Pelosi Remarks on Press Call with Frontline Workers to Call for Robust State and Local Aid
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and four public service workers on the front lines of coronavirus response on a press call to urge Congress to swiftly pass urgently needed funding for cash-strapped state and local governments. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
I love the litany that you spelled out there of the workers who are – that serve the American people at the state and local level. It’s about the quality of life that people enjoy, the safety of communities, the UI checks – the UI checks at this time, as you said. So, it’s about all those specific things, but it’s about meeting the needs of the people, as you so brilliantly indicate.
I love your list. As you list it, our heroes: our health heroes, our labor champions are on the front lines against the coronavirus, and we must do everything to protect them.
That’s why I’m so pleased I’ve had the invitation to join you, Leader Schumer, Ms. Shirley, Blake, Jason and Jared. Miss Shirley, Blake, Jason and Jared are our VIPs on this call. Their message is a message of eloquence. Their stories are the ones that will persuade. We have all the statistics, and they’re convincing, but the eloquence of your statements is the power of it all. Know your power.
So, right now, the House is hard at work for the next bill, CARES 2, which must contain robust state funding – funding for state and local governments to pay frontline workers.
Leader Schumer was a relentless champion for the state and local funding. And we look forward to it being very robust as we move forward into CARES 2. But he’s talked about it in every bill that we have passed. We did get some money in CARES 1. We need more in CARES 2.
Governors and mayors, Republicans and Democrats, are crying out for support. As the U.S. Conference of Mayors has said, ‘Cities are, right now, being faced with having to make decisions that include laying off employees, cutting budgets and reducing or eliminating critically needed services at the same time we are being called on to help lead the fight against the pandemic.’
The National Governors Association – by the way the U.S. Conference of Mayors is chaired by a Republican Mayor. The National Governors Association Chairman Larry Hogan, a Republican, said, ‘Without sufficient federal relief, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to essential services, which will in turn devastate the economic recovery and our efforts to get people back to work.’
This support for state and local is bipartisan among the mayors and among the governors, county officials and the rest. Yet, McConnell – Leader McConnell said, ‘The states should go bankrupt and we’re not writing a check to send out states to allow them to finance mistakes they have made.’ Really? Really? He’s referencing Illinois, a state where mistakes were made under a Republican governor.
We want this to be bipartisan – non-partisan, but we cannot let mischaracterizations stand. This is all about the coronavirus. And as Mr. Leader Schumer has just protested on this, it’s about the outlays for the coronavirus, yes, but it’s also about the revenue loss. The revenue loss that has to be compensated for.
Our heroic public workers are risking their lives to keep us safe. How can we look them in the eyes and say, as Mitch McConnell will, ‘Too bad.’ Congressional Democrats will not accept this senseless, callous attitude. We’re united, House and Senate, and our commitment to protecting workers and defeating this crisis is central to who we are.
So, in this bill we must ensure that we can pay and protect public employees, nurses, EMS heroes, corrections officers, sanitation workers, child care providers, custodians, public housing workers, child protective service workers, transit workers, mental health providers, as the distinguished President mentioned.
So, again, we’ve got to make sure that we protect your health and safety as you and so many of you help save the lives of others. Your lives are at risk and now your jobs are too. I’ll go into some more of it, but my time is expiring here. So, I’ll just say that it is our commitment. We want to do it as soon as the atmosphere of this virus enables us to do so, but we’re ready. And we know that you are heroes. We salute you. We thank you all, and we could not be the country we are without you. And again I thank AFSCME, which has always had a special place in my heart. Right, Mr. President?
President Saunders. That is correct.
Speaker Pelosi. And with that, I’m going to yield back in the interest of time, but hope to have time to share some more thoughts about what our Caucus is up to.
Moderator. We’ll go first with Emily Cochrane of the New York Times. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
Q: Hi. Thank you for doing this call. You mentioned the concern that Republicans raised about how aid for state and local governments would be dispersed. Would you be open to including specific language for how to dictate how that additional money is spent by the states and local governments? And also, could you just elaborate a little further on Leader McConnell’s call for legislation to shield businesses from legal liability if they reopen. Thank you.
President Saunders. Either the Speaker or the Leader can respond to that question, I believe.
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, first let me say that before I do respond, I’m so moved by the testimony of Blake and Jared and Shirley and Jason. Their dedication and their experience are so valuable to us. To hear Jeff talk about the dedication of the people he works with, to hear Blake talking about his respect for the people he serves, and Jason sharing the connection and the stories of the people unemployed coming in, and Ms. Shirley with her story – and I’m very sad to hear that she has had to miss a medical procedure that she needs because of losing her job the in coronavirus. And so there are other casualties of this virus – when I say casualties – injuries, diagnoses left unaddressed, because of this. But they really are – teach us all the time, as they go to work, about humanity, and Lee Saunders is about humanity, about meeting the needs of people. That inspires him in his work.
We’re all in this together. We’ll get through it together to create thriving communities for our children – that our children and families need. So, I thank you. As I said to the – to our special VIP guests earlier, Blake and Jared and Shirley and Jason – their stories are the most compelling, because they had the most connection and most authenticity. As we talk about statistics, they’re staggering, but the personal stories make all the difference in the world. So, I thank them for what they do and for sharing that with us today.
In terms of the funding, we may have two packages. We may have one that is state and one that is local. I don’t know what you mean by giving directions as to how the money is spent. It’s to support our heroes. That’s what it is. It’s – these people are risking their lives to save lives, and now they may lose their jobs. So, this is about our heroes, and they – we’ve all named them, Chuck and I did, and so did Mr. Saunders as well in terms of health care workers, mental health care workers, all those people that contribute to the quality of life that we have as a country.
So, this is about giving the states the money to do their job, and as I say, Democratic and Republican governors are supporting this. Democratic and Republican mayors are supporting this as well. So, I’m not quite sure what you mean by us not giving them direction on how to spend it.
I’m terms of the liability, I associate myself with the remarks of the distinguished Leader Mr. – Mr. Schumer, who earlier said we are there to protect the workers. I don’t think at this time of the coronavirus that there is any interest in having any less protection for our workers, in fact, even more.
He wanted to follow up on what you meant by giving them direction. No, we’re giving them money to support what they do, which is to meet the needs of the people, and to recognize the heroism of the people, who are doing the job.
Q: Yes, ma’am. There were concerns raised by Republicans that any additional state and local money would be used for pensions or any preexisting financial difficulties before the pandemic took a toll on the economy. So, I just went in a direction – it was more of restrictions of what that money could be used for to address some of those concerns from Republicans.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah, well, let me tell you something. They’re not concerns. They’re excuses. This money is desperately needed, and we have said that everything we are doing is about the coronavirus and the needs that have arisen because of it. Chuck said it earlier and I did too. This is about, what are the outlays for the coronavirus and what is the revenue loss because of the coronavirus? It’s a big ticket item.
Shamefully, Mitch McConnell – I don’t know what’s going on with him – will say, ‘Well, we’re not paying for past mistakes.’ As I said earlier, he points out Illinois; Illinois’ trouble came from – that they had – came from a Republican governor. It isn’t about that. It’s about now, and as we go forward coronavirus outlays, coronavirus loss of revenue. That’s what – that’s what this is about, and we don’t need any prescription from anybody about mythology or just excuses not to do the job.
It’s really sad. It’s disgraceful, because there is such tremendous need. We’re going to get this job done.
President Saunders. Let me just add to what the Speaker just said. I mean, we have to keep state and local governments solvent – solvent to keep up with the high level of demand for services. You just heard from four workers. We will give you stories of workers all across the country risking their lives every single day, even risking their families’ lives by going home, to provide these essential services.
We are not going to fall for a smoke screen as far as you can do this or you can do that. The money should go to state and local governments to provide the level of services that are necessary to stop the talk about furloughs and reductions to those everyday heroes.
I think the American public really want to see those services continuing to be provided. They get it. They understand the importance of those services, and they will be very upset if these workers, who are doing the job every single day, are given a pink slip. And that’s the bottom line. So, we aren’t going to fall for any kind of smoke screen.
Moderator. We will go next to Natalie Andrews, with the Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead your line is open.
Q: Hi, thank you so much for doing this call. When talking about state and local funding, do you have an amount that you are looking at? Speaker Pelosi, I know you said that perhaps the amount that had been given to small businesses. I think that’s around $700 billion. Is that what you’re looking for in CARES 2?
Speaker Pelosi. We are getting an update from the governors. And by the way, let me just preface that by saying, despite the ridiculous statement by Leader McConnell, the support for state and local across governors is universal. They have all been very, very supportive of the frontline workers, as well as supportive of state and local governments getting what they need to keep their states running and their communities running.
The – as we go forward with this, we have been getting amounts as they try to put a number on what the needs would be. And I just want to be current about that, as I said when I said something about that right now as Mr. – the very distinguished President of AFSCME said that we needed – the state and local wanted $500 [billion] and then another couple hundred [billion] for FMAP for Medicaid.
We’ve had a hard time selling Medicaid to them in this last bill, but we hope to have it. We had it in the – in one of the bills. We passed four bipartisan bills. One of the had FMAP, again, that’s the Medicaid money. We’ve had state and local at $150 billion in CARES 1, and now, we need more. And we want it to be clear that it’s for outlays for coronavirus and coronavirus-related loss of revenue.
So, when we talk about the figure, we may need more for the local, county and municipalities. They have a number of their own. So, you know – we have to say that this is just state and local. If it’s state and local, it’s one number. If we’re dividing it up – and it looks like we’re going to need $500 [billion] for the states, and we may need a very big figure also for counties, municipalities.
Now, let me very clear – and this drives to the previous question – not all this money will be put out right now. This would be over time – over time, maybe even a couple years to make up for all of this. So, there is – it’s not like the PPP – the loans, where the money is going out the door right this second. This money would be – at the certainty that services would be rendered, that people will be employed, the communities will be served. So, it’s like that.
Now, let me just make another point. The Leader made a point earlier about – we can’t open up until we have the testing, and we can’t – and we have to go forward in a safe – this is about science, science, science. So, as we’re doing these things, we want our decisions to be based on science and what is really about the health and safety of the American people. It’s about their lives. It’s also about their livelihoods, and that’s what this bill is about, lives and livelihoods of the people who are doing the jobs for us.
It’s also about the life of our democracy. We’re going to have to have in this bill funding to the states. Over and above that money we talked about for vote by mail – vote by mail in many of the states. Overwhelmingly the American people support that.
So, we have a clear agenda of what we’ve been saying all along – what we had in CARES 1 – in CARES 1 we had state and local. In CARES 1 we had $400 million for vote by mail. So, this is just a continuation of what we have done in a bipartisan – in a bipartisan way.
I brought it back to the health issues because clearly there is an indication science has not been respected from the start on all this, and that has prolonged the agony. They don’t believe in science, and they don’t believe in – some of them – in governance. They don’t believe in science to make an informed decision, and they don’t believe in governance to meet the needs of the American people – the luxury of making frivolous statements – harmful.
So, that is part of what the fight is, to enlarge the issue to say, ‘We believe – employees do for us, the quality of our lives, the dedication, the inspiration that they are, the care that they have and the respect for the people.’
Moderator. We’ll go next to Michael DeBonis, with Washington Post. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
Q: Thanks for doing the call. Madam Speaker, addressing this issue of state and local at some point will require the House to come back. We heard Leader Hoyer announce your decision to not bring the House back next week, and I just wanted to ask you to what degree are you concerned that the House will be at a disadvantage not being in Washington next week while the Senate is? Could you just talk about the decision you made in consultation with the Attending Physician on deciding not to bring the Members back next week.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you, Michael. We have no choice. If the Capitol Physician says – recommends that we not come back, then we have to take that guidance in the interest of the people who work here, the custodians in the building, those who would have to be here more because we are here, the press, the staff, the Members of Congress, the staff of the Congress as well, who make the Congress run, in addition to our own staff.
So, we have no choice. Once the physicians – the Capitol Physician made that – ordered that today, we had no choice. However, we do not see ourselves at a disadvantage. We are constantly working. We are preparing our legislation.
Now, maybe you could talk about it more so that people know more about what the House is doing, because a bill does not spring from the head of Zeus. It is something that has to be worked upon, many committees involved, the committees working with their committees’ membership to get the job done.
When the Senate is in or not is a matter of a health decision that their leadership has to make. But we could not take any chances, because there are so many more of us and so much more custodial staff and the rest that goes into Congress being in session. Ms. Shirley can tell you that, as a school custodian.
The – whatever it is it would be irrelevant. It’s about safety. It’s about science. It’s about getting the job done for the American people. One of the – I was disappointed, I guess, because – I mean I say – because we – our Members were very eager to vote by proxy. They have full support for our being able to do that. We wanted to do it in a bipartisan way, and those conversations continue. I’m hopeful that we can get that done. Bipartisan conversations continue – Mr. Hoyer, Mr. McCarthy, as well as our leadership of Zoe Lofgren and Jim McGovern, the leadership pool in terms of bipartisan discussion about how we could proceed with our committee work, whether it’s virtual or whether some in smaller numbers could come back to do that.
So, we feel very prepared. When we came before and did the voice vote, we did so at the direction of the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Physician, and it worked fine. When we did the vote the other day, when it was a recorded vote, we did so at the direction of the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Physician, and it was fine.
They’re prepared for us to do that except the Capitol Physician just said what’s happening in the region, the District of Columbia, the neighboring counties and the rest – whatever his decision was, whatever went into it, I respect because we cannot – whatever we have we’re going to get done for the American people as soon as we can, safely and quickly – do for them.
But we’re not – you know – we can’t be bothered by whether we’re disadvantaged to the Senate. What we have to be bothered about is the health and safety of our workers in the Capitol of the United States as we do the work for the American people.
Moderator. And we’ll go next to Eleanor Weller with Politico. Please go ahead. Your line is open.
Q: Hi. My question is for the Speaker. I actually have two. The first is whether or not the House is working on legislation that would provide hazard pay to emergency and health care workers? And then the second question is – I was just wondering if you could give some kind of update on the efforts regarding paid sick leave that are also going into this package? Thank you.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you, Eleanor. Yes, hazard pay is very important to us because we do believe if there were ever a circumstance where people were working in hazardous conditions as a threat to their lives for what they are doing, it is in the here and now. I will have more about that later in the week.
But, we – that’s something that Bobby Scott in the House, on the House side – Bobby Scott of Virginia on the Education and Labor Committee working with Patty Murray, the Chair of the Health – the Ranking on Health, working with them to see if – how we’d go on that. But it is an important priority to us. As well as taking a look to see what we can do to have some debt forgiveness for those who have student loans and who are working in precarious situations, as well. So, yes, we’re doing that.
And then, paid sick leave – our concern when we did the first bill is we really couldn’t get them to agree to language that was pervasive enough to cover everyone. They said if you have a child who needs to be home from school, if you have a parent who is – who’s caretaker cannot come, or who’s senior center, senior health center was closed, you can be home to do that.
We thought that it should be for anybody who has to care for someone, themselves or another person. For example, Eleanor, if your mom – a person’s mom was healthy and wasn’t – didn’t have a caregiver, didn’t go to a senior center or something but was an older person and she got the coronavirus, under the language that they insisted upon, you couldn’t take sick leave to take care of her because she had not lost a caregiver – you know, the other criteria that I mentioned. Well, that just doesn’t even make any sense, but they just wouldn’t get there. So, that language we would like to change so that it is more real and authentic to what family medical leave is supposed to be about.
And then, in terms of sick leave, that, we need to expand that. There are agencies of government, FAA, VA, Veterans Affairs – Veterans Administration, that do not – are not in there for whatever reason and they have to be included. So, we need to address the fact that we value – if they’re are sick, they should have two weeks of sick leave. That if they’re a caregiver or sick themselves, they should have family medical leave. But it has to be, it cannot cut people out for some reason of language or a technicality in how previous bills have been written.
Q: Are there going to be any efforts to expand paid sick leave, when it comes to health care workers specifically? Because I know that they’re obviously carved – or certain hospital workers are carved out a lot of the CARES Act provision.
Speaker Pelosi. I’m sorry – I didn’t hear the first part of your question. You said how do any provisions –
Q: I’m sorry – are there any efforts to expand paid sick leave to health care workers specifically?
Speaker Pelosi. Health care workers?
Speaker Pelosi. Why would they – you’re saying, ‘Is there any effort to include health care workers in family and medical leave?
Q: In paid sick leave. Since there are some home health care workers and nursing home employees –
Speaker Pelosi. Oh, paid – I’m sorry. I thought you were talking federal government.
Well, we don’t really have a whole – we really do have to address that, because these are really people who are saving lives and doing so at a risk to their own. Because this is near and dear to the hearts of many of us, and actually, they deserve hazard pay, as well.
I always use the story of somebody saying, ‘I think if you’re charging $30 an hour is too much,’ and she said back, ‘If you don’t think I’m worth $30 an hour, do you think your mother is?’ And we have to recognize this is part for the culture of our country. Some of them are included in different – it depends on how they underwent auspices of their act, of their job, but yeah, they certainly should have access to that. Especially – well, they should, period – but they should have it especially with the risks they take.
Let me just say though in a broader sense, what we wanted to do, which we met with resistance, but we’ll keep trying, is to have a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, so many more people can be included there if they are not already. To make health opportunities, health, health, health, health. This is all about health. It has an economic consequence, but it’s about health, health, health, health. And some of the challenges and the disagreements that we’ve had between us – for example, the President of the United States, in the courts, trying to undo the Affordable Care Act and all of the benefits, including the benefit of a pre-existing condition. He should just stop that. They should, and say, ‘Let’s have a special enrollment period so people can enroll.’
So, there are a series of things that we are trying to do that could capture all of those folks, but again, to address specifically, the auspices under which they are employed and how we could be helpful to them, including some assistance – direct assistance.
Q: Thank you, Speaker.
Moderator. Our next question comes from Alex Bolton with the Hill. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi, Speaker Pelosi. I was hoping you could give us a sense of how long it’s going to take to get the new oversight committee on coronavirus fully up and running? And do you anticipate other committees also performing oversight functions and how much of that do you expect to happen, and when, since you’re not coming back next week?
Speaker Pelosi. Thanks, Alex. Yeah, oversight, oversight, oversight, oversight. Very important – as people have seen in terms of the PPP. PPP – the Paycheck Protection Program is something that we all supported, helped to shape. We just want to make sure that the money gets to the places that it is most needed in the most efficient way.
But that’s not all of it. This is hundreds of billions of dollars – trillions of dollars, almost $2 trillion now. And we want to be sure that there is no waste, fraud, abuse – that there is no price gauging, no profiteering and the rest and all of that. And again, we already are getting concerns about mask makers – they’re selling masks, they’re getting paid for them and they don’t even exist, the masks. We’re getting people – hearing a few seniors in the public domain, articles about those who would try to scam people out of their direct payment check and that.
In any event, this is about hoping it all works perfectly, but recognizing where there is big money involved, we have to have oversight. I’m very proud of Jim Clyburn and the tone that he has set of non-partisanship and just doing the right thing for the American people.
I’m very soon, maybe announcing my next, maybe later today. I spoke to the Leader yesterday to see how ready he was with his names, we’ll see. But we’ll be making our announcement anyway. In terms of that committee, they have a clear mandate, which is written into the law.
In terms of the other committees, absolutely, positively, possibly so, Alex. Each of the committees, whether it’s Energy and Commerce, whether we’re talking about the Ways and Means Committee, whether we’re talking about Education and Labor, or talking about the Agriculture Committee, talking about the Oversight Committee – the broader Oversight Committee, the list goes on. All of our committees have oversight abilities and we encourage them to exercise that oversight. This was not, in any way, to take the place of that.
This, though, is to give focus to the purpose of making sure the tax-payer dollar is spent wisely and well to promote the health and growth of the – the lives and the livelihood of the American people. The other committees have their roles, and they have other responsibilities, as well. Again, on the issue on health care, we want all the committees that are related – that have health care related responsibilities to be moving forward with that.
We want to be moving forward with H.R. 3, our bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs. We want to move forward with infrastructure in a green way to preserve our planet. We want to move forward with cleaning up government, in terms of strengthening our democracy. Those are the three things we ran on and we continue to have those as important values. And the list goes on and on, education, housing, the rest.
We have lively committees doing work in this regard anyway, but in terms of oversight, yes, indeed. No, this is not to take the place of that. They are encouraged to do so, encouraged to interact, in fact, if they have information, from one committee to the next. There is a procedure for that. It’s not – it is written into the law how something like that would happen, so it’s not anything that the public would not be aware of.
So, it is, you know, an interesting time because there are questions about testing, testing, testing, tracing, tracing, tracing, isolation, isolation, isolation and then the treatment will follow. And I am glad you asked this question because this is not so much about oversight, in other words, in terms of past mistakes that the President made, save that for an after-action review. That’s then. This is now. As we go forward, money is being spent and we want people to know that there will be transparency and there will be accountability for how this money is spent.
So, I don’t know why – I mean I would hope the Republicans would join us in that. I don’t know why they would be against preventing waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging and profiteering, but nonetheless.
The other point I want to make though is this, and we have to be looking – we have been looking forward in this way. Say there is a vaccine in a month or so, we have to be – let’s hope, I mean there are probably six initiatives alive right now that have some prospects, but we don’t know until we see the efficacy, until we see the prospects and the safety of what is being produced. In any event, say that there is something on the horizon, either a cure or a vaccine.
We have to be sure, right now – and even, hopefully there is a plan of this, but we have to find out and ensure that there will be – that we have the capacity and the manufacturing capability to manufacture that right now. And in order to do that, we have to have a supply chain that is ready. Again, this is a pandemic that is affecting the whole world. It’s not like we are stricken and if something is invented some place else, they’ll just ship it all to us. No, they have their own challenges, so we have to be as close to self-sufficient as we can be.
So, that means we have to be – we should be preparing right now to manufacture, and to that we have to have a supply chain of the ingredients to make it, and that means that we have to – say we have a vaccine or a cure, that we need the syringes and the vials and all the things that go with it. Whatever it is, we should be producing that right now. It might take a year to develop all of that syringe, shall we say, vial technology that we will need for vaccinating so many American people. Let’s just get it going right now, as soon as possible, on as many fronts as possible. Put it in a stockpile – we’ll be ready. But you can’t say, well now we have a vaccine, does anybody have a syringe? That’s one.
The second part of it is – hopefully, it is in the works behind the scenes of wherever in government but we must insist that there be an ethical distribution of it. If we have a vaccine it just cannot be for those who can pay, it cannot be for one state or another, it has to be – and this is something that the American people would lose all trust in government if this was not distributed in an ethical way.
So, the manufacturing capacity, the raw materials to get it done, the supply chain, the instruments of delivering – whether it is a syringe, et cetera – put them in a stockpile and at the same time, be planning for an ethical distribution of it. We can do all of that now, non-partisan, science-based, all contributing to how we can open up government, really in a way that gives us all the comfort in the world that people are protected and our economy can once again grow.
So, once again –
Thank you, Alex. But if I just may say this one more thing.
All this we’re saying about state and local and FMAP and Medicaid money and the rest that goes to the states, this is all a stimulus. It is meeting the needs of people, paying their salaries, keeping them on the job so they could protect our lives, our quality of life, our safety, our protections against this virus spreading, the humanity of it all, but is also a stimulus to the economy.
So, with that I want to thank President Lee for being who he is, a great champion for humanity, for our workers, for the people who the workers serve. He carries those concerns in his heart and in his head and with a big, strong voice to any audience that he speaks before. He’s an inspiration to all of us. As is all of the workforce of AFSCME.
And again, I want to thank our special guests: Jared, Jason, Shirley – Ms. Shirley and Blake for sharing their stories with us, because that hits – that’s heart-to-heart for our supportive community and, indeed, of humanity. So, again, thank you.
Thank you, Mr. President.