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REP. PELOSI: Good morning.
REP. PELOSI: As we gather here this morning, the House is prepared to pass -- let me tell you -- get the title correct -- the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Protection Act, the most comprehensive legislation yet to keep Americans in their homes. By expanding homeownership opportunities and protecting families from foreclosure, we are keeping the American dream of homeownership alive. By restoring confidence in the housing market, our economy can begin to grow and create jobs for the American people again.
I want to read to you a quote from Chairman Bernanke. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said, "Doing what we can to avoid preventable foreclosures is not just in the interest of the lenders and the borrowers. It's in everyone's interest." We hope the president will work with the Congress so that it can speed up relief to those families facing foreclosure, not mischaracterize the achievements of Congress.
Actually, I said to my staff this morning, the president's probably getting writer's cramp from signing all of the bills that we have sent him. In just the last six months, of course, we've -- going to back to the energy -- fuel efficiency standards in our energy bill, which was historic in its scale, and then the beginning of the year with the stimulus package, putting hundreds of dollars -- and perhaps thousands in some cases, depending on the number of children -- into the hands of 130 million American families with our recovery rebates which are going out now.
But just talking about this week, the president signed major legislation to ensure that students and families continue to have access to all federal student loans that they're eligible for, no matter what happens in the financial markets. And we have sent the president legislation banning discrimination on gender -- genetic information.
We sent him a transportation bill that will help create 40,000 new and good-paying jobs.
All of these bills were passed by the Congress with strong bipartisan support. Hope this housing bill will be signed by the president. Let's work together with the resident to do what we need to do to help America's families.
I keep saying it over and over. Many people are concerned about losing their jobs, many concerned about losing their homes, mostly everyone concerned about losing their standard of living. The statistics on it are absolutely stunning. And I'll be happy to refer to some of them if you -- in the course of our Q&A.
Q Madame Speaker, you have an interesting guest on the House floor today -- Senator Obama. How did he end up there? Was he invited? What is he doing?
REP. PELOSI: I don't know. But we have floor privileges in the Senate, and I could go over there. Well, of course, I could go over there, but any member could go to the Senate floor. And any Senate member can come to the House.
I don't know if he was invited by members. I suppose he probably was. But he and Senator Clinton are always welcome, as well as all of the other senators, on the House floor -- Democrats or Republicans.
Q Are you at a stage now where you can drop your neutrality in this race and endorse one candidate or the other?
REP. PELOSI: No. No.
I do continue to be excited about the campaigns. I think both of our candidates are presenting themselves magnificently to the American people. Either one of them will be a great president of the United States. I know that one of them will be.
Me, I like combat. You know, I think the best training for campaigning is campaigning. So I think that as they have campaigned, the support in our country has grown for our Democratic message.
Look, a million, 100,000 people, something like that, Democrats, voted in Indiana. That was great, and a big strong vote in North Carolina of Democrats turning out.
So this is all very healthy. They are great candidates. As the primaries and caucuses play out, one of them will emerge as the winner. And then I will make my views known.
Q Senator Obama's appearance looked an awful lot like a victory lap.
REP. PELOSI: Do you think?
Q It really did. I don't know if you see it that way, but what do you think of that kind of show of force in front of everyone on the House floor?
REP. PELOSI: Force? (Chuckles.)
Q Not force, but it looked like a victory lap, he had --
REP. PELOSI: Matthew, on any given day, we will have a senator come over who is interested in a piece of legislation. Senator Vitter was here yesterday as we swore in our newest member of Congress -- (laughter) -- you laugh -- our newest member of Congress, Congressman Scalise from Louisiana. So at any time there might be a senator on the floor. They all attract some level of interest. Probably Senator Clinton and Senator Obama would attract the most.
Q Senator Obama --
REP. PELOSI: Last time we had guests -- a sort of a surprise guest was Vice President Gore when he came, and that was pretty exciting. At that time, I was able to go up to him and say, "Let me invite you back to my office." But I couldn't do that today because I had to come right here. I had important meeting with all of you.
Q Madame Speaker, Madame Speaker, you had quite a heated phone conversation with Harvey Weinstein, a strong Clinton supporter, about support for House candidates. And you've said that's your big priority. Are you concerned at all about the division here?
SPEAKER PELOSI: What was my big priority?
Q Reelecting House Democrats.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh, yes, yes. I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you said. Yeah, I thought -- I was thinking you were talking about children, health care, education, homeownership when you said my biggest --
Q Can you tell us about that phone conversation?
SPEAKER PELOSI: No, I think enough has been said about that phone conversation.
Q Madam Speaker, I cover the farm bill. I'd like to know is the conference report going to come up next week on the floor? And are you satisfied with the amount of commodity reforms that have been made in the farm bill, which has been a major criticism of the White House?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Am I satisfied, or would I have wanted more? I certainly would have wanted more reform. This is the bill that had the support to pass. I think significant reform is in the bill, both in terms of the supports, but also in terms of specialty crops, fresh fruit and vegetables, taking some of the focus to the coast -- a special interest to me in California. There's $1.3 billion for the fruits and -- fresh fruits and vegetables in it, the specialty crops as well, conservation, energy, again, in addition to the support.
My big interest was in the nutrition piece of it, and that's very large. I'm very pleased that it's gone up to $10 1/2 billion, as well as funding for the food pantries, because some of the nutrition is about food stamps, and many people are in desperate financial straits who are not eligible for food stamps. So the food pantry funding is important.
There are four ways in which this bill will lower grocery prices. So, you know, there's a lot recommend it. I think more reform is needed, and I'm sure it will be in the next farm bill.
But in the meantime, Collin Peterson, I think, crafted a bill that addressed the concerns across the board of our -- of the Congress. He worked in a bipartisan way and we expect to have a strong bipartisan vote. And Chairman Rangel was very instrumental in the pay-for side, making sure that the nutrition part of it was strong, as did Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. They worked closely with Ranking Member Goodlatte.
And we will be bringing the bill up next week, perhaps Wednesday.
Q Madame Speaker, on the farm bill, you talk about reform, there's -- you talked about reform, there's some concern that rich farmers get -- have gotten too much in terms of direct payments and subsidies. Is that a specific area? What is the threshold?
REP. PELOSI: Well, that's been greatly improved upon in the farm bill, as you know. And if you want, we will have Mr. -- because I haven't seen the final piece of paper. And as of yesterday afternoon I thought it was finished, and there were a couple more conversations after that. But in terms of the particulars, we will have something in print, I'm sure, pretty soon. But in terms of the policy, there is great improvement made as to who gets the supports.
Q Madame Speaker, does the election of Mr. Cazayoux in Louisiana and the possible election of Mr. Childers in Mississippi, both of whom are social conservatives on issues like abortion, does that indicate that the House Democrats will be becoming more conservative on those issues? And how will that voice be heard within the Democrats?
REP. PELOSI: Well, as I say to my candidates and to my members, "Your job description and your title are one and the same: representative. We expect to you come here to represent your districts." And they will vote accordingly when they are here. We work together in our caucus to find consensus on our issues of priority to us: growing our economy through innovation, strengthening our families through education and health care, building the infrastructure in America in a very green way to preserve our planet -- much of this dependent on innovation -- and honoring our first responsibility to protect the American people.
So we've had great consensus in our caucus on those issues; other issues, less consensus. But what it talks about is how that person will vote on his or her issues.
We were very excited to represent -- to welcome Mr. Foster, who took the speaker's seat, as you know, in Illinois a few weeks ago, and just last Saturday and swearing in on Tuesday Mr. Cazayoux. We expect them to be representatives.
Q Do you still think it's possible that by the Memorial Day break you'll have a war supplemental that not only will pass both houses of Congress, but one that the president can sign? Or will it take more time in June?
REP. PELOSI: I won't be able to answer for the president. That may come as a surprise to you.
Q But you have a --
REP. PELOSI: But we will bring up our bill next week, and we have enough time to do our bills. We had hoped to do it by today, but we still hadn't finished the housing bill. We'll take it up when we come back next week.
Q But isn't the real issue on the supplemental this problem you have with your conservative Blue Dog members? And how do you plan to iron that out?
REP. PELOSI: How we iron out everything: by working together. Our Blue Dogs are committed, as you know, as am I, to fiscal responsibility, no new deficit spending, pay as you go. Our Blue Dogs -- no one surpasses our Blue Dogs in our commitment -- their commitment to our veterans, and I'm sure we will be able to work something out.
Q They're saying the bill flies very directly in the face of -- (off mike) -- PAYGO and they are raising -- they're claiming -- (off mike) --
REP. PELOSI: Well, why don't we just --
Q -- the problems are with those provisions, with the thought they would go for it.
REP. PELOSI: Well, you know what? Why don't we just build our own consensus, and you will see what comes to the floor. But we'll have a very respectful conversation about it. I'm very proud of what we're doing in this bill in terms of -- I myself will not be voting for the war funding, but in terms of helping our veterans.
We have UI and GI, the GI Bill of Rights and the unemployment insurance. The unemployment insurance to meet the needs of those who have been hurt by this recession, and also the unemployment benefits help stimulate the economy. So that's a twofer.
As far as the GI Bill of Rights, every place I go in the country, people ask me about the GI Bill. When I travel in theater, the troops always ask me, "What is going to happen to me when I go home?" And this will send a strong message that we are going to welcome them home. We're going to say "thank you" to our vets. Now you can go to college if you wish.
So the GI bill and the unemployment insurance, two important pieces of this legislation that we'll be voting on next week. As I reiterate, though, I'll be voting against the war funding, for the conditions that we have in the bill about no permanent bases, troop readiness, no torture -- I think you have copies of what's in that -- and for the GI/UI piece of it.
Q (Off mike) -- a sharp division in the Caucus about the idea of whether the GI benefits should be paid for or not?
REP. PELOSI: Well, you know what, we'll see next week when we come to the floor what we have. I am very confident that next week we will come to the floor with a bill that has the full consensus of the Democrats, and hopefully can attract a large number of Republicans, as well. We'll then send it on to the Senate, the Senate will work its will, then it will probably come back to us, and then we'll send it to the president. And, yes, we intend to do that by Memorial Day break. And the president has 14 days to sign the bill after that.
Q Madame Speaker --
REP. PELOSI: Thank you all very much.
Q -- you collaborated with Newt Gingrich on a public service announcement, but Mr. Gingrich just sort of dropped a bombshell on Republicans the other day, said they're headed for disaster. At this time, what is your read on the way the congressional elections are going to shape up in the House?
REP. PELOSI: I don't want you to get the impression that things are too good around here, but -- (laughs) -- I feel very confident about where we are. The last almost 18 months, this Congress has acted in a strong bipartisan way to create jobs, to expand access to health care, to preserve our planet, to innovate to stay competitive in the world, and the legislation was all passed with strong bipartisan support. Not all of it was signed by the president. That record is holding each of our members in good stead. We go one election at a time.
So to answer your question, I feel very confident about the elections in November. I'm proud of our candidates. I'm proud of our incumbents. And we are --
Q Do you expect that you'll gain seats?
REP. PELOSI: Well, yeah, right now today I would say we would gain seats. I wouldn't venture a guess as to how many. But I do see November as a time of great victory for the Democrats. We will elect -- we'll have an historic election in whom we elect as president of the United States, either the first woman or the first African American, but a person who can unify America. I think we will increase our numbers in the Senate and in the House. But I'm not going to venture a guess as to how many numbers we'll increase in the House.
But we will have a strong, confident, predictable Democratic majority to take us forward, and then we'll be in 2010, 2012 and on the path to a strong Democratic leadership for a long time to come.
Thank you very much.