Transcript of 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. So, here we are. The hail, hoot with the owls, soar with the eagles here early in the morning here. Not that early, but in the inclement weather. And, speaking of inclement weather, our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Texas for what they are suffering and their situation there in terms of lack of water, lack of energy. I had my daughter – I have a daughter in Houston, so I know firsthand what her concerns are. But her concerns are minor compared to people in need, people truly in need. To lose water and service for my family is one thing, but, for people who don't have so many options, it's just heartbreaking.
I would hope that the public policy of the state would recognize the needs that are there. We have in our COVID bill, $50 billion for FEMA. The President has responded to their call for disaster assistance. He did that on Sunday morning. Now, FEMA will – will take a measure of what the needs are. We want to be sure to have the funds there.
There are other needs that my colleagues from Texas have told us about, the needs that relate to nutrition. Again, the fact that some people were hopeful of getting their vaccine – their vaccination, their vaccine shot, are not able to do it.
And it is – so they want immediate assistance from FEMA to replenish Texas water supply and help Texas obtain safe and drinkable water; immediate assistance from FEMA to respond to Texans for emergency personal assistance through direct payments and home repair assistance; immediate assistance from FEMA for SBA to aid small businesses; requests to implement disaster supplemental nutrition, SNAP, food, food; and to allow temporary flexibility in SNAP eligibility; authorization of emergency appropriations for low income – for LIHEAP. LIHEAP would enter into this. That LIHEAP, for those of you who are new, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Then it goes on and on.
So, in any event, assistance in delivery, storage and distribution of the COVID vaccination, to name a few of the immediate needs that people have. Everybody has their personal experience. My daughter's home has no water. Pipes are breaking all over because of the cold. Again, they can handle it, but a lot of people can't. So, it's the question of needing water and food and energy and vaccines and the rest. We really have to be on top of that, and hope that there would be some preparation for the future.
This was, in many ways, predictable, in a long range of weatherizing the infrastructure of energy in the state. That's a longer‑range discussion. But in the immediate, to have given people an earlier alert as to what their concerns would be.
I believe that the Energy and Commerce Committee will be taking up some form of – when I say ‘investigation,’ I mean a look into it to see how things could have turned out better and will turn out better in the future.
At the same time, I'm so proud of the work of our Members, the chairs of the committees of jurisdiction, the Members, the staff. I feel as if we've worked the staff 24/7 for a number of weeks now to make sure that we stay on schedule with the American Rescue Plan, the Biden plan.
It is – as you know, a couple of weeks ago, we passed the budget bill for reconciliation to protect the 51‑vote privilege. Then, last week, we wrote up the bill within that framework, within different committees of jurisdiction, honoring their amounts.
And then, that now has gone to the Budget Committee, which will consolidate all of that, make sure that it is, again, in keeping with what reconciliation allows. And that will then go to the Rules Committee for us to vote on sometime at the end of next week is my hope.
However, at the same time, there is communication with the Senate as to what the Byrd Rule will allow in the bills as we go forward. So, that's kind of where we are on that. And people have worked so hard and so intensely because, as I said to the Members, when we had been briefing them the last few days, we've had, under the leadership of our Chair, Hakeem Jeffries, and Pete Aguilar, the Vice Chair, every day, we've had the chairs present what is in the bills, not for suggestions of amendment, but for notification of this is what the overall reconciliation enables us to do, and this is how we are going forward. So, I'm very, very proud of their work.
Today is a busy day, I know, with the snow and sleet and the rest, but today we have the U.S. Citizenship Act, which will be introduced; Linda Sanchez, the lead in the House, Bob Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate.
The Equality Act, this is something that's very exciting for us. The Equality Act, we passed it, of course, before. And hopefully now, it will be passed into law in the Senate, because it will have bipartisan – it will have bipartisan support.
The business community is supportive because they want the very best in their workforce, and, in order for that to happen, we have to remove discrimination in all aspects of our society and our economy.
So, I thank David Cicilline for his leadership in passing, and Senator Merkley in the Senate.
And then, we're very pleased at the strong bipartisan support we have for the Congressional Gold Medal to honor our Capitol Police, naming a few of them for their courage, their valor and for saving our lives. Without them, who knows how bad this could have gone. But I'm very pleased that we have very, very strong bipartisan support, and with the leadership, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Scalise, as well as the leadership on the Democratic side as well.
As you saw, the Senate announced their support for this the night – on Saturday night, and then, we will come together and pass this legislation. And then we're working on the Commission, the January 6th Commission. What's happening there in that timetable is the following: everybody was saying, we need to have a commission, this or that. I was very much a part of writing the Commission in – the 9/11 Commission. You've heard me go through that before.
And, so, we heard almost immediately, or sometime last week, from the Chairs of that Commission, Governor Kean of New Jersey and our former Chairman in the House, Lee Hamilton. And they had sent us all a letter, the leadership, the President, the Vice President, Leadership House and Senate, saying, ‘This is what we think should be in the legislation. ‘
It wasn't too far from what everybody thought. What – let's – what are the causes of what happened [on] 9/11? What is the truth there? How – what is the security, security, security? Look at how the security can protect us, better preparedness can protect us in the future, and how did that go wrong, is what they had in the letter.
They also had a provision that they wanted, which is to strengthen Congress, the view that the public has of Congress, and we'll see how we can deal with that.
But, by and large, most of what they suggested very much mirrors what we had in the bill that we wrote in 2011 at the time – for the – not 2011 – the 9/11 Commission. So, that legislation, plus their report, plus their letter is pretty much the basis for what we have.
As soon as we came to terms with that in the last few days, we sent it to the Republicans to see what suggestions they may have, because the – for this to work, it really has to be strongly bipartisan. So, we'll hear back from them on that, and I'm excited about that.
When we did it in 2001, the families of 9/11 really weighed in on it. There is really strong support in the country for us to have – seek the truth, find the truth, but also understand how we have to protect the American people from what might be out there in terms of domestic terrorism and the rest.
Any questions? Yes, ma'am?
Q: Madam Speaker, thank you. I want to ask you: on January 13th, a number of your Democrat colleagues sent a letter to the Sergeant-at-Arms and the U.S. Capitol Police regarding potential reconnaissance work by GOP Members that happened on January 5th, prior to January 6th. I wanted to know if these have been confirmed, and if there is an update on that specific aspect of the investigation?
Speaker Pelosi. No. Anything like that would remain between the Member who has – the Members who know of such actions, and I don't know what the – I don't know. I do not know. Perhaps I will find out at some point, but I do not know what Members they are referencing. I think that's between them and whoever would be investigating it.
Q: Have you seen that letter from January 13th?
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah, the letter that was signed by Members. Yeah, that was a matter of public – in the public domain.
Q: Do you anticipate that this Commission will have subpoena power? I mean, what kind of power do you think the Commission will have?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, you can't have – you have to have subpoena power.
Yes? Yes? Yes, ma'am?
Q: Do you think that teachers need to be vaccinated before heading back into the classroom?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, that depends on, I think, the degree of – the incidence of COVID in their area. I think teachers should be vaccinated. I don't know that they must be vaccinated before going in.
We're very proud of what's in our bill when it comes to education, because this is where we're saying we want the children to be in school. Again, I told you about my daughter not having water in Houston. I have a granddaughter in public school in San Francisco. So, I see the need for that to happen. Again, in her case, she has all the technology and the assistance at home, and some children do not. So, we want as many kids to be back in school as possible.
For that to happen, it takes some money. It takes some money, because you have to have spatial distancing, which means you need more space. Therefore, you need more teachers. Therefore, you need more buses for kids to be spaced to come to school. You need better ventilation. 40 percent of the school – public schools in the country have substandard ventilation in class, and that is very important.
So, for all of those reasons, we're very pleased with what is in the legislation, and more – those and more. The – I think that – I want everybody to be vaccinated, and I certainly want our teachers to be, but it – depending on what the situation is in their area, it may or may not be necessary.
Now, the important point to make on this is, where there is a high incidence of COVID, most of those schools are virtual or hybrid anyway. They're not actual. They're not actual. And the vaccination might not make it actual anyway.
So, again, there has to be a judgment made from the community as to how they go forward. I would – again, we want the vaccine to be there for everyone. I think it's having an impact, so we're very proud of the scientists who worked 24/7 to get, right now, COVID – Pfizer and Moderna, what they have put forth, and now others on the horizon, and that will make it more available. But I don't think that it's a yes‑or‑no question. I think it depends on the incidence of COVID in the region, and if, in fact, those classes will even be actual.
One of the fights we had – I use the word ‘fight’ – that we had with the Trump Administration last year was that they wanted the funds in the bill only to go to schools that were actually open. I mean, how could you do that? You are depriving so many schools who are lacking in ventilation and more space and more opportunity to hire teachers. Therefore, you are disadvantaging the most disadvantaged schools in the country, and that just couldn't be.
And this legislation is very smart in what it does. And, if you want me to, I'll read you all the things that it does do to open schools. And, again – yes, we want everyone vaccinated. Is it a prerequisite? Well, it just depends on the region.
Q: Madam Speaker? Madam Speaker? Republicans say that just a fraction of the education funding in the COVID bill is just allocated for this year, and much of it over the next ten years. So, how do you square that with the need to open schools with the funding if so much of it is down the road?
Speaker Pelosi. I don't place too much weight on what the Republicans say, even though it seems to be of value to you to use as a question. But the fact is that this is the money that is needed. This is the money that is needed. The $130 billion in K‑12 will help provide immediate relief to schools, so they can safely reopen for in‑person instruction and address the difficult multiyear challenge of making up lost time in the classroom.
This learning loss is heartbreaking for children, and, of course, we're hoping that summer school and the rest can make up for some of it. The degree to which in‑person learning takes place in a state is a local decision, not a Federal one. But the Federal arm can and will make recommendations and provide resources. It's about resources and what the local – and that's what we plan to do in this legislation. The Committee on Education and Labor advanced a major portion of the President's COVID proposal last week for education, 130 [billion] for K‑12, and then additional money for higher education. Now, let me also say that education is largely funded, more than 90 percent, by state and local entities. And, so, that's why the state and local piece in here is very, very important as well.
So, if, in fact – and I think it is a fact that we all want children back in school – there has to be a recognition that it's going to take resources to do so, and to be spent as soon as it possibly can be, as I mentioned, immediately – immediate relief to schools so they can safely reopen with in‑person education.
Q: Madam Speaker, with respect to immigration, do you think this new package that's being unveiled today –
Speaker Pelosi. Excuse me. I'm so sorry. I'm –
Q: I'm sorry. With respect to the immigration package –
Speaker Pelosi. Oh, yes. Immigration.
Q: That's being unveiled today, do you envision that having to be pushed through the reconciliation process?
Speaker Pelosi. Not necessarily, no. The – today, they will introduce the legislation. What we, as I mentioned to you earlier, what we did – what we informed Members of, this is the design. It is frozen, and it is – complies with the reconciliation. I don't see anything of that size.
Now, there are people who are advocating for that, and the question is: Would that meet the Byrd Rule and those other kinds of things? And, if it would, that would be wonderful, because then we wouldn't need the 60 votes.
But I salute the President for putting forth the legislation that he did. There are others who want to do piecemeal, and that may be a good approach, too. That's up to the Congress to decide.
But I was thinking this morning in anticipation of their announcement of the Citizenship Act, that a few years ago, a couple years ago, I guess it must be longer than that now when Trump was a new President. Did I say his name? That, when they did the ban, the Muslim ban, we had a hearing – a rump hearing, because we were not the Majority, and we couldn't do that. And at that hearing, I think it's really important to note two things that relate to this introduction today.
One was that, when we had economists speak, they said – we said: what is the most important thing we can do to grow the economy? Comprehensive immigration reform. And, when the evangelicals spoke – and that was not just at that hearing, but at other hearings that we had – comprehensive immigration reform will grow our GDP. That's very important.
And, when we had – at the particular hearing I was mentioning, the Muslim ban hearing, the evangelicals spoke. The representative for the [National Association of Evangelicals], whatever the title is, about refugees – refugees, which are in this bill. He said the refugee resettlement program of the United States of America is the ‘crown jewel’ – is the crown jewel of our humanitarianism, the refugee resettlement program. That was the evangelical community speaking up, because they had been leaders in that regard.
Both of those are covered – comprehensive immigration reform and resettlement of refugees in a humanitarian way, the crown jewel of American humanitarianism.
So, this is a values‑based, but, also, economically beneficial. And, as I have always said, immigrants coming to our country, with newcomers coming with their hopes and dreams and aspirations, with their optimism and determination to make the future better for their families, well, those are American traits, and, when they come here with those values, they make America more American.
So, I'm very excited about the – now, how it happens through the legislative process remains to be seen, but it is a priority, and we will be working on it.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker. President Joe Biden held a town hall this week and said that the U.S. should speak up for human rights in China. I know you have been very vocal about it. And he said that there will be repercussions for China. What actions would you like to see from President Biden to change China's human rights practices?
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah. Well, thank you for that question. Yes, I've been working on human rights in China for over 30 years since Tiananmen Square, and it is – it's really important for the world, the world to know that human rights are part of our values system as we engage in the world. We – about our national security, it's about our military and our strength, it's about our economy and how we interact, and it's about our values. And we cannot sacrifice one for the other.
How, what form that takes, I would hope that it would change some behavior in China vis‑a‑vis Hong Kong, Tibet, Uighurs – Uighurs. It's really interesting to me that it took us 100 years to have the Armenian Genocide declared a genocide, and they've already declared the – what's happening to the Uighurs a genocide. So, I think that that's a very strong statement.
It's also a strong statement for the people who are – I have a relationship over time with so many of those who have been arrested for years in prison labor camps and all the rest of that. I'm so proud of that. And basically, what they tell us, the cruelest form of torture for them is when the Chinese authorities come in and say, ‘Nobody even knows you're here. They don't even remember why you're here,’ and the rest. So, that's why it's important for us to speak out, so that those people know that they are not forgotten, even by name. In many cases, we have named them.
And, by the way, in a very bipartisan way. I've worked for over 30 years with my Republican counterparts across the aisle, one of whom is still here. Chris Smith and I have worked on these issues for years, but Frank Wolf before, and just a whole long list of Republican Members who had been excellent on human rights throughout the world.
You just named China, but in – throughout the world. They've taken risks. They've gone to prison labor camps to collect evidence so that we could make our case here.
But I salute the Administration for honoring our values. How we go about it is just in weighing the equities, the Chinese know, and those who are arrested, suppressed, whatever, know that they are not forgotten.
Thank you all very much. Be careful on your way home. Don't go too late, because you don't want to be traveling in the dark with all of this. Do you have any other grandmotherly advice that you would like me to give to you?
But I really salute you for being here with that – with the weather that was out there. But a big day. Three bills, Gold Medal – Congressional Gold Medal honoring our Capitol Police and others; the Equality Act, antidiscrimination against the LGBTQ community; the [U.S.] Citizenship Act of President Biden, very important; and then continuing our work on COVID.
As we leave, though, I do want to say once again, because I saw some of you on Saturday night, how proud we were, and are, of our Managers, led by Jamie Raskin, on how they honored their oath and helped us honor our oath to protect and defend the Constitution. And they were doing so at the same time as we were honoring our values, meeting the needs of the American people in the COVID legislation, dispelling – I don't even know where any of you got this idea that our honoring our Constitutional oath would come at the cost of our honoring meeting the needs of the American people.
We're so proud of them as we are proud of our chairs for the work that they did to take us forward now.
Thank you all very much. Be careful. Stay safe.