Transcript of Weekly Press Conference Today
January 24, 2019
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. Is it still morning? Yes. It’s been a long morning, started last night. Good morning. Thank you all for being here.
As you know, last night the President accepted the fact that the State of the Union address should be at a time when we can talk about the state of the Union when government is not shut down.
I’m glad we could get that off the table, because I know it was a source of many questions. Should we rent the equipment for the State of the Union? Should we have our families come in?
It is so unimportant in the lives of the American people, in terms of especially those who are victims of the shutdown, hostages to the President’s applause line in a campaign speech.
Thank goodness we put that matter to rest and that we can get on to the subject at hand: open up government so that we can negotiate how best to protect our borders.
Democrats have always been strong about honoring our oath of office to protect and defend the American people: protecting our borders, securing our borders, is an important part of that.
Today, the Senate has an opportunity to pass legislation that is very simple. It’s about billions of dollars in disaster assistance and also just keeping government open until February 8, so that we can have a discussion while people are being paid. Tomorrow marks the second paycheck that our federal workers will miss. We’ve asked the Republicans to take ‘yes’ for an answer over and over again.
In the legislation that we passed this week, we have a little more than half a billion dollars for the ports of entry. We have been told by authorities that 90 percent of the drugs come through the port of entry. We also know that those seeking [asylum] are encouraged to come through the ports of entry and most of them do. And that is a place where we can secure our borders for the purpose of, again, security, but also immigration, trade, travel, tourism and the rest.
So in that legislation we have over half a billion dollars to build the infrastructure to secure, to enhance and perhaps even increase the number of ports of entry. That is not in the Homeland Security bill, because it falls under the Treasury Department-independent agencies bill that we passed on the Floor this week.
We have over half a billion dollars for additional immigration judges. This is to address the backlog of processing immigration cases and those seeking asylum, those seeking asylum.
And asylum is a humanitarian effort for all of us. The Evangelicals have testified in our rump hearings, before we had the Majority to have a real hearing, they’ve testified that the U.S. refugee resettlement program, how we deal with asylum seekers, is ‘the crown jewel of American humanitarianism.’ And, again, that is being undermined. And these ports of entry, increasing them will be helpful, but asylum seekers can cross wherever they can. That is under international law.
Okay, third, then assistance to Central American countries.
These three things really actually were in the President’s proposal the other day. So this is not different. We have been advocating this for a while. The President adopted some of these things in his statement the other day, and yet the Republicans refuse to support a homeland security bill that includes that.
And when I say a homeland security bill, it isn’t the actual Homeland Security, it’s a bill to open government. It’s for the six other bills to open government, which contain some port of entry language.
Today, the Senate will vote on a bipartisan bill to open government. It contains the same funding proposal they’ve already supported, and yet now they won’t. So there’s no excuse for Senate Republicans not to pass this legislation. We’ve asked them over and over again to take ‘yes’ for an answer.
So we are very firm in our support on how we secure our borders. Let’s have that discussion after we open up government. And then let us get to work.
You’ve heard the letters from the former Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security saying: this is harmful, open up government.
You’ve heard from the FBI Agents Association that, because of the shutdown, they have no funds to pay confidential sources or to pay for investigation and prosecution of cases, including child exploitation, cyber warfare, or MS-13, terrorism-related cases.
You’ve heard from the air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants warn that ‘We have a growing concern for safety and security… We cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play nor predict the point at which the entire system will break.’
I heard the president of the association, of the flight attendants, air traffic controllers, last night say that in one place 40 percent of the people – there’s only 52 percent of the workforce there of 100 percent that they should have, and of that 52 percent, 40 percent are eligible for retirement. This is not something about re-upping when you see how casually this Administration treats the important work that air traffic controllers do for us.
And then the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, said, ‘I find it unacceptable that the Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day to day life as service-members.’ That’s the Commandant of the Coast Guard. He’s saying that he finds it unacceptable. That should be a call to action for this Administration to open up government.
Instead, what do they have? They have Wilbur Ross saying he doesn’t understand why, when he was asked about people going to food lines and pantries and the rest, he says he doesn’t understand why they have to do that.
I don’t know, is this the ‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude, or call your father for money? Or this is character-building for you, ‘It’s all going to end up very well, just so long as you don’t get your paychecks?’ ‘I don’t quite understand why,’ as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow.
I met with the mayors yesterday, and in addition to speaking with them, I’ve heard from them about all of the stories and what it means in their communities in terms of the individual families, but also the impact on the economies of their communities.
We wanted to work together, get back to work, to lower the cost of health care for all Americans, to increase the paychecks by building infrastructure, which the President says he wants to do, and to move on with our H.R. 1, to bring dignity and reduce the role of big or special interest money in politics.
We are ready. We are working on these initiatives. We hope that we can open government so that we can fully concentrate in this way.
In that case, we urge the President once again – thank you for recognizing that it’s inappropriate to have a State of the Union address where people are working hard, very hard, to protect all of us in that room and not getting paid for it.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, how hard are you pushing the White House for another face-to-face meeting with the President? I mean, how do you work this out if you don’t sit down and talk it through?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, we have met. We’ve met every time. The last time we met, it was a photo op for the President to leave the room. But they know full well that we are here in order to have any conversation.
Q: But do you think that that would be valuable? I mean, it’s been more than a week now since you’ve spoken face to face.
Speaker Pelosi. It’s the President of the United States. We would meet with him any time he wants to meet, and I’ve never discouraged anybody from meeting with the President.
Q: So on the shutdown, so you sent your initial letter when the government was shut down. And then you said yesterday, we’re not going to have the speech until – we’re not going to pass the Concurrent Resolution. The President sent out his statement last night. You sent out your tweet.
The government was shut down at both points. Did something change between –
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: – when you sent the initial letter, because the government was shut down at that point?
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah, I really appreciate your question. That was the first day of this session of Congress, and that very same day we passed the legislation that was passed overwhelmingly by the Republicans in the Senate. We’re saying, we’re giving you back just exactly what you gave us, take ‘yes’ for an answer. They didn’t.
Now, 10 times the House Democrats have passed legislation to open up government. In between then and now, I said to the President, we should find a mutually agreeable date when government is open to do this.
So, what has changed is that the Senate has refused to take ‘yes’ for an answer. And maybe today they will, because what we passed this week was the – you give me an opportunity to say this.
We first sent them what they did, pure and simple, Senate Republican leadership legislation. They said ‘no.’ They said ‘no.’ Why would they say ‘no’ when they passed it 92 to 6, in some cases 100, unanimously, in Committee? And sometimes with the vote of Mitch McConnell, because he’s an Appropriator.
The Republicans on this side said, why would we just pass something the Senate did when we negotiated these bills and we have conferenced, have had conferences on them? So, we said, okay, this week we’ll bring up the bills as conferenced, House and Senate. Still, they said ‘no.’
We gave them what they asked for, and still not enough Republicans voted for. But we had the votes to pass it in the House, and that’s another thing that the Senate could take up.
But today is simple. It’s about $12 billion for disaster assistance, plus 2 weeks of opening up government. Who can say no to that, so that for 2 weeks we can have this debate?
Q: So when you sent the President the letter, you didn’t think the government would still be shut down?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I did not, especially since we were giving them back exactly what they gave us. I guess I had better hopes for the concern that the Republicans in the Senate might have for the concerns of working people in our country.
Q: Madam Speaker, House Democrats are negotiating behind the scenes a counteroffer to the President?
Speaker Pelosi. That’s not true. That’s not true. That’s not true.
Q: If that’s not true, what is the status of the negotiations? Are you considering something like that?
Speaker Pelosi. No. We are doing what we have been doing all along. We have been working on our congressional responsibility to write bills, appropriations bills, to keep government open. Many of those bills have come to the Floor again and again just this week.
The Homeland Security bill was not finished. Hopefully, it will be finished soon, and out of that we will see our commitment to border security.
There’s not any negotiation behind the scenes or anything like that.
Q: Madam Speaker, is it not the case then that you guys are working on a $5.7 billion bill that would not include money for the wall, but would include money for border security?
Speaker Pelosi. Within our $49 billion Homeland Security bill, there will be some provisions. You heard about one and a half billion that I just said here that are not within that bill. They’re in the Treasury Department. They’re in the Justice Department. And I don’t know what they call it anymore. When I was the ranking Democrat, it was called Foreign Ops, but that Foreign Ops/State Department bill.
So, that’s one and a half billion. But separate from that is the Homeland Security bill, and within that we will have some of our proposals for what comes next.
Q: Madam Speaker, why not keep your Members here this weekend?
Speaker Pelosi. Many of them will be here. Many of them will be here. Some of them will be home listening to the stories and commiserating with those who have lost their jobs.
As you probably know, while people think of the Washington area as the place where most Federal employees are, they are, in fact, indeed, all over the country, in my district as well.
Some will be here. This afternoon we’ll have some, after the Senate acts, hoping that they could accept $12 billion for disaster assistance and 2 weeks to open up government, to end the shutdown so that we can negotiate.
If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be telling the stories of these families. So, some will be here, some won’t be here, but all of them on notice to be here.
Q: But tomorrow is day 35. Why not be in session?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, if we have some vote that we can take we will be in session. That is not a closed case.
But I’m still optimistic. I’m still optimistic in the goodness of the Republicans in the Senate, that they will care enough about these people that they will say, ‘Okay, we’ll give 2 weeks so that we can negotiate an evidence‑based, cost‑effective, value‑respecting way to protect the American people with border security.‘
That doesn’t seem like a big ask, especially since we still need to pass the disaster assistance. That’s a simple ask, Senators. I don’t think we can speak to them in that way.
My hope is that the Senators will pass a bill that addresses the concerns of the disaster assistance, $12 billion. We need to pass that legislation, A. And B, 2 weeks, February 8, a short period of time, open up government, let the negotiations continue or begin at a certain stage, so that we can honor the work that these people are doing, deflect those on the Republican side who want to shrink government, and this is one way to engineer that. Be respectful of how we are protected by our civil aviation and the security that the FBI provides for us in so many ways that are shut down, because they just don’t understand why people have to stand in food lines.