Feb 3, 2021
House Democratic Caucus Press Conference Transcript February 3
Democrat Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar held a press conference on February 3, 2021 to discuss coronavirus relief. They also discussed stripping Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments. Read the transcript of the briefing with updates on the stimulus here.
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Hakeem Jeffries: (00:00)
And of course, to all of the Capitol police officers who mourn the falling and passing of their brother, and also who fought valiantly to defend the Capitol on that fateful day. Earlier today, the caucus convened and we heard from the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden. It was the first time as president that he has addressed the House Democratic Caucus. We were thankful for his presence. He emphasized the need to move forward with the American Rescue Plan, because of the extraordinary level of pain and suffering and death being experienced by the American people. Joe Biden made clear that it’s important for us to provide the resources necessary so that every single American will be vaccinated, to provide assistance to the American people who are suffering from the economic pain connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that we keep the promise to increase direct payment survival checks to $2,000 per person for everyday Americans, as well as to address the other needs of the American people in areas like unemployment, food insecurity, and those who find themselves on the brink of homelessness.
Hakeem Jeffries: (01:45)
Today, we will vote on the budget resolution that will permit us to begin the process of moving forward expeditiously in order to address the framework of the American Rescue Plan that president Biden has set forth. We look forward to doing that and hope that some of our Republican colleagues will join us because the COVID-19 pandemic is not a democratic crisis or a Republican crisis. It’s an American crisis. And as Joe Biden has indicated, as Speaker Pelosi has indicated, we look forward to addressing it together, to crush this virus together, to provide relief to the American people together and ultimately to supercharge our economy and to build back better and do that together, not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans. I now yield to the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Pete Aguilar.
Pete Aguilar: (02:56)
Thank you, mr. Chairman. As the chairman mentioned. It is a solemn day here under the dome as we pay tribute to officer Sicknick, who gave his life trying to defend our Capitol and our democracy. The chairman had an opportunity to pay respects with legislative leaders just a short time ago. I had an opportunity last night to pay my respects and our condolences continue to go out to his family and the US Capitol police. Today marks two weeks that president Biden has been in office and we are already seeing the positive changes that will help millions of Americans. From his quick action on COVID to his efforts to support American manufacturing, address the climate crisis and help fix our broken immigration system. The president is delivering for the American people. I was glad to see the president put an emphasis on family reunification yesterday, and I look forward to working with the administration to ensure the families who were cruelly torn apart by Donald Trump are united. Our top priority continues to be passing the president’s American Rescue Plan and to build back our communities and jumpstart our economy. This should have bi-partisan support, as the chairman said, but congressional Democrats won’t be impeded by Republican obstruction. We have to get this done and we will.
Hakeem Jeffries: (04:28)
Thank you, Pete. Any questions?
Speaker 3: (04:32)
Congressman, I have two questions. The first is on Biden’s call today. Did he have any reservations whatsoever about moving on reconciliation in a partisan manner? And can you explain what message he was, if he was fully supportive of it, what specifically he said?
Hakeem Jeffries: (04:53)
Yeah, we didn’t discuss the process of reconciliation in terms of the legislative mechanisms as has been set forth to move the particular Rescue Plan. It was a high-level discussion about the need to address the pain and the suffering and death being experienced by the American people. He talked about the importance of bipartisanship, but framed it, in my view, in the broadest possible context. It’s important to note that a significant number of Trump Republicans amongst the American electorate back the American Rescue Plan. And of course, we have entities like the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Business Round Table, which back the American Rescue Plan. Republican mayors and county executives and governors have also expressed support for president Biden’s American plan. So, it is bipartisan amongst the American people. The question that remains is will it be bipartisan here in the House and the Senate, and that’s for the Republicans to decide. Are they going to continue the obstruction that took place for eight years when Barack Obama was president, or are they willing to actually extend the hand of friendship on behalf of the American people, with Joe Biden being a willing partner, to work with us as congressional Democrats to get this done? And we’ll see what happens later on today.
Speaker 3: (06:39)
And are you concerned about the precedent it would set if Democrats vote to strip a member of the other party of their committee assignment?
Hakeem Jeffries: (06:49)
Well, Kevin McCarthy should handle this problem because Marjorie Taylor Greene is totally out of control as a Qanon caucus leader, sympathizer, and someone who has denied that mass shootings where children were massacred has taken place, as well as promoted and apparently embraced efforts by some to facilitate violence against our legislative leaders. And so, seems to me that the best thing that could happen at this moment is for Kevin McCarthy to make clear that she should not be on the Education and Labor Committee. If he doesn’t make that decision, I think as the Speaker and Steny Hoyer have indicated, we’ll be prepared to move forward, but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.
Speaker 4: (07:51)
About the stimulus, do you see the House changing the Biden plan in any way? And if so, how? And then, on the minimum wage, is that definitely going to be in here?
Hakeem Jeffries: (08:01)
Well, that’s a question for the Committee chairs to work out after we take the next step in the process. I think there is strong support for a $15 minimum wage. President Biden has expressed support for it. And certainly the House Democratic Caucus has passed the Raise the Wage Act in the previous Congress and strongly supports the effort to move forward in that direction. The three most important things, I think, that the president has indicated, and certainly that House Democrats are supportive of is the need to make sure we provide direct assistance to everyday Americans, including increasing the survival checks to a total of $2,000, to make sure that we address the needs of Americans who are dealing with unemployment and food insecurity, as well as confronting the possibility of homelessness, to make sure that we provide substantial funding so that every single American can be vaccinated in a safe and effective way. And of course, to make sure that we provide the support to state and local governments so they can continue to provide public health, public safety, public housing, public education, public transportation, and the provision of the public good. Pete?
Pete Aguilar: (09:33)
I think one of the things I also heard from the president this morning is the danger in not doing enough, the urgency of the moment, and to ensure that we do what we can to address the vaccines, as the chairman mentioned, state local support food insecurity. All of these issues are priorities for the House Democratic Caucus and for the American people, and the president affirmed that in encouraging us to address this crisis. And so, that’s what we will do. That’s what our Committee chairs will be tasked to do through this process. With respect to our colleague across the aisle, this is someone who is unfit to serve in this body. I’m not worried about a precedent. This is someone who poses dangerous rhetoric and from a member security perspective, we have concerns. And so, I support and I believe our caucus will support acting on that tomorrow if leader McCarthy does not act himself. I think it’s just important to mention some of the senators who have commented on this as well. North Dakota Republican Kevin Kramer said, “Personally, I’d have a hard time supporting, for example, her positions on school shootings being staged and being on the Education Committee.” John Thune said, “House Republicans have to decide who they want to be.” And I think that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (11:21)
If I can just follow up, sir, something you said there. You cited security concerns. Are you saying that there are members in your caucus that are worried that Congresswoman Greene presents a threat to their life or safety, an actual threat?
Pete Aguilar: (11:40)
Those are comments she’s associated with in the past. And I think at this time, after what our caucus experienced, we are broadly concerned about security, but with respect to this individual, this has been some of the rhetoric that she has said. And I think we should trust in her own words what she has said and the comments she is associated with as we move forward. And I think that that is a factor that members have to consider.
Speaker 5: (12:16)
Aren’t you weaponizing the committee assignment process if Democrats move to remove a Republican from the committee process? Doesn’t that present the risk that in some point when you’re not in the majority that comes back to be something that’s used against you?
Pete Aguilar: (12:31)
I don’t believe anyone in our caucus would ever say comments that would potentially endanger other members or associate themselves with the comments that she has about the Parkland shooting and about so many other topics. That is dangerous rhetoric, and so I don’t worry about precedent. I think that we need to act, and I believe that she is unfit to serve on these committees.
Hakeem Jeffries: (13:00)
And Marjorie Taylor Greene’s rhetoric has been characterized as looney, crazy, wacky, dangerous by Senate Republicans. Not House Democrats, by Senate Republicans. So, this is not a partisan issue about precedent that may be established if we’re compelled to act to address a situation that Kevin McCarthy should address himself. Why would Kevin McCarthy continue to associate himself and the Republican Conference with someone who leader Mitch McConnell has characterized as a cancer. The last time I checked, cancers need to be cut out and not allowed to metastasize. And Kevin McCarthy has the ability to do the right thing. He should.
Speaker 6: (14:01)
Well, at the same time as all this controversy over representative Greene, the DCCC is out with ads tying Republicans as a whole to QAnon, and also in light of what happened on January 6th. But how can House Democrats be taking steps towards bipartisanship as president Biden urged today, in light of this messaging, even when there are many of these members who have not expressed any support whatsoever for these conspiracy theories?
Hakeem Jeffries: (14:29)
Well, what the DCCC does in a non-governmental capacity, I don’t think there was anything that was done in terms of the ads that was out of bounds or out of line. It basically made reference to votes that have been taken in a different area with respect to either impeachment or the votes that were taken on January 6th with respect to objecting to an election that they know Joe Biden won, even after a violent mob attacked the Capitol. It seems to me that those Republicans are going to have to answer for their votes and their record and the people that they associate themselves with. We look forward to working hand in hand with Republican colleagues who are interested in doing the right thing and confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and meeting the moment. But there are a whole handful of other individuals who are reckless and dangerous and irresponsible, and Kevin McCarthy needs to clean that situation up if he expects the Republican Conference to be taken seriously. We’ll go this side. Yeah.
Speaker 7: (15:53)
One more question out of Greene, and then I have a followup on a completely different topic. Can you characterize where you think it is appropriate to hold her accountable? Because it seems that a lot of Democratic caucus members are all over the map on this. Do you think she shouldn’t be on any committees at all? Should she only be off the Education Committee or should she be completely expelled from the Congress? Where do you fall on that line in terms of what would be the appropriate action to hold her accountable?
Hakeem Jeffries: (16:19)
In my view, we have to take one step at a time. And what is in front of us right now is the outrageous decision by Kevin McCarthy to put Marjorie Taylor Greene on the Education Committee when she clearly believes that Parkland didn’t happen and that those young people weren’t murdered, those families aren’t suffering as a result of that school shooting and that Sandy Hook didn’t happen. How can you put someone who is a mass shooting denier, who mocks the survivors of Parkland, on the Education Committee? So, that’s in front of us right now. Let’s deal with that issue. There are broader concerns with the fact that the House Republican Conference appears to have been taken over by the conspiracy caucus, the crackpot caucus, and the QAnon caucus at the same time. Clearly there are Senate Republicans concerned with that situation. America should be concerned with that situation. But let’s proceed with what’s in front of us right now, which is the outrageous decision to place her on the Education Committee.
Speaker 7: (17:38)
On a different topic, but if you could just talk from your personal experience dealing with your constituents, and I know you talked this morning with president Biden about the relief package, but where do you rank vaccine distribution specifically in terms of priority for this government? And if you could maybe just share some experiences your constituents have shared with you and what you think needs to be done immediately to streamline that process?
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:02)
I think for that question I’ll also allow vice chair Pete, or [inaudible 00:18:06] vice chair Aguilar to answer as well. But president Biden made clear that vaccinations are a top priority, and we’re thankful that the Biden administration is taking the vaccination process seriously because the previous administration did not. In order for us to get through this once in a century pandemic, we are clear that it won’t be over for any of us until it’s over for all of us. And the way to make sure that the pandemic ends, that we crush the virus for every single American, is to ensure that every single American gets vaccinated in a safe and effective fashion. That’s why billions of dollars will be allocated when we pass the American Rescue Plan. At the same time, we continue to encourage Americans to take the necessary steps around masking and social distancing and hand washing that have been recommended by the public health officials. I think the people that I represent back home in Brooklyn have been very clear that they want this to end, and they see vaccinations as a pathway to accomplish that objective while also understanding that prioritizing essential workers, first responders and seniors, and doing that in an orderly fashion, working our way eventually to young people is the right approach.
Pete Aguilar: (19:44)
Getting help to our communities is our top priority, economic relief. But to answer your question, vaccine distribution has to be among the highest by far. In the county where I’m from, 60 miles from downtown LA, a county of 2.5 million people, we’re getting 16,000 vaccines to the county a week. That’s not enough. With over 200,000 individuals over the age of 65, with another 100,000 essential workers, food and agricultural workers, it’s not enough. We appreciate that this administration is taking this seriously. They have inherited a situation that is awful. And so, they are looking to turn that, but we need help in our communities. I know the chairman’s community, my community, individuals want to be vaccinated, but we need to do everything we can to make sure that there are more shots in arms. The administration is committed to that, House Democrats are committed to that.
Hakeem Jeffries: (20:52)
Last question. We’ll take these two last questions here.
Speaker 8: (20:57)
On impeachment, your managers released the brief yesterday, but is there any indication whether or not you’re going to call witnesses and who those witnesses might be when this trial begins next week?
Hakeem Jeffries: (21:08)
Well, that’s a question that I think the House managers are working through and they haven’t publicly indicated what their approach is going to be. And so, we look forward to their presentations, which will be compelling. It’s our hope that Senate Republicans, with the exception of those who provided aid and comfort to the insurrection like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, but it’s my hope that the vast majority of Senate Republicans are going to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the constitution and let the truth fall where it may in the context of what the ultimate decision is on conviction. And I think that there’s reason to believe that certainly a handful of Senate Republicans are going to be open to doing the right thing. Once the evidence is presented, which could include possible witnesses, let’s see what takes place.
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:12)
I will say that as I was sitting in the ceremony earlier today, thinking about the fact that this officer was murdered defending us and the fact that other Americans died in connection with the violent attack on the Capitol and that the Capitol was ransacked, the Confederate flag was run through the building, the American flag was taken down and a Trump flag was put up. More than 140 police officers have suffered serious injuries. Many of those injuries are head and brain trauma. One office had lost three fingers. Another officer may lose sight in at least one eye. And we’re supposed to move on, like some Republicans have suggested? Not going to move on. And so, I’m looking forward to the presentation of evidence by the House impeachment managers, and hopefully the Senate Republicans are prepared to receive that information and behave in a serious, solemn and substantive fashion in response.
Speaker 8: (23:38)
As a former manager, are you offering any lessons learned to the managers coming up?
Hakeem Jeffries: (23:44)
No, it’s an extraordinary team of very skilled litigators, and I think they’re going to do an amazing job. On behalf of not just the caucus and the House, but more importantly on behalf of the American people. Last question, thanks.
Speaker 9: (24:01)
Yesterday, in her dear colleague letter, Speaker Pelosi mentioned that there was a need for additional security funding for the Capitol complex. Was the security of members discussed on the call today, and what specifically in terms of funding would the Democratic caucus like to see for security measures here at the Capitol and during travel?
Hakeem Jeffries: (24:22)
Well, those are issues to be worked out, but I think we’re all thankful that Speaker Pelosi is focused on ensuring that the Capitol complex is secure and that members, on behalf of the people that we are charged with representing, can do the people’s business in a safe and secure fashion. And there are a variety of different committees that may ultimately be involved in working through these issues with the framework that the Speaker has provided in terms of the resources that are already available, as well as some additional resources that she has indicated may need to be available so that we can undertake our constitutional responsibilities. Understanding that the violent attack on the Capitol was designed to stop the House and the Senate from certifying an election pursuant to our constitutional charge, and that we cannot allow those individuals who want to govern by mob rule to be successful in intimidating members of Congress from doing the business of the people, particularly as we navigate our way through the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Hakeem Jeffries: (25:44)
So, I think additional steps are going to be taken. The Speaker has indicated that she continues to communicate with members frequently, both via correspondence, phone calls and caucus meeting settings. And we want to make sure that everybody can do their jobs to the best of their ability without fear of intimidation from those who seek to stop democracy in its tracks. Thank you, everyone.