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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democratic Leaders Press Stakeout

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, House Democratic Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, Congressman Steve Israel, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen held a press stakeout moments after House Republicans announced their plans to further risk a default of the United States economy. Below are the Leader's opening remarks, followed by a question and answer session:

Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. For the last couple of days, the Senate has been acting and working in a very bipartisan way to come up with a solution and a way to go forward. What we have heard from the negotiations, they are near a final version. And from what we have heard, it sounds pretty positive. Of course, I would like a longer lifting of the debt ceiling. But nonetheless, this is great progress. That progress, evidently, has struck fear in the hearts of the House Republicans whose reckless, radical behavior has called upon them to sabotage the bipartisan effort in the United States Senate.

This is day 15 of the shutdown which has hit our country hard -- and harder by the day. Now, for reasons I don't quite understand, the Republicans in the House of Representatives, again, want to sabotage the bipartisan efforts in the Senate. And that will hit our economy hard, our global standing as well. But what is also interesting is how it hits the American people in their pocketbooks. It's going to mean higher interest rates on student loans, car payments, mortgages, business loans if you happen to be a small business person. It's going to affect your 401(k)s. And why? It's hard to understand because this is very, very damaging. What you saw here earlier, right here, where they were. Was the Speaker here?

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra. Yes. He was here.

Leader Pelosi. It was the Speaker who did not have the votes for his proposal. If there is any hope here, it's that they don't have the votes. So, why are they doing this to the American people, sabotaging a good faith bipartisan effort coming out of the Senate and wasting the public's time? And in this case, time is money. Time is money. This is going to be very costly to our economy even if eventually we do lift the debt ceiling. The costs and interests payments will be in the billions of dollars. This Republican sabotaging of any effort to move forward is a luxury our country cannot afford.

And you can see by their comments that they did not have the votes. There are those on the radical right who don't want to lift the debt ceiling. And then you have the moderates, who say they want to do so in a way that is clean, that will go to the Senate, that will pass, and that the President will sign.

With that, I'm pleased to yield to our distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer.


Q: Leader Pelosi, at the outset you said you were positive about [Senator] Reid carrying a deal. But we've been hearing that for a while. What's the hold up? Why aren't we seeing a deal? And are you concerned that we're getting so close to the deadline that there won't be enough time to avoid default?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't know. I haven't heard it for a while. I heard it yesterday maybe a little bit the day before and today. I think they've made a lot of progress in a short period of time. And that doesn't mean that it's the bill we would have written. I think we should be extending the debt limit for at least one year. In fact, I don't even think we should be discussing it, I think it should be a given as the constitution indicated that the full faith and credit of the United States will always be honored. But nonetheless, it is an approach, it is a middle ground, it is a common ground. It enables us to go forward to go to the budget table by the middle of December to open government until the middle of January, by which time we hopefully have a solution to keeping it open and then to go to February with the debt ceiling.

So, I don't think that we've been hearing -- you maybe have heard more than I have heard. But I haven't been hearing it for a long time. I think this is a relatively new development. I just want to make the point about the debt ceiling because this is day 15 of the shutdown of government. Eight hundred thousand people out of work and many more people affected whether in the private sector or the nonprofit sector, this is very bad for our country. But to default on the full faith and the credit of the United States should be out of the question.

And so, why would they sabotage a good faith effort when all of these issues they're talking about can be debated at the budget table? Or it can be taken up in regular order of the House in terms of legislation where we may find some common ground, but not to hold the full faith and credit hostage? As I say, it's a luxury that we cannot afford. I don't know where -- they don't have the votes. It seems that those who are acting in good faith to say they would like to open up government and lift the debt ceiling, maybe they're the ones who are resisting or maybe it's those on the far right who don't want to lift the debt ceiling.

But whatever it is, the only conversation I've had with these people on the subject was yesterday when I called them and said: "If the Senate bill materializes, why don't you take that up immediately. You take it up tomorrow, send it to them and under our procedures they can take it up in a much more rapid form than if they originated the bill." That's the conversation. So, when the Speaker talks about working in a bipartisan way, I don't know who he's talking to.

Q: Madam Leader, I just want to -- so Speaker was here just a bit ago and he pulled back from reports of his plan here though. Let me play devil's advocate for a moment here. Obviously…

Leader Pelosi. Isn't that your role?


Q: Well, yes. You're familiar with the internal pressures that he faces with a certain wing in this conference. But that said, wasn't that the responsible thing to do -- to draw back from this rather than put that bill on the floor and it possibly fail which could spur the market to, perhaps like the TARP?

Leader Pelosi. No. No. No. And thank you for bringing up the TARP because the TARP -- House Democrats saved the country from going over the brink because he couldn't deliver the votes then from his conference when it was his own President of the United States, President Bush. But what a Speaker has to do is get the job done. He can let them vote any way they want. Let them. They will vote any way they want. But bring it to the floor and let a bipartisan vote come together to end the shutdown of government, lift the debt ceiling, and take it to the budget table where we can discuss any and all issues at that time.

So, it just depends on their 218 votes. There are 435 members in Congress and he has a responsibility to the public to bring this bill to the floor or else. You heard, we all heard, who knows what it is because they didn't talk about it at the press conference, but what you heard was a plan to default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. It is by design. That is their intention, make no mistake about that.

Any of my colleagues want to say anything about that?

Q: How many House Democrats would there be for the Reid-McConnell plan?

Leader Pelosi. We think that we would have everyone.

Q: And what did Boehner respond to you when you told him yesterday about bringing that to the floor?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I said to the Speaker the quickest thing to remove all doubt and to open government is for us to act because the House has procedures that move much more quickly than the Senate, which the world is finding out. He indicated that was a possibility but they might have other possibilities. It wasn't a very clear response but nonetheless without going into that -- obviously he, instead of taking the easy route, which again, is middle ground, I think the debt limit is too short. Lifting the debt limit is too short until February -- but nonetheless willing to accept.

And again, I would say we would have an overwhelming number of House Democrats and I'm going to yield to the distinguished Whip who counts his votes to respond further. But the fact is: there must be 38 Republicans who might vote correctly on this, that's all that voted for Sandy Aid I think…

Q: Forty-nine.

Leader Pelosi. Well that was a different piece of it, but say 49, are there not 49 people? I think all but nine of those lived in Pennsylvania.

Q: Nineteen who have not been...

Leader Pelosi. Well it depends on whether you take the 38 or the 49, but let's not get into that.


Let's just say it wasn't even 25 percent of their conference. It was 20 percent of their conference. But again, let's not, this is a very big deal. This is the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The whole world is watching to see what happens here. A vehicle is moving in the Senate, this is an effort to sabotage it which means delay also. But not only that, but to undermine it in the Senate so that we don't know where the end of the road is on this. It's reckless, irresponsible, radical -- no words are adequate to describe how out of the question what the Republicans are trying to do here.

And again, we extend the hand of friendship. We're willing to accept some of the terms of the bipartisan bill in the Senate in order to get things moving.

Whip Hoyer. Well first of all, the responsible thing to do for the Speaker is to do what he says he wants to do all the time, let the House work its will. Let the American people's representatives vote. Let them decide whether they want to open government and whether they want to make sure America pays its bill. Now, there's a lot of talk about Young Guns. The Young Guns are causing harm to our country, let me tell you what they said: "We pledge to stand on principle, to lead as adults, and most of all to serve as responsible stewards of the public trust by listening to the American people." Well the American people, overwhelmingly, in poll after poll after poll and on the November 2012 poll as Mr. Clyburn pointed out, have said they want this country to move forward. They want it to pay its debt, and they want their government open. So, the responsible action for the Speaker to take is to do exactly that.

Now, Mr. Ryan is specifically quoted in Young Guns as saying: "The Washington way isn't interested in honest up or down votes." He said this in, I guess they wrote this book in 2009 -- transformation program. "It rings the process to produce the outcome it desires though any means necessary." Well Mr. Ryan, urge the Speaker to put the bill on the floor, open government, let the American people see who is for voting for opening up government and paying America's bill and going to conference to discuss further common sense solutions. That's what the Speaker ought to do; that's what I urge the Speaker to do. But much, much more importantly, that's what the American people are urging the Speaker to do. That's the responsible thing to do.

Q: Mr. Hoyer, do you think they have the votes to pass their plan?

Whip Hoyer. I have no idea. I haven't counted their votes.

Q: Madam Leader?

Leader Pelosi. I would like to weigh in on that…


Because this is what I do. I know the role of the Speaker, and I saw a Speaker who didn't have the votes. I guess they said they were having a press conference so they should have one, but they didn't come out and say what their proposal was and they're still working on it. And for some reason they said that they were working in a bipartisan way. I don't know to what they were referencing, but that was clearly -- now again, on the right, they had a resistance and I think the moderates in the conference are going to have to have a moment of truth: are they going to continue to be enablers to this behavior that is sabotaging a good faith bipartisan effort that's hitting American people right in their own pocketbooks while damaging our national global economy? Are they going to continue to enable the Speaker do that? Or are they going to do what they know is right, which is to end this?

With that, Mr. Van Hollen did you have something you wanted to say?

Mr. Van Hollen. No. I think the last thing I would just -- just to reinforce that point, you have a lot of self-proclaimed moderates on the Republican side of the House who back home are telling their constituents that they want to have a vote, up or down, to immediately open the entire government and want to make sure that we pay our bills on time. And so, the question for them, and for their constituents, is whether when they are here in Congress, they are going to do as they say they are going to do back at home? Maybe this is a moment where they are finally standing up to the Tea Party facts in their caucus. The jury is still very much out on that. And we hope they'll do the right thing.

Leader Pelosi. I want to go further about my analysis of their vote. I don't think they have the vote for $986 [billion] which they proposed to Senator Reid, Leader Reid and he accepted it, the President accepted it, [and] we accepted it. But I don't think they ever had the votes when they proposed that, so that's why they had to back off. We would've given them the votes, but they didn't accept that offer. What was it, 123 times or something to the floor to offer that to them?

Secondly, they didn't have the votes for what they proposed to the President over the weekend. Remember that they made a proposal to the President? They didn't have the votes for that. That's why they calmly backed away when the President said "no.' And they don't have the votes for what they have today. They have their own internal combustion that is going on and the conflagration for that is very harmful.

Q: Madam Leader, the Majority Leader on the floor said the rating agencies are talking about downgrading the United States as early as tonight. Do you have any information? Senator Reid, Majority Leader over there.

Leader Pelosi. Well, we do know that it will cost billions of dollars just in anticipation of a possible downgrade. And I remind you that two years ago we didn't downgrade, we didn't downgrade. But the threat of it, excuse me we did not default, but the threat of defaulting brought a downgrade upon us.

Q: Have you been warned of a down grade as early as tonight?

Leader Pelosi. I haven't been warned of that. But I do know that it is possible and we discussed how much that would cost, maybe billions, it would cost billions of dollars just as I say, the discussion of it. This really should be an off limits subject. And one of the reasons why is this is for debts incurred, a lot of this debt is the Bush Administration era debt and they don't want to pay those bills. This isn't about what happens in the future only. This is about the bills that have already been incurred. How do you walk away from that? And just say: "I'll pay china first and the rest of you can wait?" I don't think the American people want that.

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