Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today

March 12, 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. 

We have the Prime Minister of Ireland here for our traditional lunch in the Capitol, so it's a pretty exciting time. 

In the meantime, the day job always goes on and, today, we're having continuing conversations with the Administration on legislation that puts families first. 

We're very proud of the work that the Congress did last week with an $8.3 billion legislation to meet the needs of social and health services organizations, state and local government, testing, all the rest of that.  Testing, testing, testing: so very important so we can have an idea of the size of the challenge but also that we first and foremost can meet the needs of those who test positive. 

Today, we'll bring to the Floor our Families First legislation, which is what we talked about as soon as we finish the appropriations bill.  Listening to health care professionals, governors, mayors, et cetera – put the Families First legislation together. 

It has a free coronavirus testing, by and large for almost everyone in the country.  We're having some discussion about that with the Administration of maybe some people want to pay.  But, by and large, free [coronavirus] testing so that everyone will be testing and no one will say, ‘I can't afford it, so I can't,’ and that's not a good idea when it comes to public health. 

Paid emergency leave with fourteen paid sick days.  Very essential as we deal with this challenge, that public health challenge that we have.  And hands down employment insurance, the first step that will extend protections to furloughed workers. 

Strengthened food security initiatives.  Very important.  Many kids just get their food security in being in school.  If schools are closed, we have to make sure that the food gets to the children.  This food is already paid for and allocated, appropriated for, it's just a question of getting the food to the children and that has some cost to it. 

We also have to get the school lunch program, but in terms of SNAP and food assistance for seniors, people with disabilities, helping the non-profits who are on the forefront of helping people have access to food at this difficult time. 

And then clear protections for our frontline workers who are working in infectious environments, or possible infectious environments, so that they – the OSHA regulations are a protection for them.

And then, increased funding for Medicaid.  The FMAP, that’s the initiative that gives money to the states for Medicaid that is used, hopefully through the counties and the rest which deal with many of these health issues, as we go forward. 

So it's about putting families first.  We did the big, the major investment last week.  We were very proud of that: strong bipartisan, already signed into law. 

Families First – and there will be other initiatives that we want to work with the Administration on that may be necessary as we go forward.  Some that need more discussion, more impact in terms of what is the collateral benefit or collateral damage to stopping the spread of the coronavirus. 

Now let me just get back to testing, testing, testing.  So very important to take inventory, to understand the epidemiological – the spread of the virus.  And also to meet the needs of the people affected.

I am very pleased, also this week, that we were able to pass a bipartisan FISA bill in the House.  That’s a hard thing to do.  I know that from my intelligence experience.  And that we were able to pass Representative Slotkin’s War Powers Resolution, Rep. Lee’s legislation to repeal the AUMF – it’s the predicate for how we go forward – and Rep. Khanna’s legislation to prohibit funding for military action.

So, as we go forward, I want to thank the Members for the bipartisan legislation that was successful this week on the Floor.

In case you were going to ask: no, I do not think Bernie Sanders should get out of the race.  I think that – I’m a grassroots person, a party grassroots – you know, Chair of the California Democratic Party.  I know the enthusiasm of supporters for candidates.  And they want to see it play out.  For the ideas and causes that the candidate advances.  For the opportunity for people to show their support.

I congratulate both of the candidates as they go into the debate on Sunday.  I wish them both well and I’m very pleased that we’re getting a chance now, in a narrower field, to be able to come close to having a standard-bearer for the party.

But, either one of them, whoever is the one who emerges, the other is a standard-bearer for a point of view in our party that is very important.

With that, I am pleased to take any questions. 

Let me see.  Who?  Who?

***

Q:  Madam Speaker, in your opening statement, it sounded like you are open still to changing this bill or at least tweaking it for some of the Republican, White House concerns –

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  When you guys vote this afternoon, are you planning to release your Members to go home or will you keep Congress in session until there is a bill on the President’s desk?

Speaker Pelosi.   Well, we have a – whether we go home or not is more related to the – what the House Physician, the Capitol Physician says and what the Sergeant at Arms and the police chief and the rest say about what could come next that we have to deal with.  Because they make statements every day based on the current state of affairs in the community in which we exist here in Washington, D.C.

So, I do think some of the suggestions – what happened here – we moved quickly because who knew, right, that we would be in this situation.  We passed the bill last week. 

Immediately, we knew we had to do more.  We had to get it onto paper and, when we had it, then we shared it with the Republicans.  They made some changes to it.  We’re negotiating with them.  Secretary Mnuchin – he had some suggestions.  All very reasonable.  I don’t think that any of them is a – would prevent us from moving forward with the bill.  We just have to though, in the world that we live in, have language so that we can go to Rules so that we can go to the Floor.

I don’t think that we would wait until there is a signed bill.  We will do our work, as I said, sensitive to changes that have been suggested.  I don’t think they’re unreasonable.  They’re options that we considered in our own Caucus, some of them.  And we went one route and they want to go the other route.  That’s fine. 

But, we will have done our work.  And we would hope that would be an incentive for the Senate to move quickly because Senator – Leader McConnell asked me to work with Secretary Mnuchin.  We are.  He had his concerns.  We are addressing them.  I hope they don’t move the goalposts.

Q:  So, to be clear, you think you can work this bill out today and pass that with potential changes.  And then the idea is that the House might go away –

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we’re doing one step at a time.  I'm not saying anything.  We are here to pass a bill.  When we pass a bill, we'll make a judgement about what comes next.  And, we will see the manner in which the bill is passed.  So, I’m not giving any travel arrangements.  I know you are busy about your weekend and that, but that’s not what we are about.

Q:  Legislatively though what are those other things that you see?  Obviously, these are things that you can do immediately.  But what are those broader things that you might see doing in a couple of weeks?

Speaker Pelosi.  Let us get this bill passed first and then we will see where we go from there because the fact is, it’s like a house is on fire.  People are concerned about their health and the health of their children.  If they are losing their jobs because no one is coming to the restaurant or whatever it is, then we have to be there with some help for them. 

And if their children can’t go to school because the schools are closed, they – how do they afford child care?  Well, this legislation affords them the opportunity to stay home on a somewhat of a paid leave for a while.  

So, again, we’re addressing the realities of life – of family life in America.  Putting families first.  We’re not planning a schedule or anything else until we get that done.

And, again, we had in our bill last week the provisions for the Small Business Administration to provide loans to businesses that were under duress, whether they lost their market overseas or their supply chain overseas or whatever it happened be.  And so that we though was an important initiative to have in the bill.  They may want to do more.  That’s something we can talk about.

But, even if you have your small business loan, so that you can pay the rent on your store or your restaurant or your facility, if you don’t have customers, you still have a problem.  That’s why, when we do the TANF – excuse me, not TANF– the SNAP, the food stamps, when we do the unemployment insurance, when we do paid sick days, when we have paid family leave – parental leave, family leave – that money will be spent immediately.  Injects money to manage the economy, creates jobs.  It is a stimulus.

So, this is not without its opportunity to stimulate the economy.  In fact, when we did the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, we asked the – Rosa DeLauro in particular – asked the economists: ‘Name some of the things that we could do immediately that would be stimulus to the economy?’  Raise the minimum wage, we’re not doing that here, but unemployment insurance, paid leave, food stamps, etc.  Because, again, they have the need.

We also have the earned income tax credit, refundable in that – maybe some of the things that we will talk about in the future.

Q:  One of the issues that the Minority Leader is talking about has to do with – he believes that compromise could occur in the next 24-48 hours, but, if it doesn’t, the Republicans are willing to stay and work this out.

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, it isn’t a question of sticking it out.  Families have needs, that I just described.  We made the proposal, which we started on Sunday and put out there – listening to governors, mayors, non-profit organizations, educators and the rest.  This is what families need. 

They made suggestions to the language.  We’re making – agreeing to most of it – because they’re not that different.  So, we don’t need 48 hours.  We need to just make a decision to help families right now because we have to operate not as business as usual, but in an emergency status where we have to get the job done.

Q:  But if a decision isn’t made will you stick around –

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, Nancy.

I’m not sticking around because they don’t want to agree to language.  We have – we’re agreeing to much of what they have to – look, first of all, Mitch McConnell called me and said, ‘You work with the Secretary, that’s it.’  Now, the House Republicans are saying they’re not in the loop.  It’s not about that.

I mean, it’s about putting people and families first.  So, I mean, everybody can have a complaint about this or that.  I said, ‘Save it for another day.’  We can have an after-action review about how we got into this situation.  Save it for another day.

Right now, we have to find our common ground, work together to get this done as soon as possible because we have other needs.  We will have to address this issue further.  And if some things that they might want in this bill that aren’t there, there could be another bill shortly down the road.  We didn’t do everything last week with $8.3 billion, but we did a great deal.  And now we are doing more and then we’re fully prepared to do more.

So we are having – we are responding to their concerns.  We don’t want them moving the goalposts. And that’s it.

Yes, Nancy.

Q:  Was it a wise move to block most travelers in Europe from coming to the U.S. for the next month?  And, if so, was it wise to leave the UK off of that list?

Speaker Pelosi.  I had a conversation with the Vice President and Dr. Fauci when they called last night to inform me of this.  Dr. Fauci said it was a scientific, medical decision.  I have a great confidence in Dr. Fauci.

It's just strange because they're saying it's because it's easy to travel among these countries, but they're separate from the U.K.  You can just get in the Chunnel and you'll be in the U.K.  So, again, it's a decision they made.  It has its ramifications.  We'll see whether it's worth the trouble.  

But, again, I'm here about what we can do to go forward for America's working families, for putting families first without having a criticism of one of the things the President is doing.  I do think, as Chuck – Leader Schumer and I said in our comments last night: testing, testing, testing.  That's the only way you're going to learn about the epidemiology – how this is spread.  I don't want to use that word because not everybody knows what it means.  Yes, sir.

Staff.  Last question.

Speaker Pelosi.  Yeah, we have Taoiseach coming so I have to get going.

Q:  You said earlier this week that Congress is the last line of defense.  Beyond the recess, if it came to it, how prepared –

Speaker Pelosi.  I said it was the last line of defense?

Q:  I heard you say that at some point.  I’m wondering if –

Speaker Pelosi.  A line of defense.  I don't know if it's the last.  But anyway, go ahead.

Q:  Just how prepared Congress is to work from home potentially if it were to come to that.

Speaker Pelosi.  We have been briefed by the Chief Administrative Officer, by the Chief of Police, by the Sergeant at Arms, by the Capitol Attending Physician, by our Leader on the House Administration Committee, Zoe Lofgren, about what preparations have been made for remote work.  And that is something that we're actually encouraging people to be prepared for.  They may choose to be coming in, but be prepared to do that.  It isn’t a requirement yet, but it is that we want people to be prepared. 

So, we’re providing the technology, the training and all the rest to make sure that everybody is up to par on that.  Our writing of legislation, our exchange of ideas and all – that won’t stop, the work of Congress, because by the time we come to the Floor, it’s the tip of the iceberg.  There’s so much else, work that is going on, and with all the respect in the world for our staff who do much of that and our Members who participate in that.  Everybody is not universally excellent at the same place in terms of technology.  We want to make sure they're at their personal best when that sets in.  

So it’s about – I hope much of what we're doing is redundant and that we don't have to engage in some of this.  But if we do, we want to be prepared.  We want to prevent the spread, so if people have to stay home, they have to stay home.  But we also don't want people to panic.  So that's why we've based any decisions about the Capitol, this or that, on what is recommended by the Capitol Physician and the Sergeant at Arms and the Chief of Police.  

But it is – I think we have to be very prayerful about this.  People are sick and some people are dying in our country, and globally.  And it is kind of shocking to see the challenges that we have and the decisions that have to be made about people coming together, whether it's sports or the arts or just political gatherings, whatever it is.  We have to think in a different way about that.  Whether it's about personal hygiene or personal contact with other people, we have to be smart about how we do that – washing our hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.  I say that all the time anyway as a mom.  So now it's an imperative, but it's always been important.  

So, again as I say, what we think about one policy or another – as Nancy asked – what we really have to do is come together and get the job done.  Now, we were very clear in our communications about what we heard.  When Members go home, they will hear more from their constituents, from their non-profits, from their local government, from their health care providers and the rest about what other ideas have emerged as important in all of this.  And that will be a source of knowledge for when we come back and we could come back anytime.  Everybody has to stand ready to be here at all times if we have a legislative solution to put forth.

But again, it can't just spring from what we did before, anything like that.  It's about what's current in the challenge we face with this coronavirus.  It's not about spending a lot of time saying how we got here.  We have to talk about where we go from here and then we can make changes for the future and how we could prevent or withstand whatever might be happening in other countries that might spread to our own.  

But I do want to salute our health care providers, our first responders, all the non-profits that are working to inform people about how they should be tested.

In our legislation, we enabled millions of masks to go out.  That was something very important to the Administration, that we would suspend immunity for liability.  It was a very big deal – a big concession to the Administration on that because, weighing the equities, it would be important to get those masks out, even though it provided that immunity.  So we have tried to say, okay we have our – and just specifically for the coronavirus crisis.  

Anyway, I thank you for your interest in all of this.  I want you to wash your hands for 20 seconds, not –  just all the time, just for no reason at all.  And one bit of advice they told me – I was talking to somebody from California and I said my usual saying, ’Oh, that a month ago I might have said whoever the nominee is of the party we will enthusiastically embrace, and then I changed it to whoever the nominee is of the party, we'll enthusiastically elbow bump.’  But somebody said to me, no, when you elbow bump, you get close to the person.  So forget any physical contact, greetings.  Bow in an Eastern style.

Thank you all very much.  Again, we're very excited that Taoiseach is coming.  I'm honored that Senator, Leader McConnell will be part of our hospitality to him at our lunch later today.  

Thank you.

Q:  Does Taoiseach get a handshake?

Speaker Pelosi.  No.  I saw him last night. 

[Laughter]

We had the big, Irish dinner at which I was honored last night and I was very excited about that.  It was wonderful to see him, but I did not impose upon him with the handshake, nor did he on me. 

Thank you, all.