Sep 22, 2020
House Democrats Press Conference Transcript September 22
House Democratic Representatives Katherine Clark and Hakeem Jeffries held a press conference on September 22. They discussed coronavirus relief, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the SCOTUS vacancy, and the Affordable Care Act. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Hakeem Jeffries: (00:00)
… we had a caucus call, which began with a special tribute to the life and the legacy of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A tragic loss for the country, a tragic loss for the Supreme Court, a tragic loss for the principles of liberty and justice for all, as well as democracy. We heard from Dr. Jane De Hart, who is a biographer, having written the authoritative piece on Justice Ginsburg’s life in 2018, as well as Linda Greenhouse, who of course is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s covered the Supreme Court for over 30 years. This has been a very difficult year for many throughout America.
Hakeem Jeffries: (00:56)
It’s a time where leadership is desperately needed. We remain in the midst of a deadly pandemic. 200,000 or so Americans dead, more than 6 million Americans infected by the coronavirus. Over 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed. Tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed, and yet Donald Trump and the Senate continue to do nothing about it. It’s cruel, callous, and cold-hearted, but what else have we come to expect from Trump, McConnell, and the boys? And in the midst of all of this, before the country has even had an opportunity to appropriately mourn Justice Ginsburg and send her off, They are already trying to jam a right-wing conservative judge down the throats of the American people as part of a scheme to take away the healthcare of millions of Americans. That’s what they want to do. We know it because they’ve been trying to do it for 10 years.
Hakeem Jeffries: (02:27)
They don’t have an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. They’re in court right now trying to declare it unconstitutional, and they want to put a justice on the Supreme Court who will strip away the protections that millions of Americans, over 100 million Americans, with preexisting conditions currently have under law, with millions of more now having another preexisting condition because of the coronavirus infection in part because the president’s response has been an unmitigated disaster. And so this has been a challenging year. It continues to get more challenging, but House Democrats are prepared to rise to the occasion. At some point in the next day or two, we expect that there will be a continuing resolution on the floor that will continue the current spending agreement until December. It’s my hope that that continuing resolution will be bipartisan in nature. That remains to be seen at the moment. Let me now yield to the Caucus Vice Chair, Katherine Clark.
Katherine Clark: (03:47)
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for bringing Dr. De Hart and Linda Greenhouse before the caucus. It was a wonderful call as we mourn and remember and celebrate a hero for women and a hero for Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg faced and overcame discrimination, and then made the fight to end inequality her life’s work. Her distinguished 27 year career on the Supreme Court was defined by a simple intrinsic truth. Women and men are equal. And with this as her North Star, she changed America and guided our progress to become a more perfect union. Generations of people have been liberated by her work and inspired by her tenacity and intellect, and she redefined workplace rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and healthcare access. She understood that women’s rights are not just a gender issue, but a civil rights issue that affects all of us.
Katherine Clark: (05:05)
That equality for all Americans made our nation stronger, and without this commitment to justice for all, we are not living up to our constitution and our founding principles. So it’s in her honor that we will, as the House Democrats, keep marching down the path of justice. She taught us the power of dissent, and dissent we do to the continuing callous disregard for Americans who are afraid for their lives and their livelihoods during this pandemic. The House did its job. We passed a comprehensive on time budget, and we will prevent a shutdown by passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open. House Democrats are going to continue to fight for a relief package that supports moms without childcare, families without food, and workers without hope. And what is clearer than ever is what matters most to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, and as our chairman put it, the boys, is power. Not saving lives or jobs, not preventing millions of Americans from spilling into homelessness, not defending our constitution.
Katherine Clark: (06:31)
So as we are facing two heartbreaks this week, losing 200,000 American lives to COVID-19 and the loss of Justice Ginsburg, our commitment to the American people is unwavering. We will continue this fight for the people. And I just want to mention, as our chairman put so well, that this fight for Supreme Court Justice really is about healthcare and the upcoming ACA hearing on the case on November 11th, and the Trump administration has been clear what they would like to provide the American people. They have been pushing what some call short-term, limited duration health plans, other called junk plans. And let me just be clear what this vision of healthcare that this administration has says to the American people. One, these plans restrict or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. This pandemic has just created millions more with pre-existing conditions.
Katherine Clark: (07:52)
43% of these plans do not cover mental health services while we are seeing a spike, a crisis, in the need for mental health treatment. 62% do not cover substance abuse treatment as we are seeing fatal overdoses rise by 18%. 71% do not cover out patient prescription drugs. Something that we have heard from the American people time and time again is an issue they are struggling with, to afford the drugs and medication they need. And none of these plans cover maternity care. This is the vision for healthcare this administration has. This is the reason that we will continue to side with the American people and do everything we can to provide for them in this time of struggle and challenges. Thank you.
Hakeem Jeffries: (08:59)
You mentioned coronavirus relief. With everything else going on, of course there is no deal between… There aren’t even negotiations as far as we know between Pelosi and the White House. Do you anticipate that there will be a vote on some form of COVID stimulus before you leave for the elections deal, or none? There are a lot of members of your caucus who would like to vote on something before they go home.
Hakeem Jeffries: (09:23)
Our focus remains on getting a deal so we can provide meaningful relief in the midst of a deadly pandemic to the American people. That is our North Star, and we have confidence that Speaker Pelosi, one of the best legislative negotiators in the history of the republic, working in partnership with Leader Chuck Schumer, will be able to land us in a place where we have meaningful state and local stabilization so we can protect public health, public education, public housing, public transportation, and the public good. They will land us in a place where we have a meaningful extension of the emergency unemployment insurance benefit, as well as meaningful support for renters and homeowners, and of course, another round of direct stimulus payments. That’s the goal, and we’re not operating on a timeline other than the fierce urgency of now dictated by a deadly pandemic.
What’s your understanding of the status of those talks? Is a deal possible? You said there’s no deadline, but there is a deadline for the airlines on October 1st, for example. Tens of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs.
Hakeem Jeffries: (10:43)
Well, in my view, we acted over 125 days ago, on May 15th. Situation hasn’t gotten better since then, it’s gotten worse. And so we’d like to arrive at an agreement now, but it’s got to be a meaningful agreement. Mitch McConnell’s negotiating against himself. At the end of July, he put forth a plan to spend a trillion dollars. He comes back after Labor Day, it’s down to about 650 million. He’s moving in the wrong direction when the number of Americans who have died is increasing, at or around 200,000. And so we can’t have a cosmetic fake agreement. That’s what the president wants, a fake agreement. We need a real agreement that deals with the pain, suffering, and death being experienced by the American people.
Katherine Clark: (11:40)
I would just briefly add that your very question is so telling about where we are. Is it possible that the Republicans will come and meet us months after we’ve passed the Heroes Act? That shouldn’t even be a question in our minds, that of course we would have broad bipartisan support to addressing the needs of the American people, whether that’s unemployment insurance, making sure there’s another stimulus check, preventing homelessness, feeding our hungry children. I have a story of a mom who is putting her children to bed early so that the sleep, she hopes, will mask their hunger. This is not a question. It certainly is not a question for the House Democrats of whose side we’re on, who we’re going to fight for. But the question of whether this is even possible to negotiate with this administration and with Senate Republicans tells us just about the callous indifference that we’re seeing. And it should be shocking to the American people that they have been forgotten by this administration and by Mitch McConnell.
Hakeem Jeffries: (13:02)
We’ll go this side, and then I’ll go over to you.
Okay. You mentioned the continuing resolution bill. There has been a back and forth on whether or not to include this aid to farmers in it. If it means the difference between a government shutdown in eight days or not, are Democrats willing to vote for a continuing resolution that includes that farmers aid that was not in the bill the Dems released yesterday?
Hakeem Jeffries: (13:29)
That’s a hypothetical that I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to answer other than to say we are committed to making sure that we fund the government. As Katherine indicated, we have done our jobs. The Appropriations Committee voted out every single appropriations bill that was on the legislative agenda for that committee. The House has passed 10 appropriations bills and sent them over to the United States Senate. You know what the Senate has done? Zip, zero, stingy with deniro, nothing. They have not even acted out of their own Senate Appropriations Committee. And so we are in this situation right now because the Senate has failed to do their jobs.
Hakeem Jeffries: (14:23)
The reason why they failed to do their jobs presumably is because they only really care about jamming extreme right-wing judges down the throats of the American people, and now they are going to do it on steroids, effectively dancing on the life, legacy, and lessons we should be learning from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And they’re going to do it because they want to take away healthcare from the American people. So we’re committed to arriving at an agreement because we don’t believe the government should shut down. We are not the party of government shutdowns. They are, but hopefully they’ll come to their senses, at least as it relates to a continuing resolution.
There have been odd scenarios floated about what the House could do in terms of Supreme Court nominee developments. Has there been actually any discussion of impeachment proceedings against William Barr, or even the president, as a distractive or slow down four corners stall process?
Hakeem Jeffries: (15:36)
No. When we proceeded earlier to make sure that we held the president accountable for his corrupt abuse of power, we followed a pathway that was pretty simple. Follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution, present the truth to the American people. That was dictated by Trump’s corrupt abuse of power as it relates to the Trump Ukraine scandal. At the current moment, we’re looking forward toward the election. Healthcare is on the ballot, civil rights is on the ballot, decency is on the ballot, unity is on the ballot, and the American people will ultimately make the decision as to whether Trump and this corrupt administration should be held accountable.
Hakeem Jeffries: (16:27)
There will be a hearing later on today that will be chaired by Hank Johnson of the Courts Subcommittee that will explore, I believe, court capture and address some of the issues and the challenges that have presented themselves as a result of some of the extreme appointments that the president has made. But I don’t think we’re contemplating anything other than to say, as leader Schumer indicated standing in front of Madison High School, where he’s an alum and Justice Ginsburg was an alum, that all options are on the table.
You said in the next day or two for the CR. Does that mean it won’t be today?
Hakeem Jeffries: (17:12)
Well, that’s a decision I think that is still being worked out by the Speaker Steny Hoyer, and Chairwoman Nita Lowey.
Chairman, another member of your caucus has tested positive for coronavirus. Congressman Hayes was last on Hill and on the floor on Thursday. She called out lack of a national testing plan. She called out lack of testing for members. Is this a renewed conversation? Is it something your caucus needs to revisit, safety for members in the Capitol?
Hakeem Jeffries: (17:45)
Well, thoughts and prayers are certainly with Congresswoman Hayes, and hopefully she’s speeding toward a full recovery. The president’s coronavirus pandemic response has been an unmitigated disaster, and it has had deadly consequences. There’s no strategy for testing, for tracing, for treatment, no strategy to flatten the curve, no strategy to conquer the virus, no strategy to payers to make sure that there’s widespread dissemination of the vaccine when it is available. The president is behaving as if the coronavirus is a hoax. In fact, he has told the American people that it’s a hoax, and public health and the welfare and wellbeing of the American people will also be on the ballot on November 3rd.
Katherine Clark: (18:45)
I just want to echo that we send our thoughts and prayers for swift recovery to Congresswoman Hayes, and we will do everything we can to keep our colleagues safe, but it’s the American people who are suffering. This is a staggering number that we are about to hit, the grimmest of milestones, 200,000 people. And this administration, their response is, “It is what it is.” And as we are dealing with this and the aftermath, the pre-existing conditions that have been created for millions of Americans, and as the science is informing us of the long-term possible effects on respiratory and cardio systems, we are engaged once again in this administration barreling ahead, trying to get rid of the ACA and to replace it with low-cost junk insurance for people that will drive up premiums in the long-term and will leave so many more Americans behind.
Katherine Clark: (19:58)
What could be more stark a response to a pandemic than to say, “Now is the time to make sure we take away the Affordable Care Act?” It’s just a devastating response from beginning to end, calling this a hoax, admitting that he has tried to play this down. Why? Because of politics. His failed leadership came into stark relief with all the other inequities that we knew existed, but that this pandemic brought out and magnified, and that there is still no response from this administration to the suffering of the American people. If we do not have healthy people, we will never have a healthy economy. And this president and our colleagues in the other party in the Senate have to recognize that, have to recognize the suffering we’re seeing, and they have to act.
Is today’s intense lobbying by the airlines, the labor related unions and last week’s pressure, altering the House Democrats’ view on what maybe they could do on stimulus and do it before the end of the month?
Hakeem Jeffries: (21:19)
Peter DeFazio has been a leader on this issue. We came together in the context of the CARES Act to provide the necessary support for the airline industry, which is really a privately run public utility. And it’s in the best interest of the American people to make sure that we keep it going through this pandemic, and most importantly, can keep the tens of thousands of people who are employed by the industry working and certified. Peter DeFazio led a letter a few weeks ago that was strongly supported throughout the House Democratic caucus, expressing our position for the continuation of this assistance. Again, the Republicans are paying lip service to the notion that we should step in to the situation, but we haven’t really seen any movement in that regard. This is part of the negotiations. I know there are discussions taking place at a high level, and we’ll see what happens in advance of October 1st.
Are you suggesting there could be a separate bill away from stimulus to address this?
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:32)
No, it’s my expectation that any agreement will be a global agreement.
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:39)
In context of [inaudible 00:22:44] moving forward, SCOTUS filling the vacancy, the revelations we have today, how does that affect the COVID negotiations? Obviously a lot of moderate members are still pushing for action on that.
Hakeem Jeffries: (22:56)
First of all, let me be clear. Mitch McConnell is exhibit A for the principle that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the use of the current but fleeting power that the Senate majority has, perhaps in one instance to jam a extreme Justice down the throats of the American people, but then the other instance to refuse to provide relief to Americans who are suffering through a once in a century pandemic, is just an extraordinary dereliction of duty. Members of the caucus of course, feel a need to act with the fierce urgency of now, because the people that we represent are in such pain, both in terms of the public health aspect of the crisis and in terms of the economic distress.
Hakeem Jeffries: (23:51)
But that said, the reality of the political landscape in front of us is that we have an out of control president and a Senate majority that is drunk on power. And we remain committed to trying to arrive at the common ground necessary to get something done for the American people, but it has to be meaningful. It can’t simply be a White House press release that Donald Trump can promote at his rallies but does nothing to alleviate the pain, suffering, and death being experienced by the American people in the midst of a pandemic. Thank you.