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 morning, everyone. It's a wonderful morning. We had such a good day in the Congress yesterday. I want to salute my Caucus for the commitment to values that they demonstrated in accepting the President's budget, the Build Back Better initiative.
Again, it was a team effort for us to win the vote. I want to salute Steny Hoyer, our distinguished Majority Leader; Mr. Clyburn, our distinguished Whip; Katherine Clark, Assistant Speaker; and all of the Members of the Leadership who worked so hard on this, because it wasn't just about that vote. It's about how we proceed and make it the law within the next couple of months, six weeks, whatever.
Really, the vision of the President. He had said, ‘I want to do what I can in a bipartisan way on infrastructure, but it is not the totality of my vision.’ My vision is to Build Back Better, not only with physical infrastructure, but with personal infrastructure. I'm paraphrasing now. That wasn't a direct quote.
And so, in our legislation we deal with the climate crisis in a more important way. We will deal with the Building Back Better for women, and they're talking about child care and Child Tax Credit, universal pre-K, home health care and workforce development. These are not just about women, but women will predominantly benefit because women predominantly bear the responsibility for many of those important priorities in our society.
So I'm really very, very excited. I always had confidence. I never doubted that we would, that it would – the President's budget would prevail, because of the commitment that our Caucus has to America's working families. That is what unifies us. Whatever our differences, at the end of the day our commitment to America's working families is the unifier. So people say, ‘Well, you keep them together.’ No, our values keep the House Democrats together. So I'm excited, very much excited about that.
What also happened yesterday was historic. We passed the Voting Rights [Advancement] Act on the Floor of the House. Now it will go on to the Senate, and hopefully it will see success there. This is called the John Lewis [Voting Rights] Advancement Act. It is historic in that, when we were in the Minority – let me put this in perspective – when we were in the Minority in 2006, we wrote a bill, worked in a bipartisan way, the Black Caucus taking the lead, to present the Voting Rights Act that passed at that time, signed by President Bush, and became law in 2007.
It was almost unanimous. I think it was unanimous in the Senate, but it was almost unanimous in the House. We had nearly 400 votes for it, not even a question of any partisanship. Unfortunately, yesterday – and yesterday you did not see that bipartisanship, and it was really sad, because this is fundamental to our democracy: that we respect the sanctity of the vote. That was what John Lewis's life and risk of death was about.
And the – so, in any event, all the more necessary because of the assault on the Voting Rights Act that was made by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder – Holder, the then-Attorney General – and, again, the more recent decision earlier this summer by the Supreme Court on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. What could they be thinking? Thinking? Caring? I don't know. But whatever it is, if they're just saying that the Constitutional basis for the legislation – it was not ironclad enough, then we made sure that it was.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell has been working on this issue. As you know, she represents Selma in the Congress, so her connection to John Lewis, to voting rights and sacrifices made, is a great one, and I was so proud that she prevailed.
The John Lewis bill also had the great support of the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler; the Chair of the House Administration Committee, which does elections, et cetera, Zoe Lofgren; the good work of Mr. Butterfield in collecting the data for the Constitutional basis; as well as now Secretary Marcia Fudge, but she did that before she left the Congress – that was her basis last year.
Now, even with the election in 2020, we see even more need because of the actions taken during the election in 2020 and since, and all the more need – not just for H.R. 4, but for H.R. 1, now S. 1, in the Senate. The suppression of the vote is – not only the suppression of the vote, the nullification of elections that they are putting forth. There are probably 20 laws – bills that had become law, that had been enacted, hundreds that had been introduced to suppress the vote.
Why? And then you just have to wonder, why would they not want to make it easier for people to vote? Just because they want to suppress the vote among people of color, they are also suppressing the vote for everyone else by their, again, suppression of number of polling places, hours that are there, the list goes on and on.
So we're very optimistic about what we said in our Preamble: ‘We the People.’ It has to be the people doing this. And over time, over time, there have been efforts to expand freedom, and now the Republicans want to contract freedom.
This is the week – this week we are observing Women's Equality Week, when 101 years ago women won the right to vote. At the time, they said women ‘given’ the right to vote. Not given, no, not given. Fought for, starved for, marched for, worked so hard over decades to achieve the 19th Amendment. So, tomorrow – last week was the day in Tennessee when the vote was taken, in Tennessee, to take us to the number of states needed to ratify. This week is the enactment. So, for one week we celebrate. But as we celebrate, we have to protect the vote, not only in terms of ending suppression but ending nullification. Martin Luther King, Reverend King, he talked about nullification in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. So this is something that has been there in their Jim Crow world that they want to resurrect.
So, again, I salute Terri Sewell. I salute all who have worked on the legislation. Steve Cohen, whose committee put forth – subcommittee put forth the legislation last week. The list goes on. While we were presenting our press conference on it yesterday, we had the honor of the presence of the legislators from Texas there who are seeing firsthand the brutal attempts to suppress the vote in their state. We were honored by their presence, inspired by their courage and determined to get this to become the law of the land.
I talked about how proud I was of my Caucus and their commitment to America's working families, and I just want to talk about where we go next. We now are in – we have been for a while, but now coming to closure on some of the particulars within the bill.
The President and the Senate sent us legislation about a budget resolution for $3.5 trillion. Within it are some of the things I’ve talked about before that relate to workforce development, Building Back Better with women in the workplace, addressing the climate crisis in a way that was not addressed at all in the infrastructure bill – very minor, just electrification, and just other – electrification is important, but it is not the totality of what we have to do. And we may want to do more.
So, we had at our Caucus a couple days ago – what's today? Wednesday. Yeah, Monday. The Chairmen once again presenting what the debate will be in their Committees, what the priorities are. Our goal is by September 15th that we will have every committee reporting.
Now, what was important about yesterday is you – we could do all of that, we could mark up bills, but we could not report to the Rules Committee, excuse me, to the Budget Committee, without passing a budget bill – and a budget bill that retains the privilege of 51 votes in the Senate. That's why yesterday was fraught with so much meaning, to protect the privilege of 51 votes, enabling, in a timely fashion, the Committees to report.
So the Members have now had not only ongoing, but continue to be alerted to make their voices heard in terms of the substance in the bill and the pay-fors, because we want to pay for this bill. I'd like to have it totally paid for. We'll see what is possible. The Ways and Means Committee under Richie Neal has been working with the Senate and others. I won't go into his connections – his contacts. So, Members are making their views known on what the pay-fors can be and that some are new, some are pretty standard fare, but it's a question of how much. So that's what will be happening, and some committees will be marking up before September 15th, but everyone by September 15th.
We write a bill with the Senate because it's no use our doing a bill that is not going to pass the Senate, in the interest of getting things done – results, getting results. So, we don't want to go as slow as the slowest ship, but we also don't want to underutilize any resource, and that resource would be what the Senate rules will allow to proceed.
It's pretty exciting. It's pretty exciting. And, again, it goes back to the vision of the President, a vision that he discussed in his campaign, that he made known in his State of the Union.
You know, people ask me – I bring this up because it's Women's Equality Week. At the State of the Union, there were two of us, the very distinguished Vice President Kamala Harris, of whom we're very, very proud, especially as Californians, but nonetheless the country, very proud. And people asked me afterward, ‘How did it feel to be up there with two women standing behind the President in the State of the Union?’
And I said: ‘Well, it was wonderful, yeah, but what was even more wonderful is that the President's speech was about advancing women in the workplace.’ Child care, family and medical leave, Child Tax Credit, all of those things, workforce development, universal pre-K. It was a speech that not only had the fact that two women were there, but that all women would be served in a very positive way as we go forward.
It's transformational, the amount – the priorities, the amounts and the rest. It's transformational. So we want to get that done. Again, I want to salute the Caucus because they always make me proud, and once again they did yesterday. I always have confidence in what they're going to do.
We told you about the Floor recap and the rest, Build Back Better, okay. So, right now we continue to have the challenge of COVID. As you know, the variant is – the Delta variant is threatening.
I salute the FDA. Janet Woodcock did a wonderful job bringing this full approval forward in a timely fashion, respecting all of the scientific requirements that are there. And now that we have the full approval, for those who were reluctant because it didn't have full approval and those organizations who did not feel that they could require the vaccine until there was full approval, hopefully that will give us some more momentum.
As children go back to school, this is really important, that adults who can't – people of 12 and over, my grandchildren – that they will be vaccinated so that they don't put younger children at risk until there can be approval for a vaccine for them.
But, anyway, in the meantime, let's just crush this virus. And people have to know that as it spreads, that's a way for it to mutate and that we don't need another variant, but we always have to be prepared.
So I congratulated the President yesterday on the fact that the vaccine now sees full approval. And, again, very important for some of what we have in the Rescue package at the beginning of the year to take effect in the schools, for distancing and ventilation and weigh other safety precautions for the children.
Again, when we talk about challenges that we have in our country, we have fought these fires in the West, floods in Tennessee. The President approved a major disaster declaration for Tennessee. The middle Tennessee region has had flooding and deaths. In California, we have the River – in the West we have the River and Dixie Fires, which the President has declared major disaster for as well. And so we have to understand how, again, many of us think if we take – if we can address the climate crisis, we can deal in a better way to prevent some of this.
But, in any event, in the immediate here and now, our sympathy goes out to those in Tennessee who have lost their loved ones. It's very sad. Eighteen people have lost their lives so far, and people – their families and those who have lost some of their livelihood and homes, we sympathize with similarly. And we're fortunate so far in California in terms of – it's not fortunate to lose your home and your job and everything else, but containing any loss of life.
It takes me down to – now to Afghanistan. Our hopes and prayers and thoughts are with the people there. We salute our men and women in uniform, our diplomats, our intelligence people who have worked so hard in the Afghanistan arena for a number of years and especially right now.
Again, I salute my Members, Jason Crow taking the lead on legislation, ALLIES, and hope that – to help those who helped us, and hopefully as many of those people will be evacuated as possible, hopefully all. But this is a tragic situation.
I've been there eight or nine times, I forget, and most of the time we visited women in the hinterlands. We would go on Mother's Day under the leadership of Susan Davis, our former colleague, and we would want to see – with all the respect in the world for all the women who advanced as judges and doctors and heads of universities and leading figures, we also were visiting the poorest of the poor women and seeing what their aspirations were for their daughters to be able to go to school and the rest.
So we have changed Afghanistan in that respect, in that women have seen the light of day, but now that is under threat and that's – we want to make sure that there's a big bright light shining on Afghanistan if they wish to participate globally in any way, the respect for women and people in general, a factor in all of that.
So, with that, I'll take questions.
Q: Madam Speaker, when did you learn that Congressman Moulton and Congressman Meijer traveled to Afghanistan? And is that what prompted your letter instructing Members not to travel to the region?
Speaker Pelosi. When did I learn? Around the same time – a little before it was in the public domain. I will tell you why it wasn't in the – we didn't make it known: because it would be dangerous for them. So, a matter of hours. But still, until they were airborne, it would not have been safe for them.
The Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, there's a real concern about Members being in the region. And so with the, shall we say, shall we say, knowledge of the Secretary of Defense as to what the risk would be to these Members: A) the resources necessary to facilitate their visit and to protect them was an opportunity cost of what we needed to do to be evacuating as many people as possible.
So, it's not just about them going to Afghanistan, but even them going to the region, because there's a call on our resources diplomatically, politically, militarily and the rest in the region as well. So, this is deadly serious. We do not want Members to go.
Q: So, you are disappointed in them specifically? You wish they hadn't gone?
Speaker Pelosi. I haven't heard what their – you know, in other words, let me just say, I think my letter speaks for itself in terms of, people shouldn't be going there.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, ma'am?
Q: Well, just on that front, I mean, have you spoken to them since their visit?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I haven't. I don't – I guess they're back now. Are they? I haven't spoken to them since, no.
Q: Do you see their trip as a distraction?
Speaker Pelosi. I don't think this is much of a distraction. I mean, the point is, is that we don't want anybody to think that this is a good idea and that they should try to follow suit.
Again, I haven't – I have been busy. It's an important thing. We wanted to make sure they were safe for themselves, but also for what consequences could flow and ramification if something happened to them while they were there.
So, they have to make their own case as to why they went and this or that. But it is – it was not, in my view, a good idea.
Q: Do you intend to speak with them then?
Speaker Pelosi. We'll see. We'll see. I mean, there are other – they have their Committees.
See, when you – when you go – this is not just like, ‘I think I'm going to go to Afghanistan.’ You need the approval of your Committee Chair in order to do that. We've put out the word to Committee Chairs. There ain't gonna be no planes or this or that for people going to the region or any facilitation.
See, the Defense Department has to protect, but the State Department has to facilitate. Really? We're trying to get people out.
So, again, without having a fuller knowledge of – I don't think they had any Committee approval. I don't know that. I don't know what happened on the Republican side. But my understanding is they didn't have Committee approval on the Democratic side.
But in any event, you know, interesting. I don't think a major distraction, because we put an end to any thought that anybody was going there right away.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: Good morning. Thank you. And to that end on Afghanistan, with this herculean effort to try to withdraw these folks and get people out safety and evacuate them, what does it say about the fact that two Members, a Democrat and Republican, and I have talked to a number of offices who are working the phones constantly to get people out, that they feel so desperate that people need to be evacuated that they need to freelance on their own? Does that speak to this problem about the evacuation?
Speaker Pelosi. No. I think it speaks to that they wanted to freelance on their own. I would not make anything bigger of this.
We have a big challenge to get people out safely and to get them – to get them – I talked to Malala last week. You know Malala, she's the heroine of the world, personal sacrifice, great leadership. And we talked about women and girls, which is part of what her foundation does.
But she basically, in our conversation and in a follow up letter, said the most important thing right now is for us to have a strong – the U.S. to have a strong military presence at the airport and the opportunity for people to get to the airport. It is not in furtherance of that strength for us to have Members going over there.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: Mr. Crow, who you mentioned, is leading the effort in your Caucus on this.
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: He said yesterday he's against withdrawing our troops by the 31st. He said, ‘If we aren't willing to use the military to protect U.S. citizens and our partners and our friends, then what do we use it for?’ Do you think that this is the wrong decision to stick by this deadline if there are potentially thousands, tens of thousands of Afghans, partners, their families that are left behind?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, we obviously have made a promise, and we want to honor it. And I have enormous respect for Mr. Crow. He's been a leader, just visionary. He saw what was happening early on and was a leader in passing the legislation in a way to facilitate.
The judgment about leaving is a judgment that the President has made, and he has to balance the equities of what is the threat to our military and the people at the airport versus the advantage of staying. And that's kind of what he said yesterday. But I think we may – more will unfold in that regard.
So, I'm not – I think at our most – I can't go into what happened at the Caucus yesterday, but one impression that one might take of people coming out, which I was there for, but people coming out, is that people really wanted to encourage the President to stay longer. But he has to, as I say, weigh the equities of the danger versus the advantage, and I trust his judgment.
Q: Madam Speaker?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: I'm curious about your reaction to – your reflection on this week with the Gottheimer crew. You have been through a lot of these –
Speaker Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: In the last fifteen years. I'm curious what your reflection is on what they frame is a deal, you say is not much of a deal.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, no, it's not – it's a clarification. It's a clarification. But it is – look, we had a vision – we have a vision about how we go forward. It is in grasp because of the reconciliation. There are those who would like to see the reconciliation be smaller, and some of that from the outside had an impact on some of the debate.
But I have tremendous respect for all of our Members and what their views are and what they bring to the table. And what, at the end of the day, what had to prevail was the President's vision and the needs of America's working families, and they saw that.
We would have had to pass the infrastructure bill by October 1st anyway – by September 30th anyway, because the authorizations expire for highway and some of the things in the bill, and so we're talking about a couple of days earlier.
But, again, their participation was constructive. I welcome it. And I was pleased that we were able to get 100 percent of the Democrats to vote.
Staff. Last question.
Speaker Pelosi. And, again, let me take it back to our colleagues. The steam that was in our Caucus was to get this done – for the President, for the American people, for America's working families.
And our unity – as I always say, ‘Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power.’ We had our diversity. We had our discussions. We were respectful all around. And our unity was our power.
You say that's it? That's it.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.