Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today

February 27, 2020
Press Release

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, everyone. 

This morning, Leader Schumer and I put out a statement on the coronavirus threat.  It probably is in your inbox, but in case you don't look there, we said, ‘The United States Government must address the spread of this deadly coronavirus in a smart, strategic, and serious way.  We stand ready to work in a bipartisan fashion in Congress and with the administration to achieve the necessary goal.  Lives are at stake.  This is not a time for name‑calling or playing politics.

‘The first step the Congress must take is to ensure that the government has the resources needed to combat this deadly virus and keep Americans safe.’

And then we go on to some of the provisions that we think need to go with it.  But that's, again, in your inbox. 

Earlier this week, yesterday actually, I said that ‘the American people need a coordinated, whole‑of‑government, fully-funded response to keep us safe from the coronavirus threat.  Unfortunately’ – and this is the purpose of my telling this – ‘unfortunately, up until now the Trump Administration has mounted an opaque and often chaotic response to this outbreak.’

They left critical positions vacant in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security.  They left them vacant.  They dismissed the people and never filled the slots.  They were there from the previous Administration. 

The Trump budget calls for slashing almost $700 million from the Centers for Disease Control.  And this was the budget which came out after we knew about the coronavirus threat.  And now it continues to devalue our health needs by ransacking other public health needs, whether it's the Ebola fund or others.  So that was up until now. 

Now, we are trying to work in a bipartisan way, and that's one of the reasons that I was delayed in meeting with you this morning.  We're trying to – we're coming close to a bipartisan agreement in the Congress as to how we can go forward with a number that is a good start.  We don't know how much we will need.  Hopefully, not so much more because prevention will work.  But, nonetheless, we have to be ready to do what we need to do. 

And in that regard, we want to make sure that the President cannot transfer any of these new funds – this is part of the statement from Chuck and me, from Leader Schumer and me, the President cannot transfer any of these new funds to anything other than use for the coronavirus threat. 

That we perhaps will have interest‑free loans made available to small businesses which are suffering from the coronavirus.  Some will maybe have to shut down because of that. 

Vaccines.  We want to make sure that the vaccines are affordable.  Affordable.  And we think it's important to make that point because of what Secretary Azar said yesterday, ‘We would want to ensure that we can work to make it affordable, but we can't control the price, because we need the private sector to invest.’

Really?  This would be a vaccine that is developed with taxpayer dollars to, again, prevent, and we think that should be available to everyone, not dependent on Big Pharma.  I guess yesterday when the Secretary made that ill‑advised statement he was wearing his Pharma hat, which he wore before he came here. 

And then we want to be sure that state and local governments are reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Again, I met with – I spoke with the Vice President this morning, made some of these concerns known to him.  We have always had a very candid relationship, and I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position, while I look forward to working with him, about his, when he was Governor of Indiana, slashing the public health budget and having some clinics – one, especially a Planned Parenthood clinic, closed, which was the only place in Scott County where you could get tested for HIV and AIDS.  There was an outbreak.

Again, he will have his side of that story.  But the fact is, is that the health professional, the director of the health [commission] in Indiana at the time, Jerome Adams, was the Vice President, then-Governor Pence's [State Health Commissioner].  He is now the Surgeon General of the United States. 

So this is about the forces.  It's also about personnel.  It's also about respect for science, for evidence‑based decision-making.  And it's about having so much of that talent that we are so proud of in our public health sector be available in other countries so that we can get a true – a true, accurate – a true and accurate assessment of what is happening in other countries. 

They may be having the best intentions, but they may not have, shall we say, even with the most talent they may have, they don't have the value added that someone from our country could lend. 

So, in any event, we look forward, as I say, to working together in a bipartisan way and hopefully, you know, again, in a very candid way, about our concerns about past performance or statements that are made.  Let's put that in perspective as we move forward to have the adequate funding, the respect for science and evidence‑based decision-making, and again, reimbursement for state and local government, and understanding the impact that this has on our communities. 

And speaking of community, I had the privilege on Monday of having a walk through Chinatown.  I always love to go there.  I feel very proud of it.  I always feel very privileged to – and say, ‘Oh, my poor colleagues when they come home, they don't have the advantage of this beautiful diversity that I have in my district.’

But, sadly, Chinatown is being very hard hit by the lack of tourism and the rest, of the coronavirus.  So a number of us went there – many press came, too – to see us go to temple, light the candle, have lunch, dim sum that was, go visit and make fortune cookies in a fortune cookie factory. 

By the way, the fortune cookie machine, which is fabulous, is made in America, and fortune cookies are an American phenomenon.  It's not something you really find in China, or at least it didn't begin there. 

In any event, in the shops and all the rest, to show confidence, not fear, in terms of the virus.

So, again, in every way, we want to be fully prepared, but not panicking or fearful of what is happening. 

Then today – tomorrow on the Floor of the House, we have very important legislation.  It is to stop the youth tobacco epidemic that we're experiencing.  Also, it's on the public health front.  The House will vote on H.R. 2339, strong legislation to combat the growing use of tobacco and the e‑cigarette crisis. 

More than 5.3 million middle school and high school students are using e‑cigarettes, more than twice as many as two years ago.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, youth e‑cigarette use is an epidemic. 

The bill protects our children with strong measures:  preventing marketing to youth under 21, banning all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and e‑cigarettes. 

Big Tobacco is just on its usual rampage.  It uses flavors like gummy bear, bubble gum and cotton [candy] to ensnare and addict our children to tobacco.  Ninety‑seven percent of youth using e‑cigarettes use flavored cigarettes. 

So here we are.  This bill would reduce health disparities that spring from cigarette smoking. 

And this is something, a statement that was put out by the National Medical Association, which is African American doctors, the National Black Nurses Association, the NAACP, Black Women's Health Imperative, the Association of Black Cardiologists, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.  The list goes on and on. 

There are 75 organizations representing public health, communities of color and teachers in support of the bill, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the National Association of School Nurses, Society of Thoracic Surgeons – again, affecting lung cancer.  And this statement says to Congress, ‘End the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e‑cigarettes.  Support H.R. 2339 to protect our kids.’

It really – I don't know if you've seen this statement.  Let me read it.  ‘For decades, Big Tobacco has targeted African Americans with menthol cigarettes with devastating consequences.  Menthol cigarettes have addicted generations of African Americans, resulting in high death rates from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other smoking‑related illnesses.  Seven out of ten African American youth smokers smoke menthol, making them more likely to become addicted smokers.  Today, the tobacco industry is using e‑cigarettes to hook a new generation with flavors like bubble gum, mint, mango and menthol.  It is a public health crisis affecting over 1.53 million kids.’  The NAACP, the National Medical Association, the Black docs, the National Black Nurses Association, Black Women's Health Imperative, Association of Black Cardiologists, the list goes on and on – I repeat those who have signed onto this.  So we're hoping to have a good vote tomorrow on that. 

And today is a very sad day for us because it was one year ago today that we passed H.R. 8 and sent it over to the Senate.  H.R. 8 is our legislation, as you know, for commonsense background checks.  And it is – it's very sad that the ‘Grim Reaper’ has decided that more people will die because he is the ‘Grim Reaper.’  A hundred people a day – my understanding is – die from gun violence.  Not all of them can be saved by this legislation, but many could.

So, we did H.R. 8 today – one year – and then tomorrow H.R. 1112, the South Carolina loophole that enabled hate crime to be performed at Mother Emanuel Church.  Well, this would close that loophole – Mr. Clyburn's bill. 

So, here we are, 90 percent of the public support commonsense background checks – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, gun owners, because most of them have engaged in background checks.  This would be only a simple matter of expanding it to sales on the internet, issues at gun shows.  The internet sales have come about more abundantly since the bill was originally passed.  So this is only an expansion of all of that, and we would hope that we could save lives doing that. 

Anyway, I have some other things to talk about.  Perhaps we can do it in the Q&A.  Any questions? 

Yes? 

Q:  What are you telling your Members to reassure them – those who are nervous, perhaps, about a Bernie Sanders nomination? 

Speaker Pelosi.  I've been very clear in all of this.  Our responsibility is to win the House.  We know how to win.  We've demonstrated that in the most gerrymandered, voter‑suppressed political arena you can name, and yet, we net‑gained 40 seats in the last election, by owning the ground with our mobilization, not yielding one grain of sand, by a message of bold, progressive agenda that was mainstream and nonmenacing and having the money – the Ms – to advance our cause with our message and our ground game.  That was very well managed by Ben Ray Luján and now continues to be well managed by Cheri Bustos, our Chair.  And the most important part of it – all those Ms – are the Members to be, our candidates.  They're absolutely spectacular.  My responsibility is to make sure that those we elected last time return to Congress, keep the Majority and add to our numbers. 

The Presidential is its own race, and I don't – contrary to what you may be hearing or writing, we are not getting – we are all unified.  Whoever the nominee is of our party, we will wholeheartedly support.  Our gospel is one of unity, unity, unity.

So, I don't have the experience that you may have described about hearing from anybody.

Q:  Madam Speaker –

Speaker Pelosi.  I'm sorry.  I just would like to ask somebody who usually comes to our meetings. 

Chad? 

Q:  Good morning. 

Speaker Pelosi.  To reward those, not those who parachute in for something.

Yes, Chad?

Q:  Thank you.  My question is on FISA.  It was a real donnybrook to approve FISA a few years ago.

Speaker Pelosi.  FISA, uh‑huh.

Q:  Obviously, there are more concerns now, especially on the Republican side of the aisle after what happened in the 2016 election with Carter Page and some of the allegations that the process was abused.  How does some of what – the concern that mostly Republicans have about FISA – how does that make that a tougher challenge to get this approved this time?  Because, as you know, that's a unique cocktail of votes that was put together last time on both sides of the aisle to pass it.  And how does that impose a challenge?  And do those concerns by Republicans make it even tougher this time around with that deadline looming in mid‑March?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we'll see.  As you indicate, there is a deadline.  We want to have it done by the middle of March – well, March 12th for us from a legislative standpoint, but March 15th is the deadline.

And we have the challenge.  And this is my – you know – my wheelhouse.  I was there for some of the FISA revisions in the past.  The goal is to have the right balance between civil liberties and national security.  I think the bill that was put together in the Judiciary Committee, working with the Intelligence Committee, does that.  There are others who would like to see some other provisions.  We're just working through that now, with respect for everyone's point of view.  But it is really important that we pass the FISA bill. 

One thing that I'm very happy about – because this has been just a painful experience for all these years – is that we will have an end to the data collection by telephone records, et cetera.  So that will be out.  There are many good things that are in the bill that protect – further protect civil liberties, and I would hope that we can come to a conclusion on it.

Q:  Did the markup issue being canceled yesterday, did that make it tougher to meet that deadline of the 12th of –

Speaker Pelosi.  No.  Well, it depends.  It's not a – it's a postponement.  And we'll just go through – anytime somebody has a suggestion, what does it mean in terms of civil liberties and national security.  And so we'll see how that goes and hopefully that will be done expeditiously. 

Yes, Nancy? 

Q:  How concerned are you about the stock market drops that we saw this week in response to coronavirus fears?  And how much do you think that those market jitters should be taken into account both here on the Hill and in the White House when you are delivering messages about coronavirus? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we are hoping to work in a bipartisan way to stop the spread, to have serious prevention, science‑based, evidence‑based decision-making with professionals who know the territory of science and epidemiology to do the job.  The market drop – now, it's what, 3,000, 2,500, as of last night, 3,000 – is disturbing.  But, again, we want to instill confidence.  We want to prevent without panicking people about this.  But the market will do what it does, with the invisible hand that it always does.  

It does show some fragility on the part of the market that it would drop so much.  But, again, it can't affect what we do if what we're there to do is to prevent and not panic people on the subject. 

The President said something so strange that you really have to wonder.  He said the reason the market dropped is because of the debate the other night.  Well, the market had dropped 1,800 points before the debate the other night.  The market [futures] dropped while he was speaking yesterday in his press conference.  So, you know, let's not – let's not be silly about what that is. 

Clearly, the lack of ability to get some of the product to sell and the rest has an impact on the bottom line of some of these companies.  We don't like seeing the market drop, that's for sure.  We hope that this will have a turnaround.  But it cannot affect how we address the issue. 

Our issue is public health.  Our issue is prevention.  And we would hope that that would not lower the market but raise the market, because we want to show that decisions have been made to put this in good hands now. 

Q:  Madam Speaker?

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, ma'am? 

Q:  Later today the DNC is meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on the superdelegate process. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Right.

Q:  Would you advise your Members to support the leader of pledged delegates if that person does not have a plurality –

Speaker Pelosi.  That's not what the purpose of the meeting is.  This is strictly – don't read too much into it, in your moments.  This is strictly a housekeeping meeting.  This is to say, this is a date, like March 7th coming up is when the names will be sent to the state parties as to who the unpledged delegates are.  This is about how we participate in committees and the rest. 

It's really just a reading of the rules.  It's not anything about that.  And the rules are very clear.  The person who will be nominated for President will be the person who will have the majority of the votes. 

In addition to that, though, I will take the opportunity to say what I said over and over again:  We're responsible to win the House of Representatives.  And that is what we intend to do with our mobilization, with our messaging, with our resources in order to win.  And, hopefully, that victory will also help to win the Senate and to help to win the White House.

We also want to help to win state and local government positions as well with our demonstration that we know how to win. 

So, that's not what that meeting is about. 

Q:  But should superdelegates support the leader of pledged delegates –

Speaker Pelosi.  You know what?  You know what?  That's not the issue.  The person who will be nominated will be the person who has the majority plus one.  That may happen before they even get to the convention.

But we'll see.  The people will speak, and that's what we're listening to, and it's a pretty exciting thing. 

But that's not what this meeting is about.  Don't read too much into it.  It's merely housekeeping to say, this is how you can be on a committee, this is when you get a chance to vote.  What do you call them?  Unpledged delegates can vote for Vice President on the first ballot. 

Just technicalities, like a reading of the rules.  There's nothing – it's not political.  And that's not – the rules say you have majority plus one. 

Yes, ma'am? 

Staff.  Last question. 

Q:  You just said that it's your job to put forth an agenda that's mainstream, and I think I heard you say, and nonmenacing.

Speaker Pelosi.  That's right. 

Q:  And your –

Speaker Pelosi.  That's how we win the House.  I'm talking about the House of Representatives. 

Q:  Right.  And your agenda, though, differs somewhat from Senator Sander's agenda.  You're not advocating, for instance, Medicare for All. 

Speaker Pelosi.  That's right.

Q:  So, I'm wondering, do you believe Senator Sanders' agenda is mainstream and nonmenacing?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I think that Senator – health care is the most important issue in the campaign.  There are three issues:  health care, health care, and health care. 

That's why part one of our agenda, and how we won the election last time, was to lower the cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

Second was to build bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America in a green way. 

And the third was cleaner government.

On the first two, I think we can find some common ground to work with the Administration on lowering the cost of prescription drugs.  I hope so.  Building the infrastructure of America, I hope so.  Cleaner government, not so.  But that's where we are.

Now, it is not unusual for the party platform or the candidates for President to have their own agenda that they would put forth, and it's not unusual for the House of Representatives to have its agenda as well. 

We have to win in certain, particular areas.  We're not about a popular vote in the country or in particular states in terms of the Electoral College.  We are district by district.

And that's how we won last time.  We demonstrated that we know how to win.  Our impetus in that victory continues.  The momentum is there to help us win other positions as well. 

When we win, we'll put everything on the table, have a discussion, and see where we go from here. 

But it's not about causing any division as we go forward.  Unity, unity, unity.  Whoever our nominee is, we will support with respect for his or her positions and, hopefully, with their respect for our positions as well. 

So we have made a decision to win.  And as I say to the Members, if you make a decision to win, you have to make every subsequent decision to win – no friction, no nothing – just stay on the path to victory, because it's so very important. 

Our country is a great country.  It's a great country.  It's so resilient that it could even withstand one term of Donald Trump.  Two terms and the damage that he's doing to the rule of the law, of the court system in our country, the air our children breathe, the denial of climate and the rest – just time will take a toll. 

So, it's absolutely essential that we win.  Whoever the nominee is will have our wholehearted support.  Unity, unity, unity.  We've made a decision to win.

Thank you all very much.