Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Call on Infrastructure Priorities for Phase 4 Coronavirus Package
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip James Clyburn joined Chairman Peter DeFazio of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. of the Committee on Energy and Commerce on a press conference call to discuss infrastructure priorities in their respective committees for the Phase 4 coronavirus legislative response package. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being with us on this very important communication about how we go forward.
We are joined here by our very distinguished Whip, Mr. Clyburn; the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone; and the distinguished Chair, also, of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mr. DeFazio. They have – well, I’ll talk about them in a moment.
Right now, just to say, the purpose of our coming together is to go into this next phase. Mr. DeFazio has always pointed out that our first phase was about emergency, the first two bills. ‘Testing, testing, testing’ and the research, the funding for that. The next: ‘Masks, Masks, masks.’ The equipment and the rest and other emergency investments.
The third bill that we just – that the President just signed the other day is about mitigation. Emergency mitigation. Always having emergency as part of our agenda, but mitigation for the damage to the life, lives and livelihoods of the American people.
Again, always focusing on emergency and mitigation, we go to the next stage, which is of recovery. And that’s when we get largely intimate in Mr. DeFazio’s realm. Others have been – he and others have been part of the first two phases, as well.
We all know our nation faces a historic health and economic emergency as we confront the coronavirus epidemic. As we work to address the immediate health emergency, mitigate the economic impact and lay the foundation for a strong recovery, we must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.
Today, Democrats are building on the Moving Forward infrastructure framework that we first introduced at the end of January. We need to invest in our infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been laid bare by the coronavirus. These infrastructure investments include: community health centers – Including community health centers that are on the frontlines in the fight against coronavirus.
Clean water. Dependable drinking water, clean water, wastewater infrastructure are critical to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Broadband. Telemedicine, teleworking, tele-schooling and increased use of social media and video conferencing by Americans connecting with loved ones during this epidemic have made access to high speed broadband more critical than ever.
Mobility. For strong recovery, we must invest in smarter, safer infrastructure that is made to last. We can create millions of good-paying jobs building infrastructure and by strengthening commerce and reducing air pollution that harms the public health.
House Democrats will continue to work to put hard workers and families first as we work to respond to the public health emergency, mitigate the damage and include Buy America provisions as we move forward towards recovery.
For a long time now, our chairmen have been working on an infrastructure package. Chairman DeFazio has brought visionary, bold, entrepreneurial thinking to his chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he has served for decades. He knows his subject matter. He has a vision about how we go into the future. I’ve always said about him, ‘Our hopes are riding on you, Mr. Chairman.’
Chairman Frank Pallone, a champion for the relationship between public health, clean water and broadband and our health system. As you know, the sun never sets on the Energy and Commerce Committee. If it’s under the sun or whatever, his Committee claims jurisdiction. So he has a broad swath in all of this and I’m grateful for his leadership, and you’ll hear more from him momentarily.
And our Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has been a tireless champion for community health centers, which are so vital for many rural and underserved communities. And that – he’s been a huge champion on many issues, but that has been one where he has been so much in the lead. But in addition to that, the issue of broadband, and rural broadband and underserved areas have been more than an issue, it’s been a value, an ethic for him that he has been a champion on, so I welcome his participation in this call.
Led by our chairs across all the committees of jurisdiction, we’re moving forward with strong action for the fourth coronavirus bill and with that optimism and those plans and that vision, I’m pleased to yield to the distinguished House Democratic Whip, Mr. Clyburn.
Thank you very much, Peter DeFazio, for your, again, bringing the great experience, knowledge and vision that you have for this very important infrastructure initiative that was always important – you worked on it for a long time, we announced it at the end of January – but never more necessary than in light of what we need in terms of all of the things: community health center, broadband, water, et cetera. But also the mobility of people being able to get to work, all of these heroes that you talked about. And doing so in a way that, again, streamlines the project delivery now that we need for all the personal [protective] equipment and the rest. It’s, again, in the bill that we did, the CARES Act, we did have $25 billion dollars for transportation indicating how relevant that is to the coronavirus assault, but we need more. And thank you for your wisdom putting this together.
Thank you, Frank Pallone, for your ongoing leadership. Yesterday, you spent the day on the phone with – on the issue of ventilators and how we get the personal [protective] equipment to our workers and I thank you for that.
And Mr. Clyburn, thank you for your ongoing leadership for everyone in our country with an emphasis on making sure everything we do addresses everyone and does not leave anyone underserved.
I did want to just, again, reiterate that this is so essential because of the historic nature of the health and economic emergency that we are confronting. We must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure. I’m so pleased that the President has returned to his interest in doing so. He talked about it during the campaign, he talked about it quite a bit. And I think, again, the recognition of its relationship to the virus and how we fight it is very important.
This is all part of the Moving Forward framework we had put forth, in the Democrats — which was part of our overall putting people first agenda, For The People, For The People. So, we need to invest in infrastructure and these critical aspects that we talked about today: community health centers, clean water, broadband, mobility and the rest. Again, including buy America provisions as we move forward with the recovery and with full appreciation for our distinguished chairmen. And, again, that this is a – all of our chairs have been tasked to help with this. Today, we are focusing on the infrastructure.
With that, the chairmen and I are pleased to take any questions that you may have. Thank you.
As we await questions, while you all line up, may I just say that in addition to what we’re presenting today, we will be unfolding our infrastructure for education with Bobby Scott shortly as well, and then housing on top of that. Today, we’re focusing on subjects that are at hand and welcoming your questions. Anybody? If you have no questions, we have a lot of other things we can talk about.
Q: Hi, thanks for having the call. So, infrastructure week has become a bit of a joke in Washington – the Republican infrastructure week. As far as we know, Speaker, you and the President have not been communicating directly. What makes you all think this is an opportunity that this will actually get done, as opposed to all the times in the past it’s been attempted?
Speaker Pelosi. If you’re referencing the Republican infrastructure week, yes it was a joke. But you can’t be referencing ours, because this is very substantial. And by the way, our interest in infrastructure has always been bipartisan. We have never, ever gone down a path that involves this much investment for the future, involving these – this many people in our country and, again, now at this time, we’re having a further health urgency – an immediate urgency.
So, we have had overtures from the Administration on how we would go forward, and we will be working to get that done. And it is completely different from anything that you may be referencing, but it’s not anything to do with how seriously we have taken our responsibilities in terms of infrastructure and our insistence, actually, that this be bipartisan.
Q: Thanks for having me on the call. Two quick questions. One, just to follow up on what Chairman DeFazio said – Speaker Pelosi or Chairman, are you saying that the Treasury Department should not seek warrants or stock from the airlines as it moves to award the $25 billion in cash grants or payroll assistance? And secondly, as part of this new phase would the House try to incorporate the – an extension of the Highway Trust Fund that’s set to expire in September? Thanks.
Speaker Pelosi. Just if I may say, Mr. DeFazio was really quite creative in how we put forward the bill, which would be partly what we agreed. We all agreed to that it would be partly loans, which would be heavily conditioned, and also then the grants, which would go directly to the employees – the employees. And that was – had the support of the employees, and it was putting workers first. And in that agreement that the airlines were part of, there wasn’t a question of the warrants and the rest.
So, we do believe that the Treasury Department should get a good return for taxpayers on its loans to airlines and to address non-payroll expenses, but we do ask – we do want them to honor what our conversation was, which is, this is just a stopping off point for the check. It goes to the airlines and directly to the employee, and we were very proud of that. Now, we just don’t want to hold it up, and that’s part of why that’s what we’re doing. And that is to say, we want to make sure everybody, whether it’s a small business or an unemployed person or whatever, that the advantages of the legislation are felt immediately, so that we can have – start our recovery. But again, we must do more.
And the – you had another question? Oh, well that was – actually both of your questions related to the – to that part of it – to that part of the grants and loans and what we are doing with the grants in terms of any warrants or anything that they’re asking for.
So, we would hope, as the distinguished Chairman said, okay let’s do this in a reasonable way, but let’s not do it in a way that undermines the agreements that we all had as to how we would go forward.
Q: Hi there, thank you for doing the call. First – two quick questions. Chairman DeFazio, you said that this was based on the January imprint that Democrats already put forward. Does the initial $760 billion-ish price tag on that bill still hold for what you’re trying to do here? And question for the Speaker is just in terms of the urgency of this. The Republicans’ leaders are saying you should wait and see how Phase 3 is implemented before you move on to Phase 4. How urgent do you think that Congress needs to move on this Phase 4 package?
Speaker Pelosi. The, in answer to your question about timing, the – obviously we’ve been working on this for a while. We have had some common ground about the importance of investing in infrastructure.
The President talked about it during the campaign and for many of the conversations about it after that he usually included it, as recently as a day ago.
So, we are optimistic about that. But, the – in terms of your specific question about the – our first bill was March 4th that we passed the, for lack of a better term: testing, testing, testing. Shortly thereafter, we had the second bill. And, shortly thereafter, this past weekend, the President signed the third bill.
Nobody was waiting around to see what more we needed – what needed to be done. We just wanted the – to stipulate that what was needed and to go forward. Well, we know what is needed here.
It would take a few weeks anyway because we’re not here. And that’s why we will be using communication to communicate with our committees, in terms of this legislation. And the only difference – you asked about the price tag – is the $10 billion for community health centers. Then 70 - $760 billion package is a five-year package. When the President talks about $2 billion – trillion, he talks about – ten years.
We are talking about five years, $760 [billion]. And then we will have education and housing on top of it. So we’re probably in the ballpark of the same amount of investment in terms of the future.
But, again, in the course of the next week and the rest, we will review with the committees what the – any changes in light of the changing atmosphere that we’re in that could and should be added or changed in the legislation.
And all three of the – all of this is really almost legislatively ready to go. Just receptive to any changes. And, as well as to make it as bipartisan as possible. And this is sort of a bare-bones.
But it is in keeping with – we are supposed to be coming back the end of April. And we should, around that time, be able to – I think we come back April 20th, god-willing. You know, god-willing and coronavirus-willing.
But, shortly thereafter, we should be able to move forward. Which would be the biggest distance between the bills: from the first bill to the second bill to the third bill.
And now, yes, I think it’s important to see what works in this bill because we may want to add more. For example, I think this bill has to, definitely has to have more for state and local governments. They cannot handle their purpose of what they do anyway and carry this without going seriously, seriously into debt.
We are all Americans. Federal tax dollars are there for the American people. We need to do more, again, for the District of Columbia, which was cruelly treated in this past bill. We want to correct that.
Family and Medical Leave could be broadened to be fairer to America’s workers. We need to do OSHA so that in the workplace we have the protections for workers. It’s health care workers for sure in that line of defense, but it’s TSA. It’s police and law enforcement. It’s firefighters. It’s so many others who are coming into contact with each other. And we want to have the OSHA rules in place.
And we are calling upon the President, as we did in our House bill, to implement the Defense Production Act, which is beyond comprehension why he has not done that except that maybe the Chamber of Commerce does not want him to from what I understand. But he has implemented changing – implemented that any number of times already as President. What could be more important than now to get the personal [protective] equipment to our first responders, health care workers, everyone who comes in contact – people who are risking their lives to save other people’s lives.
Again, those are some of the provisions that we would have in this. We have pensions considerations the President has agreed to, but Mitch McConnell said to save it for the next bill, so we have. So, we have an array of other issues that are ready because they couldn’t make it into the first three bills. So, there’s no reason to wait to see how much longer they can wait.
But, again, we know that we need more for state and local even though that is contained in the bill, and perhaps even for hospitals and other health-serving institutions. But, in terms of this piece of it, we are ready.
Again, it’s never been partisan and we don’t intend for it to be partisan now. So, you know, again, when we come back, we will be ready and that will be when we have the debate and go forward. That will be soon.
But we will not be wasting – my motto is resting is rusting. We are just always working to make sure that when the opportunity is there that we are ready. And, not only that, to create the opportunity. We make our own environment, especially at a time so urgent to the lives and livelihood of the American people.
Any of my colleagues want to join in, please?
Speaker Pelosi. We have time for one more question.
Staff. Our final question comes from Natalie Andrews with the Wall Street Journal. Your line is open.
Q: Hi, thank you all so much for doing this call.
I just wondered, as you outlined this fourth package and infrastructure, will vote by mail be part of that next package? Or election security or anything in those lanes?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, and vote — I am sorry I didn’t hear the last part of Natalie’s question. The vote by mail and then what was the second part? Or was there a second part?
Q: Kind of broader election security.
Speaker Pelosi. Broader election security.
Well, I certainly hope so. The, again, vote by mail is so important to, again, our democracy, so that people have access to voting and not be deterred, especially at this time, by the admonition to stay home.
The — and when I was Chair of the California Democratic Party, many years ago, the Republicans always prevailed in the absentee ballot. They know how to do this. They did this very well and continue to do so. So, when the President says, ‘If we have vote by mail, we will never elect another Republican.’ I think that, first of all, doesn’t recognize the, that Republicans know how to vote by mail, A. And B, the strength of their arguments they may have with the American people about their vision for the future.
But I do think that we need much more, in two ways. First of all, to facilitate the vote by mail. Again, we have issues that relate to the timing, in which someone can do that, same day registration, there are a number of things in the bill that we'd like to see in the legislation so that, again, it just makes us more democratic. It just gives more people the opportunity to vote. So that is something we would like to see.
We thought we need at least $2 billion, $4 billion is probably what would really democratize our whole system but the — we got $400 million, which is small compared to the —
In addition to that though, we need to have funds for the postal service in this additional package. We tried in a former bill because they are the ones who are delivering so much of what the American people are buying online, but more important than that even, they are — Personal Protective Equipment that people need, they move it around the country, to ignore that fact is really, I don’t really understand that.
We had it in our health bill, it was rejected by the White House. But in this next bill, we are going to have to do the postal service, which is directly related, again, to the vote by mail initiative. So we would certainly hope that that would be something that we could get more money in the bill. It is a priority for us because it is fundamental to our democracy.