Feb 24, 2021
House Democratic Caucus Press Conference on COVID-19 Relief Transcript February 24
Democrat Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar held a press conference on February 24, 2021 to discuss coronavirus relief and the American Rescue Plan. Read the transcript of the briefing with updates on the stimulus here.
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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (00:05)
Morning, everyone. Earlier today, we held our weekly caucus meeting where we discussed the progress of the American Rescue Plan. Budget Committee acted on Monday to favorably report out the $1.9 trillion bill, and we’re looking forward to the legislation being taken up by the House of Representatives in the next few days. The American Rescue Plan has bipartisan support across the nation, from Democrats and Republicans, as well as considerable support amongst independents.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (00:46)
American Rescue Plan is the right response to a once in a century pandemic that has brought a lot of pain and suffering and death to the American people. More than 500,000 Americans dead, more than 25 million Americans infected by the coronavirus. Over 100,000 small businesses permanently closed. Tens of millions of Americans who have been unemployed at different points in time, many confronting food insecurity and the prospect of homelessness. COVID-19 pandemic is a once in a century tragedy. It requires a once in a century continuing comprehensive and compassionate congressional response. That is what the American Rescue Plan represents. And it’s our hope that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will stop playing politics and support the effort to meaningfully support the American people.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (02:04)
We will also take up later on today The Equality Act put forth by Congressman David Cicilline. It has the support of every single House Democrat as a co-sponsor. And we expect that it will receive bipartisan support on the floor of the House of Representatives because it’s the right thing to do. This is a country that prides itself on equal protection under the law and liberty and justice for all. But in the absence of federal civil rights protection, there are members of the LGBTQ community who are fair game in the eyes of the law to be targeted based on sexual orientation. That is not America. And today, House Democrats will take an important step in continuing our long necessary and majestic march toward a more perfect union.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (03:16)
I will now yield to our distinguished vice chair, Pete Aguilar.
Rep. Pete Aguilar: (03:23)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Yesterday, we started our week by noting and remembering the 500,000 lives lost to the COVID virus. It’s a staggering number, and our hearts go out to the millions of Americans who have been touched as loved ones. Right now, it’s more important than ever that we do everything that we can to crush the virus, rebuilding our economy for working people and families that need the support to get back on their feet. This week, we’re considering legislation to do just that. The American Rescue Plan, as the chairman mentioned, has the bipartisan support of the American people. It meets the moment and is decisive and should have bi-partisan support. The American people deserve relief and house Democrats are acting on that. And we hope that our Republican colleagues will join us. Mr. Chairman?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (04:19)
Thank you, Pete. Questions.
So on the 9/11 style commission, Republicans are complaining that Pelosi’s proposal was not bipartisan, that it was a 7/4 split on members. Why not just make it equally bipartisan with equal number of Republicans and Democratic appointees?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (04:40)
Well, that’s the question I think will need to continue to be discussed. I haven’t seen those particular Republican complaints. The speaker has made it clear, as have other Democrats in both the House and the Senate, that we want to make sure that this is bipartisan in nature. In terms of the quality of the people who are part of the commission, they should be impeccably credentialed Americans who are both Republican and Democratic former officials or individuals connected to their affiliation.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (05:21)
In terms of what the ultimate split looks like, we’ll see where that discussion goes. But I think the overall commitment to making it clear that the 9/11 style commission connected to the January 6th violent insurrection incited by the former twice impeached President of the United States of America should be bipartisan in nature, or perhaps better said, nonpartisan in nature because we should approach figuring out what happened, why it happened, and how do we prevent this type of violent attack on our democracy from ever happening again in a way that simply seeks the truth, not through a partisan lens.
Does it undercut the legitimacy, though, if there’s more Democrat on the commission than Republicans?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (06:15)
I’m not prepared to say that it undercuts the legitimacy. I’d be interested in taking a look at the actual 9/11 commission. I believe that the original commission had a Republican appointed chair and a Democratic vice chair, not two co-chairs. That’s my understanding. And if that in fact is the case, okay, let’s explore the possibilities of the constitution and makeup of this commission, but let’s have some intellectual consistency, because Republicans are always complaining just for the sake of complaining about things that they themselves do. We see that now with the American Rescue Plan as they’re complaining about the reconciliation process, the one that they use to pass the GOP tax scam.
It’s a follow up question. If you say the Republicans complain about everything, why don’t you just stop the complaint that it does look unfair by doing a 7/4 split? The 9/11 commission was actually evenly split. So why don’t you just eliminate that complaint they have eliminate the idea that it could look partisan because it’s got more members on one side than the other to stop that argument.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (07:39)
I’m not involved in the drafting of the legislation, but I’m not prepared to say that a 7/4 split is unfair based on who actually is part of the commission. That ultimately should be the determination, but I’m sure the committees of jurisdiction will weigh in as appropriate in moving this legislation through a process that is going to exist, that will necessarily involve negotiation. It’s going to involve committee markups. It’s going to involve taking suggestions from both Democratic and Republican members. Presumably it’s going to involve amendments that can be submitted during the markup process to improve upon the initial legislation. And ultimately, people will presumably have an opportunity to make their case before the rules committee in connection with any amendments.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (08:34)
And so to start out the process now by complaining, when we just have an initial framework that has been presented, and in fact was shared by Speaker Pelosi with Leader McCarthy, who doesn’t always operate in good faith. And he set a bad tone on January 3rd by delivering an egregious speech on the floor of the House, and then of course has continued to provide aid and comfort to the insurrectionists, including by voting with those objections. All of that said, Speaker Pelosi still presented the framework to the Republicans, which then of course, instead of leading to some kind of good faith conversation from them, they immediately launched into a partisan political attack.
Rep. Pete Aguilar: (09:42)
What I’d offer to you is this Speaker has been very clear that this was the initial outreach. This was the opening discussion about the commission style. As the chairman mentioned what’s important here are that the individuals who were chosen, which I understand the question about who appoints them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the president wouldn’t appoint someone who has a different voter registration than our party. So I think that’s important to note, but the composition of the commission is what’s important. Keeping in mind, the 9/11 commission had one woman, no people of color. So let’s have a commission that looks like the country, that looks like our Congress, guide this discussion. And it’s important that it be bipartisan and bicameral. I know that the Democratic Caucus strongly believes that, and we’ll continue to have these discussions to make sure that we get this right.
Senator Mitt Romney has proposed the Family Security Act. He says it would cut child poverty by one third. It would provide low income households in the US with $350 a month for every child they’re raising younger than five and $250 a month every child between the ages of six and 17. What do you think of his proposal will Democrats support it?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (11:03)
Well, is this a proposal that’s being introduced in the context of the American Rescue Plan?
You could compare it. You can equate the two if you like, but just the proposal itself. Just his ideas to-
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (11:14)
I haven’t looked at the specifics of the proposal, but certainly I think the effort to try to end child poverty in America is one that hopefully Democrats and Republicans, House members, Senators share. I know certainly the President and the Vice-President of strongly behind this effort. We have a mechanism for doing it by increasing the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan. That’s the provision that I support. That’s the provision that will be part of the legislation taken up by the House. But the Senate has its own process. And as part of that process, I assume that Mitt Romney’s proposal will be considered in some way, shape or form. I look forward to seeing that discussion. And if it makes it into the final product that the Senate undertakes, then we’ll have an opportunity to consider it in the House.
[inaudible 00:12:11], there are clearly some tensions that are still out there between Democrats and Republicans who voted to decertify on January 6th. We saw some of that last night with the vote on the post office, not normally something we have a role call vote on. What is your advice to Democrats who ask about whether they should feel comfortable supporting bills with Republicans on them, supporting Republican bills if those members have indeed taken part in that decertification vote, or if there’s sympathies Democrats believe they have with some of the insurrectionists?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (12:41)
Well, the Speaker made a very important observation in the caucus call today. And that is that every single member of the House on the Democratic side, as always, our best advice is in making decisions about how you conduct yourself here in the Congress. We simply ask that you follow your conscience, the Constitution, and do what’s in the best interest of your constituents. As the Speaker pointed out, the three CS. Not the four CS, which is the caucus being the fourth one. Your conscience, the Constitution, and your constituents. And so in the context of interacting with those who continue to provide aid and comfort to a violent insurrection, everyone’s going to have to make individual decisions guided by those three principles as to what is the appropriate thing to do on behalf of the people you are privileged to represent. Pete?
Just to go back to the 9/11 commission for a second. It sounds and appears like yourself and Democrats don’t trust Republicans to take this seriously. It seems like you’re concerned about the makeup, you’re concerned about the speeches still about that. Is that true?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (14:16)
I don’t think that’s true. There are some members of House Republican leadership, some, as well as some members of the House Republican conference, who have given us no reason to be trustful of them with respect to approaching this in a manner that simply allows for the commission to follow the facts, apply to governing law and the Constitution and let the truth emerge wherever that falls. But not withstanding whatever skepticism that some may have, as Vice-Chair Aguilar pointed out, the Speaker presented an initial framework to Leader McCarthy to get his take on how we should approach it. This is the beginning of a dialogue that ultimately will turn into a legislative product that goes through an extensive process where Democrats and Republicans will have an opportunity. But the guiding principle remains. This should be done in a bi-partisan fashion. That is our intention. And that is I believe what will ultimately occur. Go to the left and then we’ll go to the back.
Senator Durbin yesterday finally made an announcement on the house schedule [inaudible 00:15:43] farm related immigration bill [inaudible 00:15:49]. Do you guys expect to start moving some immigration bills here soon in pieces like that and would you want to do that before breaking for March? [inaudible 00:16:01]
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (16:00)
I have great respect for Senator Durbin, but I think that the Senate Majority Whip is probably not necessarily the one in position to lay out what the House schedule is going to be. On these issues, I’m going to yield to Vice-Chair Aguilar cause he’s been working extensively and has been one of the leaders of the caucus on immigration. Of course, Linda Sanchez as well, and she’s doing a tremendous job, but I think we haven’t had that conversation. We had an initial presentation from Congresswoman Linda Sanchez during last week’s caucus meeting on the immigration bill that she introduced and we’ll see where it goes from there, but we’re at the very early stages of making decisions. Pete?
Rep. Pete Aguilar: (16:59)
As the chairman mentioned, we have great respect for Senator Durbin and his contributions and his continued work on these issues. I believe later today, the Majority Whip Cliburn will send out a Whip question to the House Democratic Caucus about the United States Citizenship Act carried by Linda Sanchez, carrying the Biden White House proposal, which mirrors the Senator Menendez proposal as well. That will be the question in front of House Democrats. And we are beginning the process, as the chairman mentioned, to educate our colleagues and to talk with them about the importance of this piece of legislation.
Rep. Pete Aguilar: (17:43)
This is a reform bill. This is acknowledging the White House, the Senate, and the House all acknowledging that we have a broken immigration system that desperately needs to be fixed. It includes components that would protect Dreamers, TPS holders, DED, as well as the components within the agriculture worker community. Previously, the Dream And Promise Act and the Ag Worker Modernization Act both passed with strong bipartisan support. If those came up on the House floor, I would imagine a similar result. But the question before us is whether we are ready to vote for and advocate for the US citizenship act, which would transform the system, make key important decisions. And so we’re going to continue to have those conversations, colleague to colleague, to better understand what’s in the Biden White House Menendez Sanchez bill, and to ensure that we have strong support, but always keeping in mind that we do have strong bi-partisan options available as well. Thanks.
Thank you, sir. What are you telling members about the security posture on Capitol Hill? How much longer the fencing in particular will remain up. That’s the topic in one of the hearings this week. What are you learning from the security leadership from your own leadership? And then what are you hearing from members on the question of the posture up here?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (19:21)
Well, it’s my understanding that at this point, we’re waiting for General Honore to complete his survey of the situation that currently exists in terms of the posture, the needs moving forward, as well as perhaps some understanding as to what the gaps in vulnerabilities were that led to the violent mob attack on the Capitol on January 6th. Once that report is ready, there’ll be some mechanism to brief the caucus and then some decisions are going to have to be made in partnership with the Senate. And this of course should be done in a bipartisan way.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (20:00)
The Police Board, of course, is a structure that currently exists. And so there are a variety of different stakeholders that will have to be involved in this discussion, but the safety and security of staff and members is paramount for the Speaker, for every single member of House Democratic leadership, because we saw how close we came to an even greater tragedy and the loss of life as part of the effort to halt the peaceful transfer of power. Never again can we allow that to take place? So clearly improvements are going to have to be made, but I agree that the most appropriate step at this moment is to wait until General Honore completes his report. Second row. And then last question in the back.
On the COVID really fill it right now, it looks like the minimum wage is under discussion the parliamentarian meeting, I think today. If that is not able to be included in the vote, the House takes on Friday, do you expect the support from the Democratic Caucus to be as strong as it would be if it was in there? Will that be an issue if it’s taken out?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (21:08)
Yeah. I expect that the House Democratic Caucus is going to strongly support the American Rescue Plan. We remain hopeful that the $15 minimum wage increase, which takes place gradually over a period of four years, will be made in order in terms of the Byrd rule and reconciliation.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (21:30)
America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. The notion that we have people working for $7.25 an hour, which is the current federal minimum wage, is egregious in the context of all the wealth that exists in this country. The basic American contract is that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to provide a comfortable living for yourself and for your family. That contract is broken when the minimum wage is at $7.25 per hour. That is not America. And the pandemic has exposed significant disparities that exist across many different communities, including communities of color. Joe Biden promised not a return to normalcy, but to build back better in the context of public health and economic challenges that we face related to the pandemic. In my humble opinion, building back better includes a $15 per hour minimum wage. It’s my hope that the Senate parliamentarian will see fit to authorize its inclusion.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (22:59)
Last question in the back.
To follow up on the security question, we’re going to see more hearings this week and next week, not just about January 6th, but also about domestic terrorism and extremism. So I’m wondering if you think that the existential threat to members and to this building still warrants the type of security that we have outside and today?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (23:23)
Well, I don’t want to get out ahead of the expert analysis and exploration that is underway from a variety of different stakeholders, including, but not limited to, General Honore and his report. So I’m thankful for the sacrifice and the service of the Capitol Police. Those women and men who did battle and hand to hand combat for hours are American heroes and they saved lives. The carnage could have been much worse. But clearly, the Capitol Police officers were under-prepared and under-resourced for that type of cataclysmic violent event. And we want to make sure that we put them in the best possible position moving forward to defend the Capitol. And it’s my expectation that that’s exactly what we are going to do.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: (24:30)
One final point that I’d mentioned in the context of the American Rescue Plan, and we’ll see what comes back from the Senate, in addition to having bipartisan support across the country, as Vice-Chair Aguilar pointed out, the American Rescue Plan has the support of the Chamber of Commerce. That’s a right leaning organization. The American Rescue Plan has the support of the Business Round Table. That’s a right leaning organization. The American Rescue Plan now has the support of more than 150 of the nation’s leading CEOs, including Steve Swartzman, one of the biggest Republican donors in the nation. They all recognize that the American Rescue Plan is the right thing to do to crush the virus, provide direct assistance to everyday Americans who are struggling, and lay the groundwork to supercharge our economy. It’s my hope that my Republican colleagues in the House will stop playing politics and join everybody else in supporting the American Rescue Plan so we can do the right thing for the American people. Thank you.