Dec 8, 2020
House Democratic Caucus Leaders Press Conference Transcript December 8: COVID-19 Relief
House Democratic Caucus leaders Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar held a press conference on December 8 to discuss COVID-19 relief negotiations. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Hakeem Jeffries: (00:00)
One, it’s an honor to be joined today by our incoming vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus for the 117th Congress, Vice Chair Elect Pete Aguilar, who we affectionately refer to as the Original Mayor Pete. We certainly are thankful for his leadership in the Congress. And I look forward to working closely together with him as we move forward to advance an agenda to build back better for the people.
Hakeem Jeffries: (00:34)
At our caucus meeting today, we discussed two pressing issues that are before us right now, the COVID-19 relief package and making sure that we reach an omnibus spending agreement prior to the conclusion of the year. We’re confident that we will be able to do both and are hopeful that that can be accomplished sooner rather than later.
Hakeem Jeffries: (01:04)
Yesterday, we marked an anniversary of the tragedy in Pearl Harbor, where more than 2000 Americans lost their lives. And we continue to be thankful for every single person who has worn the uniform throughout our journey here in America to defend our freedom abroad. We know that in World War II, approximately 290,000 Americans lost their lives between 1941 and 1945. By the end of the week, or perhaps by the end of the month without question, we will pass the number of deaths in World War II connected to COVID-19, not over a period of several years, but over a period of several months. And the tragedy is it was all largely avoidable. But because of the absence of leadership and because of the inability or unwillingness of the President to unite the country as was done during World War II, to confront a common enemy, we find ourselves as Americans having to endure unprecedented levels of pain and suffering and death.
Hakeem Jeffries: (02:40)
But brighter days are ahead. We certainly look forward to working closely with the new president, Joseph Biden, and the new vice president, Kamala Harris, to crush the virus, to provide comprehensive transformational and direct relief to everyday Americans and to revive the economy. Over the next few days or next few weeks, we need to complete a down payment on that project, and that’s what we hope to be able to do in reaching an agreement with the Senate and the administration. But rest assured to those who are suffering, help is on the way. We’re going to start to provide that continuing relief in the next few days or next week or two. We will finish the job with President Joe Biden.
Hakeem Jeffries: (03:44)
Vice Chair Elect Pete Aguilar.
Pete Aguilar: (03:49)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s an honor to be here with you. And it’s an honor to represent the 117th Congress and our colleagues. Across my community and across all of our communities, people are suffering. We’re mourning the loss of loved ones, suffering economically, and our community knows that Congress needs to act. Senate Republicans’ inaction for months and months on end has to end. We have to use the bipartisan framework that is out there as a template to move forward. So we encourage Republicans to work with us. We are encouraged by the process so far. We look forward to delivering relief with our caucus for our country and our communities. To do nothing more would be unacceptable.
Pete Aguilar: (04:41)
And so we’re going to continue to work. We’re going to continue to move forward as an appropriator. I know the importance of funding government and making sure that we do this right. I would prefer if our bills have made it over to the other side. The Senate didn’t mark up a single bill or didn’t pass a single bill, but we’re going to continue to move forward because we cannot have a government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic. We will work together. We will work as a caucus and as a country. And we will ensure that we get the job done. As the chairman said, we’re optimistic that we can negotiate and help to get this done together. So thank you. Mr. Chairman?
Hakeem Jeffries: (05:27)
Thank you, Pete. Any questions? [inaudible 00:05:29]
Speaker 3: (05:29)
I’ve got two. On COVID relief, would you like to see, would your caucus like to see direct payments checks be part of this down payment that you’re being negotiated now?
Hakeem Jeffries: (05:41)
Well, the bipartisan framework that has been discussed in the Senate along with Congressman Josh Gottheimer is a foundation for a path forward. Several members of the House Democratic Caucus, as well as Republican senators, have expressed an interest in ensuring that there are some form of direct payments in this package. The problem, of course, as it has always been, is Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, along with President Trump, who’s missing in action while the American people suffer. And so it remains to be seen what will take place. It is important that the framework does include housing assistance for everyday Americans, food insecurity assistance for everyday Americans, as well as a continuation of unemployment insurance benefits for everyday Americans. That is a solid foundation to build upon. We’ll see what happens over the next few days.
Speaker 3: (06:52)
The question about Lloyd Austin, General Austin, the President Elect’s, apparently he will be nominated the defense secretary. Only a few dozen House Democrats voted for the waiver for General Mattis to serve in that window after being active duty. Why should House Democrats now support a waiver for a different general to serve so quickly after leaving the uniform?
Hakeem Jeffries: (07:17)
Well, let’s see what happens in the context of the actual nomination. The presentation that is made by President Elect Biden, as well as the nominee for secretary of defense, and then the case that they make in terms of the waiver. By all accounts, he’s a groundbreaking, trailblazing, four star general who’s dedicated his life to protecting and serving the freedoms that the American people hold dear. He has been disconnected from the military for several years. Let’s see what happens moving forward. But it’s my expectation that we are going to strongly support his nomination and ensure that it receives both the consideration that it deserves as best we can in the House while that plays out in the Senate and address the waiver issue appropriately as we move forward.
Speaker 3: (08:11)
Speaker 4: (08:14)
The House Freedom Caucus said that they’re going to vote no on NDAA today to support Trump. You had 43 Democrats voted against it in July. Are you going to press those members to vote for it this time?
Hakeem Jeffries: (08:26)
Well, that’s the question that’s best directed at Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn, who is charged with counting votes and is doing so, as well as of course our leadership team, Speaker Pelosi and Steny Hoyer. I want to commend Chairman Smith for doing a phenomenal job in terms of negotiating the NDAA. Our original bill was one of the most, actually the most progressive NDAA bill ever put forward by any House in Congress. They’ve done a tremendous job in negotiating several provisions that are of importance to many of us within the House Democratic Caucus in terms of the conference report. And so let’s see what happens. I believe that the bill will pass with robust support amongst Democrats and Republicans, likely sufficient to indicate to the President that if he chooses to veto the bill, he will be overridden.
Speaker 3: (09:32)
Likely sufficient? How confident are you that it’ll be a veto proof majority today?
Hakeem Jeffries: (09:38)
Well, that’s an open question because I’m not responsible for the vote counting that has taken place. So I don’t want to speak for Jim Clyburn. That’s never a good idea to speak for Jim Clyburn. But I have every confidence in him and in the whip operation. Pete?
Pete Aguilar: (10:00)
It’s unfortunately not a surprise that the House Freedom Caucus has indicated that they’re going to oppose the Mac Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act. But we will work with Clyburn and we’ll make sure that it is a robust number of Democrats who support authorizing on the National Defense Act that provides pay raises to our men and women in uniform. It’s unfortunate if the President and the House Freedom Caucus want to make this more political, but we will make sure that we put up good votes. So we’ll continue to have conversations. Chairman and I have had conversations with colleagues about the bill over the last few days. And so we’ll continue to do that. It’s important. It’s a good bipartisan bill. It always has been. And so we need to make sure that we put up the votes.
Speaker 3: (10:59)
Two quick questions as well. On COVID relief, Leader Hoyer had said just a few days ago that he’d like to get it done by the end of this week. That of course is not happening. In light of where we are this morning, Tuesday morning, what are the outstanding issues? Where are the barriers to an agreement? And of the issues that you mentioned, are any of those red lines for House Democrats?
Hakeem Jeffries: (11:19)
Well, it’s my understanding that the work continues to be done around the clock. We’ve got great confidence in Chairwoman Nita Lowey, who’s our lead negotiator on the House side of course, tremendous confidence in Speaker Pelosi and the job that she continues to do negotiating a agreement that allows for passage, but it’s anchored in our values. And so in terms of specifics, that’s best left to Chairwoman Nita Lowey to discuss what the latest is at the negotiating table. But we are confident.
Hakeem Jeffries: (11:55)
It’s unfortunate, as Vice Chair Aguilar indicated, that in the House we did our work. Both the appropriators and the House Democratic majority did its work. We moved forward appropriations bills. The Senate, of course, continues to be missing in action, which is what has led us to this point. And the President is running around, holding rallies, pedaling conspiracy theories, spending time on the golf course, doing everything but leading. And that’s also one of the reasons why we find ourselves in this situation, but I’m confident that in the next few days, certainly no later than next week, but let’s see what happens, Steny Hoyer sets the calendar and he’s indicated to us that he will brief us in terms of the progress on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
Speaker 3: (12:54)
Sorry, quick one more on a different topic on the Biden transition. You’ve already got Cedric Richmond, who’s going to the administration, obviously opening up the seat. There’s some push now for Marcia Fudge to join the administration in some capacity. Is there any concern that, given your slimmer majority, that moving these House Democrats into the administration would make it tougher to pass legislation because there is going to be some lag to fill those seats, even if they are in deep blue districts?
Hakeem Jeffries: (13:25)
There’s no concern that I’ve seen expressed. There’s a lot of talent within the House Democratic Caucus. It’s no surprise that several members may be considered for opportunities within the Biden Administration. That’s a personal decision and a professional decision that they’ll have to make as it relates to their continued representation here, or their ability to impact public policy in a different way as part of the Biden Administration. Our majority in the next Congress will be lean, mean and unified. And we are going to have a president that we can work closely with to build back better for the people. We look forward to that moment. Want to add anything, Pete? And then we’ll take a last question. Last question
Speaker 4: (14:15)
About the slim majority, is there any concern for … Democrats have been taking advantage of proxy voting. That expires at the end of this year. Is there any concern like on January 3rd that all Democrats won’t be back in time because you guys have such a small majority, in terms of picking a new speaker or going forward with confirming the electoral votes?
Hakeem Jeffries: (14:42)
Yeah. It’s our expectation that everyone will be present on January 3rd, Leader Hoyer as well as Jim Clyburn and the Chair of the Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, had made it clear that in the new Congress, there are no rules. And so everyone is required to be present on January 3rd, pursuant to the Constitution. That’s our responsibility. We expect to be present. Nancy Pelosi will be the next speaker. I look forward to nominating her, once again, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus. We’ll enact the rules package and then we’ll be off to the races. And we look forward to making a difference for everyday Americans as we get beyond a long national nightmare, which will end on January 20th.
Speaker 4: (15:35)
One more question. In terms of the Agriculture Secretary, is it important to you that an African-American holds that seat?
Hakeem Jeffries: (15:44)
It’s important to me that Joe Biden’s cabinet reflect the great diversity and gorgeous mosaic of the American people. Marcia Fudge would be a tremendous Secretary of Agriculture. She’d be tremendous, in fact, at anything that she does. But it remains to be seen what direction the Biden Administration will go in. And we all await the decisions that he’ll make over the next couple of weeks. In terms of the diversity, one of the things that I think is important, he’s done very well so far, but the song that he’s writing, the melody that he’s putting together, it’s not complete. And we can’t really fully judge it until he completes his work. But I think all of us are heartened that he’s put forward talented, hardworking, brilliant individuals who reflect the great diversity of the American people. Thank you, everyone.
Speaker 3: (16:56)