Mar 9, 2021
House Democrats Press Conference on American Rescue Plan Transcript March 9
House Democrats Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Bourdeaux, and Pete Aguilar held a press conference on the American Rescue Plan and COVID relief on March 8, 2021. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Hakeem Jeffries: (04:16)
Good morning, everyone. It’s my honor today to be joined by two distinguished members of the freshmen class, Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux from Georgia, Congressman Frank Mrvan from the great state of Indiana. And of course, I’m joined by my friend and colleague, our Vice Chair, Pete Aguilar. We concluded The House Democratic Caucus meeting earlier today in high spirits and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead because of the legislation that will be passed on the floor of The House of Representatives this week. The American Rescue Plan is transformative. It will comprehensively and compassionately meet the moment as a result of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership matters. Vaccinations are up. Infections are down. $1,400 survival checks are on the way. And that is only the beginning. House Democrats in partnership with Senate Democrats and with great leadership from President Biden and Vice President Harris promised to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a transformational way.
Hakeem Jeffries: (05:44)
The American Rescue Plan is a transformational piece of legislation. We promised to put vaccination shots in arms for every single American. Mission accomplished. We’ve promised to put money in the pockets of everyday Americans who’ve been struggling through the economic trauma of the pandemic. Mission accomplished. We promised to make sure that children can go back to school safely. Mission accomplished. We promised to send people back to work by helping to revive and supercharge the economy. Mission accomplished. We promised to help small businesses. Mission accomplished. Leadership matters. And we’re thankful for the leadership of President Biden, his administration, in partnership with House Democrats and Senate Democrats to get things done for the American people. But we’re not going to stop there. This week we will also have important gun violence prevention, legislative measures voted on the floor and we expect that they will pass with bipartisan support.
Hakeem Jeffries: (07:09)
America has 4% of the world’s population, 40% of the world’s guns. And because of loopholes that currently exist in the law, many of those guns find their way into the hands of criminals who are intent on doing harm to the American people. And we’ve seen mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting. Enough. And that is why we will move forward with the bipartisan background check bill, as well as with closing the Charleston loophole. We also are going to take an important step forward in terms of passing the Right To Organize Act and protecting the ability of everyday Americans to collectively bargain, to organize themselves, and to be able to speak with a voice that gives them a fair shot to negotiate fair wages, fair healthcare, fair benefits, when up against multinational corporations and intense corporate power. The American dream has been slipping for decades in part because of the dramatic decline in union density, facilitated by an unrelenting attack on the ability of everyday Americans to organize themselves. That is why we will be protecting the right to organize in The House this week. And I yield to the distinguished Vice Chair of The House Democratic Caucus, Pete Aguilar.
Pete Aguilar: (09:04)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Right now, The House is prepared to pass, once again, The American Rescue Plan. This legislation represents the boldest action taken on behalf of the American people since the great depression and will give us the tools to build back better. It’ll put money in people’s pockets. It will cut poverty in half, cut child poverty in half, and it will give our communities the resources they need to safely reopen schools. It will ramp up vaccination rates to crush this virus and Republicans in both The House and the Senate uniformly opposed it. We should be clear that this legislation has broad bipartisan support from the American public across the country. House Democrats remain focused on delivering results for the American people to meet this moment, while House Republicans are focused on Dr. Seuss. I’m proud to support this bill and I look forward to seeing the profound impact that…
Pete Aguilar: (10:03)
… proud to support this bill. And I look forward to seeing the profound impact that it will have in communities like mine and across this country. With that, I’d like to introduce my colleague from Georgia, Representative Carolyn Bordeaux.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (10:18)
Good morning, and thank you, Vice Chair Aguilar, for that introduction, and thank you, Chairman Jeffries, for your remarks. I’m also pleased to be here today with my fellow freshman, Congressman Frank Mrvan from Indiana.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (10:31)
I ran for office in Georgia on the promise of getting my community the COVID help it needed and still needs. Throughout my campaign and the campaign for the two Senate seats, we would often say on the trail, “Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.” That wasn’t just a clever line. More than 500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, including over 17,000 Georgians. We’re about to close on another milestone of around a million infected. Hundreds of thousands more are suffering from the longterm impact of the disease, and just a few days ago, I got a letter from a teacher who is on kidney dialysis because of blood clots caused by COVID. Many small businesses are operating at a fraction of their capacity. Families are exhausted. My nine-year-old son, like so many, has been in digital learning for a year, starting this month.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (11:27)
This week, we will fulfill the promise that we made to people in Georgia and this country, when the House sends the American Rescue Plan to President Biden for his signature. We are voting on a bill that will save lives and livelihoods. Though we’ve made a lot of progress, including the remarkable development of three COVID vaccines in less than a year, we still have a long way to go. My husband used to wake up every day and ask, “Dear Lord, when are they going to have a vaccine?” And now he wakes up every day and says, “When are we going to get the vaccine?” The American Rescue Plan will help us get shots in arms, will increase funding for testing, the development of new therapies, and the expansion of the public health workforce.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (12:09)
If there’s one thing, though, that COVID has taught us, it is how our social safety net has fallen short. There are many important provisions in this bill to shore up our working families, but there is one I really want to focus on in particular in Georgia, because Georgia is one of the top States in the nation for the number of uninsured. In my district, Georgia’s seventh, 14% of our population, 120,000 people lack health insurance, and that was before the pandemic. I want to be clear that most of these people are working, and are either too poor to be able to get a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the exchange, or simply can’t afford to pay the extortionary health insurance prices that we face in Georgia.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (12:56)
There are people in my community who hold good jobs, are in two-income families, and live in nice homes, but they still struggle to afford health insurance, because many of them have to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 every month. The American Rescue Plan says enough is enough, and caps healthcare insurance premiums for families that purchase on the exchange at 8.5% of their income. This is going to be very important to expanding health insurance coverage in Georgia and across the country.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (13:24)
Then there is Medicaid expansion. There are 12 states in the country that have yet to expand Medicaid, and my state of Georgia is one of them. The American Rescue Plan gives a major incentive to each of those 12 states to do so, by giving states like Georgia a second chance to expand Medicaid and get higher federal matching rate for Medicaid expenses.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (13:46)
Our Governor has been complaining about not getting enough state aid in the rescue package, even though he would not support the bill anyway, but he also leaves approximately $1.9 billion on the table in federal money each year to expand Medicaid and ensure health insurance for around 500,000 people in Georgia and save rural hospitals. Expanding Medicaid is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. Not only will more people have health insurance, but in Georgia, the cost of uncompensated care is baked into our high health insurance premiums.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (14:23)
Finally, I would be remiss to stand up here and not also mention the For the People Act that we passed last week. After an election with record-breaking turnout, the Georgia General Assembly passed yet another bill yesterday to make it harder for working people to vote, by eliminating no excuse absentee voting in Georgia. This isn’t about politics. It’s about making it easier to vote. It’s about protecting working people who don’t have the time or ability to leave their jobs in the middle of the workday to go vote. If we only let people who vote nine to five, we’re going to lose hundreds of thousands of voters who vote early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or on weekends, or who use no excuse absentee ballots to vote.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (15:06)
In 2005, it was Republicans who enacted no excuse absentee voting in Georgia. And now they’re changing their tune, and politics is the reason why. I proudly voted for the For the People Act to push back on these efforts in Georgia and in state legislatures around the country, and because our right to vote is sacred. Thank you so much, and I yield to my colleague, Congressman Frank Mrvan.
Congressman Frank Mrvan: (15:34)
Thank you, Congresswoman. I am Frank J. Mrvan. I represent the Indiana’s First Congressional District. I have walked on the picket lines. I have chanted, “One day longer, one day stronger.” I’ve been in the union halls when people have been on strike, and they’ve given up their incomes and their health insurance in order to have a collective voice. I also sat across the table from individuals who have lost or been displaced from their job based on policies that are no control of their own. And today, I am proud to say that I and the United States Democratic Caucus have a message to the union sisters and brothers. We have your back.
Congressman Frank Mrvan: (16:14)
Just like in communities across and throughout our nation, unions are the backbone of Northwest Indiana’s economy. My district is a manufacturing hub and one of the largest steel producing regions in the nation. And that success is because of the United Steelworkers. The international longshoremen work at the port of Indiana moving iron and ore and goods and products throughout Lake Michigan, and all members of the building trades and the construction trades use the steel and the products to create and manufacture products that support our national economy and our national security. For too long, states and federal policies have targeted unions to weaken their leverage and their position.
Congressman Frank Mrvan: (16:59)
That changes today. I am proud the House Democrats are leading the way by voting this week on HR-824, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. When workers stand together and form a union, they have the ability to use a collective voice for fair wages, safe working conditions, improved health benefits, and a secure retirement. Organized labor is essential to creating opportunities for individuals to have a good paying career and a family-sustaining job, and the pride and the dignity of work.
Congressman Frank Mrvan: (17:33)
I am also proud to vote today on the American Recovery Plan. These two measures give a balance and lift up working families. In my opinion, part of our great divide in our nation is workers feel left behind. These two acts lift up workers and give them a chance. I thank you, and I yield back to the Chairman.
Hakeem Jeffries: (17:58)
Thank you, Carolyn. Thank you, Frank. Questions?
Speaker 1: (18:00)
Mr. Jeffries, “Mission accomplished,” is pretty strong for a bill you haven’t voted on yet. I mean, are you 100% confident you’re going to have the votes to do this?
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:10)
I’m 110% confident that the votes exists to pass the American Rescue Plan.
Speaker 1: (18:15)
Any updated guidance on when that might happen?
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:18)
I expect that the bill will be taken … We’re still waiting on the bill to come over from the Senate. And so from a timing standpoint, the clock will start to tick when the Senate transmits the bill back to the House of Representatives, and then the Rules Committee will take it up. Once the Rules Committee takes it up, they’ll send it to the floor and we’ll pass it, hopefully with some Republican votes, although that remains to be seen.
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:44)
What’s perplexing to a lot of us is that the American Rescue Plan is bipartisan across the country. 70% to 75% of the American people support it. A majority of Republicans support it. Over 70% of independent voters support it. The Chamber of Commerce supports the American Rescue Plan. The Business Round Table supports the American Rescue Plan. Republican mayors, Republican town supervisors, Republican governors, Republican county executives, but a single Republican House member or Senate member can’t be found when we’re in the midst of a once in a century pandemic? So the question is not whether we’re going to pass the American Rescue Plan. We will. The question is whether Republicans are going to step up on behalf of their constituents and support this effort to decisively crush the virus and provide relief to everyday Americans.
Speaker 1: (19:48)
To what do you attribute that discrepancy, that it does poll so well with Republicans and yet Republican lawmakers won’t touch it?
Hakeem Jeffries: (19:54)
I mean, it’s unclear to me. House Democrats are the party of crushing the coronavirus and providing relief to everyday Americans. House Republicans are the party-
Hakeem Jeffries: (20:03)
… Virus and providing relief to everyday Americans. House Republicans are the party of fake outrage as it relates to Dr. Seuss. It’s a strange thing.
Speaker 3: (20:09)
You mentioned that this bill is transformative. Can you unpack that a little bit? Are we in a new era changing the relationship between government and people? Is this a new era of bigger government, more bold initiative? What does it mean that it’s transformative?
Hakeem Jeffries: (20:21)
I want to let my colleagues respond as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. It’s a once in a century pandemic and therefore requires a once in a century comprehensive, compassionate, and continuing congressional response. That is exactly what the American Rescue Plan represents. And so, we’ve just met the moment with great leadership from President Biden and, of course, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer, as well as our respective caucuses.
Hakeem Jeffries: (21:03)
We also need to build back better. And there are several provisions within the American Rescue Plan that address the economic pain and suffering that far too many every day Americans have been experiencing. We will lift 50% of the children who are in poverty right now out of poverty. We will make sure that we deal with the food insecurity needs of the American people, the housing needs of the American people, the unemployment needs of the American people. The American Rescue Plan is transformative because that is what the moment requires.
Pete Aguilar: (21:45)
This bill is transformative because of the details of the bill. As the chairman mentioned, lifting children out of poverty, increasing supplemental nutrition, expanding the earned income tax credit, putting checks in everyday American’s pockets, those are the things that the American public are going to view that matter. Those are the things that matter in our communities, as millions of Americans look to file their taxes, as millions of Americans look at the direct contributions that come into their account. Those are the things that matter to people.
Pete Aguilar: (22:25)
And so, I would say that it’s transformative because these are also policy objectives that we have been talking about for decades that matter, that matter to people. So, while in the halls here, Republicans can have this fake outrage, we know in our communities this bill matters. I Zoomed into a local city council last night. I’ll be doing four more city councils this evening talking with my local elected leaders about what this bill does for them. Plugging the financial gaps so we can keep libraries open, keep essential workers hired, fixing streets, fixing roads, protecting those employees in our cities, in our towns, in our counties, those are the policies that are going to matter to the public.
Congressman Frank Mrvan: (23:14)
And I just want to give one scenario about the American Recoveries Act. In my previous elected position, I did emergency assistance. And so, a tin mill lost its employees because it closed down. And, when the employee lost his job, he couldn’t afford Cobra. And he came to me and I did emergency assistance. And, with Cobra, they couldn’t afford health insurance. And the American Recoveries Plan does that. It offers a stimulus advantage for individuals to afford Cobra, to go through that transition, to be able to find work and provide the essential health work for their families. So, when you ask, when it’s transformable, it’s every day lives of people getting through these challenges and now having government working for their advantage against odds, and a pandemic that we haven’t faced in a hundred years, and an economic crisis that matches that.
Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux: (24:14)
I second what my colleagues have said, but just want to go back to the issue in Georgia, for instance, that this would allow Georgia to expand Medicaid. This would dramatically increase the number of people who can purchase health insurance in my district and across the state. And it also has an enormous antipoverty component with the expansion of the earned income tax credit, the expansion of the child tax credit, which will lift over 50% of children out of poverty. And all of these are transformative policies that are woven throughout this bill.
Speaker 4: (24:49)
Chairman, I wanted to ask you about Congressman Waltz’s letter to Iran, urging Biden and Blinken to come up with a comprehensive and bi-partisan deal with Iran. Have any of you signed it? What do you feel about it?
Hakeem Jeffries: (25:03)
Is this Anthony Brown’s letter?
Speaker 4: (25:05)
I think it’s a Rep Waltz.
Hakeem Jeffries: (25:07)
Okay. Well, I’m not familiar with Rep Waltz’s letter, although you may be referring to the letter that was coauthored by Congressman Anthony Brown. And I do support the effort to arrive at a robust renegotiation of the nuclear agreement, which I supported in its original form, to meet the current challenges of the moment.
Speaker 4: (25:35)
And just a follow up, is there any statement you could give us on the recent [inaudible 00:25:39] attacks on Saudi Arabia?
Hakeem Jeffries: (25:42)
I’ve got no statement on that right now at the moment. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (25:45)
Sure. You’re talking about transformative legislation. It’s a transformative piece of legislation that creates a fiscal cliff next year when those child tax credits expire. You talked about lifting kids out of poverty. You have the potential of putting them back below the poverty line when that expires. Doesn’t that just sort of put you guys in a tough spot here in six, eight months down the line?
Hakeem Jeffries: (26:10)
Well, it’s a good question. I support the permanent extension of the robust child tax credit that is included in the American Rescue Plan. I believe the House Democratic Caucus supports a permanent extension. And, in the conversations that we’ve had with the administration, they’ve signaled their support as well. It’s an issue to be worked on as we approach the next fiscal year. And I’m confident that we may even find some bipartisan support. As you know, in the Senate, though they didn’t vote for the American Rescue Plan, both Senator Romney and Senator Rubio have championed in expanded child tax credit. And I expect that there’s some common ground that we’ll be able to find with them and others as we pursue making this important step forward permanent.
Speaker 5: (27:06)
So, how do you pay for that? It’s a trillion dollars over ten years.
Hakeem Jeffries: (27:07)
Well, that’s the question that would be explored at the moment and that we confronted, which will be in the context of next year’s spending bill. And so, let’s see where we are. I know Chairman Neil, for instance, has some ideas. The other point to make in this area is that one, we also believe that it pays for itself because, when you lift up children out of poverty in such a dramatic way, that has a positive impact on the economy, that has a positive impact on the decline in the need for governmental services that would otherwise be required when you have children who are living in poverty. And so, it’s a conversation to be explored at the appropriate moment. I know it’s something that we’re already thinking about, but we have to get through passing the American Rescue Plan first.
Speaker 5: (28:00)
Thank you, sir.
Hakeem Jeffries: (28:01)
We’ll go there, and then to the back end.
Speaker 6: (28:03)
On immigration, you’ve seen the reports. There’s a surge at the border. A lot of the new arrivals are children. And, according to these reports, it sounds like the conditions in some cases are pretty dismal in these detention centers. You Democrats were very critical of the Trump Administration’s handling of similar situations. How do you think the Biden Administration is doing? And what is Congress’s role?
Hakeem Jeffries: (28:25)
Well, the Biden Administration, I think, is doing well. And it’s going to approach the situation on the border in a compassionate fashion, which is 180 degrees the opposite of the approach that the Trump Administration took at the border. Cruelty was the point when it comes to the way that the Trump Administration handled the humanitarian crisis at the border. Compassion, lifting up the rule of law, and the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants who embrace the idea that people who come to our border seeking asylum should be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard. I expect that all of those principles will be lifted up by the Biden Administration as it confronts this crisis.
Hakeem Jeffries: (29:15)
And also, it’s important to note, and then I’ll yield to Pete who has been working hard and is one of our leaders on the immigration issue, is that in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is being championed by Linda Sanchez on behalf of the Biden Administration, there’s a plan to deal with the humanitarian situation in the Central American Northern Triangle countries in particular of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. There’s a plan to deal with the violence, the poverty, and the corruption. And, at the end of the day, it’s that type of forward-looking intervention in the areas of need that result in the migration that we then see at the border.
Hakeem Jeffries: (30:03)
… in the migration that we then see at the border that will be the ultimate solution. I know that’s something that the Biden administration is committed to undertaking.
Pete Aguilar: (30:13)
This is a process, what the Biden administration is doing, that’ll be rooted in compassion. That’s the difference. What we saw in the Trump administration was intentional child separation and no effort to reunite families. Now we’ve turned the page, and individuals who are claiming lawful asylum will be viewed just that way. There is a process for this. The Biden administration will move toward that process, and we will hold them accountable, just like we did the prior administration, to ensure that they’re following the law.
Pete Aguilar: (30:53)
Their process right now is to use the ORR process to move these migrants, these children into ORR Health and Human Services facilities as quickly as possible, given COVID restrictions. That’s what they are going to do, but this is a process that is rooted in compassion. That’s the difference between the prior administration and this administration. Like the chairman said, you don’t address this until you deal with Northern Triangle issues. That’s what the U.S. Citizenship Act does. That’s what we look forward to working with the committees of jurisdiction, foreign affairs, appropriations committees on in the future to help address this, but we will also ensure that there’s accountability and oversight to what’s going on.
Speaker 6: (31:46)
[inaudible 00:31:46] in the very near term, I understand the Northern Triangle situation. That’s a much longer-term solution. In the near term, these facilities are being described as jails. As you’re shifting them to the HHS facilities, is there anything Congress can do to ease that situation down there??
Hakeem Jeffries: (32:02)
Well, I know there are ongoing conversations between the chairs of jurisdiction and many different members of Congress with the Biden administration to try to address the conditions that you’ve raised. I haven’t seen where they’ve been described as jails, but as Pete indicated, I think we are confident that the Biden administration is going to approach the humanitarian situation at the border anchored in compassion, as opposed to anchored in cruelty. Last question.
Speaker 1: (32:33)
Thank you, Chairman Jeffries. You’re set to lose one member to Senate confirmation tomorrow, and another one in the coming weeks. How concerned are you about a shrinking Democratic majority, which is already one of the smallest that you’ve had, going forward with legislation and possibly losing both?
Hakeem Jeffries: (32:52)
Not concerned at all. We’re incredibly unified around a progressive, forward-looking, transformational agenda that we’ve undertaken from the moment this new Congress was sworn in. I think, as you’ve seen, we continue to pass meaningful pieces of legislation on the floor each and every week, including the bills that we will undertake this particular week. That’s because we recognize that the American people are facing real challenges that require real solutions, and we’re committed to making sure that we get things done.
Speaker 1: (33:32)
There’s no concern about losing progressives who might be getting antsy down the line? They’ve already spoken up about some of the changes with the American Rescue Act, so no concern down the line with them getting antsy, being like, “No, we don’t like some of these changes the Senate do. We’re not going to go along with it”?
Hakeem Jeffries: (33:49)
Senate is a unique and peculiar institution, but that’s the reality of the constitutional fabric that we confront. By and large, I think what you’ve seen is a recognition across the country, not simply within the halls of Congress, that the American Rescue Plan meets the moment and is transformational and will really impact the lives of everyday Americans in a positive way. It’s an incredible contrast. The Republicans, when they had an opportunity to act on behalf of the American people in 2017, passed the GOP tax scam and saddled our children and our grandchildren and our country with $1.9 trillion in debt, where 83% of the benefits went to the wealthiest 1% in America in order to subsidize the lifestyles of the rich and shameless.
Hakeem Jeffries: (34:46)
That is what they did with their majority. After inheriting the Barack Obama, Joe Biden economy, that was going well at the time. Now we find ourselves in a crisis, and not a single one of them can support the American Rescue Plan? The challenge is not with Democrats. We’re going to remain united, I believe, and unified. As Senator Bernie Sanders himself said after voting to support the American Rescue Plan, this is the most progressive bill passed by the Congress in at least a quarter century. He’s a leading progressive. I don’t think there’s any anxiety as it relates to moving forward with the legislation that will be on the floor this week.
Pete Aguilar: (35:43)
Let me just say briefly, and I know I speak on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, that we are so thrilled for our colleague, Deb Holland and Marcia Fudge, two exceptionally qualified members of Congress. My only regret is that two of my colleagues here aren’t going to be able to work with those two in the halls of Congress, but we will work with them to champion progress for the American people. We are concerned. We are focused on delivering real results and governing, and that’s what separates our caucus with the other side of the aisle, is we want to focus on results and governing.
Pete Aguilar: (36:25)
That’s why we’re going to put up a strong vote. That’s why we will continue to put up strong votes for background checks, for protecting the right to organize, next week, violence against women, DACA and TPS protections, ag worker modernization, equal rights amendment. Those are the things that we want to be judged by, our ability to govern and our ability to put up votes. That’s what we want to do on behalf of the American public. Mr. Chairman.
Hakeem Jeffries: (36:53)
Yeah, the party of the American Rescue Plan versus the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, and Dr. Seuss is not really a fair fight. Thank you very much.