WEEKLY MEDIA AVAILABILITY WITH HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA)
July 15, 2004 Thursday
ALSO PARTICIPATING: REP. ROBERT T. MATSUI (D-CA)
LOCATION: H-204, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
REP. PELOSI: Good morning.
I have a special guest here today, Congressman Bob Matsui, the Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I thought it would be a good idea for us, as we come to the end of the session, to review where we have been, briefly, and let you know where we're going from here.
We have gathered here week in and week out. We have one more week to go before the adjournment for the conventions and for the August recess. Week in and week out, we've talked about the failed economic policies of the Bush administration. Democrats have a better idea. We were proposing an economic plan that would have created jobs, reduced the deficit, and it was paid for.
Today, the jobless claims are 349,000 first-time jobless claims, up 40,000 more than was anticipated.
When it comes to health care, as we all know, there are many more people lacking access to health care, many more uninsured Americans than there were when President Bush took office. Democrats have a better idea. And we have proposed it, and it is a proposal also of Senator Kerry, to insure our children, allow people over 55 to be part of Medicare, and give tax credits to small businesses that provide health insurance for their workers.
Of course, on the prescription drug bill, the Republicans have proposed a cruel hoax. The seniors were not fooled. Democrats have a better idea. We have a discharge petition, led by Congressman Martin Frost of Texas, for a bill that would repeal and replace the Medicare bill.
When it comes to education, the record is clear: the Bush administration has withheld $30 billion from No Child Left Behind. Democrats know that educating the American people is the most important thing we can do for the strength of our country, for the self-fulfillment of the people and brings more money into the Treasury than any initiative that you can name.
When it comes to the environment, the Republicans have rolled back 30 years of bipartisan agreement on the environment. Again, Democrats want a healthy and safe environment for our children and have made-taken all the initiatives in that regard.
In terms of fiscal soundness, the Republicans will have record deficits this year. You notice they have not released their mid-year report which they're supposed to do. And whatever it is, whatever the number, we know it will be a historic high in terms of the deficit for any single year.
The list goes on and on.
We have differences about our national security and how the United States is viewed in the world. We're very proud of our candidates for president and vice president, John Kerry and John Edwards. We know they will take America to a place where we will have the respect we deserve because we respect other countries, and we will protect and defend the American people in a way that also protects and defends the Constitution of the United States.
These are some of the issues that we will now take from here onto the campaign trail.
As you know, a couple of weeks ago I sent the speaker a set of principles for when the Democrats win the House that I pledge to abide by as the speaker of the House and hoped that he would take that same pledge. Whether he does or not, that's how we will conduct the House. So not only are we different on issues, but we're different in terms of how we respect the role that each and every member has in the House, and the voice of all of their constituents deserves to be heard here.
So as we go out to the convention, I thought it would be useful for me to put our credibility on the line. I've told you we are going to win. I've told you that I am going to be speaker. I told you how we're going to conduct the House. I told you what our priorities here. And I invited Bob Matsui to briefly talk to us about how our issues have attracted the best possible candidates to achieve a victory for the American people in November.
Congressman Bob Matsui, may I say in presenting him, that our Democrats and, indeed, the American people-who care about health care, education, the subjects I mentioned-could not be better served than to have this mastermind, this architect of a plan to win on the issues for the American people.
I have only had two guests at our meetings. You know, Jack Murtha was one, Bob Matsui is the other. I am an observer of masters at work. And when I see them, I want you to meet them.
Master at work, Bob Matsui.
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And are there any questions?
Q Madam Leader, could you talk a little bit about-there's been a lot of chatter about Senator Clinton not getting a prominent role at the Democratic Convention. Now Senator Mikulski is telling Roll Call that she is that the campaign did not adequately roll out the fact that the Senate women were supposed to have a prominent role at the convention. Do you think the campaign can do a better job of showcasing women in the party?
REP. PELOSI: Of course, we're never satisfied. We always want more.
I think that this is going to be a great convention. I don't-I think this is a minor distraction. I myself think that Senator Clinton would be a magnificent addition to any agenda, talking about American values and the Democratic point of view. But I think the issue is the reckless-reckless Republican economic policies versus the Democratic policy to create jobs and to reduce the deficit. And we will not be distracted by any issues other than the issues that will have-that are relevant to the lives of the American people.
But, yes, I think Senator Clinton should be on the program.
Q Well, are you going to ask-make a request that she be added to the program?
REP. PELOSI: As leader of the House, I protect the prerogatives of the House members, and I have a job to do there. So I'm very pleased that the-that the campaign has given our women members of Congress-well, actually is the same opportunity for all of them to be on stage, to hear from the chair of our women's-Democratic Women's Caucus, and they were very receptive to that, and I'm pleased with that. I know a number of our members will be on the program at one time or another. That's my responsibility.
Any other questions?
Q Ma'am, the CBC is also agitating. They're upset with the recent Kerry ads aimed at African Americans. Why do you think Democrats want to go public with their concerns such as that and perhaps create or show rifts within the party, instead of --
REP. PELOSI: Well, I don't think there are any rifts within the party. We're not a homogenous group. We are not unanimous in everything that we think and the approach that we take on everything. But make no mistake, these are incidentals compared to where our areas of agreement are, and we have unity. That's why we're going to have success.
Our whole foundation for how we win the White House, win the Senate, win the House is built on Democratic issues, built around consensus and building consensus around issues of concern to the American people. Arrangements at a convention, this or that, again, that will be over in two-and-a-half weeks. What will be with us are the major differences between the two parties. And we're all very proud of our candidates.
Q Ms. Pelosi?
REP. PELOSI: Yes?
Q Earlier in the week you issued a strong statement about any-knocking down any talk of postponing the elections, and the administration says that's not in the cards. Nonetheless, do you think there is any need for some kind of game plan just so that everybody sort of understands their roles in the event of an attack?
REP. PELOSI: I believe that the election should take place on Election Day. I think it was completely irresponsible for the administration to have any notion of postponing the election, to be out there in the public domain. Oh, and then they quickly came back and said, "Oh, no, we don't know what that is." But the damage was done.
They're instilling uncertainty into the electoral process. That is the not the American way. As I said before, if they have information of this serious nature, they should share it with Congress immediately or stop their fear-mongering.
Q But just to follow up, do you think there should be some kind of game plan in the event-say there is an attack in one state or maybe two states. That will be on the news. Voters in every state would be affected.
They might feel like they're not sure about going to the polls.
REP. PELOSI: I think the legitimacy of the election outweighs the considerations that you mentioned. God forbid that that would happen.
I think the Homeland Security Department would spend its time better; instead of notion-mongering, that it should spend its time minimizing the risk to the American people, increasing the communication between and among first-time responders, getting the intelligence out to first responders and public safety leaders in the community. There's so much they have not done, that for them to inject a note of uncertainty after they have not been duly diligent in doing what they should have done already is irresponsible.
And I think, as I said, the election should take place on the day that it should take place.
Q Madame Leader, do you think that there is a political element to this putting it in the public domain, as you put it?
REP. PELOSI: I think it's an irresponsible element. You'd have to ask them what their motivation is. But it isn't a sign of serious, mature government to cast doubt on an election this far out. If they have-again, if they have the information, come to Congress and share it with us. But don't put out a message of fear and then retract it, as if you can ever really get it all back.
Q But do you think it puts the Democrats at any kind of disadvantage to have this perception out there that there might be attacks? Is there any kind of impact on one party more than the other?
REP. PELOSI: I don't know whose purpose would be served by that.
Let me say this: that just the very idea that we are spending this much time on a-this question here shows how wrong it was for them to put that out there. You're asking the questions because you think your readers would be interested in this, and indeed they would be. But what-their job is to protect the American people, not to frighten them. And I still don't see them showing up at our door to tell us why they would have ever even let such a notion escape the four walls of the administration.
Q Ms. Pelosi, let me ask you a quick question. You-the-your party has agreed on a draft platform that y'all will ratify at the convention. It's targeted at what-the middle-class squeeze, you know, the unemployed or underemployed. There's a lot of esoteric stuff in here-high technology clusters and income deferral and stuff.
What do you think in this platform that y'all have agreed to or that you hope to agree to at the convention will really grab the middle-class voters you'd like to get the attention of? What proposals are you offering them that will get their attention and bring their votes in, in some of these-you know, these, you know, swing-state votes, swing --
REP. PELOSI: The Democrats are offering a real proposal for economic growth that will create jobs and will help small businesses flourish. It's about innovation. It's about being in the forefront of being competitive internationally. And so in terms of the middle class, people want to know that they will have good-paying jobs that give them the freedom to raise their families.
We will also be talking about health care, which is an important part of the Kerry campaign, because health care is not only a health issue, it's an economic issue in that middle-class squeeze. The education of their children and the cost for higher education that Bob Matsui mentioned is a very important part of it as well.
So what we're talking about are issues that are relevant to the lives of the American people, how they make ends meet. And in order to do that, we have to grow an economy that, again, lifts up all Americans, and not just give tax cuts to the high end at the expense of the middle class and exacerbate that squeeze.
Q But do you think there are specific proposals like, for example, repealing the tax cuts for those earning over $200,000 or raising the minimum wage or, you know, reversing the overtime --
REP. PELOSI: Yes, all of those. All of the above.
Q-using very specific ones that really --
REP. PELOSI: All of the above. It's a package. And so when you talk about a package, you talk about its integrity and its oneness. And if you do this in terms of tax policy, if you reduce the tax cuts of those over $200,000, you can invest further into the education of the American people.
Nothing does more to grow the economy or to bring money into the public Treasury than educating the American people. Any economist will tell you that.
Do you want to speak to point, Bob --
REP. MATSUI: I think you've covered it.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah?
Q The Republicans are going to bring legislation to the floor next week dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act.
REP. PELOSI: Ah.
Q How will you vote on it? And what is your advice to candidates in Southern and Western districts that you're trying to win? What should they --
REP. PELOSI: I'm sorry. What do you think they're going to bring to the floor next week?
Q Court-stripping legislation.
REP. PELOSI: The court-stripping? Mm-hmm. Well, I happen to think that the court-stripping is a bad idea. I think it could possibly be unconstitutional. So regardless of the subject matter that it's trying to attack, that this House of Representatives would be saying we're going to strip the Supreme Court of the United States of jurisdiction over certain cases raises serious constitutional questions. So I would be against that to begin with.
But members will vote their districts.
Q What about the candidates?
REP. PELOSI: They will vote their districts.
Q Should they say anything to the public about what their view is?
REP. PELOSI: Of course, and they will. And that will be their view, and that's what they'll say.
Q Do you have any advice on what their view should be?
REP. PELOSI: They will represent their districts.
Q When you say, "Represent their districts," you said it might be unconstitutional, but they could still represent their district if an opinion poll says their --
REP. PELOSI: Well, I said that-I said it might be. I didn't say it was. The testimony-I don't know if you saw the testimony at the hearings. Even their own witness said it was questionable-their own witness. The Republicans' witness said it was questionable.
Q Well, wouldn't you advise members that --
REP. PELOSI: Well, I'll tell them-I always just say to people, on these kinds of issues, "This is why I will vote no." And I will make my case against it, and people will make their own judgments. But we don't have a line position on that.
REP. MATSUI: No.
REP. PELOSI: Would you speak to that, Bob?
REP. MATSUI: I would only just say it's so inconsistent, given the fact that the Republicans are trying to take away state court jurisdiction when it comes to lawsuits in terms of class action. But in this case, they want to have the state courts be involved and take away the power of the U.S. Supreme Court.
I mean, it's so inconsistent it's shameful, actually.
REP. PELOSI: I think they had a question-I'm sorry, I'll come back to you. But --
Q Ms. Pelosi, another issue that is coming up is-are taxes on the GOP agenda. Your number two gave a speech this week talking about the party pursuing a tax simplification agenda. Where do you see this debate going on the part of party as well as overall?
REP. PELOSI: Well, we have a 26-year veteran of the Ways and Means Committee with us, and I defer to him.
REP. MATSUI: I didn't even hear the question --
REP. PELOSI: Oh, the question was about Steny's tax simplification proposal that he has put forth.
REP. MATSUI: Oh. I think it's a good idea.
Let me say this: We tried to do this, as you well know, in 1986, and we were reasonably successful. We lowered rates from all the way up to 70 percent at that time down to 28 percent. We eliminated a lot of deductions. It's a very, very difficult-a time-consuming and very, very difficult political process to do this. On the other hand, I think it makes sense.
The problem we've had, of course, is over the last decade, since the Republicans have controlled House of Representatives, they have actually added a number of deductions and credits to the tax code to actually make it more confusing, more difficult for the average American to deal with their tax return. And so we have a lot of work to do. But it is a very important issue that we have to deal with.
I don't know if there is any real political gain out of this. I think, if you recall, going all the way back to the 1980s-Bradley/Gephardt were the lead sponsor of this, Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt. President Reagan endorsed it, which made it bipartisan, which the only way to make this happen is on a bipartisan basis.
Q What about the tax extender issue and the issue of paying for that versus --
REP. MATSUI: I'm sorry, I'm --
REP. PELOSI: The tax extender issue.
REP. MATSUI: Well, the tax extenders have to actually be passed before the end of the session. Obviously, some of the provisions, most of the provisions right now are in the FSC/ETI bill, as you well know. And it's my hope that we'll be able to take these provisions up before the end of the year, otherwise, it creates so much uncertainty. You take the R&D credits, for example, businesses-they anticipate that it's going to be retroactively applied, but until it's actually done, they don't know, and that creates a great deal of uncertainty.
It's a shame that Mr. Thomas had to put it on the FSCETI bill; this should have been a free-standing bill-all the extenders, we should have passed it basically through a suspension, sent it to the Senate and hoped that they would act on it. But instead, he tied it up with a very bad piece of legislation with the hope of gaining votes. And as a result of that, it has put a lot of ambiguity in whether or not it's going to become law before we adjourn.
Q As you pointed out, this is only the second time you've had a guest. Do you think by doing this and saying that you're going to regain the House that you're raising undue expectations?
REP. PELOSI: No.
Q What ramifications would there be if you don't win in November?
REP. PELOSI: The ramifications will be for the American people, where they will still have-well, I am not going to even entertain that. I can't even think in those terms. (Laughter.)
One-and-a-half years ago, when I became the leader, I promised my colleagues that never again would the Democrats go into a campaign where the public didn't know who we were, what we stood for, how different we are from the Republicans, and what we were willing to fight for. We put together our plan under the leadership of Chairman Bob Matsui, and it's a masterful plan. And at the time that the plan was formulated, President Bush was at 74 percent, and everyone said, "That's just too much for House members to make up if the top of the ticket is that far away." We said we were putting chinks in his armor every step of the way, and one thing and another, one year later, President Bush went from 74 to 47.
We were prepared for success. We demonstrated our plan in two states, in Kentucky, a Republican district and Republican state in the South, a district that President Bush had won by 13 percent. Bob Matsui sent in the troops. He had a plan about message and about mobilization, troops and message, and produced a victory of 12 points for our very excellent candidate, Ben Chandler, who went and led the way there.
Next we went to South Dakota. President Bush carried South Dakota by more than he carried the state of Texas. And, sure enough, once again we put in the plan of mobilization, which is a big difference from how campaigns have been done before here; and we had a wonderful victory there, as you know.
Two for two. We have another race coming up July 20th.
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REP. PELOSI: North Carolina.
REP. MATSUI: North Carolina-excuse me. And Frank Ballance resigned, as all of you know, because of health problems. And we have a candidate, obviously, G.K. Butterfield; and he is going to win the election.
We're going to be sending out field operators, though, in that particular campaign, because we don't want to take any chance at all. It's a majority-minority district, and we feel very confident about it, but we're going to have a field operation there.
REP. PELOSI: All right. So --
Q Ms. Pelosi, you've not said much, if anything, today about Iraq.
Is that a sign of any kind that you are happy with the way the transition has gone and maybe we've turned the corner there?
REP. PELOSI: I think I have been very clear about Iraq. I have said that in the execution of the war and the aftermath, the president has been incompetent; that he made bad decisions because he had no judgment; and how could he if he had no experience or no knowledge? And I think that because of his poor judgment, many more lives were cost-were lost, at the cost in lives of our troops, cost in dollars, in billions of dollars to our taxpayers, and cost of our reputation around the world. I'll say that very directly.
I am hopeful that the transition will be a successful one. We all are. But we cannot forget the price that we have paid-unnecessarily, some of it. Now, I would never say that anyone died in vain. All of these brave and courageous men and women gave their lives for our country, and we honor their sacrifice, their patriotism, and their courage. But we have to recognize that the plan that is in place is a dangerous one because it did not equip our soldiers adequately with the equipment they needed and it did not equip them with the intelligence, actionable intelligence that they needed to keep them out of harm's way to a greater extent.
So I think that the day-to-day events prove that there was a better way to do this.
If you thought it was important to topple Saddam Hussein-and good riddance to him-and if you thought it was important to go to war, the next time we do will have to be with a great deal more accountability from the president of the United States so it doesn't endanger any more lives than need be.
Now, you know the danger continues. They need security in order to have reconstruction. And if they don't have reconstruction, it's going to be a long time for them to have any acceptance of their new status. So security is very important. We were not prepared with the proper security for the transition, in my view.
Q A question for either or both of you. Looking at the competitive House races, how do you see-you've talked mostly about domestic issues: jobs, health care, tax policy. I'm wondering if you feel like those are the driving issues in these competitive races and where Iraq does play in.
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REP. PELOSI: If I could just connect that to the domestic agenda, however, as well. Because of the cost of the Iraq war-and it's approaching a quarter of a trillion dollars, or past $200 billion, soon on its way to a quarter of a trillion dollars-the President has said that we cannot afford to fund No Child Left Behind, his own bill. He starved it of $30 billion over the last three years. "Because we have a wartime economy, we can't afford to educate our children." Well, because we have tax cuts for the high end, we can't afford to educate our children, too. A poor choice in my view.
But when the American people see that, the opportunity cost, the cost of the war and what that means in terms of education and infrastructure and other considerations in our own country, then it's a problem, especially when they see hospitals, schools, roads, the rest that we keep saying we're going to build in Iraq-not much of that money has been spent, but what we said we're going to build in Iraq-it raises a question of unfairness in the minds of -- .
We still don't have a highway bill, a very important job-creating bill. We still don't have it because the president said we can't go up to the Senate number or even the House number or he will veto the bill. And why? Because we're in a wartime economy and we can't grow the deficit, which is at historic levels.
But the president will not see that this is a jobs bill that will create jobs, put people to work, inject demand into the economy, that will create more jobs. Instead, he just says he's going to veto the bill unless it's the low figure that he has proposed. I think as people see the opportunity cost of it, and so much of that cost was not necessary, that's the sad part of it.
Q Ms. Pelosi, you mentioned a moment ago about the deficit and you alluded earlier to the fact that the OMB was supposed to have released by today its mid-session review, its latest budget and deficit estimates, projections. Those numbers, while they may be improved from what the OMB released earlier in the year, will probably still show record deficits for '04.
Do you think the fact you're going into an election cycle now with the largest deficit in dollar terms in history will have any effect on the election? Will Republicans pay any price at the administration or congressional level, or Democrats gain any benefit for what people have done or not done or tried to do about deficit issues; or do you see it as a nonplayer in the campaign, given everything else that's -
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REP. PELOSI: In certain districts it will play more than other districts, but it's a very important issue.
We have planted flags on certain issues: on the veterans issue, on the deficit issue, on small business, on outsourcing, on the prescription drug bill. These are some of the issues that Democrats have worked hard, internally and with outside participants such as the veterans and small-business community throughout the country. We know that these are important issues in various communities, and we know that our proposals are credible. We have consensus within our caucus, and we will be clear as we present them to the public.
And to get back to your question, yeah, we're putting our credibility on the line. We think that if the election were held today, there would be no question but the Democrats would take back the House. We have to be on guard for the venom that the Republicans will pour into the races and, of course, the money that will accompany that. But we're ready to fight.
We believe that the public wants to see more bipartisanship in the Congress. They want to see problems solved and issues that are relevant to their lives addressed instead of taking up the time of the Congress for divisive measures that really have no impact on their lives.
So, under Bob Matsui's leadership, we're again ready to fight, prepared to win, and more important than that ready to govern and do so in a very, as I say, bipartisan way with bipartisan administration of the House. Our candidates are excellent.
Come to the convention. Bob is going to have a full roll-out at the convention, I think Monday of convention week, of the races and the rest, a more thorough political presentation that we really didn't want to go into here, but-about race by race as to see how we think we will take back the House. And then you can follow the races and see.
I promised I would come back to you, but that will be the last question. Okay.
Q I was just going to ask-you had talked about the Defense of Marriage Act and the gay marriage amendment. I was wondering what your constituents are telling you, how you should vote? And what are their concerns on these issues?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I am very proud to say that my constituents have a respect for the Constitution of the United States. And regardless of how people feel about gay marriage, and I know that that's a controversial issue and I respect the discomfort that some people have with it, there aren't-I don't run into many people who think we should defile the Constitution of the United States by enshrining discrimination in it, which would be the first time in our history that we would do that.
With that, I thank you all. I hope we-well, we'll see you next week maybe, but come see us at the convention and get the full report so you can have a standard by which to judge us as we go. But we fully intend to win. We're very, very proud of John Kerry and John Edwards, and we look forward to honoring them at the convention.
Thank you all.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you.
REP. MATSUI: Great job.