Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Today
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon. There's so much going on. Thank you for accommodating our change in schedule today.
As you probably are aware, I, this afternoon, sent a letter to the President expressing concern about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos: ‘I am writing to request a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city.’
Well, I prefaced it by saying, as you probably saw, there are military on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. What is it? I'll read it to you: soldiers on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Bureau of Prisons officers in Lafayette Square. The National Park Service doing that violent action, hassling peaceful protesters the other night. States have sent in National Guard troops from other states. The FBI and other federal agencies are operating in the city.
We want a complete list. Who is in charge? What is the chain of command? And by what authority does it – do these National Guard people come in from other states? By what authority? What is the mission? What is the chain of command? Who is in charge? We want some answers to that. And I sent that on behalf of my Members.
So of course, today is a day of great sadness. They are having the first service for George Floyd. It is a national day of mourning, I see, for George Floyd, and we pray for his family and pray for healing for our country.
As we gather here, people will be – have been gathering in Minneapolis for the first service. Across the country, the American people are grieving for over 100,000 people, lives lost from COVID‑19 and, now, for the victims of a pattern of racial injustice and brutality that we saw most recently in the death – the murder actually – of George Floyd.
Again, I refer to this letter: ‘It's alarming that in our nation's capital… peaceful protesters are confronted with a deployment of various security officers with multiple – from multiple jurisdictions, including,’ and this is important, ‘unidentified federal law enforcement.’
Further in the letter I say: ‘To make matters worse, some officers have refused to provide information, have been deployed without identifying insignia, badges or nameplates. The practice of officers operating with full anonymity undermines accountability and ignites government distrust and suspicion and is counter to the principle of procedural justice and legitimacy during this precarious moment in our history.’
‘The Justice Department itself in the past has stated that allowing officers to work anonymously creates “mistrust and undermines accountability” and it “conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity.”
‘In recent days many former high‑level Department of Justice officials have echoed these concerns and warned that allowing federal law enforcement officers to operate without identification can fatally weaken oversight efforts and fails to send the message that abuse will [not] be tolerated.’
This is – we are in a very difficult situation. It has to be handled with care. We certainly want to support peaceful demonstrations. We all reject violence. But this militarization and this proliferation of different groups coming into the capital city, the capital city of our country, some without identification, others without justification, what is the mission? Who is in charge? What is the chain of command? We expect an answer to that.
As you know, we are on the brink of announcing an initiative led by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Chair, Karen Bass of California. We will be making that announcement on Monday.
We are working with the Senate Democrats, as well, in advancing legislation protecting equal justice and including a number of provisions ending racial profiling, ending excessive use of force, ending qualified immunity – the qualified immunity doctrine and, again, addressing the loss of trust between police departments and communities they serve. We will not relax until that is secured, that justice is secured.
What happened with George Floyd is so heartbreaking, but pivotal, it is an inflection point, it is a threshold that our country has crossed. It isn't the first time someone has been harmed, murdered, unfairly at the hands of law enforcement, but it is a time that is about a pattern at a time when people, the high-tension wires are up because of the coronavirus and other people are dying, as well as the confinement, the economic uncertainty.
So, to address those health issues and to address the uncertainty and to address the well‑being of our country, we hope that the Senate will soon take up The Heroes Act. The Heroes Act is about protecting the lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy in our country.
You know the three main pillars to open our economy: testing, tracing, treatment, confinement. We don't have a vaccine and we don't have a cure, but we do have testing, tracing, treatment and isolation. That can save lives, especially when we consider the disparity of the deaths by the coronavirus are disproportionately affecting people of color. But, if you don't test, then you don't know and you can't treat and save those lives. So, that's a major part of The Heroes Act.
It is called heroes because we are honoring our heroes: our first responders, our health care workers, food, transit, sanitation, teachers, teachers, teachers, people who make our society go, and that is by helping state and local government. Go to speaker.gov/heroesact and see what it means to a community near you, what it means to your state or to your municipality, perhaps even to your county. Speaker.gov/heroesact.
And then, the third part of that, open our economy by testing, honoring our heroes by keeping government open and, third, putting money in the pockets of the American people. So important right now.
Senator McConnell said we must take a pause. A pause? Is the virus taking a pause? Is unemployment taking a pause? Is hunger taking a pause? Is a rent check taking – the need for rent taking a pause? I don't think so, and nor should we.
If we do not act soon, we will only worsen the fiscal impact and the economic impact on our society. Don't take it from me, take it from the Chairman of the Fed. We really need to act to invest. This recession will worsen unless we put money in the pockets of the American people.
So no, we don't need a pause, we need a pass of a bill in the Senate. And we have bipartisan support all over the country for those three main pillars: honor our heroes, open our economy by testing, money in the pockets of the American people.
In addition to that, we want them to agree to worker safety – safety in the workplace, support to the postal system, support for a vote-by-mail and, again, support for food stamps to feed the hungry in our country. These seem so self‑evident. And, again, we are hoping that will be soon as you see they have a change of attitude.
We are excited that they finally did pass the PPP bill that Dean Phillips, new Member of Congress from Minnesota, had put forth, a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate. I just signed it before I came over here. I would have signed it in front of you, but they told me I had to have permission from the Radio‑TV Gallery to do that.
Is that exactly what you said?
So, we didn't do that. So, now we want to move on with the – with that.
For me, today is a very sad and special day. Today, we solemnly mark 31 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, 31 years. In 1991, I stood in Tiananmen Square, with a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, bipartisan, and we unfurled a flag reading, ‘To those who died for democracy.’
We were chased by the police. It was a question of who could run faster because they were after us with clubs and whatever else. They took some of the press film or whatever – film, I mean it's 31 years ago – away from them. Sadly, decades later, China's record of repression is unchanged.
I'm so proud that in a bipartisan way, Congress has long been united in strong support for human rights in China. This past year the House held Beijing accountable in a number of ways, passing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which I signed the other day. Some of you were there – was that yesterday? It seems like a long time ago. No, Tuesday, Tuesday. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, the Tibet Policy and Support Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
We hope that, as the President executes and implements these laws, we can work together to have a strategic plan, not only us in a bipartisan way, but also – and bicameral – but also globally to stop the oppression in China.
If we refuse – I always say this, if we refuse to condemn human rights violations in China because of economic concerns, then we lose all moral authority to criticize human rights violations anyplace in the world.
So, with that, again, we are sad about George Floyd. We thank his family for the dignity and the inspiration that they have demonstrated in all of this and we pray that he rests in peace.
Q: Speaker Pelosi?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, ma'am?
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker. About Hong Kong. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday he would be willing to allow nearly 3 million Hong Kongers to work and live in the U.K.
Speaker Pelosi. That's right.
Q: Is this something that the U.S. would consider if China implements its national security rule?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I did have a conversation with the British Ambassador yesterday on a variety of subjects and of course this came up, it's timely. This is consistent and a continuation of U.K. law vis‑à‑vis Hong Kong. So he said he would consider. Let's see what they do.
What the concern I have about it is, though, I mean as generous as that is, that would be a large percentage, maybe like 40 percent of the people of Hong Kong, and it would be a big brain drain on Hong Kong.
So, again, I think it's a wonderful thing that people know – that people will know that their safety is protected and they can go to London, but I would hope that democracy could come – democratic freedoms, we don't expect it to be democracy, but democratic freedoms could come to Hong Kong.
Q: Yes, how are you? How are you doing?
Speaker Pelosi. I'm doing okay.
Q: If you'll indulge me, it is a bit of a long question? As it relates to police violence, I see different views among Members of Congress. Do you and the Caucus believe this is an issue of systemic racism in American policing? And would you be comfortable naming that?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, we have, as I mentioned, we are taking our lead from our distinguished Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Karen Bass. As you probably know, in the Congress of the United States the Black Caucus is considered the Conscience of the Congress and their years of history, of experience. When I say experience, I mean personal as well as legislative experience as to how we go forward.
So, on Monday, we will be making our announcement as to what – how we go forward in this particular aspect of it. What it is about, other injustices too. It's about health disparities. It's about environmental injustice. It's about economic injustice. It's about educational injustice.
So, we want to see this as a time where we can go forward in a very drastic way, not incrementally, but in an important way to redress those problems.
Q: So, at this time, systemic racism in American policing, you don't think that is the core issue?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let me leave the presentation to it up to the Caucus. We certainly do see that this is more than one or two people acting. There's a record. And that's what I think this is so important about how many people are turning out, because as important as George Floyd's life is, and our hearts are broken that his life was taken, it's about a pattern of behavior. So, I would use the word pattern. We will see how the Black Caucus will want to present this.
I'll tell you this, speaking of systemic. I had the privilege, and some of you know this, to go with the Black Caucus to Ghana last summer. It was the 400th anniversary of the first slaves coming across the ocean – I don't say to America, because America didn't even, you know, didn't exist then, it wasn't the United States – just coming across the ocean.
These people were kidnapped, or purchased, placed in dungeons, beneath the dignity of a human being. You wouldn't even – it was horrible, horrible these dungeons. And we spent time in a dungeon. You can just imagine how awful it was with the number of people for the length of time.
And if you survived that, because people died there, if you survived that, you were put on a death ship to cross the ocean, to leave the Door of No Return, that's what it said behind you, the Door of No Return, leave your family you may never probably see again, cross the ocean on a death ship. And if you survived that, you were sold into slavery, for a couple hundred years, your family. If you survived that, you're some sturdy stock, I would say, a blessing to America, but nonetheless victims of Jim Crow and other things.
I wish you could all go to Selma and to Birmingham and to Montgomery and see the history there as we all were, just most recently in March.
And in one of the things in Bryan Stevenson's, one of his museums, he has two, the lynching museum and another museum, in one of them – this is something that I can never get out of my mind – there are little children, little children speaking, and they are little children, holding hands, and they are saying, ‘Mama? Mama? Has anyone seen our mother?’ Separated from their children, separated from their children, parents separated from their children.
So, you want to talk systemic, we're talking a long way back and a lot of injustice in it all. It is sad to see when those children were separated from their parents in Mexico that we could even think that that was an okay idea. We just had to listen to the voices of the children.
So, there's a lot that we have to redress in how we go forward. But maybe the sacrifice of George Floyd's life, sadly, is something that just takes us to a new and better place in how we address all of this.
Yes, sir, you had a question?
Q: Have you talked to any of your Chairmen, whether it be Adam Smith or the Oversight Committee, about potentially calling General Mattis or any of the other generals who have spoken out recently?
Speaker Pelosi. Chairman Smith is the Chairman, for those of you, he's the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He has put out a statement earlier this week about calling in the current Secretary of Defense Esper and calling in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley. He said that.
Today, when he was asked about after Mattis, my understanding, the statement was, first we're going to start with the current people in place and then we'll see where we go from there.
But everyone is very proud of the patriotism, the courage of General Mattis, Secretary Mattis. I guess General must be a big title. Almost anybody can be a Secretary, but a General, that's something else. So, I don't know if that will follow, but he's going to follow up on his announcement earlier in the week, yeah.
As you know, all the committees have asked for things. The Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, has asked – it's like a 16‑page letter of things, a long letter, talking about the Secret Service – did I mention the Secret Service, another agency of government doing law enforcement in the Capital – about the role of the Secret Service in all of this.
So, different chairs have had different pieces of this. But to your question about Mattis, that's the most current information that I have.
Q: Madam Speaker, there have been a number of protesters with defund police signs. And in Los Angeles the city is considering diverting $150 million from police to various other programs. I'm not entirely sure what they are. I'm curious what you think of that, the policy of that and that movement, which seems to be gaining steam in some of these protests.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I did hear of Los Angeles, that's about almost one‑tenth of the budget, it's about $1.3‑ish billion, so that would be one‑tenth of that.
Again, I'd refer to the Congressional Black Caucus as to how they want to prioritize. It’s a question of curating some of these, some of these overlap, prioritizing and then deciding in how many different bills will they appear.
Some of them may have some bipartisan support right away and others may need some more work in that regard. So we shall see.
Q: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Congresswoman Ocasio‑Cortez has announced support for Jamaal Bowman over Chairman Eliot Engel. What does it mean that she may be standing up against some of the incumbents in your own party?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, all I know, what it means is that I firmly support Eliot Engel for Congress and I support Alexandria for Congress as well. I think the people of New York are very blessed to have them both in the Congress.
Chairman Engel is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He also has the unique privilege, which is unique and it wouldn't happen again, it just happened in terms of his term here, that he is also not only the Chairman of Foreign Affairs, he is a senior Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. That wouldn't happen again. That's a lot of power. But he is in that position.
So, he does a great job for New York and I wish him well in his election, as I wish her well in her election.
Staff. Last question.
Q: Madam Speaker, regarding the scene of soldiers on the Lincoln Memorial –
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: I was there yesterday. Were you even informed that this was going to happen?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no. And I would like to know who they are. Are they military? Are they National Guard?
Q: I was told D.C. National Guard.
Speaker Pelosi. Hmm?
Q: I was told that some were D.C. National Guard.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, that would be hard because – and that's part of the complication.
One of the things I'm going to ask the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee to do is to enable the Mayor of Washington to be able to call up the D.C. National Guard. And that's why we're asking, by what authority is the President sending people from these other states into D.C.? Who do they report to? Do they report to their governors? Is there a chain of command here?
But I think what they did on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was so stunning, that's why the word militarization is in my letter. It looked – it was scary.
Now, my daughter Alexandra, who is a journalist and a filmmaker, many years in the news, I say she crossed over to the other side. They say, does that mean she became a Republican? I said, no, she crossed over to the other side, she went into the news business.
She was in Lafayette Square on Monday night and she called me after a certain period of time and she said, ‘Mom, you can't even believe what happened here. There was no trouble, it was all peaceful. And then all of a sudden these people came in and were pushing people and hitting them with batons.’ And she thought she had tear gas in her eyes because she couldn't – you know, she was incapacitated for a while and she called me after.
They're saying now they didn't have tear gas. But they had these pellets that exploded and had the impact of tear gas. Whether that qualifies or not, I don't know. It just enables them to have deniability. But the fact is they had the impact of tear gas and they were roughing up people for no reason. And they crossed a threshold with that. And then to make room for whatever it was to follow.
So, I think that they made a couple of mistakes in that 24‑hour period. While I have great respect for our men and women in uniform, I don't think it was appropriate to have them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I don't think it was appropriate for people to rough people up in Lafayette Square who were demonstrating peacefully so that the President could come through and do his staged event at St. John's – which was magnificently addressed by the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, of this area, of being inappropriate.
And I was very proud of the Catholic Archbishop the next day when the President visited the Shrine of Pope John Paul – Saint Pope John Paul – and he said this. And I think it says – it really echoes the words of the Bishop of Washington, but – I don't think I have it. Do I have it? I want you to hold on for a second because you have to hear this. I don't seem to have it. Oh, here we are, hiding under here.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued a statement on the President's visit to the Shine of Saint John Paul II.
‘I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call on us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we may disagree.
‘Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.’
It's a funny thing that the White House put out some kind of statement saying that the President there with a Bible at St. John's was the equivalent of Winston Churchill going to the ruins of London or George W. Bush at 9/11. I rest my case.
We do need – I quoted Ecclesiastes, a time, a time to heal. This is a time to heal. Let's hope that holding that Bible something by osmosis or something may have gotten into the President about healing, which is Ecclesiastes in the Bible, a time to heal. It even says in Ecclesiastes, did you ever know this, I didn't and I've read it many times, but in this version it says, a time to embrace and a time not to embrace. He must have been foreseeing what we are going through now.
But President Obama spoke so beautifully after the murder of Eric Garner. Right now, unfortunately, we see too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. And he says this is ‘not just a Black problem or a brown problem or a Native American [problem]. This an American problem. When anybody in the country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem.’
And then President George W. – George Herbert Walker Bush, the father, he said this after the Rodney King beating.
‘Those terrible scenes stir us all to demand an end to gratuitous violence and brutality. Law enforcement officials cannot place themselves above the law that they are sworn to defend. It was sickening to see the beating that was rendered and there's no way, no way in my view, to explain that away. It was outrageous.’
Time, time, time, time, a time to heal.
Thank you all very much.