politics and in government.
Once again, we call upon the President to open up government, to re-open government. As I said, we cancelled our District Work Period.
This is directly related to our security. The Trump Shutdown is undermining that. We're not paying people that keep us safe: the TSA agents who stop bombs from coming on to planes; the FBI agents who track down terrorists in our country; the DEA agents who stop the flow of drugs into our country; and the immigration officials who patrol the border.
This senseless shutdown is inflicting great pain on every part of our country. Every day the impact spreads, reaching the lives of hard-working Americans in every corner of the country.
I'm particularly concerned about the United Mine Workers of America. They spend a good deal of time in my office, because I do believe we owe them so much. Even though I'm not a big supporter of coal, I am a big supporter of the coal miners and their health and retirement benefits.
Yesterday, I heard from the United Mine Workers of America, who warned that reimbursements of health care providers are not being processed, which will lead to the service shortages that jeopardize the health care of 35,000 mine workers if this shutdown continues.
Back home in San Francisco, Members have stories, we have a story storm, because we're being bombarded by them, and they are the most eloquent, articulate justification for opening up government. In my city of San Francisco, thousands of people are being denied their paychecks.
People think of public employees, federal employees, only being in the Washington area. No, they're all over the country. They're in small town USA and other places around the country, including the Bay Area.
People like EPA employee James Munson from San Francisco, who explained that he could have a garage sale and sell everything he owns and it won't be enough for one month's rent.
People like Bay Area and NASA employee Sherri Shore, who can't pay her mortgage and was told by the lender: ‘Too bad, you're just going to have to wait until your house goes into foreclosure.’
People like EEOC investigator Mali Kigasari of San Francisco, who said: ‘Trump's wall is imaginary, but my bills are real.’
This is most unfortunate, and I don't understand why the reality of this in people's lives is not felt or concerned or cared about by the Administration. Not only are these workers not paid, they're not appreciated by this Administration.
These are the people who deliver services to the American people. We should respect what they do for our country. Many of them are veterans who have translated their military patriotism into civilian patriotism working for the government and they are affected by this. These workers make a difference in the lives of the American people, including security officials who would be protecting the President at the State of the Union address.
As I have said to some of you, this is defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event. It means it is elevated to a place where the resources of the government are used to protect that event. It is the President of the United States and the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, House and Senate, the Cabinet – acting as it is – but the Cabinet, Supreme Court of the United States, the diplomatic corps, and all that that implies in terms of security.
The continuation of government is the reason for all of the security, as well as the power that is in the room.
I have no doubt that our men and women in the federal workforce have the capability to protect. The inference that they want to say is: ‘Oh, you don't think they could?’ Yes, they can. They're professionals. They are trained for this. They should be paid for this.
And that's why I said to the President: If you don't open up government, if that doesn't happen, let's discuss a mutually agreeable date. January 29, the date of the State of the Union, is not a sacred date. It's not constitutionally required. It's not a President's birthday. It's not anything. It is a date that we agreed to. It could have been the week later, and it could be a week later if government is open.
So, it isn't as if that date is sacred for any reason. It was one that was negotiated: What works for you? What works for our schedule on both sides of the aisle?
So, I just want to make it clear, there is no reason for this to happen. We have over and over again put forth an agenda for protecting our border. It is the oath we take, to protect and defend. Securing our borders is a very important part of that.
The President says there are all these drugs coming into the country. Ninety percent of the drugs coming over the border come through the ports of entry. And so, we have said again and again: let's build the infrastructure of the ports of entry or maybe increase them. Let's facilitate trade and travel and protecting our security with more lateral roads there. Let's increase the personnel. There are nearly 3,000 – 3,000, imagine – 3,000 vacancies in Customs. Let's increase the personnel.
Infrastructure, personnel, technology, technology, technology.
For several hundred million dollars there is the capability to scan the cars for drugs, guns, contraband. The technology is there. The will is there. I think there's bipartisan agreement that we should be doing that and to use other technology to protect the border in other ways.
The President says the only way to do it is with a wall. That's a debate that we have, but it was no debate that we all agree that protecting our border is the responsibility we have, and that has always, always been the case.
Again, we must respect our workers, protect our borders and re-open government immediately.
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Q: Speaker Pelosi, Republicans –
Speaker Pelosi. Are you going to ask me again have we heard from the White House?
Q: No, ma'am, I will not.
Republicans have talked quite a bit about the comment that you made about saying you would only spend $1 for the wall and this idea of open up the government first, then negotiate.
Speaker Pelosi. It is a silly question. With all due respect, that's a silly comment on the part of the Republicans. They're desperate. They know we have to open up government. They know.
Were you the one that asked me or was it Chad? One of you asked, ‘Would you spend $1?’ I said, ‘Yes, I'll spend $1.’
But that is not the point, and they know that's not the point. So, let's not glorify a silly question on their part.
Q: But do you need to express more willingness to negotiate on that figure for Republicans to get past this idea that you won't talk about it?
Speaker Pelosi. I'm not for a wall. I'm not for a wall.
Q: The Secretary of Homeland Security has said that they could secure the State of the Union. So, aren't you just trying to deny the President a platform to deliver his address?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I'm not denying him a platform at all. I'm saying, let's get a date when government is open. Let's pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it's okay not to pay people who do work. I don't, and my Caucus doesn't either.
And before I issued the letter I consulted with the Chair, the Chair now of the Homeland Security Committee, Mr. Bennie Thompson. He has oversight of that committee and has worked very hard and long on issues that relate to domestic security and domestic terrorism, and he agreed that we should go forward in this way.
It isn't a question of: are they professional enough? Why did we even take it there? The question is, they should be paid. And as the Secretary of any agency, that person should be advocating for her employees to be paid instead of saying it's okay for them to work without pay.
Q: Madam Speaker, if the President comes back to you and says, ‘No, I want to give the State of the Union at the Capitol on the date we agreed to,’ what will you do then? Will you allow it to go forward?
Speaker Pelosi. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Although, we haven't heard. Very silent, more than 24 hours. To your question that you ask me every time I step out of the office, ‘Have you heard?’ – no, we haven't heard yet.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
What about the idea, I know you have concerns about the security here, but considering how everybody is so amped up on both sides of the aisle about this shutdown, the President is amped up, that by not doing this at this stage, this is really an effort, it might be healthy to lower the temperature, that nothing good could potentially come from that scene in the Chamber, Members might not be respectful, the President might not be respectful of you?
Speaker Pelosi. That's probably true.
Q: Are you concerned about the temperature getting too high in that room?
Speaker Pelosi. No. I'm concerned about people not having paychecks in their homes. Have you heard the stories of people like that young woman who was a newlywed? She came home, she was sick, she is diabetic, she had three vials left. She didn't know what she was going to do. She thought hopefully the government would open again. It didn't, so she is not taking insulin that she needed for her diabetes. And she even said, sometimes when she would go to sleep she thought it would be easier not to wake up, because she didn't take her medicine, than to face the fact that she wasn't having a paycheck and couldn't afford her medicine.
The father who had a child who was born and needed an operation but couldn't get onto the health insurance program because government was shut down. The list goes on and on.
That's the heat that we want to lower, the heat in the lives of the American people. There is a story storm that is going on all over the country, and we want to convey the reality of this cruel policy in the lives of these workers. And it is not just – although that is a stunning number, 800,000, we care about that statistic – but we care about each and every family that is affected.
And it goes beyond those employees into our economy. The economists, even the President's own people, are saying that GDP will not grow as long as this shutdown is there. And that means that the President's insistence on the wall is a luxury the country can no longer afford.
Q: Madam Speaker, based on your concerns, ma'am, don't you as Speaker of the House have an obligation to be at the negotiating table?
Speaker Pelosi. We have gone to it. What negotiating table are we not at? The last one we went to I think was a set-up where the President pounded as he gave himself leverage to leave the room.
But, no, we're at the negotiating table, and I've never discouraged anybody from accepting an invitation from the President of the United States, and some of our folks were there yesterday. So, I don't know which meeting you're talking about that we're not at.
Q: Well, there don't appear to be any active talks. And so, if Congress has the power of the purse, couldn't you just say, ‘Fine, I'll give you some money for border security, here is how you're going to use it’?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, that's what we have been saying. Perhaps you missed it, and perhaps we weren't clear enough, so I'll take responsibility for that.
But let me go into it again. Ninety percent of the drugs and many of the asylum seekers coming into the United States come through the ports of entry. We're saying use resources – and by the way, in the last Congress, before we adjourned, we gave the Administration exactly what the Department asked for, and it passed in the Senate.
So, when you say, ‘Why aren't you negotiating?’ we are negotiating, and we do go to the meetings. But let's be clear. You said, ‘Why don't you?’ You will be seeing many things unfolding in the next few days about what our next bills will be on the floor. But in case I wasn't clear, 90 percent of the drugs coming into the country come through the ports of entry. Let's use resources to expand the ports of entry.
This has to be evidence-based, not notion-mongered, and those ports of entry need more personnel. Nearly 3,000 employee vacancies, positions not filled on the border. And some of it is because of the quality of life. They need more infrastructure to do their jobs in terms of ports of entry, water supply and the rest.
And then we talk about technology. As I said, several hundred million dollars, ranges from a half a billion to $700 million, for the technology to scan the cars coming through the ports of entry. And that is to detect guns. It's like an electronic dog almost to detect drugs, guns and other contraband. You're using other technology, other places along the border.
So, it's about infrastructure, it's about some roads to go with it to facilitate trade, immigration, first and foremost our security, and to do so in a way that honors our values.
I don't know if I have this here. I just saw a poll which was interesting because it said: ‘Do you think…’
[To Staff] What was the question? Is George here? Oh. ‘Do you think that the wall is consistent with our values?’ What was it, like 51 percent said no and 42, or something like that, said yes.
So, this is about who we are as a country that we're able to protect our borders, our people and our values.
Thank you all very much.