Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference with Congressman Clay on H.R. 1, For The People Act
March 19, 2019
St. Louis – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Congressman William Lacy Clay in Missouri for a press conference on Democrats’ efforts to restore ethics and transparency to government with H.R. 1, the For The People Act of 2019, and H.R. 4, The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for your kind words of introduction, more importantly for your great leadership in the Congress of the United States. Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts today about our Constitution and the sacred right to vote.
It’s an honor to be here with Michael McMillan to say thank you to the Urban League for what you have done and for this Empowerment Community Center here, and I know, Mr. Chairman, that maybe more or another is on the way.
I was proud just to submit to the Urban League and their presentation on the State of Black America and the piece of voting rights. But their theme is ‘Getting to Equal: United, Not Divided.’ United not divided. And that’s what so much of this is about.
First let me just thank all of you, and the official family of this area, so many of you are here and thank you to the Urban League for your civic leadership. It’s making such a difference.
But I see a very special guest here too, what is your name young man?
Willard? Now this is what this all about – the children – it’s about the future. Thank you for coming today!
My purpose in politics is about the children and one of the honors I have is to work with a real champion for our children, Congressman Lacy Clay, now, Mr. Chairman Lacy Clay.
It’s about the children, their health, their education. This morning, we were at the Lacy Clay Children’s Health Center and again that’s about the children and about families. But every day he is there in his committees, he’s the Chairman now of the Subcommittee on Banking – about housing, fairness in housing, about fairness in insurance, it’s about consumer issues and the rest, no redlining and the rest, about the dignity of families to have an affordable place to live.
On his other committee, they have everything – Government Reform Committee, meaning they have jurisdiction over every subject. He’s there for honesty in government, cleaner government and the rest. As I said, they have jurisdiction over so many subjects.
And Natural Resources, the air our children breathe, the water they drink, the safe environment in which they can thrive.
So, I thank all of you, the official family and beyond for sending Lacy Clay to Congress.
He makes a tremendous difference in a very specific way for America’s working families, but also in an overarching way about how we honor our values as a country.
The fact that he was an early cosponsor of so much of the legislation that we have in our For The People agenda.
Our For The People agenda says [three] things: it says lower health care costs by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, increase paychecks by building the infrastructure of America in a green way as we go forward, and cleaner government. Lower health care, cleaner paychecks, bigger government. Cleaner government is essential to the other two.
The confidence that people have, when we say that we’re going to have For The People – an electoral agenda that removes obstacles of participation, that increases the voices of the grassroots, that diminishes the role of dark special interest money. It gives people confidence that we can get it done, because the voices of the people will be heard.
Lacy – Mr. Chairman – laid out very clearly what this is. H.R. 1. H.R. 1. What House Resolution 1 does in terms of eliminating obstacles of participation etcetera and also reinstating the Voting Rights Act. So we’ve already passed H.R. 1 last week. It was a triumphant vote for us, because it was our taking back the right to vote for every person in our country that was eligible to vote. For them to vote and have their vote be counted as cast, and that is very important.
But it has a long list of provisions, Lacy touched on some and if you have further questions, I’m happy to answer them, or if I can’t, Lacy will. That’s the power of the Speaker. You just delegate the hard questions to somebody else. One of the powers.
Here’s the thing, we still will have to bring to the Floor the Voting Rights Act, that’s H.R. 4. It’s part of H.R. 1, the enabling of it. H.R. 1 has John Lewis’s provisions in there for removing voter suppression – which is criminal, it’s almost criminal what’s going on across the country – whether it’s vote opportunities for Native Americans in North Dakota, you had get out of Fargo – get out of town in order to – get out of Dodge in order to vote in Kansas, they moved the polling place out of town. That you have to – in Georgia, you saw what happened in Georgia, North Carolina, it goes on and on.
So, when we passed the bill, and Lacy was very much a part of it when we passed it in 2006. It became law around 2007, to put forth the current – what was then the current Voting Rights Act that was taken to court later and the court decided that our criteria were obsolete. This was the court decision, we didn’t think so. It was only a couple years old, a few years old, but they said that.
The reason we didn’t just pass the Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4, the other day is because we are making sure we have hearings all over the country that our basis is ironclad as far as the courts are concerned because if you don’t want to have an openness is our electoral process, any excuse will do. And we don’t want to give them any excuse not to uphold the next version.
And sort of, not really a neighbor, but from the heartland of America, Marcia Fudge chairs our subcommittee. She already had her first hearing outside of Washington in Brownsville, Texas where they’re purging the rolls, if you don’t vote, you don’t – it doesn’t even need that.
They just purged your name if you had like a Hispanic surname. It’s really, again, almost criminal what they are doing there, and we’ll have recourse there.
But going all around the country, as well in D.C., to make our basis for Title 4 – Title 4 of the Voting Rights Act is what the courts stripped – and so to make it ironclad.
But we’re at a moment, we’re at a moment and the Urban League, as I said, is having this future of black America and having the Voting Rights piece of this, as a very strong part of it because the voice and the vote belongs to the people and the people can have whatever they want as long as they vote.
If you don’t vote, you don’t count and that’s why the other side wants to suppress the vote: to impact policy. And that’s why H.R. 1 enables us to do things that public didn’t ever have trust that we could do because of the role of big special interest, dark money in the process.
So, it’s pretty exciting.
On the committee in which Mr. Clay serves, one of the committees in which he serves, the Government Reform Committee, Mr. Cummings is the Chairman, and they recently had hearings and if you saw Lacy in the hearings, you’d be very, very proud as I’m sure you always are.
But at the end of those hearings, Mr. Cummings said to the witnesses and to the Committee: this is a fight we have to have. This is our destiny – to make this fight at this time for the people. Truth, truth in our policy. Transparency so that people can see it. Legitimacy in the vote without that suppression.
It was a moment almost like our Founders when they established our country. Abraham Lincoln brought our country together. At the time of our Revolution, Thomas Paine said, ‘The times have found us.’
Mike, Michael – ‘The times have found us.’ Well, the times have found us now to do this, to protect our Constitution, which is under assault by the President of the United States. The times have found us as to protect the right to vote, which is the sacred right and source of our democracy.
The times have found us to do this in a way, as the Urban League suggests, that is unifying and not dividing. Honoring the guidance of our Founders.
E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. They couldn’t possibly imagine how may we would be or how different we would be from each other. But they knew that we had to be one, that we’d always strive for that unity of our great country as we, again, support our values and work together.
The – I have a very diverse caucus, you might be happy to know, Mr. President. 60 percent of our caucus is women, people of color or LGBTQ members of our community.
Is that not fabulous?
And I say, and I say to our colleagues, ‘Our diversity is our strength, but our unity is our power.’ So, we always have to, as I say, prioritize – do our timing in a way that gets results.
Let me just close by saying, almost prayerfully, how honored but also how sad I am to be in Ferguson. But also, happy to see what is happening here now.
Congratulations to all of you who have had a part in this phoenix rising from the ashes of what happened before. To be a model for our country.
Lacy kept us posted, every minute, all the time about what about what was going on here. Again, thank you all for your strength, your unity, for making us all proud. Thank you so much.
Congressman Clay. Thank you, Madam Speaker. She had her notes.
And as you know, they used to refer to James Brown as the hardest-working man in show business. Being on three committees that she appointed me to makes me the hardest-working man in Congress.
And with that, we will open up to the press for Q&A.
Don’t all jump at once.
Speaker Pelosi. While they’re all not jumping, may I first just say that one of the things I’m proud about Lacy is – I mean, I talked about his being on Natural Resources Committee, clean air, clear water, all the wonderful things for our children. But I also was so proud of what he has done to protect – because that has control over the National Parks Service, the Underground Railroad and other…
Congressman Clay. Historic sites.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, it’s historical, but also spiritual for us in our country. Thank you, Lacy Clay, for your leadership.
* * *
Congressman Clay. Let me start with Gabe. Gabe is representing who today? Stand up and state your name.
Q: My name is Gabe Fleisher I write a newsletter, Wake up to Politics.
I wanted to ask, Madam Speaker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called H.R. 1 a political power grab – how do you respond to that? And why do you think he says that?
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you, Gabe. Again, from your perspective – generational perspective – I think you understand that our – the reason I’m hopeful we’ll be able to pass this is the public sentiment.
While he may say, ‘I’m not bringing this to the Floor.’ There has to be, shall we say, the public will take note. ‘I’m not bringing to the Floor legislation to remove obstacles of participation. I’m not bringing to the Floor eliminating voter suppression in our country.’
The public has to know.
I mentioned President Lincoln earlier. President Lincoln said that ‘Public sentiment is everything. With it, you can accomplish almost anything. Without it, practically nothing.’
And public sentiment, especially in the social media and the transparency at which we are presenting this, we hope that the public – I’m starting a new club. It’s called the Too Hot to Handle club.
Where we just make this too hot for them to handle, too hot for them to handle.
So, if they’re not going to pass it, tell us why. Tell us why.
I do, I work with Mitch McConnell. We’re both appropriators, we’ve worked together a long time. I respect him.
However, he is also the same person who said, ‘the problem’ – Mike, he said this, can you believe he said this? He said, ‘The problem is not that there’s too much money in politics, there isn’t enough money in politics.’
What? Does that share your values? I don’t think so.
So, good for him for making that statement that he said he was going to use the bill as a doorstop. Well that door’s going to be swinging, I’ll tell you.
[Laughter and Applause]
Q: Last week, you said you always supported lowering the voting age to 16 –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, yes.
Q: I was wondering if you could speak more about why you support that? And also, what you’ll be doing legislatively to push back?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, the – we’re obviously collecting thoughts about it. Just because someone has a good idea – any of us – doesn’t mean it’s going to the Floor next. It means you go through the process, you build consensus. You build a crescendo. That’s another club I’m starting, the crescendo club.
You have an idea? Let’s see how many people you can convince. Let’s see what the other views are that we can enhance this.
And here’s what I think. When kids are in high school is really a prime time for them to be aware of civics. Many years ago, when I was in school, civics was a requirement.
Then – remember that? Well, you don’t remember that, but you read about it.
But then it became and elective and I don’t know. There were other things kids took instead. So, the point is that when they are in high school, we see such a heightened interest in history and civics and climate and gun safety and you name it.
And that would be a time for them to be registered to vote. Now, we want to start something that might say ‘register to register.’ But you’ve got to get them on there because once they leave high school, not all kids go to college. And even if they do, they might not be in that same sense of community that they as high school students can make a big difference. More and more, more and more.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, how would you respond to some criticism of H.R. 1? I think given by the ACLU, that by limiting money people can give and not saying where it came from kind of inhibits free speech in the political process.
Speaker Pelosi. Well I – with all due respect to the ACLU and I understand that they have said what you have said, I completely, totally disagree.
I don’t think money is speech. I don’t think that’s what our Founders intended.
I do know that the Supreme Court wrongly decided in Citizens United that corporations were people and therefore they could spend endless money. Well, we can’t spend endless money in an election.
So, they were getting bigger opportunities than even people.
You know, with all the respect in the world for ACLU, I completely disagree with that point of view. I don’t think that money is speech and I do think that there should be a limit on – and in any event, the essence, the essence of the bill is to honor small donors. To have small donors participate in a bigger way.
A legacy I hope to leave – not so fast a legacy – but one of the legacies I hope to leave is that we have small donor support for the party in a very substantial way. And that keeps growing.
I think that not only is what we are doing putting us on the better part of history, it’s putting us on the better part of the future.
It’s up to him. It’s up to –
Q: This is about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Last year, she came to St. Louis to campaign for Lacy Clay’s Democratic primary opponent and she is in fact – the person that ran again Lacy last year – Cori Bush, said she’s going to run again and seek Ocasio-Cortez’s support again. What do you think – do you expect Ocasio-Cortez is going to go around the country campaigning primary opponents for incumbents?
Congressman Clay. Mark, we cannot – I don’t think the question’s fair because you cannot predict what another Member of Congress is going to do. So, I can’t play that game of predicting of what they’re gonna do, who they’re gonna support.
I mean, look, she came last year. Campaigned against me. I beat her.
And so, now – and I’ve turned the page, I’ve turned the page. She serves on two of my committees. We consult each other, we talk to each other.
So, I treat her like any other colleague – with respect. And that’s where I’ll leave that.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, Mr. Clay, Mr. Chairman has said he doesn’t want to make any predictions. I won’t make a prediction, I’ll state a fact. That I am proud to support Lacy Clay for his re-election and I am one of overwhelmingly the Democratic Members of the House of Representatives to support him.
Q: You mentioned the need to get support from the other side of the aisle to get anywhere with these two bills. This is a room full of supporters. How do you propose getting the side of Republicans to make these bills happen?
Speaker Pelosi. You haven’t heard how hot I am going to make this to handle.
This is about public sentiment. You can’t – in the legislative process, you cannot confine yourself to what the other side might do on any given day. Otherwise you might just as well just stay home. We’re not staying at home. We are there to make the fight in the House.
And so, we obviously passed the bill comfortably, with confidence, with pride, covering all the bases. We’re going to the heart of Constitution of the United States, the right to vote, which our Founders, in their wisdom, enabled the Constitution to be amended to do.
And in this Congress, we will be observing the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote.
And as you know, that followed other amendments to that effect.
Let me just saw this, because Lacy mentioned it a bit. So many people made such big sacrifices for the people to have the right to vote in our Country that it puts a burden on everyone of us to vote. But also an added burden on all of us in a position to do something about it to make sure people have the right to vote. And I sometimes wonder, if when our, one day when our colleagues go to heaven, meet our Founders – assuming that they’re all there, including our colleagues.
And they go to our Founders and say, ‘Oh my God, you founded this great country. I did everything in my power to make sure people couldn’t vote.’ That’s a disgraceful position to have. So, again, getting back to Lincoln and public sentiment, too hot to handle, and crescendo. We’re building that support. We’re building that support. And it’s popular support in the country.
Now, the question is in terms of Republicans on the other side of the aisle in the Senate, but the President of the United States – does he honor the Constitution?
Q: You’re a co-sponsor of the bill, can you just tell us about the importance of the bill and what it does for our country?
Congressman Clay. Well, this is a restatement of the Voting Rights Act, and we know what went into that, the genius of President Lyndon Johnson being able to get the bill over the finish line. He did that because he had such institutional knowledge of Congress.
And they did it from the outside too, at the grassroots level, like our current colleague John Lewis, who walked over that Edmund Pettus and got his head cracked. Or those three young civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, and they lost their lives trying to register people to vote.
It informs us that this is worth the fight. Why is that the other side doesn’t want these people to vote, that they don’t want them to have a stake in their own government. Why is that? Because they want to keep things the same.
So, that’s what the importance is of H.R. 4 as well as H.R. 1.
Speaker Pelosi. If I just may on H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Act piece of this. From time to time, a number of us go to Selma on the anniversary. And on the 50th anniversary there was a big, a big celebration. President Obama was there, President Bush, who signed the Voting Rights Act when we sent it to him in ’06 and he was proud to be there.
We were on the steps of the Capitol – Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, we had 400 votes, something like that, unanimously passing the Senate – walking down the steps in a bipartisan matter, signed by a Republican President, President Bush, proud to do so. And now we’re having this fight? Does that show you anything about how – things are supposed to move in a more positive direction. As Reverend Martin Luther King said, the arc of history bends towards justice.
But we have to help bend that arc, we have to help bend that arc. It’s not just going to bend on the natural, and he was calling upon us to play a role in it. But I’ll tell you this other story.
On the 50th anniversary, when we were there in Selma, they had all – Lyndon Johnson’s daughter – everybody participated, the President, it was a fabulous several day observance. The daughter [of Viola] Liuzzo, from Michigan, who went there, the first day they marched. They got beaten up and all the rest, John Lewis, as we know, and so one of the white ministers who was there sent a call to the country that day and said, come, come, bear witness to what is happening, so she left Michigan, she went to Selma. Then they had the permit, they walked over the bridge, it all happened.
She called her children at home, and her husband, and said it’s all over, I’m coming home now. It’s over, we had the march, it worked, and I’m coming home. They show film there of the children walking around, ‘Mommy is coming home, mommy is coming home, mommy is coming home, mommy is coming home,’ the little children.
She gave a ride to an African American person in her car, and she became a target, and they shot her dead. This is after she said I’m coming home.
So it’s 50 years later, her daughter is there and her daughter says, people ask me all the time, ‘Do you wonder why your mother left home, to go there, to do that, to risk her life and leave her family? Do you wonder?’ She said, ‘No, we don’t wonder why my mother left and went there, we wonder why everybody didn’t go there.’
So, lots of sacrifices and now lots of obstacles to that very right to vote. It will not stand. And we will pass that bill.
Q: What about President Trump, should he stay or should he go?
Speaker Pelosi. I thought that was the last question!
Congressman Clay. Say it again!
Q: What about your recent decision not to seek impeachment proceedings against President Trump?
Speaker Pelosi. I disagree with you on one thing, it hasn’t been recent!
I have always said that until we have the reports and the rest of that, that we shouldn’t be spending our time on that.
But, we should be spending our time For The People: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, cleaner government.
We passed a gun safety bill and I’m very, very proud of that. We will be passing legislation to protect the Dreamers, etcetera and ending discrimination in our country, and ending the disparity in income in our country. Saving our planet from the climate crisis. Those are the issues we should be spending our time on.
At the same time, our committees of jurisdiction are exercising their Constitutional responsibility to have oversight over the Executive branch.
Article 1, the legislative branch, the first branch of government, co-equal to, separation of powers from, responsible to have oversight. Mr. Clay is on the Committee of Oversight, it’s Reform and Oversight. Other Committees have discreet oversight responsibilities as well. So, that’s how we should be spending our time to improve the financial stability of America’s working families, as we have oversight over the President.
But I said, when he’s not worth it, it got your attention! I’ve been saying for 2 year that he should not be impeached! But when I said he’s not worth it, then it got the press. And what he’s not worth, is the financial stability of America’s working families and that’s what we’re trying to correct. And when the time comes, you’ll see.