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Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today

Press Conference

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Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone.

As you are probably aware, late in the day yesterday, the Senate came to agreement on amendments to its bipartisan transportation bill. It is our hope that something similar will happen in the House of Representatives. So far as we can see, our Republican colleagues have been in disarray on the subject of what, how, and when a transportation bill will come to the floor. It's very important that we move forward with this big job creator.

It is important, also, that we move away from what the Republicans have put forth already. They put forth a bill that would cost us 550,000 jobs, would cut highway investments in 45 states, and bankrupt the Highway Trust Fund by $78 billion, and, according to the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, would also not only hurt jobs, but hurt safety. Instead of working together on a transportation bill, which is one of the biggest job initiatives Congress can pass, the Republicans are once again bringing to the floor some bills that we passed before overwhelmingly, they are not controversial, but they are a "JOBS Bill-lite," especially compared with what we need to do on the transportation bill.

Again, we are in budget season, and in our communications within our own Caucus, and on the Budget Committee, it is clear to see that once again in this year's budget, the Republicans will break the Medicare guarantee. This is very, very important to our country, to our seniors, to America's families, to our economy, to not only the health but the economic wellbeing of America's seniors. And we will fight very hard for that. What the Republicans are putting forth ends the Medicare guarantee, transfers costs to our seniors, and contributes to the withering on the vine which has always been their vision for Medicare.

I'm going to receive a very--some of you are getting ready for Saint Patrick's Day? In San Francisco, we have been celebrating it since right after Valentine's Day, and we will go right up to Cinco de Mayo, with a little bit of Easter and Passover in between. But since we won't be here exactly on the day of Saint Patrick's Day, I want to wish that to you. Some of our Members have been wearing green corsages for a while. For my own part, I don't have Irish grandparents, but I do have Irish grandchildren. And they are very proud that next week I will receive the inaugural award from the, it's the Trinity College Dublin Philosophical Society Award. So I'm very excited about that. It is an honor that I am overwhelmed by.

The fact that it takes place in my 25th year, during my 25th year in Congress, makes it a very special honor for me. And that it happens on top of the privilege, which I forgot to mention to you, of giving the presentation at President George Herbert Walker Bush's Library and School of Public Service and Government on President's Day. That was February; this is March. I'm very honored by those, as well as the privilege of representing my constituents for 25 years.

On a very sad note, for us this is so personal and so sad, that we lost Congressman Donald Payne earlier this week. He was a beloved figure in the Congress, in the country, and, indeed, around the world. He cared about the health and wellbeing of everybody, especially children. He just didn't take good enough care, in my view, of his health, I guess, because he has now left us because of cancer. He cared about children on the Education Committee. That was his focus, the needs of our children, wherever they lived, but especially addressing the needs of children in disadvantaged areas. I had the privilege of being with him in different continents, and we all have stories because he was a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. But when we were in Liberia at the AME University, that would be the African Methodist Episcopal University in Monrovia, we were there when they dedicated their--people came from all over Africa to honor him, to dedicate a library named for Donald Payne a number of years ago. So he not only knew everything about Africa, especially, he knew the world, but focused on Africa. He not only knew everything about Africa, he not only knew the leaders of those countries, but they knew him. And those who were worthy of his respect returned that attitude toward him.

So, again, it is a very personal loss for all of us in the House of Representatives. And I'm so proud that the President has acknowledged his great contribution to our country. I, myself, had the privilege of naming him our House representative to the United Nations General Assembly in recognition of his leadership and service to our country.

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

Q: Madam Leader, this has been a lot in the news lately, but Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, she told Congress that contraception can cost over $3,000 for a women during her time in law school, yet the Target store three miles away sells a supply of birth control pills for $9 a month to women who do not have health insurance. Was her testimony accurate?

Leader Pelosi. I have a great deal of respect for the testimony that Sandra Fluke presented to Congress. She was factual, she was courageous, and she made a difference in the debate in our country, and we were honored by her presentation.

Any other questions?

Q: On the jobs bill, when you kind of mentioned it just now, you talked about it as bringing forward bills that have been brought forward before?

Leader Pelosi. Yes.

Q: JOBS Bill like?

Leader Pelosi. Lite.

Q: JOBS Bill-lite. Pardon me. House Republican leadership, they are pushing it. The White House has signed off and is supporting it.

Leader Pelosi. Yes.

Q: Why not, I'm just surprised why you are not trumpeting it as a rare showing of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, where it is so lacking so often. Why not?

Leader Pelosi. Well, it is because it is so meager. Trumpet? "Dum da da da, here comes the little king."

This is, yes, it is bipartisan. And when we pledge the flag, that's a big thing. That's a big thing. And we have a oneness about us in many ways here. But when it comes to this bill, compared to what the possibilities are.

This transportation bill is long overdue. The authorization of the transportation bill is something that we have been urging. And even when we had the majority, the Republicans in the Senate were obstructing anything of the size that we really needed, a six year, five to six year transportation bill. But this is a bill that creates jobs immediately in our country, construction jobs to build. The Society of Civil Engineers says that we have a deficit in the trillions of dollars, say $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion to be modest, to be conservative, $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion of deficit in our infrastructure. That is, of course, roads, bridges; high speed rail, the rest of that; mass transit; and, in addition to that, broadband, which is now a newer form of infrastructure; and, very important, our water infrastructure. Some [of] our infrastructure for water is made of bricks and wood, decades, maybe 100 years old. That is a sanitation issue, as well.

So it is, what is the need, what is, and there is an urgency about it for job creation immediately, for what it does to commerce, the spread of commerce, moving people to and from home and product to and from market.

Again, it's about the vitality of our country and is a historic--Thomas Jefferson called for the building of our infrastructure, in those days, they called them "internal improvements," to build out to America: the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Cumberland Road, the Erie Canal. A hundred years later, Theodore Roosevelt observed the 100 year anniversary by announcing the establishment of the National Park Service to reinforce our green infrastructure in our country. A hundred years later, we did not observe that. I was hoping that we would under President Bush, but infrastructure was not a priority then. And so we are behind in doing this infrastructure bill.

I want to hasten to also add another great Republican President, President Eisenhower, and the Interstate Highway System. All of these things done really at a time when we didn't have a lot of money to spare. So it wasn't as if we were building the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, in addition to the Golden Gate Bridge in our area, which we are observing the 75 year anniversary this year on, at a time when we were flush with money. And we are not flush with money now, but we've got to make these investments.

So when you see what the need is, and the opportunity is there, it is bipartisan in the Senate. They've agreed on their amendments. Let's get moving. People's hopes are pinned on our passing this transportation bill. These guys are saying: "my way or the highway." It's just not right.

So, when you talk about this, yes, it is a good thing. We have passed--four of them I think we have passed, a number of them we have passed already with over 400 votes. Okay, already. We've done it. It's good. Let's do it again. But let's not mistake it for what we need to do for a real, serious, comprehensive jobs bill for our country.

Q: Madam Leader, is an elongated GOP presidential primary beneficial for the Democrats?

Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, here is what I say about all politics: you never know. You know, you can't predict anything. It is what it is. It depends on how the Republican Party will come together later. That's really up to them.

We have to be prepared, as we are--we are two thirds of the way from the last election, so we are on our way to this election, 8 months, a little less than 8 months away.

I think that all assumptions in politics are false, stale. It's all new for the situation that you are in. Having said that, I think it would have been much stronger for the Republicans to have had a nominee by now.

Q: Madam Leader, you were talking about transportation a moment ago. Has there been any outreach now that this bill that the Republicans propounded to the Democrats to say: "look, is there some way that you can help us on this?" Is there any talk at this point between your office and Mr. Boehner's office, Mr. Mica, about a bridge bill? Nothing like that yet?

Leader Pelosi. Well, there has been some Member to Member outreach going on, yeah.

Q: But is that to the level where it's like, "hey, here are three or four options we might be able to…"

Leader Pelosi. Not between the Speaker's office and the Leader's office, but there have been Members, I believe, on the committee level there has been some communication.

Q: Do you think…?

Leader Pelosi. But nothing--no, we are just waiting for the Speaker's office.

Q: But because this is so dire, do you think, though, that it should have been kicked up to that level at this stage of the game, when we only have two weeks when we come back here?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I am hopeful that the Republicans will come to their conclusion that--remember our old friend, the payroll tax cut? Where in the Senate, the President, the Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate, and the Democrats in the House came to a place of agreement, and the Republicans in the House were isolated until they came around?

Well, once again, we have a situation where we have a bipartisan bill in the Senate, which we could readily accept as the House Democrats, and that the President wants to have a transportation bill passed. Once again, the Republicans in the House are showing how, out of the--even away from their own Senate counterparts, how far off they are on this. Off the track, you might say, if you were speaking about a transportation bill.

Have I exhausted every pun for a transportation bill?

Q: Madam Leader, there were reports this morning that the White House is lobbying hard to defeat the Republican Keystone pipeline amendment in the Senate which would overturn his decision. By working hard to defeat that, is the President playing into the Republican argument that he is not leading on energy independence?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I really don't know that that is the case. I mean, I don't know that the President--It's not happening in the House right now, so if he is, I'm not aware of that. I don't know that the President is lobbying that.

What I will tell you is the following: that this issue is one that has to be, we have to stipulate to a set of facts. Do I say that to you from time to time? Let's stipulate to a set of facts. There are those who are saying that this pipeline is necessary, as I inferred from what you implied in your statement, that this is a source of energy for our country.

Q: That's the argument.

Leader Pelosi. But the fact is that there is no evidence to support that. In fact, the Prime Minister, Steven Harper of Canada [Leader Pelosi shows National Post article]: "No Keystone pipeline? No problem." [Prime Minister Harper] said: "I'm very serious about selling our oil off this continent." I think that everyone knows that the fact is, this pipeline was going to be built, or may still be built, to bring oil to the refineries to take it overseas. This isn't about domestic consumption. So it really doesn't relate.

And the fact is, if you want me to again, I will tell you that, in terms of domestic production, since President Obama has been President, there are four times more oil rigs than there were when he became President. If you take all the oil rigs and the gas rigs, put them together, combined, they exceed all the rigs in the rest of the world.

So, in terms of extraction and domestic production and the rest, when the President says: "all of the above," he means it. So it's about domestic production, it's about renewables, it's about alternatives. As he said, I think so, when I say, "beautifully," I mean in terms of the setting that he was in yesterday, this is--we need to have, whether it's oil and gas, and he said nuclear, and we have supported that in the House, too, in our compromise with President Bush, President George W. Bush, everything is part of the solution. And we have to respect that as we transition more to renewables, that we do not contaminate the air our children breathe.

There was another point I wanted to make with you on that. So what is the impact on the price at the pump? One of the concerns that we have, in the past we've had a concern about speculation and its impact on the price at the pump. There is a healthy speculation that, as part of the free market, that we all recognize… there's a manipulation of the commodity that is not healthy and exploits the consumer. And in the Dodd Frank bill, there are considerations for the number of positions somebody can take, stopping manipulation, closing loopholes, and the rest. And right now, there are those who want to stop that curbing of the unfair manipulation of the market. The Republicans stand with them. They want to overturn those provisions that say, stop the kinds of exploitive speculation that raises the price of oil and, therefore, the price at the pump.

Remember, supply is up, demand is down, thanks to the American people and their decisions. Why is the price up? Is it up because of the international price of oil and it doesn't matter how much we bring down consumption and how much we increase production? If so, we have to have some independence to do something alternative to that.

So I think that, if you want to talk about the pipeline, I am going to talk about the pipeline. But the fact is, this oil was never destined for domestic production, so says the Prime Minister of Canada. That doesn't mean it might not be something that is worthy of some consideration for reasons other than domestic consumption.

Did somebody have two [questions]? The Speaker is next, so I don't know. Maybe I'll answer briefly. Maybe.

Q: You're a longtime member of the Intel Committee and a leader of your party. What was your reaction, what is your reaction to the Attorney General's assertions, his statements earlier this week justifying American government targeting of American citizens overseas who are deemed to be terrorists and, specifically, that due process does not necessarily mean judicial process?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I would be very interested--I have not had, I've had a number of briefings in the past week or so on different subjects that relate to our national security. I haven't had one on that. I listened to some of what the Attorney General said about the distinction between due process and judicial process. Is that his distinction?

Q: Yes.

Leader Pelosi. But I'm not going to respond. I support the Administration. To be specific, I need to get a further briefing as to what he…

Q: Are you concerned about this government targeting American citizens overseas?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I want to see what he intended, because, quite frankly, I'm not absolutely certain about the difference between due process and judicial process. I have to--I would like to see a briefing on that. We always have to be, our first responsibility is to protect and defend. We also have to balance security with liberty and freedom and our values. And, again, I have confidence in the Attorney General. I did not have a briefing leading up to that or after. So I want to see exactly what they're talking about.

Yes?

Q: Real quickly, Madam Leader, looking ahead, there looks like there is going to be a lot of things loaded up into the lame duck session. Leaving aside the tax cuts and sequester, unemployment, SGR, appropriations probably, tax extenders. Is there too much being put upon this idea that things can be kicked to the lame duck and that there will be a definitive enough outcome in the election that these things can be dealt with on an even semi-permanent basis then?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I think our goal is to, I know that our goal is to get as much done in the session as possible. And that's why we would like to move with this transportation bill for jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, which is what the American people want us to do.

The appropriations process, I would hope, would follow the agreement that we have made with the Republicans so that we can move forward on that. And I hear that there is some weakening on their part to honor the agreement. Well, let's hope that they do, and we get some of the work that must be done by the end of the fiscal year done by then, and certainly before a lame duck.

I don't know what else in that list is a must pass. And, as you say, the priorities can be so long that, well…

Q: Is there a fear of a train wreck, basically?

Leader Pelosi. You know, I just don't, you know, I--you are talking about what is an array of issues that might, pieces of legislation that might come up. I just don't know that to be so. And I just have this habit of not talking about things that I don't know about. I just don't know that we are going to be that delinquent in executing our duties between now and the, I guess you would say the election, but probably the month before the election, that all of that would be kicked to the lame duck.

Some of it is just a decision. Whatever happens, it's just a decision. Let's get it done. It's going to be the same Congress in the lame duck. It's going to be the same President in the lame duck. Let's just come together, make our compromises, find our common ground if that is possible, or not. And we can do that now, just as well as we can do it eight months, nine months from now.

Thank you all very much. I wish you a happy Saint Patrick's Day, whenever you begin, and whenever you end the celebration.

Thank you.


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