Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today

March 5, 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 afternoon. 

Thank you for being accommodating.  We had important legislation on the Floor, and so thank you. 

We have an – it’s an interesting week, right?  But today I just want to talk about two important things, both begin with a ‘c’:  the coronavirus and the Census. 

Earlier this morning, some of us were together right in this very spot, talking about the Census and how it's starting now and we want everyone to participate.  We want everybody in America to help define the size and the character of the quality and quantity, not only that, the beautiful diversity of America.  And we want to help to avoid some of the attempts that are coming to undermine an accurate count. 

One of them is a mailer that has gone out by someone claiming it's an official census.  ‘Mailer.  Do not tear up.  Fill out this form.’  Of course, it isn't real, but tracking that down. 

We're very concerned about what Facebook has done.  Facebook has something with the authority of the President of the United States, faking its way into looking like something to do with the Census.  It is not.  And when we – they were asked, they said it was consistent with their policy, even though it was a false transmission.  It wasn't an official Census.

And we're excited, and this morning we talked about the fact that part of the Census will be electronic and we want to make sure that everybody has that capability, has access to it linguistically and culturally and geographically in every way.  That reduces some of the need for the geographic to go online.  But we're very concerned about Facebook, and we've told them ‘take down that site,’ to take down that site.  It's a lie and it undermines who we are.  And it may be good for their profits, but that's what counts for them.  It's not what counts for us in the Census. 

Sadly, we have more concern about – moving on to the coronavirus.  We have more concerns about additional awareness, anyway, of the spread of it.  I don't know if these are additional cases or we're just learning more about what is out there and some loss of life.  It's very sad.

But we really have to – we're very proud that yesterday we came to the Floor, had a very strong bipartisan piece of legislation, much improved on what was sent to us originally in terms of the appropriation of the coronavirus and – but, again, except for three, I think it was only three who voted against it – strong bipartisan support, which shortly will be voted upon in the Senate, sent over.  We'll have the signing ceremony, send it over to the President.

But as we go forward, we have to just stipulate to fact.  We have to dispel some of the misinformation that has been put out there, and for that purpose, we've had the opportunity in a number of meetings, yesterday with the Vice President, today with a wide range of representatives of the Administration, to just try to correct the record. 

When the President says, ‘There are only fifteen’, and there are four or five times that many – at that time, there are more now, that's just not right. 

And when the President said, ‘Go to work.’  No, there are other guidances that should be out there. 

When the President said – and he did say precisely, ‘the Obama Administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we are doing,’ he said that Wednesday at a meeting addressing the virus, the outbreak.  ‘And we undid that decision a few days ago so that the testing can take place in a much more rapid and accurate fashion.’

Well, the aide to Senator Lamar Alexander, who is the Chair of the committee of jurisdiction, said, ‘The Administration,’ the Obama Administration, ‘made no such rule change.’  And a policy expert at the Association of Public Health Laboratories said, ‘We aren't sure what rule he was referencing.’  There was intense interest in doing some things with that.  You know, he agreed with Lamar's, excuse me, Mr. Chairman's aide's statement that there was no such rule change.  So, again, we go down this list of things. 

Now, we're trying – at our briefing yesterday, we were honored to have the Vice President visit as the representative of the President in terms of fighting this virus.  We had concerns, and they're going to get back to us on some of the answers.  The concerns regarded, not only the number of the tests, but the integrity of the tests and having to correct tests that were not reliable before. 

Next on that is, when you take the test, then it has to go someplace to be analyzed.  And what is the turnaround time and are people walking the streets not knowing whether they are positive or negative?  And we need to ramp that up so that that shortens the time between the test and the judgment as to whether it's positive or negative. 

We also have concerns about travel.  We're getting some that said use common sense when you travel.  We have others who are more specific in what they're recommending, and they're going to get back to us on that.  We have concerns about the workplace.  Do people get unemployment insurance if they are told to stay home from work or if their business shuts down?  Sadly, then how are they compensated?  How do they live under those circumstances?  So we want them to get back to us on that. 

We were pleased that in our bill we were able to get the SBA loans approved that would go to businesses that are negatively impact – small businesses that were negatively impacted.

Now, let's just say in terms of fact, what the proposal was that was sent to us was $2.5 billion, some of which was ransacking the Ebola account and the home heating account for poor people, the LIHEAP account, those kinds of accounts.  Instead, what we passed yesterday was $8.3 billion of new funds, not ransacking anything, and designated specifically for the purpose as spelled out in the legislation, addressing some of the concerns we have about testing, about analyze – analysis, processing of it, getting information there.

Other questions that came up at our meeting with the Vice President yesterday regarded health care providers and their exposure, and how we protect them, whether it's with advisories or whether it's with masks or whatever physical possibilities there are.  And there are more than just the masks, gowns, whatever.

So it is, it's sad.  And hopefully, this is all redundant, hopefully, that we are taking precautions that will, will prevent more from happening but that – it's a giant step forward.  We think we need to do more, depending on how this expands, but we don't want to have what we need to have, because we want to have – the people to have confidence. 

And I think one way, important way, to have confidence is for us to have truth and trust in what is being said, to have the resources necessary in real time that compensate state and local government and other entities that are already spending resources, using beds, accommodations, having an opportunity cost for what else they might be doing with those.  And, again, working together in a completely apolitical way on this, based on science and evidence and fact and truth and the true epidemiology of this coronavirus and how it – where it exists and how it spreads and, again, how America can be a resource to the world because, as you know, these viruses know no boundary.  And so in a humanitarian way, as we did with Ebola, we want to help to stop it and prevent it, but also, it is in our interest to do so.  So that on those two.

Next week, we have a number of bills coming up, the no – repealing the no ban, the Muslim – No Ban [Act] – issues that relate to well, later, we'll be doing the surprise billing but hopefully very soon on that.  We're coming to closure on a bipartisan proposal in that regard.  But next week, we hope to reauthorize FISA, and we hope to, we plan to pass Senator Kaine's bipartisan War Powers Resolution, among other things that we'll do next week.

So, again, though, everything is overwhelmed by the coronavirus, because this is about the health and well-being of the American people and how we in a very coordinated, government-wide way respond to it.  And, as I say, we're proud of the bipartisan nature of the bill that we were able to negotiate yesterday. 

It took some time to add Small Business Administration.  As Members came in with ideas, the tele – I'm very proud, California, Mike Thompson and others from rural areas talked about telemedicine, telehealth, and that we're able, after much negotiation, to finally get that into the legislation as well.  So listening to Members and trying to accommodate their experience and what can be helpful from that experience in the legislation. 

So, it was good, and I'll look forward to signing the enrollment, enrolling the bill before we send it to the President later this afternoon.

***

Q:  Madam Speaker? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, ma'am.

Q:  Chuck Schumer said that Neil Gorsuch and Bret Kavanaugh would, ‘Pay the price, for voting against abortion rights.’  Were those comments appropriate in your opinion?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I believe he also said on the floor today that his words were not appropriate, and I support him in that.  It's unfortunate because, as you see, I think the Republicans say it's okay if the President does it but it's not okay if other people do it.  It wasn't right for anybody to do it, and Chuck recognized those words. 

Yes, Nancy.

Q:  Madam Speaker, do you feel you have gotten a full explanation at this point for why the U.S. was so much slower to get test kits out the door than some other countries? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, let's just say, right now, in China, I've been told by some people that in China, they are saying that this all started in the United States.  Well, we know that it did not.  But we do know that when it started in China, there was a delay in informing the Chinese and the world as to what was happening.  At the same time, the President would say, ‘Heck of a job, President Xi.’  You know, he was making that he was such a great leader, he was going to take care of this as soon as the weather warmed up.

But I think that part of the problem was lack of notice in a timely, responsible, scientific fashion as to what was existing.  Then our exposure to it, we weren't ready in terms of the advisories that were being put forth by the CDC, saying you only test somebody if they just had a trip to China or if they're old and have diabetes, or something like that.  Well, that was not the appropriate guidance.  They know that they had to correct that. 

So let's talk about the future.  Let's say there were – that many of the tests were not good enough.  The analysis is still, in some cases, taking too long but was not in appropriate time fashion to let people know you should go quarantine or you should go to work, and the list goes on.  But what we think we can do in this bill is to correct a lot, a great deal of that and then to go forward. 

Now, again, we can go through a whole list of things.  In 2018, the President shut down the office, the part of the National Security Council that deals with this issue, just shut it down, never appointed other people in the role.  In his budget, he cut out $700 billion, excuse me, $700 million for CDC.  When they asked, he said, ‘I just don't like having a lot of employees around.  When we need them, we'll get them back.’

Well, no, they're doing a job, and we have to recognize the value of their worth and have them trust the fact that they will not be here today, gone tomorrow, and, oh, don't get another job because we may hire you back later. 

So I think, so I think there were some mistakes that were made, but not so much to dwell on them, but to go into the future and say we can't do that.  The people who are there in the Obama Administration and the National Security Council and related agencies were there for this particular purpose. 

Quite frankly, if you want to see a template about how to deal with such an epidemic as Ebola, look to what the Obama Administration did.  It was picture perfect.  It was really excellent, in terms of how to husband and allocate resources, also talent, talent: to put some of our scientists in a place where we could really evaluate what the epidemiologies – what are the prospects for more people catching, what can we do about that. 

Much of that was erased in the Trump Administration.  I think the reality of this – even if the President thinks it's fifteen when it's 65, or whatever it was that day – I think the reality is in the public domain, thanks to many of you and hopefully some of the people in the Trump Administration. 

So, right now, it's about how we go forward, recognizing that there were – we were on a path that wasn't working, but not blaming it on somebody else, but taking responsibility for it now.

Q:  Have you been investigating what went wrong? 

Speaker Pelosi.  We just want to get people well.  You know, we just, right now want to make sure that this does not spread and that people get well. 

As we go forward from this, though, we should have after-action review and say how can we be better poised for how we go forward.  But this is – we have simply no idea of how much this may spread.  So our focus has to be on stopping the spread and curing people.  So that means we also have to invest, as we do, very heavily in our bill and a vaccine to help prevent, but that takes time.  Also, in the pharmaceuticals that will – the therapies that will help and possibly cure. 

One thing we did in the bill was to try to ensure – we weren't a hundred percent successful – that the prices that were charged by the private sector for any vaccine or other therapies would be reasonable and fair.  That is how the federal government contracts – reasonable and fair – and not have an exploitation by the private sector of the taxpayer or of the patients. 

We were only able to succeed with that in the private – in the public sector piece of the bill.  We fought to the end to get it in the private sector so that people with insurance and the rest would not be subjected to any price gouging.  Hopefully they won't be, but we wanted to ensure that they wouldn't be.

So, again, there's the research that goes into it, the vaccine, the rest.  You have to make sure you have the resources so that you can, with certainty, continue the research, keep the people employed who are doing that great work.  And when we rein this in – and hopefully that will be soon, but who knows – then we can do an after-action review as to what we need to be fully prepared.  Because it is an insurance policy and insurance is something you have in case you need it, but it isn't something you have because you know you're going to need it, because nobody would be in the insurance business. 

Yes.

Q:  Madam Speaker?

Speaker Pelosi.  Yeah?

Q:  Good afternoon.

Speaker Pelosi.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q:  What are your concerns about the threat in this building?  I know you met with the other congressional leaders yesterday about congressional operations.  This is a very different work environment.  People come to visit the Capitol.  There are constituents coming and going.  What do you see as the potential here and how that could impact congressional operations as this got worse? 

Speaker Pelosi.  We are a place where many people come, especially at this time of the year, in the spring.  So what we want to do is to make sure that our visitors, our press, our staff and our Members take the precautions necessary in their own lives, wherever they do live, but especially when they come to a place like this where many people come together.

So some of what we were briefed on yesterday is of a classified nature, some not.  And some of it is just about good hygiene and washing down your tabletop and washing your hands for 20 [seconds] and sneezing into a tissue and throwing it away.  You know, that kind of thing.  But that is part of the briefing that we received from the Capitol Physician's Office.

But, from the Capitol Police, we were assured about the – and I think this will be a public document, but I know it's not classified, what I'm going to tell you now – is that, in case, God forbid, but in case there is a need for people to work from home, that all of the offices – and I mean not only congressional offices but offices that serve the purpose of the Capitol – will have the technology up to date in order to do that.  Not everybody in our offices is at the same level of sophistication on all of that, but to make sure everybody is good enough in case we have to work from home.  We can't vote from home, however. 

And so it's about security.  It's not about testing everybody who comes into the building.  That's not realistic.  But it is also, hopefully, that the message that goes out more globally is that people will be more responsible about their own preventative measures. 

And I don't know, one thing they said the other day was, ‘Don't hug anybody who's sick.’  Okay.  ‘Stay home if you're sick.’  Okay.  ‘Sneeze in a tissue and throw it away.’  Okay.  ‘Wash your hands for 20 seconds’ – or is it 24?  Better make sure.  Do 24 just in case, with soap – and those kinds of things. 

I think we're going to be developing good habits as we go forward.  Some of that sounds very basic and mundane, but it does prevent the spread. 

And, again, the Police Chief gave us a presentation about what was being done to make sure that the police, the security that protects the Capitol is secure as well.  And so, again, we're always – the leadership of the Capitol is always concerned about the security of the Capitol.  And now it is coming down more in terms of not only security, but the health security. 

Q:  But no reason to change operations other than just hygiene?

Speaker Pelosi.  No.  No.  But we heard – let me say, we heard from the Office of the [Attending] Physician, we heard from the Clerk of the House, we heard from the Chief of Police, separate from the Sergeant at Arms, in the presentations – there were some others, the Architect of the Capitol and the rest – as to just logistics and under whose auspices certain things fell. 

But we will be ready should something come along, but we just – what we mostly do is pray. 

Q:  Speaker Pelosi? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes.  Yes, sir.

Q:  Last week, you said that you talked to Vice President Pence, and you didn't think that he was up to the job of managing the Administration's response.  After meeting with him yesterday and your experience over the last week, has your opinion on that changed at all? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, I don't know if I said he wasn't up to the response.  I was just saying that I had concerns because of his experience in not being up to the task as Governor of Indiana when it came to the HIV/AIDS challenge that he had there.  I think the record is very poor there and of concern that his own director of health policy there is now the Surgeon General of the United States. 

Again, we're in a new setting, a new urgency, another set of scientists, some with more experience than others in the public sector, all with some experience, and so hopefully they will listen to the scientists. 

As I've said, I've had confidence in Dr. Fauci.  He has confidence in others.  But I think we have a sufficient number of answers of ‘I'll get back to you’ that we are continuing our vigilance. 

Yes, sir.

Q:  Next – March 15th, FISA authorities expire.  Some of your Members ­–

Speaker Pelosi.  FISA?

Q:  FISA authorities expire.  Some of your Members are willing to see it expire.  Are you willing to see that expire?

Speaker Pelosi.  No.  No.  No. 

Q:  And, secondly, some of your Members also want to hold individuals who defied the subpoenas in the impeachment probe in contempt.  Are you willing to see –   

Speaker Pelosi.  Is that two different questions?  Are we allowing people to have two completely different questions, or should we move on to another person? 

[Laughter]

Let me just start with FISA.  You know that's my wheelhouse, intelligence.  I've been there for almost all of the FISA legislation and the rest. 

No, we have to have an extension – not an extension – we have to have a reauthorization of FISA.  We're having our own negotiations within our own group but also among the Democrats and vis-à-vis the Republicans.  And as I said, we're hoping that we could be ready for something next week.  But we will come to the Floor when we're ready. 

I was very much opposed to putting a FISA bill on the coronavirus bill.  I mean, really?  If I had my objections to the FISA bill, as you mentioned some do, but if I want to vote for a Coronavirus supplemental, I can’t – I have to vote for FISA.  We're not putting people in that kind of a situation. 

And what was the second one?

Q:  Contempt, holding individuals in contempt of Congress.    

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, that's not – right now we're trying to save lives, prevent a disease from spreading.  We had enough to challenge us with getting a supplemental that the Republicans would agree to of the size that we needed. 

That doesn't mean we abandon any of our responsibilities to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Congressional oversight will always continue.

Q:  Madam Speaker? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, sir.

Q:  I wonder if you have any reflections on this being a two-person race now that Elizabeth Warren –   

Speaker Pelosi.  He wants to talk politics under the dome of the Capitol.

Q:  Who would do that?

[Laughter]

Q:  Elizabeth Warren dropping out –

Speaker Pelosi.  Just as long as you don’t bring up money.

Q:  I’m not bringing up money.  With Elizabeth Warren dropping out –

Speaker Pelosi.  Is this civics?  Are we talking civics here? 

Q:  Civics, yeah – yeah.

Speaker Pelosi.  What about it? 

Q:  Do you have any reflections on your party's race being down two people and Elizabeth Warren dropping out?

Speaker Pelosi.  That was interesting, wasn't it? 

Q:  Which part? 

Speaker Pelosi.  All – that being the last part – the Elizabeth part.  That was interesting.  My daughter's such an avid supporter of women that – I don't know.  She's going to be in a place today, my daughter Christine.  But, in any case – as we all are – but nonetheless, that was her focus. 

Here's the thing.  I'm so proud to be a Democrat because to be a Democrat is to respect other opinions, including even Republican opinion.  But the beautiful diversity in our Caucus has always been our strength.  And, as I say, our diversity is our strength, but our unity is our power.  And as we respect each other's point of views on some of these subjects, we have to realize that whatever differences we have are minor compared to the chasm between us and the President of the United States. 

So, when we come together, I may have said to you before that we would madly embrace whoever the nominee of the party is.  That's what I said last week.  This week, I say we will madly elbow bump the – we're not embracing anybody. 

[Laughter]

But you know, it's exciting.  And – you know – to have a difference of opinion as the role of government and where you come down on one way or another is, again, the vitality – the Democratic way. 

I hope that we won't have any – and having disagreements is – otherwise, only one of us needs to show up, right, if everybody thought alike?  But we don't.  And we represent our different regions, our different philosophies, our different ethnicities, all the rest.

So, I'm encouraged by the debate that is taking place, that I hope will take place now with clarity between two people.  I mean – I wouldn't have objected if other people were still in the race, but to take advantage of the opportunity of us having a two-party race is – but, again, make no mistake we are for the winner of – the person who wins our nomination.  And we respect what the public has to stay about that.

Q:  Madam Speaker? 

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, ma'am. 

Staff.  Last question.

Q:  What does Elizabeth Warren's withdrawal from this race say about the willingness of Americans and the Democratic Party to put a woman at the top of the ticket to be President? 

Speaker Pelosi.  I so wish – every time I get introduced as ‘the most powerful woman of our,‘ I almost cry, because I'm thinking, ‘I wish that were not true.’  I so wish that we had a woman President of the United States.  And we came very close to doing that, a woman who was better qualified than so many people who have sought that office and even won it. 

But I think the American people are ready.  I never thought we would have a woman Speaker of the House before a woman president.  Because if you want to talk about tradition or whatever that is, this is a marble ceiling.  It's not a glass ceiling.  So, I always thought that would be something that the public would be much more ready for than the Members of Congress.  Well, well – now we won. 

But, I think we had great candidates.  They represented different points of view.  Amy, more moderate and middle America – the heartland of America, articulate spokesperson for her point of view.  We're so proud of her.  Also, Elizabeth, to get down to the final two who are still in the race.  Elizabeth, so knowledgeable and the rest.

It's just – I don't know whether men think about being president from the day they're born and start running then, but I don't know that women do that.  And maybe we should.  Somebody should. 

But I think the American people are ready for it.  It's a competition.  You run, and you make your pitch, and people respond to it. 

I do think there is – well, that's a whole other subject for another day that you and I do not have time for right now because I have to go to Georgetown and talk about women in power and how important that is. 

But I do think there's a certain element of misogyny that is there.  And some of it isn't really mean-spirited, it just isn't their experience.  Many of them will tell you they had a strong mom, they have strong sisters, they have strong daughters.  But, you know, they have their own insecurities, I guess you would say.

So, I don't know.  I think America is ready for a woman president.  And I think that Kamala – I mean, all of them.  How many did we have?  We had Kamala and Kelsey – I mean Tulsi.  Kelsey's my scheduler. 

Are you running, Kelsey? 

Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Williamson. 

Q:  Williamson.

Speaker Pelosi.  Williamson.  We had a wide range.  Of course, Amy and Elizabeth. 

And I think they all comported themselves very well, with purpose: ‘this is why I'm running’; knowledge: ‘this is what I know the most about and I have judgment on’; strategic thinking about how to get something done.  And they connected well with the American people.

And now the question is, what is their political base, and how do you expand that?  And just to get into the race doesn't mean you have a political base.  So, if there's going to be a woman president, those who might be thinking in that direction should be making decisions in favor of it rather than just going into a race because there is one. 

Q:  None of those candidates are going to be on the top of the ticket.  They're not going to be President this time.

Speaker Pelosi.  No. 

Q:  So when you speak in Georgetown on women in power –

Speaker Pelosi.  Come on over, and you will hear what I have to say.

Q:  What would you say?  Why are they not going to be – why were they rejected?     

Speaker Pelosi.  I don't think they were rejected. 

I think that, goodness, being a woman in all of this – you know, when I ran for a leadership position, the worst thing I could've ever said to anybody or any of my supporters could say to anybody is, ‘We should be for Nancy because we should have a woman.’  Loser proposition.  A winning proposition is, ‘We should be for Nancy because she'd be the best one to do the job.’

So, again, what is the job?  The job is President of the United States, leader of the free world, Commander in Chief, with all the authority that goes with Article II of the Constitution, but not all of the authority of Article I, II and III, but Article II.  And that's very big. 

In other countries, because they have parliamentary systems – you know, people say, well, they had it here and they had it there.  Well, they have parliamentary systems.  Your party has to win, and you have to win in the party.  So it's different than winning an electoral college in the United States.  And I don't think it's necessarily, in most cases, a fair comparison.  And size, as well.  We're so big.

But I think that those candidates, all of them, helped be trailblazers for a woman, and maybe one of them will be that person in another election a few – several years from now – however many years from now. 

So I think, you know, I would be – I see everything as an opportunity.  We have an opportunity because these women put themselves out there.  We have an opportunity because Hillary Clinton did, in such a way that was so strong, and she led the way for these women to go.  And now other women will be thinking about it, earlier though – not just getting in the race but preparing for it. 

And, again, we have many distinguished women Governors in the country, and that executive experience counts for something. 

And, again, you also have to – people have to know you.  And that's what I think is – with these two candidates, people knew them best.  One had run before, and Joe Biden had been Vice President, you know, and all of his credentials; that knowing people is helpful as well. 

So, what we have to do is advance women and have standing on issues like national security – and they do – women having standing on national – the economy.  Not just, okay, we're going to take care of the soft issues.  No, they're important and they're the strength of America, but there are other broader issues. 

Because we do believe that when women succeed, America succeeds, and that there is nothing more wholesome to a political process or a government or anything than having more women participate and be in the leadership of it.

But I don't think you get a woman president by saying, ‘We should have a woman.’  You get a woman president by saying, ‘This is the best person for the job.’  And any one of them could have fulfilled that description. 

Thank you. 

Q:  Do you think women voters were – or do you think Democratic voters were afraid that a woman candidate would lose to President Trump? 

Speaker Pelosi.  No.  No, I don't think so.  I don't think so. 

I think anybody can beat President Trump.