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Press Conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

PRESS CONFERENCE WITH HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA)

SUBJECT: HOUSE BUSINESS

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning. How are you?

The check is in the mail -- (chuckles) -- $250 to more than 50 million Americans for -- seniors and disabled vets -- yet again, another aspect of the American -- the recovery act -- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was passed earlier this year.

Across the country, whether I go to a child-care center or a site of a highway or whether we're talking about the new green economy or health IT, different (locations/vocations ?), or what we've done for veterans in that legislation, the recovery act is a gift that keeps on giving. And now -- and this -- right now, these checks are in the mail, and in June the checks for the disabled veterans will be there. And, of course, we hope that this will continue to stimulate the economy as it helps people make ends meet -- a very important part of that.

This week, also, in the past seven days, has been -- there's been good news for consumers and taxpayers. We've had the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights that we talked about last week. It passed at the end of last week. Today, we have the anti-fraud bill on the floor, which contains a commission to look into how the financial collapse occurred so that we can make sure that it doesn't ever happen again, get to the bottom of the causes of it. And then tomorrow we'll have an anti-predatory-lending bill, the mortgage reform and anti- predatory-lending bill.

So it's a -- as part of the president's initiatives to stabilize the economy, to protect the taxpayer and the consumer, we have three important pieces of legislation. As we go forward, we'll be focusing on our supplemental that will marked up in committee tomorrow, come to the floor next week, and then into the Senate. And then we are seriously into our committee work now for authorization and appropriation.

Aren't you glad the first hundred days are over? Wasn't that a pace? It must have been for you, too, covering it. But now into the regular order -- course, following the May district work period, we'll go into the appropriations. But we have to get ready for them, both on the authorizing side and the appropriating side.

So it's a pretty exciting time. I'm very pleased with the legislation that is ongoing for taxpayers and consumers, and I'm also very pleased that we continue to reap the benefits of the recovery act that was passed earlier this year.

With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have.

Q Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes?

Q Over the last several years, many of your members have been, obviously, very critical and opposed to the war in Iraq, but very supportive of the effort in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, as you know, Chairman Obey was very critical of how things are going, and he sort of put the administration on notice. Do you think Democrats and yourself are rethinking this -- the strong support you've had for Afghanistan as it continues to spiral downward?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, but Mr. Obey, by his own admission, was giving his own opinion. The legislation that will come before the committee to -- this week and the Congress next week has no timeline or anything like that. He was just speaking his own view, as he has made very, very clear.

I was in Iraq maybe a month and a half, two months -- excuse me -- Afghanistan about a month and a half, two months ago. And what was clear then is that, for seven and a half years, there has not been the focus that we need to have to make the American people safer, to stabilize and bring stability to the region.

Since then, the issue has grown enormously. As you know, at the time of September 11th, the U.S. went in. We overwhelmingly supported that. But what happened was really a rout of the Taliban and the al Qaeda, but not a defeat of them. And so they're alive and well and continue to be a threat seven and a half years later.

President Obama came in, refocused the efforts that we have there, and did so in a way that addressed the military initiatives, the governing -- governance issues, the reconstruction -- or, as some of you are quick to tell me, it's not reconstruction; the construction issues, because there wasn't much there before -- and the regional aspects of how we resolve the issues in the region: that to deal with Afghanistan, you have to deal with Pakistan. To deal with Pakistan, you have to deal with India. To deal with Afghanistan, you have to deal with the other "stans"; Russia; China; and also Iran.

So every -- all of those countries in that region have a stake in the stability of Afghanistan. Recognizing that, as you know, the president has appointed Richard Holbrooke as the special envoy to the region, and at last we have a plan. At last we have a plan, and I support the president's plan.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Madame --

Q Yes, Speaker. I'm wondering if you think that President Obama's appointment for his faith-based advisory council, Harry Knox, saying that the Pope was a discredited leader -- that that would disqualify him from being on that council?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I'm so sorry, I'm just totally unaware of that statement. I really don't know about that. But certainly His Holiness is head of an organization that has done more to alleviate poverty, eradicate disease, now addressing the climate-change issues and the rest. I certainly would -- I just am not familiar with the statement and the circumstance.

Yes, sir?

Q Madame Speaker, on climate change, you have Democratic leaders in the House sort of saying different things about whether we're going to have a vote this year, if we're going to meet Henry Waxman's Memorial Day deadline. You have a dozen Democrats on Energy and Commerce kind of -- sort of slowing that process down.

What are you doing as speaker to try and get this bill moving?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, as you know, this climate-change and energy-security issue has been my flagship issue as speaker, starting in the last -- my first term as speaker. And very -- we were very proud, in a bipartisan way, to pass the energy bill, which started us down this path -- first CAFE standard of reduction of emissions in 32 years in that legislation.

And now, under a new president who has this as the priority as well, I believe we will be successful. It is a bigger agenda than we had in the last Congress, because the president has made it one of his pillars in the budget: education, health care and the energy issue. I'm excited about it. I -- as I've said to my members, we're all going down this path together. This is not leaving anybody out. And that takes some time, but I believe it will be done this year.

Q But is the bill going to be by Memorial Day? Will we actually see --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well -- you know what, I'm not on the day-to-day on the -- as far as the committee work is concerned. But it's in the ballpark. In other words, we -- I always have to engineer back from the end of the year, and in order to engineer back from the end of the year to pass health care and energy, these bills have to be on a timetable that reasonably conforms to bringing something to the floor in the summer, to conference in the fall, and to the president's desk before we leave here.

Q Madame Speaker? You've had enough of your Democrats -- mostly progressives, in the past -- on war supplementals that those bills had to either be adjusted or the votes had to be bifurcated or trifurcated in order to account for everybody's views. Are -- do you have any concern that that will happen this time, that there are some progressives who will not vote for money for Afghanistan because they see the lack of a plan? Are there enough of them that there will have to be a situation like you used to have to do under the previous administration?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, I don't see that. And I'll tell you why. We are in a situation where, under President Obama, we will have honest budgeting in terms of war cost. And that is -- represents a change from what went before.

This supplemental is the last supplemental. It is the supplemental to cover the cost of the war that -- are -- flowing over into this year. We -- the -- it was -- the war was only funded for six months in the Bush administration; now we have to bring the funding to completion. So this is a carryover from before. We're still talking about the '09 appropriation, which was the work of the previous Congress.

Now, we won't be doing this again. And there won't be any more war supplementals. We have no expectation of that. So my message to my members is, "This is it. The president has refocused our efforts in Afghanistan. He's made this request. He has a path to ending the war in Iraq. That will happen. So we have a plan for both places, and this is the president's request to fund that; I hope you can vote for it."

Q Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah.

Q How long do you expect that the United States can commit -- how long do you think the United States can commit to Afghanistan and Pakistan? And do you think that -- do you think that it will actually -- do you think the war can actually be won in Afghanistan? And did you get -- receive any assurances from President Karzai yesterday that he would root out any corruption? Or did that issue come up in your meeting?

SPEAKER PELOSI: President Karzai, when, as I said, I visited him a couple months ago in Afghanistan -- which I think was my third visit there, if I can keep track correctly -- and as recently as yesterday, has always had a very optimistic view of how events are -- have or are unfolding in Afghanistan. We're in Afghanistan because it's in our national interest to fight terrorism, and that is where it exists.

Hopefully, regretfully, we took our eye off the ball there and moved our operations and our intelligence and the rest to Iraq a long time ago. The president now has to take the time that is necessary to keep the American people safe, to stabilize the region and to do so in a way that makes everyone who has a -- an interest in the stability of Afghanistan to make an investment there.

So how long will it take? I don't know, but it is essential to our security that we fight terrorism there.

STAFF: This is the last question.

Q Ma'am?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, ma'am.

Q Madame Speaker, I had two quick questions.

One, Ed Montgomery, President Obama's auto-community czar, is in Michigan Thursday and Friday. So the first question is, are you in contact with Mr. Montgomery?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No --

Q And do you foresee needing sort of a comprehensive legislation to deal with what's happened in the wake of auto restructuring?

And secondly, on the issue of same-sex marriage, four states now have allowed their same-sex couples to marry. And yet, under federal law, as you know, those marriages are not recognized. Does Congress need to repeal that part of DOMA? And if so, when?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, there's two very strong -- they're two very different questions.

I have not been in communication with Mr. Montgomery; our offices, though, are in touch with -- yesterday with a bipartisan meeting of the auto states' representatives, where they heard what -- where they had an exchange of ideas.

If and when the administration thinks that there should be legislation, then we will take that up. But President Bush, by and large, took that initiative away from us. We had legislation that required certain things. He took some of it, added his own. We weren't particularly pleased with what he did, but nonetheless, President Obama now has had this as an executive-branch initiative.

We have not heard -- I have not personally heard from the executive branch that they need any legislative remedies. Certainly, though, when it comes to the unemployment insurance that is necessary in the region, issues that relate to homeownership, issues that relate to -- one of the things -- one of the items that one of the members from the car states -- we're all car states, but from Michigan said to me yesterday was, thank you for passing the credit-card bill, because that's really important to our people. We need more to be done to keep people in their homes.

So we're dealing with some of the impacts of it. Our members are concerned that the next shoe to fall there is what's going to happen as far as purveyors of -- suppliers -- excuse me -- suppliers are concerned.

So we're working with our members to try to see how we can mitigate for -- the consequences of some of the changes that are happening, including the bankruptcy at Chrysler -- bankruptcy initiative at Chrysler, and what is -- may happen with General Motors. But we have no request yet for direct legislation that I am aware of. They may have been talking to some -- to Michiganders about it, but they have not -- it has not come to my attention.

As far as your question on --

Q (Off mike.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: A number of states have passed laws. We in California are waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the law -- the initiative that tried to overturn a law in California. The District of Columbia has said it would recognize marriages in states that -- where they are legal.

I don't think that Congress should intervene there, as -- in terms of their recognitions of marriages in the states that allow them, any more than we should intervene when New York made a similar declaration that they would recognize marriages, in --

Q And in terms of federal benefits and the -- that part of DOMA -- I mean, these are four states that have --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah. Well, I don't -- right now on our agenda, we're talking about turning the economy around, dealing with an energy policy, health care for all Americans; education is the third (pillar/tiller ?). We have an economic crisis of a magnitude that none of us has seen in our lifetime that we have to deal with.

At the same time, we have a human-rights, civil-rights agenda. Of course, we passed the hate-crimes bill last week. We were very proud of the big, strong number. I think it was about -- 75-vote margin, 74, actually, it was: 249 to 175. I watched that bill very closely. It was very important to me. And, again, it was all- inclusive in terms of hate crimes.

Members will make it -- an -- a priority of issues like gays in the military. And where we have prospects of success, we always want to expand to a place of more opportunity and more freedom for all -- for all Americans. But right now, our agenda is jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. And as we move on that front, concurrently we have to make some decisions about what is possible in our values-based initiatives as well.

Thank you all very much.

Q Thank you.


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