Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today
May 16, 2019
|Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning. Good morning.
It has been quite a week for us and it will culminate on Friday when we pass the Equality Act. This is an exciting time for our country because for the first time the LGBTQ community will have – it will end discrimination against that community in a very substantial way.
This is not only important to the LGBTQ community, it’s important for America, ending discrimination. Our history has always been one of expanding freedom and reducing discrimination. This will be a banner vote for us on Friday, and we hope that it will be bipartisan as well.
Health care, health care, health care, that is what is of concern to the American people, and this week we passed bill after bill. Last week and this week, bill after bill.
Let me just comment, say something about David Cicilline, the author of the Equality Act, before I move on. We thank him for his leadership.
We also thank the Congressional Black Caucus for giving its imprimatur to this legislation right from the start. John Lewis stood with us when we announced the bill a couple years ago, before we had the Majority, and now, every Democrat will be voting for this bill on Friday. We are very excited about that.
Again, on the health care front, For The People agenda, we promised – we promised a lower health care cost by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, preserving the pre-existing condition [protections], and there are many pieces of legislation in furtherance of that goal. So, we are continuing our relentless drumbeat on the prescription drug prices, on pre-existing condition.
It is a stunning thing. Maybe you noticed during the campaign that the Republicans kept saying, ‘Oh, no, we are for pre-existing conditions benefits,’ but yet, almost every one of them voted against the bill on the Floor. That was discretely just about pre-existing conditions, Annie Kuster’s legislation. We are very proud of her.
And the Administration’s guidance now is inviting states to dismantle protections for people with pre-existing conditions and push families into junk plans that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
I want to commend Chairman Pallone of the full Committee, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of the Health Subcommittee, and our freshmen, for their leadership on strengthening health care and lowering prescription drugs.
This has many facets to it. It builds on our past progress. Last week, we had bipartisan legislation passed to lower the price of prescription drugs by removing barriers to generics to the market.
We have, again, been doing this while the Republicans at the same time have been dismantling and sabotaging and continuing their attacks on health care, and now for women specifically, as we have seen in Alabama. Quite frankly, an unconstitutional assault on basic reproductive freedom.
It’s really – I don’t want to be a fearmonger, but I do believe that they are trying to go on a path that would totally dismantle Roe v. Wade. And we have to be vigilant and express our concerns on this legislatively and at the grassroots level.
And then in D.C., we see the Trump Administration, his Administration, continuing an unprecedented and unconstitutional campaign to conceal the truth from the American people.
The Trump Administration is continuing its vicious attack and campaign in the courts to destroy every last protection in the Affordable Care Act: the pre-existing condition benefit, children staying on their parents’ policies until age 26, the Medicaid expansion, bans on lifetime and annual limits, being a woman no longer being a pre-existing medical condition, as we see from personal experience in that regard in terms of insurance companies, and that is what they are doing in the courts.
Now, the public has to know how and why the President decided to force the Department of Justice to try to obliterate Americans’ health care in the courts. The Chairmen of five Committees of Jurisdiction – Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Education and Labor, Judiciary and Oversight – have written letters to the DOJ, the Department of Justice, and the White House, asking for information about how this decision was made.
You understand, this is the law of the land. When it goes to court, the Justice Department is supposed to protect the law of the land. Instead, they are there to undermine the law of the land.
Attorney General Barr and the White House refused to comply with Congress’s demands for answers about the Administration’s assault on Americans’ health care. This week the White House Counsel sent a letter to Jerry Nadler brazenly and boldly denying Congress’s Constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight.
The beat goes on. The beat goes on. The beat goes on.
Now, in terms of what happens to our legislation that we are so proudly and in many ways, in a bipartisan way passing in the House, Senator McConnell, as I’ve said to you last week, describes himself as the Grim Reaper. The Senate is the graveyard where bills that pass in the Congress, that have bipartisan support in the country, go to die.
Well, I have news for him: the legislation we are sending is alive and well in public opinion, in the court of public opinion, and he will be hearing from the public.
Lincoln said: ‘Public sentiment is everything.’ How many times have I said that here? ‘With it, we can accomplish almost anything. Without it, practically nothing.’ Abraham Lincoln. Public sentiment. In order for the public sentiment to prevail, the public has to know.
So, you will be seeing people, advocates at the grassroots level. Last Congress, we had 10,000 events, not with the grassroots, there were 10,000 events by the grassroots, people telling their individual story, Little Lobbyists, associations associated with any particular disease in our country, just speaking out about pre-existing conditions, about lifetime limits, about young people being on their parents’ provision.
But their personal stories won the day and preserved the Affordable Care Act. Now, we have to fight it in court.
So, again, we will just say to [Leader] McConnell: You will be hearing from the American people and their views on their health care and their financial security as it is attached to their health care.
Okay. So now we have Iran. We have asked for a classified briefing for the entire Congress. Well, I can only ask for the House of Representatives. We asked last week. They said they couldn’t be ready. We thought hopefully this week, with all the urgency that they seem to be attaching to what is happening in the Middle East. Not yet.
So, we are hoping that for sure, before the break, we will have a classified briefing on the Middle East, on Iran, for the full House of Representatives.
We will have one for the Gang of Eight later this afternoon, but that is no substitute for the full Membership of the Congress having that access. There might be particular things that only we can hear, but that is not to undermine the responsibility that the Administration has to making sure that the full Congress has the information.
We have been having some problems with them because for a long time now we have been asking for a classified briefing for the Congress on what’s going on in North Korea, and the Administration has ignored or rejected those requests. It is outrageous. Even what is happening in Venezuela, for Venezuela, from their standpoint, just to get the objective briefing.
So, this is part of a pattern that is not right because we have responsibilities, and the responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war.
So, I hope that the President’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way. They cannot call the authorization, AUMF, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, those passed in 2001, as any authorization to go forward in the Middle East now.
I like what I hear from the President that he has no appetite for this. This is one place where – one of the places that I agree with the President, is both of us in our opposition to war in Iraq, and I hope that that same attitude will prevail with the President of the United States even though some of his supporters are more – are rattling sabers.
With that, I’ll be pleased to answer any questions.
Q: Madam Speaker, Jerry Nadler said today that the conduct of the Administration is such that he cannot rule out impeachment or anything else. Do you agree with that assessment?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let me just say this. The letter that came from the White House yesterday was completely outrageous.
Was that last night? I don’t know when it became in the public domain? It was a totally outrageous letter. It says the President is above the law and Congress has no right to investigate any of the actions of the President, hold him accountable in any way.
Here’s the point I think that – you’d have to speak to Jerry [Nadler] about all of his intentions in that – but here is what the law is that we all would agree to.
When they are saying, unless you have a legislative purpose you cannot ask any questions, you cannot investigate unless you have a legislative purpose, but one of the purposes that the Constitution spells out for investigation is impeachment.
And so, you can say, and the courts would respect if you said, ‘We need this information to carry out our oversight responsibility, and among them is impeachment,’ it doesn’t mean you’re going on an impeachment path, but it means if you had the information you might. So, it isn’t about impeachment, it’s about impeachment as a purpose, a Constitutional purpose for – and justifying Constitutionally and court a wise path.
Q: And is that an argument you’re prepared to make before the courts, to say to the courts, ‘We may impeach, therefore, this is what we need?’
Speaker Pelosi. Well, no, we hope we don’t have to do that. We hope that they would respect their oath of office and respect the separation of power and that they would respond to requests for information that might be ratcheted up to subpoenas for information. But just to say that what – that letter that came from the White House is a joke, beneath the dignity of the Presidency of the United States, in defiance of our Constitution. Shame on them.
Q: On immigration, the President today is outlining his latest plan. It seems pretty clear that Democrats are not going to be on board with this. But based on what you have learned so far, is there anything that the President is suggesting, any of these proposals that you can get behind?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, first of all, we haven’t had a briefing on it. We hear various things in the press.
We have to, I believe, come to comprehensive immigration reform. I think the President knows that. I know that on the Republican side of the aisle there is a recognition that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. But we have to do it in a way that secures our border, has a path to citizenship, respects the value of family to us, that has certain principles that we would agree to. The Administration has asked to send someone to maybe – maybe – I don’t know who, but send someone to brief the Members. We always would welcome that, and we will see what they have to say.
But I want to just say something about the word that they use, ‘merit.’ It is really a condescending word. Are they saying family is without merit? Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree? Certainly, we want to attract the best to our country, and that includes many people from many parts of society.
And, again, if you want me to, I will quote Ronald Reagan. I would just ask you to go to his last speech as President of the United States and what he said about newcomers to our country being the vital force of America’s preeminence in the world. And when we fail to recognize that, we will fail to be preeminent in the world. We cannot close the door. This is about our vitality and youth – youth in terms of ideas and entrepreneurship of the country. Every President has recognized that since Ronald Reagan, except this President. So, we’ll see what values are reflected there. We’ve only heard titles like ‘merit,’ which is non-merit. It means merit in the eyes of Donald Trump.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, in the fight with the White House over the document request, some of your Members who are frustrated have said that there should be – Congress should use its inherent contempt powers, specifically to fine individuals who are in defiance of subpoenas. Do you support imposing fines on people who are defying Congressional subpoenas?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, that is a path, that it would be inherent contempt. There’s three kinds of contempt: civil contempt, criminal contempt, and inherent contempt. And if they fail – I’m not saying an intent, but I’m just saying, again, as I mentioned to Katie, that this is one of the possibilities that is out there. I’m not saying we’re going down that path, but I’m just saying it is not to be excluded. Nothing is off the table.
So, in inherent contempt you, well, you send a subpoena, they don’t honor it, then you hold them in contempt. And if they do not comply, then you can fine them, and then you can hold them accountable for the money that you fined them.
So, for people who work in the Federal government or in the Administration who now are having to hire lawyers, who is paying for that? The Republican National Committee, the President said. Well, that’s interesting. Is that even legal? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to bother them whether it is or not. But you have – you can fine them and then hold them accountable if they don’t pay the fine.
Q: Are you okay with that approach?
Speaker Pelosi. I’m just saying it is an approach. It is an approach.
Q: But what is your position on that?
Speaker Pelosi. I don’t have to have a position. I’m waiting for my – first we want – as I said to Katie, we want to see what we can get respectfully. First, we ask. First, we ask. Then we subpoena friendly. Then we subpoena otherwise. And then we see what we get.
So, let’s not leapfrog over what we think should be the path that should be taken. But I only say to you, whether it’s using impeachment, among other purposes, for investigations or whether it’s using fines as an incentive for people to earlier on supply the information, it’s a possibility. It’s not something that – as I said, I’m a big believer in the Committee system. I have great confidence in our Committee Chairs and how they go forward.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, the immigration proposal coming out of the White House, it sounded like the Administration specifically did not talk about the Dream Act, Dreamers and DACA.
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah, they didn’t.
Q: Your side has been passionate about addressing that, but we haven’t seen anything definitive on that this year so far on the Floor, this year.
Speaker Pelosi. We will.
Q: Do you think, though, that they are trying to goad you into proposing that portion of it and then they kill it, because, they say, ‘Well, this is something we can’t live with on DACA and Dreamers?’
Speaker Pelosi. I don’t know. Their motivation is something you have to ask them about. And I don’t like to question people’s motivation. However, I do like to challenge what they’ve put forth. And we will have the Dream and Promise Act which contains the Dreamers, the Temporary Protected Status, as well as the DED. It referred – soon to be – I think it may already have expired. The DED, did it expire the end of April? But anyway, soon to be – it needs to be addressed as soon as possible, and it will be, and it will be on the Floor.
So, I don’t know that what they’re talking about has any relationship to this. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. The President says he wants to protect – well, he says DACA, he wants to do something about DACA. He has said that in the past. I’m hoping that they don’t have an ulterior motive with that. The bill is bad enough of itself.
Q: – Have you spoken with them at length about the DACA question? Have you spoken to them?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, it was referenced in our meeting at the White House, how he had wanted to do that – had wanted – had wanted to do that. So, hopefully he still – hopefully he still does.
One more question.
Q: Speaker Pelosi, for a number of months the Democrats have been saying that the issue over at the border was simply a manufactured crisis. Are the Democrats willing to say now that there is an actual crisis at the border? And where are they now as far as how you look at the asylum issue?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let me just say this. We have never not said that there was a crisis. There is a humanitarian crisis at the border, and some of it provoked by the actions taken by the Administration. And I will just quote our friends from the Evangelical community when they came in and testified in the last Congress in one of our rump hearings, because the Republicans wouldn’t have the hearing.
They came in and said the refugee resettlement program – the United States’ refugee resettlement program is the ‘crown jewel of American humanitarianism.’ The Evangelicals. Not an individual, the association, the representative came in and said that.
So, what is happening at the border is tragic, and we hope to address some of that in the supplemental that is coming, the disaster supplemental, to provide some of the resources that are needed there. But when you take children out of the arms of their parents, when you separate families, when you do what the Administration has done at the border, you are making matters worse. It’s really sad.
Because, of course, we want to have comprehensive immigration reform. That is the answer to so many of our challenges. And we understand our responsibility to secure our border. But the manner in which the Administration has gone forward undermines our humanitarianism as a country. We will hopefully work together in a bipartisan way to address this.
But, yes, it is a crisis. We’ve always said that it gets to be more of a humanitarian crisis the more that Republicans – the Administration, I won’t paint all the Republicans with this – the more the Administration acts in the shameful way, not consistent with our faith, with our beliefs that every person has dignity and worth, that every person has a spark of divinity within them that we need to respect, and that we have that spark of divinity that we need to act upon.
So, God bless some of the religious groups that are down there respecting the dignity and worth of people. And so sad that, yet again, another baby, a two and a half year old baby, died in custody.
But, again, we are hoping to address some of this in a bipartisan way in our supplemental disaster assistance legislation. Thank you all very much.