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Pelosi Remarks at The American Legion’s 59th Annual Washington Conference

February 26, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at The American Legion’s 59th Annual Washington honoring the work of The American Legion and highlighting the Congress’s work on behalf of veterans.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you so much, that was so lovely.  Thank you.

Good morning, everyone.  It’s lovely to see you all.  Thank you so much.  Good morning Legionnaires – men and women alike here.

Thank you Commander Reistad for your very generous introduction, which I’ll accept on behalf of the Members of Congress.

We all try to work in a bipartisan way to meet the needs, as we hear them from you – the priorities you establish as we go forward.

I thank you.  I thank the Commander, not only for his leadership of The American Legion, but also his service in the U.S. Army.  Four brothers, I had four brothers who served in the Army.  Although, I’m from Maryland.  I am from Maryland and you know, Navy, Naval Academy.  One of my nephews is a Marine.

We have allegiance to many of the services.  But, as I said, four brothers in the Army, so thank you for your leadership there and for your tireless commitment to America’s veterans.

Commander Reistad.  Thank you.

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you to the past National Commanders, with whom I’ve worked, for your service and leadership.  And thank you to Daniel Wheeler, National Adjutant, American Legion, for your outstanding leadership of this vital organization.  That is an applause line.

[Laughter and applause]

Commander Reistad.  He’s out there.

Speaker Pelosi.  He’s out there.

It’s an honor to join the men and women of The American Legion as we mark 100 years of your strong, effective advocacy and action.

The American Legion has always paved the way forward.  Since your founding after World War I, generations of veterans have looked out for each other in an unbreakable chain of support – veterans of every war lifting up and fighting for veterans of the next.

Thank you for making a difference for America.

Today, and on all days, we recognize America’s servicemembers and veterans and their families. When you heard the call to action, you stepped forward – serving with honor, whether on the battlefields of Europe, mountains of Korea, jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond.

Let us especially acknowledge our World War II veterans as we prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy.

[Applause]

I just want to tell you this – so the story, on the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, I had the privilege of being part of a CODEL to go there and to spend time with our veterans.  Yeah, obviously to be part of the observance and the festivities, but mostly to listen and spend time with the veterans as – it was a couple of days unfolded.

Over the course of my conversations and listening to veterans and their families, I said; ‘My uncle died at the Battle of the Bulge.’  And I’m talking to these veterans who are likely 80, 70 years old.  Some of them were teenagers at the invasion of Normandy.

And what they said, I’ll just never forget it.  They said ‘Your uncle died at the battle?  Oh yeah, we went there next.’  Really.  Of course, I mean, it was several months later, but on the path.  The invasion of Normandy, you would think that would be contribution enough. Yes, we went there next.  So, the courage is beyond just Normandy.  It goes for that whole World War II.

We want to have a whole delegation going this year, which I’m proud to be Speaker for the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy.  That will be – you know the date, in June.

But it is, again, probably – it will be a spectacular occasion where we can once again pay tribute to the veterans and that’s the purpose of it all – and their families.

[Applause]

Commander Reistad.  I’ll see you there

Speaker Pelosi.  I’ll see you there, Commander.

This year we mark – and we will have a very strong bipartisan, bicameral House and Senate,  Democrats and Republicans, going in unity in support of our vets.  This year we mark another monument in history – the 70th anniversary of NATO, which is the foundation of peace and security in the world.

A week ago, I had the honor of leading a congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference, joined by – listen to this, we had ten percent of the Congress at this Munich Security Conference.  Ten percent, over 50 Members.  House and Senate.  Democrats and Republicans.

It was a very clear message.  We were very welcomed there.  It was a very clear message of our support for NATO, for the European Union, for the Trans-Atlantic relationship, for our need to strengthen the institution as we share responsibilities and burdens, but in recognition of all that has gone before.

We had the privilege of meeting Supreme Allied Commander General Curtis Scaparrotti and Ambassador Phil Reeker.  Our delegation discussed the challenges and the opportunities facing our relationship with individual nations in NATO, but we wanted the message to be very clear: we understand that multilateralism is important, that we all have to do our fair share, but that we respect the contribution that all nations make to that.

They were delighted to see us because they were getting a different kind of message, but you would have been very proud to see Republicans, Democrats, House and Senate.  Remind you, the Senate Majority is Republican, so the Republicans who were there were Chairs of the Committees.  And the Chairs on our side, the Chairs of the Committees were Democrats.  All united in one clear message.

We reassured our NATO allies of our long-term commitment to the alliance, advancing global security, stability and peace.

Our veterans, in a bipartisan way, again, we worked together, recognizing our veterans deserve a government that will safeguard the sacrifices that generations of heroes have made to advance global peace.  And you deserve a government that respects your service by ensuring that all who have donned the uniform – that you get your paycheck on time and your benefits on time and in full.

[Applause]

It is absolutely unacceptable that Coast Guardsman and federal workers – one third of whom are veterans – a third of the federal workforce are veterans – were denied their paycheck for more than a month because of the shutdown.

You know what that means.  We heard from Veterans’ Service Organizations and veterans individually: if you do not get your paycheck on time, you can’t pay your bills on time.  That financial insecurity is not only harmful to the family, it’s harmful to your credit rating and your credit rating is important to your security clearance and many peoples’ jobs depend on a security clearance.

So that’s one of the assets, the value-add that our veterans bring, some of them bring to their jobs.  So, not getting their paychecks, paying their bills on time, credit rating impact, they were fearful that if it went on too much longer, they could lose their security clearance.  That is what is at risk in a shutdown as well.  Totally unacceptable.

We are grateful to The Legion – to you all – you were just great.  You came to the rescue, as you always do for bipartisan advocacy: to shine a light on the impacts and end the shutdown.  Thank you for what you did for our Coast Guardsmen because they were the only force among our military forces who are not under the Department of Defense, which was not part of the shutdown, but a part of another branch of government, which was a part of it.

Unfortunately, after the shutdown, the President decided to declare an emergency proclamation that would further undermine the well-being of our men and women in uniform and military families.

And here’s how: this declaration steals billions of dollars from urgently-needed construction jobs potentially targeting barracks, family housing, child care centers and schools.  This is wrong.

We talk a great deal about military readiness but we know that military readiness is affected by family military readiness as well, and so we cannot let this proceed.  These are appropriations that have passed the Congress in a bipartisan way, signed into law by the President of the United States. Under the Constitution, the power of the purse goes to the House and the Senate – the Congress of the United States – and we cannot let it proceed.

If there is an emergency, we are all there.  The situation at the border, which was addressed in a bipartisan way, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, came together, passed a bill, sent it to the President that addressed concerns at the border.

And border security is a major responsibility that we have, but we take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States – to uphold the Constitution.  And to usurp the power of one branch of government, for what?  A perceived emergency.  As I say, if it truly were an emergency, we’d all be there with the President of the United States.

Our Founders had great vision.  They did not want a king.  They put forth a Constitution, the heart and soul of which is the separation of powers, check and – co-equal branches of government – a check and balance on each other. This action violates that oath of office.

So, I have confidence our colleagues will hold true to the oath that they take to protect the Constitution and again, save us from the consequences of any president – Democrat or Republican, now or into the future – of raiding the appropriations that we put there in the Department of Defense and in our military construction budget for our men and women in uniform – for their readiness, but also for the security of their families, which, by the way, have needs.  So, this is nothing extra.  We need that money to go where it is designated.

So, we will be having that debate on the Floor of the House today and I wanted to bring you up to date on it because it is – it has consequences.

It’s just so sad, but it is the situation that we’re in.  To the House, on a bipartisan basis, the Senate on a bipartisan basis – I can only speak for the House – we will pass a resolution to terminate the emergency declaration and protect our servicemen and women and their families.

This issue is not about politics.  It’s not about partisanship.  It’s about patriotism.  It’s about honoring our oath of office to protect and defend.  And, in protecting and defending the Constitution, protect and defend the prerogative of Article I – first branch of government, following the beautiful Preamble to the Constitution that states our purpose as a nation: Article I, the legislative branch, as I mentioned.  And, spelled out in the text of the Constitution, the power of the purse.

Our Republican friends in the past, have opposed any initiative – not even that it happened, but in anticipation of it – have stated in their ‘Better Way’ a few years ago that the President must honor the Congress.  That was their own initiative.  Let’s hope that they will do so today.

So, again, support for our veterans is bipartisan.  I can’t say it enough.  And, we strive to make it so – to resolve differences, listening to you, what your priorities are, how we can go forward in a positive way.

This Congress, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, is honored to fight for veterans and defend your health care and benefits, as well as the readiness of our men and women in uniform.  Just as the military leaves no soldier on the battlefield behind, when you come home, we leave no veteran behind.  That is our pledge.  We all repeat it over and over.

But that means also – for the last fifteen years, I’ve been proud, as the Commander mentioned, to host the VSOs roundtables, with The American Legion front and center.  We have come to listen to the voices and to deliver on promises.

And those priorities have become law and have made a difference and we thank you for keeping us on the course of priorities for veterans.

[Applause]

Not what we think is right, but what you think it right.

[Applause]

Last year, reflecting on the voices of veterans, the Congress took a step to modernize the VA by passing the bipartisan VA Mission Act.  We are pleased that this bill rightly expands caregiver benefits to all eras, all eras, replaces the flawed Veterans Choice Program and consolidates the many community care initiatives.  Yet, this bill is far from perfect.  Without a sustainable source of funding, this bill could trigger budget cuts critical to VA initiatives, including groundbreaking research into mental health care.

Under Chairman Mark Takano, the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee is committed to strong, responsible oversight to ensure the bill is implemented in a way that respects your voices and prevents VA funding cuts.

We’re committed to strengthening the four walls of the VA and fighting privatization efforts.  We must fight the privatization efforts.

[Applause]

Sometimes they’re disguised.  Sometimes they come in disguise, but we all have to recognize the ramifications of any proposal.  Give it its fair shot – is it in furtherance, a strengthening of our ability to honor our responsibilities to our veterans?

We are committed to not only fighting for veterans’ benefits in health care, but also fighting for your economic opportunities and financial security.

75 years ago, Congress passed the GI Bill.  I saw it coming in, the signing by Franklin Roosevelt and what he said at the time of the signing.  And it is a commitment we continue to honor, but that bill was passed because of the initiatives of The American Legion and veterans of the previous war, knowing how they had been not favorably impacted, but wanting the best for the veterans who would come.

So, thank you American Legion for making that so happen.

[Applause]

And it asserted the right of every veteran to pursue a quality, affordable education that puts them on the path to good-paying, meaningful jobs.

Ten years ago, the House Democrats built on that bedrock – by passing the Post 9-11 GI Bill, restoring the promise of a full four-year college education to over 1.9 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

It was interesting, at the time, because people said, ‘Well, if you’re going to give people an opportunity for a college education, you’re going to affect re-ups’ – you know, people renewing.  So, we said,  ‘Okay, we’ll do it for the person in the military or their family member.’

And then, a couple of years later, we had to also expand the bill because if you died in action, you lost the benefit for your family.  So, we had to then redo it so to say that for – that the benefit is not lost if the supreme sacrifice is made.  Makes sense right?  But, that’s again the input that we received from you, as to the impact and how it directly relates to the lives of our veterans’ families.

1.9 million Iraq and Afghan veterans and their families.

Last year we expanded these protections: improving benefits, closing eligibility gaps and increasing opportunity for reservists, Guardsman, Purple Heart recipients and, again, surviving spouses and dependents.

We’re proud to have formally named the Forever GI Bill after former Legion National Commander Harry Colmery, who was mentioned earlier –

[Applause]

Who was mentioned earlier, but I wanted to further acknowledge that because it was the recognition that we all know, but that we wanted everyone to know, who hand-wrote the original GI Bill.  Doesn’t that just give you the chills?  Doesn’t that just fill you with so much pride?

[Applause]

He hand-wrote the original GI Bill, The American Legion National Commander.

The House will continue to be vigilant in our oversight of this legislation and continue to call on the VA to make veterans, dependents and their families whole again without delaying, for example, housing – delayed housing stipends.

We will fight efforts to undermine accountability in the higher education and eliminate initiatives like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  There are attempts to eliminate that.  We will fight.  We will stand firm against any efforts to weaken or eliminate protections for students, including veterans and servicemembers, against predatory institutions and lending.

We are committed to building a future, in our country, worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  We always say we have responsibility to our Founders – their vision – the aspirations of our children, and, just among those two, a third priority – [you] can put it first – honor the sacrifice, worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

That means, when they come home, that we look after them.  But also, building an economy and a society in which their talents and leadership skills are recognized to the fullest extent.

[Applause]

The House is honored to fight for our heroes in uniform – our veterans and their families and caregivers.  And, in caregivers, I thank you for mentioning that and housing and all the other concerns that were mentioned earlier.  The – I had the privilege of serving as – I still do – as Co-Chair of the Task Force established by Elizabeth Dole, former Secretary, former Senator, angel to what we call our Hidden Heroes – our caregivers.

I was Co-Chair with Senator McCain, who was a Chair on the Senate side.  Rest his soul.  What a beautiful person that our country continues to respect and honor, and will for a long time to come.  In fact, when we were in Munich, at the Munich Conference an award was given in his honor because his commitment to our national security and to our men and women in uniform, and our caregivers, is monumental.

But, I was pleased to be asked by Elizabeth Dole to Co-Chair that Committee.  And, we continue to work together, the Hidden Heroes, the caregivers and families, for meeting the needs of veterans – some of our veterans – when they come home because your service, your service, as President Eisenhower said, ‘reminds our fellow citizens why they sleep soundly at night.’

But, Congress cannot do our inside maneuvering without your outside mobilization.  We need you to join the fight, as you have, but recognize that you are joining the fight to raise your voices, defend your rights and advocate for your needs.  Inside maneuvering – that’s what we’re responsible to do.  Outside mobilization makes it all work.

President Lincoln said, ‘Public sentiment is everything.  With it, you can accomplish almost anything.  Without it, practically nothing.’ So, know your power.  I think you do; certainly The American Legion does, as I have observed over the years.

And, again, again, your presence here – at this conference, at the hearings you will have in a few days – people listen, care about what you say, act upon your words.  But then, you have to take it home to be sure that the drumbeat continues there because anything, as Lincoln said, is possible with public sentiment.

And so, we look forward to working with you.

I thank you for your service and your leadership and I consider it a very high honor to be able to say a few – to share a few thoughts with you this morning.  I thank you on behalf of the Congress of the United States and pledge to you that, in the most transparent, bipartisan and unifying way, we have you as a top priority as we go forward.

Thank you for, The American Legion, for the opportunity to be here today.