Pelosi Remarks at House Democratic Leadership Press Conference Concluding the 2016 Democratic Issues Conference ‘United for Opportunity’
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and congratulate you and Mr. Crowley for an excellent Issues Conference. United for Opportunity – that’s not only the title of our conference this week going forward it is a description of our House Democratic Caucus over the years. And we express our determination to stay united for the good of the American people. Not only did one of our speaker pose the question why, one of our invocations did in terms of Keith Ellison. Why? What is your statement of purpose? Why did you decide to dedicate your life to the public good? And so that is the why: our purpose is to meet the needs of the American people in a way that – again, as Xavier said – takes us into the future.
So here we are with this conference, which I just thought was one of the best in terms of the unity of the Caucus, the attitude of the Members in terms of being united. It had vision, of course hearing from the President and the Vice President but also the vision each Member brings to all of this: a vision of a future where many more people participate in the prosperity of our country – a future that respects God’s creation in terms of our responsibilities to future generations to pass on the planet in a serious way, a better way. The list goes on and on. We have the vision. Our Chairman and Vice Chair provided us with experts to keep us up to date on the knowledge so that we make the right judgment. So, we had the vision, our dream, we had knowledge to base our judgment on, and we have a plan. We’re dreamers with a plan that’s manifested by our leadership who are here – and Steny [Hoyer] had to go off to another engagement but our other Members of leadership and indeed, every Member of our Caucus. Dreamers with a plan. Vision, knowledge, judgment, a plan, strategic thinking.
But really important to how we communicate with the American people is the emotional connection we make with them. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room where there was a stronger bond, an emotional connection than the Vice President talking about his role and the Members recognizing his role in the fight against cancer. Your public policy makes a difference. Allocation of resources makes a different. Freedom of scientific investigation makes a difference. Collaboration – it requires leadership, it requires a sense of purpose as to how we do this in a public/private way that recognizes that our institutions of higher learning are places where much research is done – but much of that research is funded by the National Institutes of Health – but also respects what the private sector is doing.
So, it is the example of the importance of a public role, a recognition of the private roles, a sense of urgency for the American people and personal stories. Mark Takai, our colleague from Hawaii, was receiving treatment at Hopkins in the morning – and I don’t think he would mind us saying it – treatment in the morning at Johns Hopkins, speaking about this with the Vice President at lunch. So, again, why are we here, what is our purpose? We know what that is. And it all relates to the well-being of the American people. So, I thank our Chairman and our Vice Chair for a truly excellent Caucus [retreat] that focused on our vision, gave us information and knowledge about how to do things in a more entrepreneurial way with some of the speakers who presented. It was very informative and strengthened our plan on how we go forward to connect in an emotional way. With that, I’m pleased to yield to our distinguished Assistant Leader Mr. Clyburn who was very much a part of all of this discussion as a former chair of the Caucus, as a former House Democratic Whip in the majority. And now our Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn.
Q: Madam Leader, Robert Lang, WBAL Baltimore. Welcome home, first of all. On the presidential race, I’ve talked to a lot of supporters of Senator Sanders, and on the Republicans’ side, Mr. Trump, and all of them say one of the reasons they’re supporting the candidate they do is that the establishment – whether it’s Democratic or Republicans – isn’t meeting their needs, isn’t addressing their concerns. First, what do you say to that? And secondly, does your Caucus, does the Republican Caucus share the blame for creating that attitude?
Leader Pelosi. Well first of all, thank you for your welcome back to Baltimore. Isn’t it a great city? Don’t you feel very comfortable here? I think it was a wonderful choice, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman. I can’t wait to spend a little more time outside the hotel in Baltimore.
The fact is, is there is a disillusionment with government in general. As I’ve said to, perhaps, some of you – yesterday, here – since 2000, what did we have? We had 9/11. And the reaction to it is to go to Afghanistan and then to Iraq, and all of the failures – the serious mistake that was for our country to do that. We had Katrina, where there was a failure. At the time, we were in the campaign in ’05 saying it was an Administration – Bush Administration – of incompetence, corruption and cronyism. And then along comes Katrina, where somebody, his roommate, is the head of FEMA, who has absolutely no competence to do that job. And so, we had a natural disaster and we had a manmade disaster after that.
Among other things, we had the meltdown of the financial services industry and that was because of the policies of the Bush Administration: laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez faire. We believe in capitalism; we believe in free markets. We do not believe in no supervision, no regulation, no self-policing in the industry.
That left a very severe scar on the mentality of the American people. For many people, they lost their homes, their jobs, living off their savings, their pensions at risk. Can they send their children to school? And what did we do? We had to correct the situation with the TARP, where the vision they had was that we bailed out the banks, [but] we did not bail out Main Street. But the fact is we did bail out whole economy. So they see all of this and they are like: “Well, what good is happening for me?”
If I think we had a shortcoming in all of this, it is that we did not message correctly. We are not fear-mongers. It’s not – we do not have it as a natural trait to go out there and say: “You should see how really bad it is,” and that they are up to do doing this again. I think it’s really important in this campaign that the public understand that the Republicans are very much on the course of reversing Dodd-Frank, of wanting more tax cuts and the rest for special interests and the rest that will take us to a place where our economy would be weakened.
But having said that, under the leadership of Barack Obama and measures that we took as a Democratic Caucus in the House and in the Senate – practically every time with no Republican votes – we have what Mr. Luján was alluding to: unemployment in half; the deficit 70 percent reduced, from 1.4 trillion to 500 and some billion, we still want it to go lower, but going drastically in the right direction; an auto industry that was on its heels, and now it’s leading the world, when we were hoping to have double digit sales of autos in 2009-2010, we now have 17 million cars this year, record breaking. The list goes on and on, and it’s a very long one. But I’ll just allude to those points.
So, we are the strongest economy in the world. Those countries that exercised austerity are not coming back the way we came back from ’08. But ’08 was a product of Republican policies that were about trickle-down, give it all to the high end and special interests, let it trickle down. If it does, that would be good. If it doesn’t, so be it. Those were the words of our Speaker at the time: “So be it.” Well it didn’t. And not only didn’t it trickle down, it melted down.
So you can understand why I think the Occupiers and the Tea Party had that element in common. And you see some of that in the presidential race on the Republican side. I think Bernie Sanders has a very positive message, a very positive message. While we can have our disagreements about one thing or another, it’s about fairness, it’s about opportunity. And we are united for opportunity. So no, I don’t say that – and I think the press has made this some kind of equivalence thing. No. These people have a decision, to have a trickle-down world rather than a middle class world with middle class economics. This isn’t just to talk to the middle class. This is essential to the success of our economy: unless the middle class has purchasing power, unless the middle class has consumer confidence and is willing and confident to consume – we’re a 70 percent consumer economy. We’re not going to turn around. So this is for the good of the people, but it’s also essential to the success of our economy. So, what responsibility we have for not pointing out more clearly what they were about in the interest of not inspiring fear but in trying to instill confidence that we can fight this out because if they want to take it there – if they want to take it there, we are fully prepared because nothing less is at stake than the community – the community that is America. And that’s why, I think, that we have in this campaign the opportunity to talk about – is this capitalism just bottom-line capitalism, rather than shareholder capitalism versus stakeholder capitalism, where decisions are made in our economy that recognize not only the bottom line for the shareholders and the CEOs but also the employees, the customers, the community-at-large?
Chairman Becerra. Robert, I’m going to have to stop you there because we are going to have to break really quickly, and I think all of these people – let’s see if we can get one more question.
Leader Pelosi. They’re reminding me that I had a cup of coffee this morning.
It’s just the thing. But let me just say this before the next question, since Mr. Crowley – one of the really important parts of this was also how we kept coming back to our responsibility to ‘protect and defend.’ That’s the Oath of Office we take, whether it was in the President’s remarks, in the remarks of our Members as they participated in panels and also, Mr. Crowley’s USO session yesterday, which was such a success that if you didn’t come early, you might not have been able to get in.
Q: Madam Leader, do you perceive a potential softness down ballot, if Bernie Sanders is the nominee? Or for that matter, if Senator Clinton is the nominee because there are some who are more aligned with Bernie Sanders – and how that affects House races going into this fall?
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Luján? Would you want to respond?
Congressman Luján. Chad, I think we’ll get a chance to visit a little bit later, as well.
Q: That’s why I brought it up… [inaudible]
You always say not to talk about politics in the building, so…
Congressman Luján. What I say is, look, elections are about contrasts, as well. And, you know, if the premise is that Mr. Sanders is going to be the nominee – you know, who is he going to be running against? Trump or Cruz?
And so, I’ll tell you what. I think the Republicans, as we look at what’s going to be happening down ballot here – that’s where the concern is, as well. But in the end, what’s going to happen is – how are we able to bring together the electorate around the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee, as well, and see what we can do to put that together?
We are in a much stronger place with Democrats because our debates are about an exchange of ideas, as opposed to seeing who can out-insult one another. And last night, I had to watch two different television sets to be able to get the full debate. That’s the side show that we’re seeing, and truly, last night, it was truly evident.
Leader Pelosi. Let me just say this one thing about our candidates. We’re so very proud of the demeanor and the focus on issues and values, really, of the three – Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley. I’m very proud of the way Senator Sanders has expanded the universe of young people, especially, interested in the political process. I also think that his suggestions are excellent, but one that I want to point out is his focus on reducing the role of money in politics. Everything we talk about, whether it’s our economy, whether it’s fairness, opportunity, saving the planet from degradation, the list goes on and on – are affected by the role of big, dark money in politics. And that’s why we’re very proud of [Congressman] John Sarbanes, in whose city we are gathered here, as well, for his leadership role and again, taking on the big money issue.
And we have a DARE – disclose where this money comes from, amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, reform the system to give bigger voice to smaller donors and empower to stop what the Republicans are doing to block people at the vote. As I keep saying: we want to rock the vote, they want to block the vote. How could it be? How could they say, “face our founders,” much less themselves in the mirror to say, “I think it’d really be important if we diminish participation in our political process?” Those founders sacrificed their lives, their liberty, their sacred honor for democracy – a government of the many, not a government of the money. I’m glad that Senator Sanders is making this – all of the candidates are. But, I think that’s one of the draws to his campaign that we must ensure that it will be there in the general election, whoever the nominee is.
Vice Chair Crowley. Just really quick – it’s just that Senator Clinton has already, as well, recognized the value that Bernie Sanders has brought to the campaign in energizing those young people. I’ve supported former Secretary of State Clinton, and I think, in the end, those folks will come home to her because I think, Chad, your question really supposes he’s going to be our candidate. I don’t believe so, but that’s up to the people of Iowa, New Hampshire, and then New York, and South Carolina, and those folks make the determination.
Leader Pelosi. I think history will record that Bernie Sanders’ candidacy had a very wholesome effect on our political process, and we’re very proud of that. Thank you all.
Q: Madam Leader, say “hello” to your brother.
Leader Pelosi. I will, I will.
Q: I hope he’s doing okay.
Leader Pelosi. He’s doing really well. I will tell him you said “hello.” I tried to get him here last night but the snow and these delays.
Q: Sure, sure. I hope he’s doing well.