May 19, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi January 6 Commission Press Conference Transcript May 19
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference on the January 6 Commission with House Democrats on May 19, 2021. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Nancy Pelosi: (00:26)
I’ll just take it down like this. Good afternoon, everyone. This is a very special day for us in the Capitol because we had one of the darkest days in our history on January 6th. Our temple of democracy was attacked by insurrectionists as you know, on that day. The gleeful desecration of the Capitol resulted in multiple deaths, physical harm to over 140 members of law enforcement and terror and trauma among the staff, support workers, and even among our members.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:03)
Congress has a clear and urgent responsibility to come to the truth of what happened and to assure that this can never happen again. It is my honor to stand here with three of our leaders and how we make matters right from what happened on January 6th. Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson has worked to establish a bipartisan agreement for a 9/11-style commission to report on the facts and the causes of the attack, and we’re so proud that he reached a bipartisan agreement with his ranking member, and I can commend Ranking Member Katko for his leadership as well. Thank you, Mr. Thompson.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:47)
Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro for her leadership, and that of the subcommittee chairs who worked so hard when hearings, et cetera, for emergency security supplemental that will protect the Capitol and all who serve and work here. Again, that is really important. And then our Chair of the House Administration Committee leading reviews and holding hearings to inform our work and harden the Capitol and defend democracy especially, as we go forward. Each has been persistent, patriotic, and principled as they achieve these steps.
Nancy Pelosi: (02:24)
This is all important because this place, this Capitol of the United States, has been a beacon of democracy to the world. The fact that it was assaulted on a day which the Constitution called for, for us to ascertain, to certify the President of the United States as voted by the Electoral College and the American people made that day especially, especially harmful to our democracy and our Constitution.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:01)
So, here we are, January 6th, and now the middle of May, and we have a commission, a bipartisan commission coming to the floor of the House. You may not know this, because many of you were not here then, but our bill for… Well, 9/11, you know when that was, 9/11/2001. The 9/11 Commission legislation was signed into law November 27th, 2002, more than 14 months later. Just a little more than four months later, we have a bill coming to the floor.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:42)
This is a remarkable achievement and one that is very necessary. I’m especially pleased that this morning at a press event, perhaps you were participating in it, the bipartisan commission was endorsed by the 9/11 Commission co-chairs. Governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey and Mr. Chairman Lee Hamilton, former member of Congress, they were the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission. In the interest of bipartisanship, we yielded on many points, which we thought would be important and were not necessarily mirroring 9/11, but mirroring many commissions since 9/11, giving the President appointments. The Republicans didn’t like that, so we have five and five, what they wanted.
Nancy Pelosi: (04:32)
We had subpoena power in the majority, they didn’t like that. So we have bipartisanship in terms of the subpoena. You have to have bipartisanship. We had findings in the legislation that were very important. We took a big chunk out. They still wanted more out, even the testimony of the Director of the FBI earlier, before January 6th. And we took that out. We wouldn’t budge on the purpose, to examine what happened on January 6th. Our distinguished Chairman will speak to that, and it is my honor to yield to the person responsible for this bipartisan agreement, the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson. Benny, Mr. Chairman?
Bennie Thompson: (05:31)
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Ever since the events of January 6th, John Katko and myself have been engaged in dialogue about how can we address this situation and develop legislation that would prevent it from ever happening again. Some four and a half months later, here we are with the legislation.
Bennie Thompson: (06:03)
I can tell you from the beginning, leadership on the Republican and Democratic side was kept informed as to what John and I was involved in. But more importantly, leadership weighed in and made suggestions as to how it could be improved, what we needed to take out, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, we worked through it. And so we have a document now that we can live with. We’ll vote on it this afternoon. I look forward to its passage, but clearly, it says that Democrats and Republicans can do good work together on items of importance.
Bennie Thompson: (07:00)
This Capitol is our citadel of democracy. If the public is unsafe here, then God forbid who we are as a nation. If our employees are unsafe in the Capitol, God forbid us as a nation. And so it’s important, not only that we present this commission to work, but we let them work. And part of how we let them work is we’ve said no member of Congress can serve on it. We’ve said no federal employees. We talked about specific subject matter skills that those individuals who serve on it should have.
Bennie Thompson: (07:51)
And so, where we are today is I’m fortunate that the Minority Leader has at the last moment raised issues that basically we have gone past and there was no issue on his part. But I guess that’s politics. And so we feel good about the product. We feel good about the process that got us to the product, where we are today. And we look forward as I indicated this afternoon to its passage. Thank you.
Rosa DeLauro: (08:39)
Thank you very much and congratulations to you, Bennie. Our Capitol community is still shaken by what happened on January 6th and its aftermath, including the tragic death of Officer Brian Sicknick, the Good Friday attack that killed Officer Billy Evans, and the lingering emotional trauma that has led to the deaths of Officer Howard Liebengood and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Jeffrey Smith by suicide.
Rosa DeLauro: (09:07)
The Congress owes it to the men and women of law enforcement and everyone who works in or visits our Capitol to fund recovery, rebuild after the insurrection, and ensure the safety, security, and the health of all who serve in the legislative branch. The Appropriations Committee has acted carefully to construct this package. We conducted a bipartisan briefing in January to discuss this issue at 12 sub-committee hearings, to closely review the recommendations of the task force 1/6, the Capitol Security Review led by General Honore and comprised of senior retired military leaders and law enforcement experts.
Rosa DeLauro: (09:47)
We have also heard from Inspector General and consultant security experts in and out of government and recognizing the importance of responding quickly, the supplemental is narrowly tailored to January 6th and related security needs. It contains $1.9 billion in emergency funding, and it pays for direct costs of the attack, reimburses the National Guard with $521 million and the District of Columbia for their response, provides $44 million for the Capitol Police to cover overtime pay, retention bonuses, equipment replacement, and wellness and trauma support, and it adds $40 million in funding for the Department of Justice to prosecute the insurrectionists who attacked law enforcement and ransacked the people’s House on January 6th.
Rosa DeLauro: (10:40)
Looking to the future, what the legislation does, it strengthens the security of the Capitol Complex, it provides resources as recommended in the Capitol Security Review, hardened the windows and doors, construct security screening vestibules, installed new cameras at a total cost of $530 million, provide $18 million for specialized training, riot control equipment, and body cameras for the Capitol Police, and appropriate $200 million for a dedicated, quick reaction force of National Guard personnel to augment the Capitol Police in future emergencies.
Rosa DeLauro: (11:16)
The legislation also bolsters security for members of Congress with dedicated funding for enhanced security and threat assessments, coordinated member travel security, and upgrades to security and district offices. It is our responsibility to move with dispatch, provide the resources necessary to protect the Capitol and those who work and visit here. I have talked to Capitol Police, as we all have.
Rosa DeLauro: (11:42)
They protect us every day. They cannot wait and we cannot wait. We need to get this done, and I’m pleased to tell you that the Capitol Police and just a quote, “The department is grateful for the support and the focus on providing enhanced capabilities and resources for our workforce. This support will directly help the department move forward to meet our evolving mission.” We have to act, and we have to act now. Thank you.
Zoe Lofgren: (12:13)
So I’m Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Administration Committee, and I’m here to support not only the supplemental, which is necessary, although there may be other things we need to do later, but also to congratulate Chairman Thompson and his ranking member, Mr. Katko, for reaching an agreement on the bipartisan commission to review January 6th. House Administration Committee has had several hearings looking at the Capitol Police.
Zoe Lofgren: (12:42)
We’ve discovered some management errors that were very serious and put our line officers at risk. Lack of equipment, lack of training, inadequate intelligence work, inadequate communication. And in fact, we’re having a hearing this afternoon with the Capitol Police Board, but having said that, it does not answer the questions that we need answered. And that’s why we need a bipartisan, prestigious, top of the line commission to find out what happened and why it happened.
Zoe Lofgren: (13:15)
I was on the Capitol floor, the Speaker was sitting in the chair, and a howling mob attacked the United States Capitol. They were pounding on the door. They had mamed police officers. They were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” Who paid for them to come here? Who incited them to decide that it was a good idea to mame dozens of Capitol police officers and try and overturn the election? That that crime was somehow proper?
Zoe Lofgren: (13:48)
We need to get to the bottom of this, not just to find out what happened leading up to the 6th, but how to prevent that from happening again, how to protect the oldest constitutional democracy in the world in the future. I thank the Speaker for her leadership on this, and I hope that we get enough Republican members who’ve told me privately they believe we should do this commission, to step forward so we can get the facts. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:19)
As the distinguished Chair of the House Administration Committee mentioned, she has a hearing coming up and we have votes on the floor. So we will take a few questions though. Yes, sir?
Madam Speaker, I’m sure you’ve heard both Leader McCarthy and Leader McConnell discount the viability of this commission, calling it a partisan effort, and casting doubt if it can actually pass the Senate. I’m curious what you say to them?
Nancy Pelosi: (14:50)
Perhaps you heard the distinguished Majority Leader of the Senate at an earlier press availability we had today say that this bill will come to the floor and they will have the debate to see who wants to seek the truth or not. Yes, Gary?
Madam Speaker, one of the complaints about this I guess, is the idea that it could be duplicative. There’s a half a dozen Congressional committees looking into various elements of this, all of the criminal cases that are open, what can only a commission do?
Nancy Pelosi: (15:23)
Well, first of all, when we had the 9/11 Commission, I had the privilege of serving as a co-chair of the Congressional bipartisan, and in that case, bicameral commission, and we worked leading up to the actual signing of this law. And the commission, in the legislation, it says to take advantage of other initiatives at the governmental and other level. I appreciate the sincerity of your question because it gives me a chance to say that this is all the more reason for us to have a bipartisan commission which commands the respect of the American people by dint of the caliber of people who will serve on it.
Nancy Pelosi: (16:11)
I certainly could call for hearings in the House with a majority of the numbers being Democrats with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats, but that’s not the path we have chosen to go. So we will take advantage of what you described, other research, certainly not to stand in the way of law enforcement, that is never anybody’s intention. But also to reap the benefits of research that is being done. And some of the findings in fact, that the FBI and the others may make available to us.
Can I follow up with that? Is it safe to say you’re reserving the right to take that other path if necessary?
Nancy Pelosi: (16:56)
I don’t want to. I don’t want to. What is important, and the reason I was willing to… we as a group were willing to yield on certain points, which we thought were, shall we say contradictory to past Republican behavior, when it came to appointing commissions, was that we wanted the American people to have the fullest confidence in the product that there is. We will find the truth. So it’s not a question of doing something in addition to this. It’s a question of if they don’t want to do this, we will. Right, Mr. Chairman? We will find the truth. Would you like to speak to that?
Bennie Thompson: (17:35)
Well, thank you, Madam Speaker. I think it’s clear that with the hearings that have gone on, there is a base level of information that’s available that should be helpful to the Commission to do its job. But at the end of the day, we would like the Commission to come back with recommendations based on what their reviews have discovered.
Bennie Thompson: (18:05)
And we trust the qualification of the people who serve to do just that. So commissions, as the Speaker’s already said, is not something new. We adopted all the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and it worked. And so we use that as a template for this 1/6 Commission. And we accepted the language in terms of a lot of inclusivity in the product, but it’s a labor of love. The ranking member and I spent many hours working back and forth getting to this point of accepting the document.
Bennie Thompson: (18:54)
And in principle, we thought we actually had agreement on all sides, and it was as big a shock to the Speaker and all of us that our Minority Leader had not… Well, he even said he had not seen it, which we have letters from him responding to it. So it’s not like he hadn’t seen it. But we didn’t want it to become purely political, that’s why we worked diligently to make it bipartisan.
Nancy Pelosi: (19:37)
And that’s why the view of the distinguished Chairman was so respected by our colleagues, but really to be technical about your question, it’s one thing to have a series of hearings, and I encouraged the committees in the House and the Senate to have their committees where it is appropriate for their oversight. But there’s one thing to have individual information, there’s another thing to see it in the aggregate. To see it in the aggregate shows you the weight of any one of the actions that were taken, and that is how you should be viewing it. One more? Yes, sir?
Nancy Pelosi: (20:17)
No women today.
Do you think Republicans including Leader McCarthy are afraid of being subpoenaed, or afraid of President Trump being subpoenaed in this commission?
Nancy Pelosi: (20:24)
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them what they’re afraid of. You’ll have to ask them, but it sounds like they’re afraid of the truth and that’s most unfortunate. But hopefully, they’ll get used to the idea that the American people want us to find the truth. And that is what we intend to do and to do it in a way that is as unifying as possible. That’s why we yielded, unifying as possible. If I wanted to go to another committee, I would have done it sooner, but I didn’t want to go there.
Nancy Pelosi: (20:55)
And to do it in a unifying way, and in a way that Governor Kean and Chairman… and the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Chairman Hamilton have suggested, that we find a way to strengthen our democracy. As we find the truth, we strengthen our democracy as we go forward, because that’s our responsibility. And we, again, unify the country as we do so. Thank you all very much. Thank you.