Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Announcing Members of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Majority Whip James Clyburn for a press conference to announce Members of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon. Here we are in our new arrangement of social distancing. Thank you for being here.
It is a very important day for us for a number of reasons. It is heartbreaking that we have passed the milestone of one million people in our country who are sick and nearly 60,000 who have died from the coronavirus.
The American people expect Congress to do all that we can to protect the lives, the livelihood, and the life of our democracy in what we do here. And they expect us to ensure that the nearly $2 trillion of historic relief that we have passed in a number of bills is widely and effectively used, that it goes to those who need it the most.
And so, today – just to put this in historic perspective, at the dawn of World War II, then-Senator Harry Truman, Senator with a Democratic Administration, but he was a Senator, and he said that – he basically said, ‘I knew that after World War I there had been 116 investigating committees after the fact, and I felt that one committee, before the fact, would prevent a lot of waste, and maybe even save some lives.’
And that is the way it turned out. It was a committee that cost around $1 million, saved about $15 billion, in dollars of those years. So, it was about waste, fraud and abuse, as I said, and making sure the money goes where it is supposed to go.
What I loved about what Harry Truman said though is that, as they looked at spending and the rest, he said, later when he was president, he said ‘Every ten cents that was spent for those work relief projects, the WPA, the PWA and those, every dime that was looked into, and somebody was always against spending a nickel that would help poor people and give jobs… to the men who didn’t have any. But, the minute they start spending money on defense money, the sky was the limit [and] no questions asked.’
Now, we want to have all our resources needed to bring our economy back, but we do not want all of the excessive attention to, ‘Well, we’ll wait and see how the states do before we do more for the states,’ and the rest of that, as Harry Truman said. But that is not about what today is.
Today, for the purpose that was captured by then-Senator, next – soon-to-be President of the United States, we formed a special bipartisan oversight panel: the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus. This Committee, again, will prevent waste, fraud and abuse, make sure the money goes where it’s needed most. It will ensure and it will be will be focused on making sure that the federal response is based on the best science and guided by health experts.
I am proud to appoint distinguished and accomplished leaders to the Committee who will ensure that our coronavirus response puts working families first. I am very delighted that the distinguished Whip of the House will be Chair of the Committee. He brings credentials in so many ways, including as a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Chair of the Financial Services Committee, and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Chair of the Small Business Committee. Their two committees have the heart of so much of the matter of what we are talking about small businesses, which are such an important part of our economy. So, Nydia is also a member of the Financial Services [Committee] but the combination of Financial Services and Small Businesses is very important.
And Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the Chair of the Oversight Committee, she is on this Committee. Also, a member of the Financial Services Committee.
Congressman Bill Foster, a scientist. He brings his eye shade mentality as well as his big picture of the economy of our country, as a scientist and as a small businessperson.
Then Congressman Jamie Raskin, an attorney, long recognized as a professor of constitutional law, brings his historic perspective and his entrepreneurial approach to taking our country in a new direction as we review the disparities that we are seeing now.
In Congressman Andy Kim, a Freshman Member of Congress, he brings his national security credentials in a very important way and that judgement to this. He is part of our defense Members in the Freshman Class, and we are very proud. He is also a member of the Small Business Committee, actually a Subcommittee Chair of that Committee.
So, again, it is with great excitement that we establish this. It is bipartisan. We are hoping the Republican Leader will name his members soon. We have been in communication. I told him a couple days ago who I was going to be appointing so he can make his own judgments about the Committee. But we want it to be as non-partisan as possible, and very much a part of doing the right thing for the American people.
And nobody does that better than our distinguished Chair of the Select Committee on the Coronavirus, Mr. Whip, the distinguished gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Clyburn.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you, Mr. Chairman Clyburn – Mr. Whip Clyburn. That is – I knew of – I was aware of your reputation in that regard, but I know firsthand your work in working on Katrina – post-Katrina as chair of the taskforce, where it was clear you were there for the people, not for any other agenda than that. And then also, later, when we had the post-2008 downturn in our economy, how you worked to help build us back in a bipartisan way, almost agnostic. Does not matter where the ideas are coming from, what matters is what works for the American people. So, thank you for your non-partisan, patriotic leadership.
I do want to say that this Committee also has a measure of success. As you know, two of the members of the Committee, Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, were instrumental in putting in the bill issues about lower – underbanked businesses being able to access the loans. We had some concerns with reports that were coming out after the first tranche was spent almost immediately. And so, in the new bill, we put forth a specific carveout for those underbanked communities.
We are waiting to hear from the Secretary today, the names of some of the small businesses that received loans, but when I say we already had a victory, earlier today the Small Business Administration put out an advisory that between 4:00 p.m. today and midnight tonight, Eastern Daylight Time, the window for loans would only be for those financial institutions below $1 billion, which just gives them so much opportunity. And that is a very big step forward. That was the spirit of the legislation, and we are glad it is giving this opportunity. Because if it is always first come, first served, it is very hard, no matter how you construct it, to ensure that even those underbanked, that the smallest businesses are getting the opportunity that they have. So, congratulations to our two chairwomen.
And I am very excited that where we go from here in terms of legislation, which we will talk about tomorrow, but just is that we are saluting our heroes. And our heroes are well served in the previous bill, by the leadership of Frank Pallone, who was largely responsible for our important language for hospitals – the $100 billion for hospitals and testing, as well as the PPE and the rest, for our heroes.
That takes me to the point of all of this. Of course we are going to act in a non-partisan way in this. We owe it to our heroes: our health care providers, our police and fire, emergency services people, our transit workers, our food folks – very important, our postal workers, our teachers, all those people out there on be frontline meeting the needs of the American people. We are there not to spend time away from meeting their needs, but making sure that their needs are met. That will be part of what we will do in CARES 2, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.
But for today, again, we think it is – we want to be worthy of those people, those heroes. They are the ones who are leading the way. The American people are leading the way, saying, ‘We do not want to go back in before it is the right time to go back in.’ So, let us listen to the people, let us heed the leadership of our heroes as we go forward. And as we do so, to have oversight to ensure that there is nobody ripping us off by saying they are selling masks when they do not even have any, that they are trying to get the checks of people who are getting the advance payments, depriving them of that. There are plenty of things that we want to look into, and I have every confidence that this distinguished Committee, with the balance that has, the humanity of it all, but the experience and wisdom of these Members will guide us very well.
With that, I am pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Hi, Speaker Pelosi. Leader McConnell suggested yesterday afternoon that he may want to marry liability protections in a CARES 2 Act or when you all do more funding moving forward that that might be tied to state and local funding. What is your response to that?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, Leader Schumer and I both on a call with many of your colleagues who were present on the phone and maybe they are present here but they cannot ask a question as they could on the phone. It said that at the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this. So, we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability.
Mr. Clyburn, did you want to speak to that?
Whip Clyburn. No, ma’am.
Speaker Pelosi. Okay. Chime in at any time.
Q: Is after-action review is going to be at all in the purview of this Committee specifically?
Speaker Pelosi. I am sorry? No, after-action review is after action. We are still in the action. This is about the here and now and as we go forward. Again, our focus is on our heroes. We want to make sure that they have what they need to do their jobs. They are risking their lives to save lives. In the meantime, they may lose their jobs. So, we want to make sure that how this is all implemented is in furtherance of being worthy of them. We have praised them. We pray for them. We say all of those things, but we are unworthy to do it unless we are there to protect them and support them.
So, after action is after action is after action. We are in the battle right now. And I would hope that – when I say the battle – with the coronavirus – that this will, shall we say, anticipate or perhaps stave off any waste, fraud and abuse because they’ll know that we’re – this is about transparency and accountability.
Q: Just going back to state and local aid, one of the issues that some Members had about state and local aid was the population caps – the cap under 1,000. Going forward in CARES 2 ,do you see yourselves removing that cap and having aid distributed across populations?
Speaker Pelosi. Nobody has been a bigger champion of that in Congress than Mr. Clyburn, over the years, long before any of this.
Do you want to speak to that Mr. Clyburn?
Whip Clyburn. Well, I think it is very important for us when we talk about state and local – remember, it is state and local. And the fact that we have had so often is that we get hung up at the state level and then forget that the cities, the counties, even local public service districts are local governments. And we ought to pay close attention to whether or not they are getting what they need in order to carry out their responsibilities as well. And so state and local – I have been pressing my Caucus for years to remember it did not say ‘or local;’ it is ‘and local.’ I'm going to be very, very conscious of that as we have these discussions.
Speaker Pelosi. If I may, again, more for tomorrow, but since you asked, what we are having – what our plan is now is to have two separate, maybe even three state, county and municipality. And we can take it all the way down, we’re thinking to 10,000 and fewer. This is a big issue for all the Members. Because some governors – the governors have a big problem. They have a big problem in terms of the coronavirus, many of the states that do. They want to meet their budget needs, and the communities do as well.
So, we expect governors to spend money in their states down to every level, but we also want some money to initiate there. Now, let me say, it’s for two purposes. One is – I want to make this very clear, because you mentioned the Republican Leader. He said, ‘Well, we are not doing state and local because we want to see how the old money works first.’ Oh really? But no review of any other money. Anyway, he says, ‘We are not taking care of their budget woes.’ That is not what this is about. Everything we are doing is about the coronavirus.
So, when states are submitting what their needs are and what their outlays are, it is about what they did in terms of what they spent on the coronavirus and what their revenue loss is. This is essential to their survival, that their revenue loss is counted as a coronavirus cost as well. And that applies to state, county, municipality and hospitals as well. So, this is a very important principle that we will have there.
It has nothing to do with whatever their past history is. As one state – he mentioned, Illinois – had its woes under a Republican governor, but he fails to mention that, but we’re not interested – well, that is not our issue.
Our issue is what have you spent on coronavirus and what is the opportunity, revenue lost in coronavirus. But yes, we expect to have some direct assistance in this. Again, with every call we have with our Members, this is an overwhelming issue for them.
Any other? Yes, ma’am.
Q: Last week, you all had a discussion – you and Leader Hoyer were talking about what potential remote and proxy voting was looking like. That was taken off the Floor. Are those bipartisan conversations still –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes. Again, our purpose here is to talk about oversight and the excellence of the Committee, the Democrats on the Committee that I have named and the totality of their experience, wisdom, humanity that they bring to that.
In order for us to meet and also to vote on legislation that the gentlelady was referencing, we have to have a process. So, we had, just to put in context, more than a month ago I asked the Chairman of the Rules Committee, which is one of the committees of jurisdiction, to give us a report on remote voting, every aspect of it. He did so maybe a month ago. And then he asked for comments from Members, and then he put out the recommendation a little more than two weeks ago that what was feasible was remote voting by proxy; that we would continue to look at the technologies to see how much more we could do for the whole body, but that there were some possibilities for virtual meetings, smaller numbers, rather than the 430.
When we were here to perhaps vote on the proxy, I had the impression, rightly so, I think from the distinguished Republican Leader, Mr. McCarthy, that he wasn't there, but he might be reviewing what could happen. Because they, as we all do, want to come in to do the people's work present, although we all do the work every day in our districts. But nonetheless, present in the Capitol, so he would look at it. He told the Los Angeles Times, ‘I made a commitment to her that I wasn’t there yet but I could be, but we do want to have sessions in Washington.’
So, with the opportunity that this could be bipartisan, because that would be better in my view – you’re changing how Congress votes after 200-some years, you’re doing so in a bipartisan way, that would be better. With that hope, Mr. Hoyer and Mr. McCarthy, Mr. McGovern and Mr. Cole, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and her Ranking Member, [Congressman Rodney] Davis, have been meeting. They have had a couple of meetings so far, but more conversations. And I think that the consensus is that there will be a vote on proxy voting, whether Republicans join or not is going to be up to them to announce.
But on the committees meeting, there's some serious considerations. Some Members want to come back. Next week, I think Appropriations has announced that they are going to have a meeting, and maybe Small Business. The Chairman may decide to have a meeting next week here. There could be meetings of everyone here, depending on the size of the committee, or virtual, or hybrid. Leadership of the committee, and then other people in by way of other technologies.
I do want to say though, throughout all this, we have had  briefings, because we cannot officially have a hearing because we have not voted that we can do hearings by remote yet, but we have had 30 – 20 meetings, at least 20, of each committee of the committees of jurisdiction. And also that the Appropriations Committee said that they would be meeting next week.
And that brings me to my final point, which is Mr. Clyburn's committee is a place that will have all this, the 20 briefings, I mean, and the Select Committee will build upon this work. But by no means, do not have any impression that this is in any way a substitute for what the committees do. They all have an oversight responsibility. Twenty briefings already. There will be more once we officially say there can be a hearing or a committee meeting.
And so, all of them have the responsibility, whether it's Mr. Pallone on the health issues, Congresswoman Eshoo has her subcommittee on issues and has something in the works, whether it is Bobby Scott, OSHA, family medical leave, pensions, all those issues, how they are affected by this. Whether it is Mr. – Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, and how we are meeting the food needs of the American people, we want SNAP, we want food stamps and other nutrition programs in the legislation. That has been a struggle. Again, on Ways and Means, on issues that relate to Medicare, and in some cases Medicaid, but that is also an Energy and Commerce issue. The [Financial Services] Committee will have its oversight hearing. Small Business will have its. And the list goes on.
This does not take the place of that. This will all be happening. But they have other business to deal with, too. The sole purpose of this Select Committee is to make sure that we have a bright light shining on the implementation on $2 trillion of taxpayer dollars to make sure they are spent in a way that removes all doubt there won’t be waste, fraud, abuse, et cetera, but instead it will go to meet the needs of the American people in a way that is fair and equitable, that addresses disparities that we have had, but also recognizes our responsibility to do so in as non-partisan a way as possible.
Did you have a final?
Q: If I could follow up on – you just said that this Committee does not replace the role of the other committees, but even the vote to have this Committee did fall along party lines. Republicans are concerned – that is exactly their reasoning. They are saying, why do we need this committee if we have other oversight committees? How do you reassure them?
Speaker Pelosi. Let me just say, gentleman, that you use the words ‘their reasoning.’ Those two words. Their reasoning when they established a committee to do away with Planned Parenthood, there were committees that dealt with women's health issues and the rest, but they decided to form a select committee on Planned Parenthood. Again, a hundred – million people had not been diagnosed. 50,000, 60,000 people had not died. But they thought it was urgent, despite all of the oversight of the other committees, to have a select committee.
Benghazi. How long and how much money did they spend on Benghazi? When they had the Armed Services Committee, the Intelligence Committee and all of those committees looking at all that. And yet, select committees. So, their so-called reasoning does not seem to apply by their own experience.
I, myself, have a select committee on climate. It does not mean that the other committees of jurisdiction – every committee I tasked, do what you can do about climate, whether it is the [Homeland Security] Committee, or the Energy and Commerce Committee, Natural Resources Committee, whatever. Ways and Means, whatever your committee is, how can you help us address the climate crisis? That was 2007, and now too.
It's not to say we don't want the wisdom and intellectual resources that can be gathered there. It's just that select committee does just that. That is the focus, that is where the public will pay attention to what is going on, and have the assurance that their taxpayer dollar is spent – are being wisely and well. So, they were arguing against themselves, when they made that case. But, you know, you are asking the question, so they may have convinced somebody. But, nonetheless, I know they didn’t convince you, I guess.
In any event, again, again, I end where I began. We can only pray for those families who have lost their loved ones. We don't know what comfort we can be to them except to say that people really are sad for them and praying for them. The many people who are diagnosed, hopefully we can get the resources to them that they need, whether it is a ventilator or a first responder, or a public health person. And we will be talking about that more tomorrow in the Speaker's weekly press conference.
But for today, it's about our responsibility to do justice to those first responders, many of them health care workers, all of them heroes who risk their lives to save other people's lives. And now many of them will lose their jobs because of the lack of resources. In addition to which the lack of PPE for them to do their jobs well.
So, in sadness to those who lost their lives, and hope for those who are diagnosed and with respect to our heroes, let us be worthy of them by doing this in as non-partisan a way as possible. And we couldn’t be better served in that regard, than with a person who takes all of this very seriously and patriotically, our distinguished Chairman, our distinguished Whip, Mr. Clyburn.
Thank you all very much.