Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Ahead of Vote to End Trump Shutdown, Re-open Government
Speaker Pelosi. Mr. Clyburn is in the chair, and our appropriators are going to join us. Good evening. We're here with the distinguished House Democratic Leader, Mr. Hoyer, our distinguished Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey, and our Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.
I didn't know Mr. Clyburn had come from the chair yet.
As you are aware, we have, we are diligent, diligent and persistent in trying to open up government. As I said today on the Floor, we will take ideas, good ideas from wherever they come including the idea of the appropriations bills passed by the Republicans in the United States Senate. They passed six bills, four of them on the floor, with over 90 votes, two of them in committee unanimously, and those six bills cover eight departments of government that could be opened just by the stroke of the pen of the President of the United States.
Separate from that, we are sending what the Senate also passed, which is a bill to extend, to have a continuing resolution until February 8th – taking their exact date from the Senate. That would cover Homeland Security, give us the weeks needed to negotiate an agreement to open up government in that department.
Again, we've taken word for word, and I’m going to yield in a moment after Mr. Hoyer to our distinguished Chair of the Appropriations Committee to demonstrate how purely Republican and Senatorial these measures were.
And so we have separated out, there are two votes. One, on the eight departments of government that could be open now to meet the needs of the American people, to meet the needs of the American people, to protect our borders and to protect our workers.
And, again, the other bill is mostly about protecting our borders. So in that spirit, I want to yield to our distinguished Democratic Leader of the House, Mr. Hoyer, to talk about the need for us to open up government.
Leader Hoyer. Thank you very much and congratulations, Madam Speaker, on your re-election.
Speaker Pelosi. Congratulations to you.
Leader Hoyer. We're here late tonight, later than you would usually expect the Congress to be here on opening day. People, obviously, have things to do, they have family in town, but we are here because we sense the urgency of opening up the people's government so that they can be served by the agencies of government on which they rely and so that 800,000 people who have been put at risk, who are worrying about whether they're going to get a paycheck next week, going to be worried about whether they're going to be able to pay a mortgage, whether they're going to be able to pay their car payment or their child's school payment, that's why we're here, to open up government.
And why – what have we done? As the Speaker just indicated, we have taken six bills that the Senate has passed almost unanimously, passed unanimously out of their committee. Republicans and Democrats joined together so we have agreement on these six bills. There’s not – nobody's arguing about the six bills. They’re not arguing at the White House, they're not arguing here. We have agreement. One would surely think that if we pass that, as I expect we're going to do, that the Senate would pass it, send it to the President, he would sign it. Because there's no disagreement.
Now, there is a disagreement on the Homeland Security bill. So we have said, okay, we haven't reached agreement, but we're going to provide some more time so we can sit down as adults, hopefully, as rational, reasonable, commonsense people and come to an agreement on something we all agree with, the objective of keeping Americans safe, keeping our country safe and keeping our borders secure is not in debate. The only thing that's in debate are the means.
We don't agree with the President's proposal. We don't think it's the proper or most effective, efficient means to keep our country safe. So we're saying, ‘Okay, we'll do what Senator McConnell did, we'll give us until February 8th, approximately four weeks, to come together and discuss this issue without shutting down government, without putting 800,000 people at risk, without inconveniencing and putting at risk millions and millions of Americans who rely on the operations of government.’
So we're hopefully going to pass that bill tonight as well. And I hope that Senator McConnell will put it on the Floor. I hope the senators will vote for it, send it down to the President.
The President has asked us to come down to meet tomorrow at 10:30 and we will do that and we'll have a discussion. At 11:30? Excuse me, 11:30.
Speaker Pelosi. They told me 11:30.
Maybe the real meeting is at 10:30 for the men –
Leader Hoyer. This is going to be in the news, I’m sure.
The fact of the matter is we'll go down there, we'll talk, and Chair Lowey and Chair Lucille Roybal-Allard are reasonable people, and we'll try to come to an agreement on which we can all agree. But holding 800,000 people hostage, holding the people's government hostage is not what they expect, not what they want.
So hopefully, Senator McConnell will put that bill on the Floor tonight or tomorrow, send it to the President, and we will open up the people's government and then continue to do the people's business. I’ll yield to the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey, of New York.
Chairwoman Lowey. The message is very simple: this is the first time in history that a government has been shut down while our new electeds have assumed responsibility. I want to say that again, because this is the first time in history that there has been a shutdown of government as we welcome new leaders, and we want to work together to govern responsibly.
As we came up with in this plan, we didn't dream up a plan from the right, the left, the center. We just sat together and said there are six bills that will pass by the Senate. Some by the full Senate, some by the committees, but it was unanimous.
So we thought if we want to open government and not have a shutdown, let's take that bill, those six bills, pass them here and then give everybody a month to work on differences in the Homeland Security bill. This isn't very complicated. We could all talk and give you details, but I want to emphasize again we got together, we met with our leadership and said how do we keep this government open to serve the people.
800,000 federal workers, people on the border, many industries now that depend on federal employees. This is irrational. So, today is an exciting day. We have elected a new, great first woman Speaker of the United States of America. Let’s open the government and let's get to work because we have a plan that makes sense.
And I’m hoping, upon reconsideration, it will make sense to the President of the United States unless he just wants to keep tweeting and wants the government closed. But you can't be a leader of this great nation and continue to shut the government down.
Chairwoman Roybal-Allard. Well, at the risk of being repetitive – our primary responsibility as we start this new Congress is to reopen the government. And as you know, the biggest obstacle to doing that has been the bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security. So, it only makes sense as has been stated that we pass the six bills that have bipartisan support and then do a short-term Continuing Resolution for the Department of Homeland Security so that we have the opportunity not only to negotiate, but to actually get more up-to-date and accurate information as to what is needed by the department such as the Border Patrol being able to address the health needs of children who are coming across the border, because we all are perfectly aware of the tragedy of the death of the two children.
And so they are preparing that information for us now. And this time period will give us that opportunity to get that information.
But I just want to make one other point because sometimes the discussion seems to center between, well, the Democrats, they don't want a wall, and the president does, and why can't, you know, they just put that aside, give him some money for the wall and move forward. The answer is that there are real national security issues that will be negatively impacted if we were to do that. Even, let's just say even if we wanted and agreed on a wall, we still could not set aside billions of dollars and still meet the national security needs that we have here in the homeland.
And let me just give you a couple of examples. Right now, we need more customs agents because there are not enough to monitor and to be able to detect the opioids and all the contraband that is coming through the ports of entry. Contrary to what the president will have you say, they are coming through the ports of entry, not between the ports of entry where the proposed wall would be built.
We also need to provide the funds needed by the Coast Guard for a heavy icebreaker which the last one was in the 1970s. And there are times when there is no U.S. presence in the Arctic. And with the melting of the ice, Russia – who has 40 or more icebreakers there, about four or five heavy icebreakers – and China and other countries are starting to move into that region to be able to claim the rich resources that are there. They are taking the lead on that.
So there is a lot more at risk. It isn't just a question of ‘Do we want a border wall or we don't.’ By providing the kinds of money that the president is asking for is going to jeopardize our national security because we will not be able to meet the funding needs necessary to protect our homeland. And I could give you a whole list of the responsibilities that the Department of Homeland Security has. It isn't just the border. It's drug trafficking, it's protecting our air and land and sea, our infrastructure. They have a whole series of responsibilities that would not be funded by providing billions of dollars for that border wall.
And so what the Speaker and our Chair and Majority Leader are proposing is reasonable, it's something that is supported both by Republicans and Democrats in those six bills and a short-term Department of Homeland Security Continuing Resolution that will enable us to continue to work with the president, who, I hope, will put aside his campaign promise about building a wall and look at the realistic needs that we have in terms of our national security and work with us to make sure that those national securities are met to protect our homeland.
Speaker Pelosi. Our distinguished whip – since there is a vote, now he is no longer presiding in the chair and has joined us. Mr. Whip?
Whip Clyburn. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I think that all of us are aware of exactly what the proposal is that the Democrats have made to the White House. And basically, the foundation upon which that is made is the fact that we ought to be able to carry on our debate over the wall, over security while government continues to operate on behalf of the American people. It’s a separate proposition. The six plus one that has been proposed does that, and it allows for us to have the debate on how to go forward with border security and whether or not to build a wall.
I see very little morality in visiting misery among families, keeping uncertainty in our governmental structure while we carry out this debate. We can do both things and do it in a way that the American people, I think, will be pleased with us as their legislative representatives here in the Congress. So I would hope that after we pass this legislation that we are going to pass, that the Senate will act promptly and send it to the President. And, hopefully, we ought to do in the within the next day or two so that the American people can be going on with their lives with some degree of certainty and stability.
Speaker Pelosi. I appreciate that. I just want to add one thing. What we're asking the Republicans in the Senate to do is to take yes for an answer. We are sending them back exactly word for word what they have passed. It’ll cover the eight agencies of government and exactly what they passed in a continuing resolution until February 8th. Why would they not do that? Are they, is it because the president won't sign it? Did they not hear about the division – co-equal branch of government and that we, the Congress, sends the President legislation and he can choose to sign or not?
But to choose to keep government shut down by rejecting what the Republicans themselves have written – not us – that the Republicans themselves have written. So there’s something very wrong with this picture. It can't possibly be that the President is saying, ‘I will never sign what the Republicans in the Senate have written.’
There’s something very negative about the role of government meeting the people's needs and doing so in a timely fashion because when government is shut down, it's billions of dollars of cost to the economy, not just public employees and – meeting their needs. It’s about the economy that is affected by it. Ask any cab driver, luncheonette whatever when they see their receipts turned down.
So we're just saying to the Senate, we didn't alter any language. We just are sending you what you have passed. Take yes for an answer. Open up government. Give us a month for us to negotiate what this package could be to protect our borders because border security is a priority that we all have. It’s a responsibility that we have, we take an oath to protect and defend. You can't say, ‘If you're not for the wall, you're not for border security.’ That is a very false statement.
So we're just saying: let's make it easy for you. Do what you have already done. Open up government. Let's have an adult conversation about how we protect our borders, and let's listen to people who know what they’re talking about, like Congresswoman, Madam-Chair Roybal-Allard what the cost is of spending billions of dollars on a wall.
Q: At some point, do you have to give the President what he wants if only because there are hundreds of thousands of public workers who can’t afford to go without a paycheck any longer?
Speaker Pelosi. The President cannot hold public employees hostage because he wants to have a wall, that is not effective in terms of its purpose, not cost effective in the terms of what the opportunity cost it is, of federal dollars to spend, and the President has said Mexico’s going to pay for this.
Come on, let's anchor ourselves into reality. Mexico is not going to pay for this wall. So, no.
Q: Thank you. What about, you know, Mitch McConnell said just this afternoon, he said let's not get off on the wrong foot with House Democrats. He's essentially portraying these two bills tonight as messaging bills. Do you view that as him trying to set up the House as a foil so he can say wait a minute they’re just off on –
Speaker Pelosi. You're going to have to ask him.
Q: Is there any situation which you would accept even a dollar of wall funding for this President in order to reopen the government?
Speaker Pelosi. A dollar? [laughter]
$1? You said a dollar.
Q: How high, how high are you willing to go –
Speaker Pelosi. That's not your question. You said a dollar I’m answering your question.
The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It's not who we are as a nation. And this is not a wall between Mexico and the United States that the President is creating here. It's a wall between reality and his constituents. His supporters.
He does not want them to know what he's doing to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in his budget proposal. He does not want them to know what he's doing to clean air and clean water and the rest in his Department of Interior and of EPA. He does not want them to know how he is hurting them, so he keeps the subject on the wall.
He's a master of diversion. We're trying to open up government. We're giving him a mature path to do so, not in our language, but in the Senate language. One more question.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, you remember in this body where leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania were willing to put country above party. Vice President Pence came up here just before Christmas and made a deal on the wall – offered a deal on the wall to Senator Schumer in which he more than halved what the President was requiring, more than $5 – what was it – $5.7 billion. He had it down to $2.1 billion, you rejected it out of hand –
Speaker Pelosi. No, I didn't reject it out of hand. He didn't make it to me. But before his wheels were even up off the Capitol, the White House was saying we reject that. We're not going to lower $5 billion – so I mean, you want to tell that story, tell the whole story.
The White House immediately said – now they're saying $5.6 billion. So they weren't even on the level with the Vice President's offer that he made. And so if you want to, again, say something bad, go to them and say why don't you stick with what you – the President said on January 9th, 2017, in the White House in public view, many of you were in that – I don't know if you were, but your affiliates were in that room.
And he said to the Senators, this is what I want, bring it to me in a bipartisan way, and I’ll sign it. He said that publicly, and then he walked away from it. He had a meeting with Chuck Schumer and me on the subject of the Dreamers.
He said it would do this or that, and then he walked away from it. So understand this, you can't have an agreement that people are going to walk away from, and that is what they did time and time –
Q: You're not negotiating with each other –
Speaker Pelosi. We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt that we are not doing a wall? So that’s that.
Q: Do have you worry about backlash?
Speaker Pelosi. It has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with a wall is an immorality between countries. It's an old way of thinking. It isn't cost effective. And the fact is, as Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard said, there are things we could be doing at the ports of entry.
First of all, if you want infrastructure, we need more infrastructure at the ports of entry. If you want to detect drugs, as we all do, then there's technology that can scan these cars coming through. We're spending about $40 million, we should be spending about $300 million to do this. And that's by the border control people's own numbers.
So there are so many things that we can be doing to maintain who we are as a country. You don't live on the border. Maybe some of you do. It's a community with a border going through it. And if they're saying that these drugs and this or that are largely coming through the ports of entry, beef up the ports of entry to do that.
But there's no reason – the wall, in my view is an immorality, but it is a diversionary tactic on the part of the President. And now he wants to use the shutdown of government, taking these public employees. People who are served by them hostage to his wall. Thank you all very much.
Thank you. Thank you.