May 12, 2021
House Democrats Press Conference Transcript May 12
House Democrats Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar held a press conference on May 12, 2021 to address the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan, and the GOP vote to oust Liz Cheney from leadership. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Hakeem Jeffries: (00:00)
… at home, in our respective districts, continuing to serve the people we are privileged to represent and make sure that the benefits of the American Rescue Plan reach those who need the assistance as part of our continuing effort to ensure that the American people recover and recover in a way that brings about opportunity and prosperity in every single zip code.
Hakeem Jeffries: (00:30)
It’s clear to many of us that the differences between Democrats and Republicans at this particular moment in time couldn’t be any starker. It couldn’t be any clearer. House Democrats are fighting for everyday Americans. We are fighting to crush the virus, to provide direct relief to everyday Americans who are struggling, and to lay the foundation ultimately to supercharge our economy, working with President Biden and Senate Democrats to stand up for everyday Americans.
Hakeem Jeffries: (01:18)
The American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan. House Democrats are fighting for the people; House Republicans are fighting amongst each other. House Democrats believe in the rule of law; House Republicans believe in the big lie. House Democrats believe in democracy; House Republicans apparently support autocracy. The differences between the two parties couldn’t be any clearer. So we’re just going to continue our work to get things done for the people to build back better to meet the moment, but it’s a shame what’s happening on the other side of the aisle.
Hakeem Jeffries: (02:17)
Let me yield to our distinguished Vice Chair, Pete Aguilar.
Pete Aguilar: (02:24)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As the Chairman said, House Democrats have been spending the last few weeks touting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan. Just this week, we saw the guidance on state and local assistance that I know is going to be so impactful to my community and so many other communities around the country. We also saw the educational, the higher educational allocations given out to the country and to our higher educational institutions. And the Restaurant Revitalization Fund guidance was put out in the past few weeks as well.
Pete Aguilar: (03:02)
So while we are talking about delivering real results, the other side continues to be talking about fighting amongst themselves, as the Chairman said. We know that the American Rescue Plan and the principles within it are popular. We know that because even our Republican colleagues are talking about these programs. Vote no, tout the dough. That’s what they’re doing right now.
Pete Aguilar: (03:31)
So now as we turn the page and we continue to talk about the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan, we’re going to be focused on legislating. We’re going to be focused on delivering results for our communities and we’ll let them do what they’re going to do.
Pete Aguilar: (03:47)
With that, Chairman will take questions.
Speaker 3: (03:53)
Chairman Jeffries, where does your party stand on the issue of raising taxes? How are you going to be able to unify the party on maybe a couple of trillion dollars worth of tax increases?
Hakeem Jeffries: (04:07)
Well, the American Jobs Plan is essential, it’s necessary, and it is something that we are committed to passing. We’re going to invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, the mass transit system, our water and sewer system, our public schools, public housing, public hospital, our buildings. Making sure that we create universal access to broadband in inner city America, small town America, ex-urban America, Appalachia and rural America. And of course, to invest in our caring economy to ensure that every single person has an opportunity to fully participate in the revitalization and the recovery. Man or woman, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, every single person.
Hakeem Jeffries: (05:03)
In order to proceed in that regard, of course, we should have to fund the investment and figure out a way to pay for it. Here, again, the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans couldn’t be any starker. We believe that those type of infrastructure investments and that the American Jobs Plan should be paid for by the wealthiest 1% amongst us and corporations that have been outsourcing good paying American jobs overseas as we fight to bring those jobs back home and create and preserve 15 million good paying jobs, which is what the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan will do.
Hakeem Jeffries: (05:48)
On the other side, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans want average everyday Americans to pay for the American Jobs Plan, to pay for infrastructure, to pay for the investments in our economy. How? By raising the gas tax, apparently, or by so-called user fees. A user fee is a tax on working class Americans, and we don’t support that.
Speaker 3: (06:19)
But even with you specifically, there’s the SALT deduction, which could become a big issue. That’s just one issue that is going to have to be worked out. Have you socialized the caucus on that? Do they agree?
Hakeem Jeffries: (06:36)
Well, the process that has been set forth by Speaker Pelosi is that the Committees of Jurisdiction are doing their work right now. Having bipartisan conversations, but also beginning to do their work, and so that’s the Ways and Means Committee. We all have great confidence and faith in Chairman Neil, and Chairman Neil is not locked in on any particular perspective. He’s looking at the variety of options that are available to make sure that we can fund the American Jobs Plan.
Hakeem Jeffries: (07:05)
And then the other Chairs of Jurisdiction, Maxine Waters, Peter DeFazio, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Frank Pallone, Bobby Scott, and their respective committees are all doing their work and so we’ll see where it lands. But we’re going to get this done in the same way that we got the American Rescue Plan over the finish line.
Speaker 4: (07:28)
Now you got Republicans have defended removing Liz Cheney by saying she was out of step with the conference and arguing that Democrats would do the same. Do you think if somebody in your position frequently spoke out against Joe Biden that the caucus would allow them to keep that post?
Hakeem Jeffries: (07:47)
Well, I think that Donald Trump is a twice impeached president who ran perhaps the most corrupt administration in American history. He makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy, and that was before the violent insurrection. And then we all lived through a violent insurrection that he incited, an attack on the Capitol. Over 150 police officers were seriously injured, several died. The protestors, the mob, the rioters, the insurrectionists were here to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, hang Mike Pence, hunt down other members of Congress to try to stop us from executing our constitutional responsibilities to certify an election related to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Hakeem Jeffries: (08:48)
They won that election, but Donald Trump has perpetrated a big lie that they’ve apparently into and in the process, radicalized millions of Americans. That’s what led to the violent attack on the Capitol, Confederate flags flying through these hallowed halls. You’re comparing the president who incited that to anything that we may have to say about Joe Biden. There’s no comparison. So I’m not going to entertain that hypothetical, what would the House democratic caucus do? What would a patriot do? A Patriot would do what Liz Cheney has done, and she’s paid a heavy price for it.
Hakeem Jeffries: (09:33)
Ulysses Grant in 1861, he wrote a letter with his thoughts as it relates to the moment and in that letter, Ulysses Grant said, “Whatever my prior positions may have been, I’ve got one aspiration now. We have a government, we have laws, we have a flag, and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, patriots and traitors.” That’s what Ulysses grant said in 1861. And apparently when Liz Cheney chose patriotism, she was no longer eligible to be a leader in the House Republican Conference. There are but two parties now.
Speaker 3: (10:30)
Thank you. Going back to January 6th, talking about the Security Supplemental. Were you all briefed this morning in your conference, and what were some of the high points that came out about what are some of the things that you all are looking for in a Security Supplemental?
Hakeem Jeffries: (10:43)
Yeah. Well, let me yield to Vice Chair Aguilar, who also serves on the Appropriations Committee.
Pete Aguilar: (10:50)
Chairwoman DeLauro and the chairs of the respective committees did brief the caucus this morning at a high level on what within their jurisdiction was contained within a Security Supplemental. It’s our plan, as the majority leader will say, to put this on the floor next week. I’ll leave the chairwoman to go through the details of the plan. They’re still working through having discussions with Republicans, as well as on the Senate side as well. But I think that it was very positive, received very positively from the caucus. And so we’ll continue to, as the chairman mentioned with other topics, follow the lead of the Committees of Jurisdiction.
Pete Aguilar: (11:37)
I can tell you, the Appropriations Committee members were briefed on this a few weeks ago, and now the full caucus has been briefed. So this has been robust information, members had brought up issues, concerns, topics, priorities, just like with any piece of legislation, and we’ll continue to work through those. We’ll follow the guidance of Chairwoman DeLauro and ultimately we’ll pass something to help this body and to help this House.
Speaker 3: (12:03)
Do you have a timeline for that? I know that there have been a couple of different dates passed around for when something like that might be able to come to the House floor.
Pete Aguilar: (12:11)
I’ll let majority leader speak to the calendar, but it’s our feeling that next week we’ll have a vote on the Security Supplemental.
Speaker 3: (12:21)
Speaker 5: (12:24)
Obviously there’s conversations continuing on police reform, but could you give us a sense of where the conference is? A number of members have drawn red lines when it comes to false immunity. There’s also a lot of discussions around creating this database on police misconduct. You all have razor-thin margins. If you want to have the compromised bill, what are you telling members now? How are you massaging those differences? Do they realize that this could be a moment for incremental reform versus no reform at all?
Hakeem Jeffries: (12:54)
Well, thank you for the question. We’re providing your their members with updates informally as the negotiations unfold, but we don’t have a final product yet. The leadership of Karen Bass has been tremendous. But of course, as you are negotiating, we always adopt a principle that nothing is agreed upon, excuse me, until everything is agreed upon. And so we’ll see what the final product looks like.
Hakeem Jeffries: (13:25)
Clearly we have a police violence problem in America, a police brutality problem in America, a problem with the police use of excessive force. That’s not to say that the overwhelming majority of officers, certainly the ones that I interact with back at home in Brooklyn and Queens, aren’t hardworking individuals who are in the community to protect and serve, they are. And this is Police Week and we’re going to continue to lift them up, but we also have to decisively deal with the police violence problem. And there’s a great recognition within the caucus that now is the moment to act, particularly as we approach the one year anniversary later on this month of the brutal murder of George Floyd.
Hakeem Jeffries: (14:12)
It’s my view that we are going to land in a place where we will have a bipartisan agreement that is transformational in nature. It will be the most progressive police reform bill ever to pass the United States Congress and to be signed into law. What version of reform in terms of qualified immunity makes it into that bill remains to be seen. I know that Karen Bass and Cory Booker and others, Congressman O’Halleran, Val Demings, many other that we’ve got within the House Democratic Caucus are working to try to find common ground, and I expect that we will. And I’ll come back over to this side.
Speaker 5: (15:02)
I just want to clarify on the Security Supplemental and as well as the Commission Bill that the leader wanted to bring up next week. Pelosi just put out a statement on Cheney that indicated Republicans are currently opposed to both those measures. Are Democrats prepared to move forward without them if they are not on board by next week?
Hakeem Jeffries: (15:24)
Yeah. I’ll address the question with respect to the January 6th Commission, and then let Pete respond to that, as well as the Security Supplemental question. It’s my understanding and my view that we’re going to continue to try to find bipartisan common ground in order to pass a January 6th commission that takes a comprehensive dispassionate look at the events leading up to January 6th. What happened? Why did it happen and how do we prevent that type of violent insurrection and assault on the Capitol from ever happening again?
Hakeem Jeffries: (16:06)
There’ve been three issues that Republicans have in the past raised with respect to the January 6th Commission. One, makeup. Two, subpoena power. And three, scope. And as Speaker Pelosi has indicated, we’ve heard their concerns that they’ve raised and we’ve expressed a willingness with great leadership from Chairman Bennie Thompson, who’s the lead negotiator on our end, to find common ground with Republicans, certainly on the makeup of the commission. We’ve agreed it can be five Democratic appointed commissioners, five Republican appointed commissioners, with the Democratic chair and a Republican vice chair.
Hakeem Jeffries: (16:59)
Second issue on subpoena authority. Though this is somewhat unprecedented in the broader context of congressional inquiries, we’ve agreed that both the chair and the vice chair would have subpoena authority, even though there’s reason to believe that some Republican appointed commissioners will be abusive of that authority.
Hakeem Jeffries: (17:31)
We hope they’ll operate in good faith, but do the events of today give us any confidence that that in fact is the case when they continue to perpetrate the big lie and oust Liz Cheney as a result of her willingness to stand up for the truth? Yet, that said, as part of an effort to do this in a bipartisan way, we have agreed to presume they’ll operate in good faith, and both sides will have subpoena authority.
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:03)
And then there’s the final issue on scope. It’s the January 6th Commission. It was a violent assault unprecedented in nature on the citadel of our democracy, the United States Capitol. Lives were lost, people were seriously injured. Police officers were assaulted. Members of Congress were hunted down. The constitutional proceedings related to certification were interrupted. Those images were broadcast to people who hate democracy all across the world. Perhaps we should investigate it in a serious and dispassionate fashion.
Hakeem Jeffries: (18:52)
And you know what Kevin McCarthy wants to do? This guy never surprises. He believes that we should investigate Black Lives Matter, protests against the tragic killing of George Floyd, as it relates to the January 6th Commission. That’s the issue around scope. The American people are with us. They believe that you should have a serious sober substantive commission related to January 6th. Hopefully, we’ll pass that commission with Republican votes since we’ve yielded on issues that they have raised, but it remains to be seen and we’ll see what occurs next week.
Pete Aguilar: (19:45)
With respect to January 6th, it just seems that Republicans don’t want to take yes for an answer. We’ve made a lot of stipulations and agreements making the commission. The subpoena power, as the chairman said, the composition, and so the time has come. This needs to be addressed. The membership, our members in the Democratic Caucus want this issue addressed. We want resolution, we want a bipartisan commission. So that’s the bill that we’re going to put on the floor.
Pete Aguilar: (20:15)
With respect to the Security Supplemental, General Honoré laid the groundwork to what is necessary and needed to protect this Capitol and to protect our democracy here, and so we need to act quickly and so members want to act on these issues. So that is our focus. As the chairman said, we’re not going to let that get in the way of having good bipartisan conversations. But at some point we have to act on these, and so that’s what the Democratic Caucus plans to do, and we hope that there are many Republican members who join us in those efforts to protect democracy and to have a bipartisan commission investigate January 6th.
Speaker 3: (20:58)
Thanks. Now I just wanted to follow up on the police reform question. Jim Clyburn this week said that he didn’t necessarily need qualified immunity to be addressed in the police reform bill. Where do you stand on that issue?
Hakeem Jeffries: (21:13)
Well, I’m not going to get out ahead of the negotiating team led by Congresswoman Karen Bass, and I think that qualified immunity reform is still very much on the table. In the conversations that I’ve participated in, in the prior months with my Republican colleagues here in the House and with, in at least one instance, Senator Scott and Senator Booker.
Hakeem Jeffries: (21:40)
Our position continues to be clear that qualified immunity needs to be looked at because it is a judicially created doctrine that has served as a shield against accountability when a police officer clearly violates an individual civilians civil rights. And part of what has happened in terms of this judicially created doctrine is that some courts have interpreted qualified immunity to mean that it can serve as a judicial shield against police violence as long as an officer behaved in a manner consistent with the least reasonable police officer on the force.
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:26)
Now, can you imagine that standard? If I was held to that standard, of the least reasonable member of Congress, I’d be thrown out of my seat by the people of Brooklyn and Queens, because I’d behave in a manner consistent, like you know who from Georgia or so-and-so from Colorado, the least reasonable officer on the force.
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:52)
When you have the ability to take someone’s life or liberty and carry a gun, does not seem to be an appropriate standard and it’s judicially created. And so I think from the perspective of the Democratic negotiators, and again, I’m not going to get out ahead of Representative Bass. There are substantive reasons why the doctrine of qualified immunity should be reformed.
Hakeem Jeffries: (23:25)
That said, I don’t think anyone is looking to bankrupt police officers who have behaved in a manner consistent with police policy, but may find themselves on the wrong side of a lawsuit. We want to lift up good officers, but we want to make sure that the bad officers are held accountable criminally and on the civil side. And qualified immunity serves as a shield against that and so we really need to take a look at reforming that doctrine.
Hakeem Jeffries: (24:01)
Speaker 4: (24:02)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Is the Democratic Party united on extending the $300 unemployment bonus once that time comes to extend them?
Hakeem Jeffries: (24:14)
Well, I’ll let Pete respond to that question as well and offer any wrap, concluding thoughts. But I don’t think we’ve had a discussion relative to what needs to happen in August upon the exploration or pending expiration of that $300 per week emergency enhancement.
Hakeem Jeffries: (24:38)
It was something that we leaned into and was, in fact, passed in a bipartisan way at $600 as it relates to the CARES Act last March, because the circumstances on the ground dictated that we provide relief to the tens of millions of Americans who at the time had confronted sudden unemployment, millions of whom remain unemployed. And I think that President Biden has shown tremendous leadership in both advancing transformational ideas to meet the moment to confront the unemployment crisis, the food insecurity crisis, the housing crisis, and to continue to lift the economy up.
Hakeem Jeffries: (25:28)
More jobs were created during President Biden’s first 100 days in office than any other presidency during the equivalent time period in American history, and yet we still have a lot of work to do. So we’ll confront that question when the moment presents itself. But our focus right now is in passing the American Jobs Plan.
Pete Aguilar: (25:54)
All I’d say is that it’s unfortunate that there are some governors who were using this as a political talking point. Having additional resources for those who were unemployed, who may have difficulty getting childcare, who may have difficulty going back to work because of health conditions or because they live with someone with a preexisting health condition. That should not be partisan, and so it’s unfortunate to see some governors trying to make it partisan.
Pete Aguilar: (26:24)
But like the chairman said, right now, we’re focused on the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan. We’ll have a host of conversations about items that are expiring later in the year as they are coming due. But we will be guided by the economic recovery coming off of this pandemic to making sure that our economy is moving and creating jobs. Now that remains the focus of the caucus and that will remain our guiding principle as we develop legislation to meet the moment.
Pete Aguilar: (26:54)
Thank you. Thank you all.
Hakeem Jeffries: (26:56)
Thank you everyone.