Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today

March 19, 2021
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.

As we deliver the benefits of the American Rescue Plan, we're hard at work to lower health care costs and expand access to care, which we have seen a great need for during the spread of this pandemic. 

On Tuesday, we will observe the eleventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  At that time and since, I've said that that was a great pillar of economic and health security for the American people, on a par with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. 

In this rescue plan, we have some initiatives to expand the Affordable Care Act, and that's why I'm so pleased to be joined by three of our colleagues. 

Representative Underwood will talk about provisions in the bill.  Well – she will talk about them.  And I want to salute her for her success in getting provisions in the bill that expand the Affordable Care Act. 

Representative Craig has been at work on initiatives to improve the Affordable Care Act but will have her own words to say about rescue and where we are. 

And Representative Leger Fernandez, she is a Freshman Member, and she will have her presentation on this subject.  She has been such a leader in New Mexico on everything to make the future better for America's working families. 

You'll hear from them momentarily.  Before that, though, I just want to say how exciting it is for us that eleven years have gone by and there has been a broad acceptance of the Affordable Care Act.  It was a transformational law that expanded coverage, lowered costs, secured lifesaving protections for Americans, no matter how they get their health care coverage. 

Of course, our goal is to have universal coverage, universal access to quality, affordable health care.  And a giant step forward with that was the Affordable Care Act, providing lifesaving protections for more than 130 million Americans with a pre-existing medical condition. 

And, actually, they said being a woman was a pre-existing medical condition.  But the Affordable Care Act took care of that.  As a mother of five, I was told that I – that was an obstacle to my getting insurance, because I had five children.  And I said, ‘I thought that was a sign of my strength, that I have five children.’  

Banning insurers from putting limits on health care, guaranteeing essential health benefits and free preventative services, ensuring that young people can stay on their family's policy until 26, extending health care coverage to 20 million Americans. 

People make a big fuss, as do I, about the fact that 20 million more people in our country have access to health care.  Twenty million people.  But the fact, also, is that over 150 million families have access to better health care at lower cost, and, again, with benefits like no pre-existing condition barrier to access to health care.  But that was just one of the further benefits. 

And we're proud to celebrate this anniversary, and I look forward to make it – making it even stronger.  The American Rescue Plan takes bold steps forward in making health care more affordable and accessible, including for those who have lost coverage through no fault of their own. 

Again, when we had our campaign in 2018 and 2020, For The People, one of our – For the People, we would lower health care costs by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and preserving pre-existing condition [benefits], among others.  And the Democrats will take further action to make this more affordable.  Remember, we chose that name very carefully, Affordable Care Act.  Well, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

A person who has been a leader from the start in the Congress to make the Affordable Care Act more affordable, a person who has served in the Obama Administration, as well as being a health care provider herself, making a big difference right here from the start, Congresswoman Underwood of Illinois.  Congresswoman? 

Congresswoman Underwood.  Thank you, Speaker Pelosi.  I am thrilled to be here today to celebrate the historic expansion of the Affordable Care Act that is now law, thanks to the American Rescue Plan. 

I represent the Fourteenth District of Illinois, and I spend a lot of time listening to my community.  What I've found over and over and over again since I took office over two years ago now is, whether I'm at a farm or a restaurant or at a townhall, people are being crushed by their health care costs.  Throw in a pandemic and it's just been devastating for families. 

While Republicans have worked breathlessly for two years – well, since I've been here for two years, but for years before that – to take away health care, House Democrats, Senate Democrats and the Biden-Harris Administration have all been loud and clear: No family should be without affordable care, especially in a once in a century health crisis. 

And I'm here to tell you today, we have delivered for the American people.  The American Rescue Plan included my legislation, the Health Care Affordability Act, which lowers out of pocket insurance costs and caps premiums for everyone.  It requires that Americans pay no more than eight and a half percent of their income on health care premiums and provides a larger tax credit to 9 million people who receive financial assistance, helping them afford coverage through the marketplace. 

Those whose earnings are 400 percent of the Federal poverty level, which is slightly more than $51,500 per year for an individual, will be able to receive aid to purchase affordable health care coverage. 

The cost of health care has been keeping millions of families from thriving, but that's about to change.  With the American Rescue Plan, Help Is On The Way.  The Biden-Harris Administration estimates that four out of five enrollees will be able to find a plan for $10 a month. 

People with the lowest incomes and people who receive unemployment compensation this year may not have to pay a monthly premium.  Couples earning more than $70,000 could save $1,000 per month on their monthly premiums.  A family of four making $90,000 will see premiums decrease by $200 per month.  And an individual making $19,000 will not have to pay a monthly premium.  That's real, significant savings for hardworking families. 

So, thank you, Madam Speaker, for including my legislation in this historic package and helping me put money back in the pockets of my constituents.  Everyone's had an incredibly hard year, and I am so glad that, with your leadership, we were able to build on the Affordable Care Act and deliver on our promise to lower health care costs for the American people. 

Thank you. 

Now, I'd like to invite Congresswoman Angie Craig. 

Congresswoman Craig.  Thank you so much, Representative Underwood and Madam Speaker, as always.  Thank you for having me here. 

Especially during these challenging times, we're reminded every single day that Americans deserve access to high quality, affordable health care. 

This is especially personal to me, as I grew up for a portion of my own childhood without that reality of having access to health insurance.  And I still remember that box of bills that piled up for my mom, who was raising three kids mostly on her own, on the kitchen table after my little sister went to the hospital.  So, I know firsthand, if health care is not affordable, it is not accessible. 

For years in this country, families in Minnesota and across the nation have struggled with the rising costs of health care.  I ran for Congress in 2016, I lost, and then in 2018 I came back and I ran in a cycle and served in a session where we were here to find real, commonsense solutions to this nation's health care issues. 

In 2018, the election cycle that first brought me to Congress, Democratic candidates all over the country were sent to Washington after making that simple pledge: If elected, we would work tirelessly to stabilize and enhance the Affordable Care Act, lower the cost of prescription drugs in this nation and the out-of-pocket health care cost for families. 

Last year, I helped pass H.R. 1425.  That was my bill, the reinsurance bill, that became the base of our broader Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, legislation that included provisions to significantly increase subsidies for middle and low income families, making health care more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans – congratulations, Congresswoman Underwood, for that aspect in the American Rescue Plan; finally allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and extend many of those cost savings through H.R. 3 to private plans as well; expand coverage to millions of Americans by encouraging holdout states to take advantage of the Federal government's Medicaid expansion; and crack down on junk plans that endangered Americans' access to high quality care while strengthening protections for pre-existing conditions.  Last year, we came together to pass that legislation, responding to our constituents' request to protect and strengthen their health care. 

My constituents are fed up with the years of sabotage of the ACA and the politics of division.  They just want us to strengthen and make health care more affordable.  And, today, with the anniversary of the ACA next week, we have the opportunity to continue these efforts with the Biden-Harris Administration. 

So, with that, I'll hand things off to Representative Fernandez. 

Congresswoman Leger Fernandez.  Good morning.  Thank you so much, Congresswoman.  And thank you so much, Madam Speaker, for inviting me here today. 

So, we know that this pandemic's tentacles have infiltrated every single aspect of our communities' lives.  It put a spotlight on the work that we still need to do to make health care affordable and accessible for everyone, everywhere, in every community, urban and rural. 

In New Mexico, one of the things that I did was help build rural health clinics, help build clinics in Indian Country.  And, in fact, the Second Gentleman visited one of those health clinics on Wednesday to look at their marvelous vaccination plan in New Mexico, the Kewa Health Clinic.  So, a big shout out to that. 

But because of my work helping build health clinics, this issue came up over and over again by New Mexicans.  They wanted Congress to address the cost of health care, to make sure it came down, and to make sure that it was accessible. 

The brilliance of the American Rescue Plan is that it not only provides us with the resources to beat the pandemic, it has allowed us to expand access to health insurance, lower the cost, and gets us a step closer to ensuring that health care is a right, not a privilege, for all Americans. 

We called this plan a lifeline.  That's exactly what it is.  And we want everyone to know that they can take advantage of the special enrollment period that is running now through May 15.  There are more than 14.9 million Americans who still don't have health insurance and now can get it.  Many current enrollees can receive additional financial support to get coverage at a price they can afford. 

Thank you for getting that done.  All of the Democrats, we need to thank them.  I need to tell you, as a Freshman, it is marvelous to be able to come to Congress and get stuff done with the Democrats. 

So, I want to urge all Americans who are currently uninsured or underinsured to please visit healthcare.gov and take advantage of potentially lower premiums and lower out of pocket costs. 

In New Mexico, our hearts broke over the devastating and deadly impact that this pandemic had on our Native American communities, many of the Tribal leaders and elders we have lost, and the impact on the Latino communities. 

Having access to health care should not depend on your zip code, it shouldn't depend on your employment, it shouldn't depend on your income, and it shouldn't depend on your race.  The American Rescue Plan takes us one step closer to making health care as a right available for every American. 

Thank you, Madam Speaker. 

Speaker Pelosi.  As we observe the eleventh anniversary, which will be Tuesday, you can just see the pride we have, not only in that legislation, but in the newer Members of Congress who have taken up the cause and made their mark on this, because they listened to their constituents and prioritized this health issue, which is a health issue and an economic issue for families because of affordability. 

So, thank you so much to Congresswoman Underwood for the specific language in this legislation.  You talked about it when you ran as your motivation for running, and we are all moved by that, and then you acted upon it at every step of the way.  So, thank you for your effectiveness in this – effective from the start.  

As is Congresswoman Angie Craig, with her very important legislation.  That is part of what we did last year, which we hope will be part of what we – soon.  It will be part of it, but we hope that that will be soon.  Thank you.  You didn't even talk about your four sons and   

Congresswoman Craig.  They're all under 26 too.  

Speaker Pelosi.  There you are. 

Congresswoman Craig.  Thank you, ACA.

Speaker Pelosi.  And, again, to Congresswoman Fernandez, talking about our Native Indian Country. 

I want to join in acknowledging the Biden-Harris Administration, because one of the sticking points that we had previous to their taking office, was addressing the inequality of access to health care, inequality to testing, tracing, treating, vaccine, et cetera.  And President Biden has made this a very high priority, as has the Vice President – hence, the Second Gentleman visiting the location.  Now, in our bill, there's $20 billion for Tribal governments, as well as another $6 billion for health benefits, others in there.  So, thank you for making sure that those priorities were addressed in the substantial way that they were. 

So, you can see why we think that the celebration of the Affordable Care Act is greatly enhanced by the passage of the rescue package, as it takes us forward. 

On this subject, are there any questions, on health care and how we go forward? 

Well, again, I want to thank the President and the Vice President, as well as all of our colleagues, for those who were here for the Affordable Care Act, those who have fought for it then and since, even if they weren't here at the time, and those who are enhancing it and making it stronger.  Again, a pillar of America's families' security – Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act.  

Martin Luther King said, of all of the inequalities that exist, the one inequality of access to health care is the most inhuman – he used that word, ‘inhuman’ – because people could die.  And that inequality is something that has been of the highest priority for us. 

I thank our colleagues for their leadership.  You are welcome to stay. 

I know they would join me in acknowledging the sadness that our country has experienced with the assault on the AAPI community.  When we leave here, we will go to the Floor for a moment of silence.  The flags are at half staff as an acknowledgement and a comfort, but it is not a comfort unless we can end the fear and the injustice of it all. 

I am so proud that the President and the Vice President are visiting Georgia – perhaps they're on their way as we speak; maybe they're there now – to console. 

But, also, I want to recognize that the President, early on, when he made his speech to the nation about COVID, he talked about anti-AAPI violence in our country and how it had to stop, and he called upon the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, to address this issue. 

So, long before Atlanta, we have known that this has been a challenge, really exacerbated by some of the language of a previous Administration.  And, unfortunately, last year, the total, it was over something like 3,700 acts of violence against the AAPI community.  That would be more than ten a day. 

As a Representative of San Francisco, I take great pride in representing the AAPI community.  It's a blessing to us all.  And, again, we see firsthand the risk that is there.  It's something that we are all very proud of, our AAPI community.

We are very pleased this week that we were able to pass legislation, much of it coming from the Judiciary Committee.  Mr. Nadler deserves some credit, a great deal of credit, for that.  But a lot of the women – as you see, the women are leading the way on these issues. 

First, we had ERA, the passage of the ERA, removing the barrier, under leadership of Jackie Speier.  And we're proud of that.  Their barrier is not in the Constitution.  It was put in by the Congress.  Congress can take it out. 

Next, we had the Violence Against Women Act, its reauthorization in a way that is stronger.  In fact, listening to some of our friends in Indian Country who have suffered so much from the injustice of violence against women on the reservations and no recourse, and then – that was the other day. 

Yesterday, we had the two bills that I'm so excited about: the Dreamers Act – you may recall that, in the last Congress, I spoke for eight hours and six minutes in support of the DREAM Act.  I won't do that now.  I didn't do that yesterday, but I did use my time to take pride in the Dreamers and what they mean to our country.  And that was under leadership of Lucille Roybal-Allard, and the Promise part of it under leadership of Nydia Velázquez and also Yvette Clarke of New York.  So, we're very excited about that legislation. 

Right now, on the Floor, we're taking up the Medicare bill that was necessary because of the rescue package, similarly as was necessary after the passage of the Republican tax scam.  We'll see if they'll vote for it to protect Medicare, as we voted for it, even though we disagreed with the tax scam – didn't vote for the bill, but voted for the protection.

When we come back, we will be – we're having committee meetings next week to prepare for our agenda for when we come back, and we'll be taking up, apropos of the conversation today, the NO BAN [Act], the repeal of the Muslim ban legislation.  We have legislation for access to counsel.  The NO BAN is, I think, Judy Chu's legislation; the Access to Counsel, Congresswoman Jayapal.  So, women are just ruling the roost here.  I mean, it's just wonderful.  And then we will have other legislation as well. 

So, if you have any questions about that. 

Yes, sir.

Q:  Madam Speaker –

Speaker Pelosi.  The gentleman behind you. 

You.  Yes? 

Q:  I have an unrelated –  

Speaker Pelosi.  I'm sorry? 

Q:  I have an unrelated question. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Unrelated to health care? 

Q:  Yes. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Anything for health care?  No? 

All right.  Then you're welcome to stay.  But we do have votes on the Floor, so I don't know how long I can stay. 

Yes, sir. 

Q:  Roughly a third of your Caucus is cosponsoring a resolution introduced today by Congressman Jimmy Gomez to expel Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from the House.  I was wondering, where does House Democratic leadership stand on that resolution?  And do you think that Congresswoman Greene should be punished further in any way for her –

Speaker Pelosi.  I'm not going to get into that.  It was a – Members are very unhappy about what happened here, and they can express themselves the way they do.  What Mr. Gomez did is his own view, and that is not a leadership position. 

Yes, sir.

Q:  I'm wondering how you think the problem on the border – if you have any updated views on that and what the Administration should or should not be doing on that front. 

Speaker Pelosi.  I think that the Administration is pulling this thing under control.  And I think it's important to know that.  The difference between the attitude toward the people and the children is so different in just these two months versus what happened in the past four years. 

In the spring, as my colleague Congresswoman Escobar has said, who represents El Paso, in the spring more people do come.  So, there will be more, as there are now.  But they have to know, as the President has said, ‘Don't come,’ and how can we address the challenges in their country so that they stay home. 

But since they are coming, they fall in different categories, and the Administration has plans in place to take care of the children in a much more humane way than before.  And that means that we have to have more facilities, more beds and the rest, until we transition these children to their – nearly half of them, say, 40 some percent of them, have a parent in the country, our country, that we can transition to.  Closer to three quarters of them have a family member – it's not necessarily a parent – in the country that we can transition them to.  But they go from the Border Patrol, and then they go to what's called ORR, the refugee release, and then are transitioned out. 

So, that is being – with the FEMA at the border and the rest, the Administration is addressing the immediate concerns.  There has to be, though, the recognition that COVID is playing a role in how people need to be separated, and so this adds to the challenge when more people come. 

We have, like, 13,000 beds, as Congresswoman DeLauro, under whose Labor HHS Committee ORR falls.  There are 13,000 beds, but when you need to space, you need more space, so we need more locations.

I always like to quote the evangelicals.  They have been so excellent on immigration for such a long time.  We are not in 100 percent agreement on all aspects of it, but, by and large, they have been a very positive force for good. 

And when we were four years ago having a rump hearing, because we weren't in the Majority, a rump hearing on ban – overturning the ban that the President had put, the Muslim ban, whether we had the military coming in and saying this is bad for national security, whether we had the diplomats, 1,000 of them, signing a letter saying this is bad for our national security, whether we had the business community saying this is a harmful message to the world, whatever it was, but the message I want to focus on is, when the evangelicals testified, their representatives said that, ‘The United States refugee resettlement program is the crown jewel of American humanitarianism.’  And this is – part of what is at the border is – are refugees applying for asylum in our country. 

We had hoped and we can reinstitute some things that were taken down by the Trump Administration to have some of that adjudication happen in country so that the case can be resolved there.  But there is no question – and I've taken delegations to Central America – that corruption, violence, crime and just so many – even climate.  We saw the climate causing the drought, causing the farmers to have no way to farm the land, contributed to some people coming north. 

So, to the extent that we can help solve some of the problems at home and instead of canceling that investment, which the Trump Administration canceled the investment that we had to do just that, I wish you could see the impact of what USAID can do to help children in those countries. 

So, so, that is to back up again and say, the Biden Administration has this under control.  It will take – it has changed, and it will take some time.  But it is values-based, humanitarian in its aspects, pragmatic in how with a plan to get things done and not just a diversionary tactic on the part of the Republicans because they are bankrupt of ideas on how to improve the lives of the American people.  So, they run to the border. 

Q:  Can I have follow up on that? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  Do you anticipate any role for Congress in addressing that situation specifically, whether it be more money for those Northern Triangle countries or more assistance –

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  – For HHS?  I mean, do you see a specific role for Congress? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we had $250 million for the Northern Triangle.  The Northern Triangle is El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  When we went there on a previous CODEL led by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel.  When he was there, they canceled that money, but that was problematic. 

So, in order to keep people home, we have to address the root causes of the migration.  And that's not a big price to pay to have the impact that it will have. 

And I wish, as I said earlier, you could see the impact of USAID and our organizations, not that they were fully funding, but they were helping.  They gave an imprimatur to attract other support – and other institutions devoted to justice, the justice system in those countries. 

So, yes, it will take some resources, a small price to pay for people to stay home.  There are cases of well founded fear of persecution, in terms of the personal security of people.  And this is an issue that I've worked on for my whole time in Congress.  And that's harder.  There are families that  – well, it's so sad to just describe the situations that families found themselves in, hence, moms taking their daughters north.  How we can deal with that – in some cases, these children were in places that were safe havens for them that we helped fund, not completely funded, but helped fund. 

So, yes, there is a role for that.  And, as I said, ORR falls under the jurisdiction of Rosa DeLauro, who's Madam Chair of the whole Appropriations Committee, but ORR is in Labor-HHS, and they are paying very close attention. 

And the Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, Lucille Roybal-Allard, the author of the DREAM Act, she has been working on this issue for decades in Congress and, again, shares the values, understands taxpayer – the fiscal soundness that we have to execute, but also strikes a balance in all of it. 

So, I think we're in – to the extent that Congress will be involved, we have experienced hands at it. 

Yes, Chad?

Q:  Thank you.  About ten months ago, you started to implement remote voting, proxy voting, here in Congress because of the pandemic.  I know there were concerns about doing that.  What do you see going forward about, A, when Congressional operations start to return to normal, and, B, if things like remote voting and hybrid hearings will continue once the pandemic subsides? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, one of the most substantial steps that can be taken is that everybody should be vaccinated.  Right now, according to what I saw the Republican Leader say and was quoted in the press, that 75 percent of the Members are vaccinated.  That is not – we need 100 percent of the Members vaccinated, because it just takes one to endanger others. 

Much of what is happening here, some of it relates to January 6th, that's for sure, in terms of security, but most of the isolation and separation that we have, most of the reason that we cannot have official visits, most of the reasons why we cannot open up as much as we would like to for visits, for tourism, et cetera – and we hope that will be soon – is because of COVID, not because of January 6. 

I mean, we have our plans, we are preparing our supplemental, General Honoré has made suggestions, et cetera.  As you know, today, the peripheral, the outer fence is going to start to come down.  So, that part of it is being addressed. 

But COVID is the villain.  COVID is the villain to our economy.  Unless we crush the virus, we are never going to get our economy back.  COVID is the villain here.  Unless everyone is vaccinated, mask wearing, honoring separation, the rest, we'll still be at the mercy of that.

Q:  Do you see proxy voting or hybrid hearings, some of that, lasting past, you know –

Speaker Pelosi.  We do have hybrid hearings.  We do, yeah. 

Q:  But do you see that lasting after the pandemic ends? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, it's not going to end until – take it one step at a time.  We still have – now, today – maybe it started last night, I don't know, but by today I was hoping that many, many more staff will be vaccinated.  It's still not enough.  We still haven't gotten enough vaccine, but enough for people to choose to come in. 

If they don't – if they can be vaccinated and still want to work from home, we're not insisting if you're vaccinated, you have to come in.  But if they don't want to come in unless they are vaccinated and unless others are vaccinated. 

So, don't underestimate the power of that.  So, it's no use talking about when unless people are willing to get vaccinated.  And, in my view, the sooner, the better. 

Yes, sir. 

Q:  Madam Speaker, may I ask a question on the vaccines? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yeah. 

Q:  Specifically, are you giving your Members instructions to get vaccinated?  Do you think that McCarthy needs to do the same on the Republican side? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, you can't tell anybody to do anything, least of all around here.  But the fact is, is that there's no requirement.  It is a suggestion by the CDC to get vaccinated. 

And so, we're suggesting that if you want shorter time – like, some of the Republicans say to me, ‘Why can't we have reduced time on the votes?’  I said, ‘We can.  The more people who get vaccinated, the shorter time we have to stay separated on the Floor.’ 

So, it's not something that we can require.  It's something only that we can suggest and make readily available, which it is. 

So, thank you for your question.

Q:  Madam Speaker, on H.R. 1/S. 1, we've been following the progress of that.  And we're wondering whether there's any loss to the states about controlling their own voting regulations that they can tailor if we impose a Federal voting – ?   

Speaker Pelosi.  No, Congress – Federal elections can – the Voting Rights Act, that's part of H.R. 1.  It's an offspring of it but part of that.  Yes, requiring commission voting. 

We're very proud of H.R. 1.  We think it is the Constitution of the United States.  We think it represents the democracy of our country by reducing, which is our responsibility, the role of big, dark, special interest money in politics, by removing obstacles of participation to the first 300 pages of H.R. 1, written by John Lewis, the first 300 pages, to remove voter suppression.  And you see how necessary it is when you see that, what, over 40 states have over 250 laws now that they're striving to pass to lower voter participation. 

I used to be Chair of the Party, and our glory of it all was to engage people to vote.  Whether they were Democrats, Republicans, Independents, we could not – it was not our charge to ask.  It was only our responsibility to register people to vote. 

And to see the opposite of that, where a Republican Party, which cannot prevail on the strength of its issues, anti-this, anti-that, anti-that, but only can win by suppressing the vote.  And they know that, and that's why they're doing it. 

So, no, I have no concern, respectful of where those responsibilities lie.  I have great confidence in H.R. 1.  I thank John Sarbanes, the author of it all for over a period of time; Zoe Lofgren, the Chair of the House Administration Committee, for her leadership.  So proud of all of our Members. 

The American people know this is a way to restore integrity, by reducing the role of big, dark money, which suffocates the airwaves with misinformation, rather than having a respectful execution of our process. 

Thank you all.  Bye-bye.