May 20, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Weekly Press Conference Transcript May 20
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference on May 20, 2021. She discussed the January 6 Commission. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Nancy Pelosi: (00:00)
… to combat the rising epidemic of anti-AAPI, Asian-American Pacific Islander hate crimes. Yesterday, the report was that in the past year, 6,600 attacks reported. We know there are many more, but reported attacks. As someone blessed to be from a district as I am, with a large AAPI population and community, this is something that I see regularly. And then therefore, very grateful to Congresswoman Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono for their leadership. There are other leads in the House and Senate on it as well, I thank them all.
Nancy Pelosi: (00:46)
Today, we go to the White House for a signing ceremony for that legislation. A signal to our nation of the high priority that President Biden has placed, and that Congress have placed on addressing this issue. As you know, right within a day of his inauguration, the President brought this up, tasked the Justice Department to make a further record of this. Addressed the issue as well, even before we had an attorney general, and now we have the legislation. When he talked about COVID and made his address to the nation, he included the COVID-19 hate crimes that we have seen.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:28)
So again, yesterday, the bi-partisan support was passed for this legislation. The Senate, the House, the signing today. So yesterday, again, that was on Justice and security. Yesterday as you know, proudly the House of Representatives in a strong bi-partisan way passed the bi-partisan legislation for an independent, bi-partisan 9-11 type commission to establish the truth of what happened on January Sixth. It is important to know that this legislation was done in a record time. You probably don’t know, but the legislation for 9-11 Commission, now, 9-11-2001 was signed into law November 27th, 2002, more than 14 months later. We’re very pleased that this has a much accelerated pace to it, and we’re eager to get it to the President’s desk.
Nancy Pelosi: (02:33)
Again, it was endorsed by Chairs Kean and Hamilton, the co-chairs of the 9-11 Commission. In the interest of bipartisanship, we’ve yielded on many requests, but we would not yield on its purpose to defend our democracy. I just wanted to just read them General Kean… In case you didn’t see, we strongly, very strongly urge members to support HR. 3233, the bipartisan national commission to investigate the January Sixth attack on the Capitol. It goes on to say what it would establish. As chairman and vice chairman of the 9-11 Commission, unity of purpose was key to the effectiveness of a group. We put country above party without bias, the events before, during and after the attack. Today, democracy faces a new threat. The January Sixth attack on the US capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country. Americans deserve an objective and accurate account of what happened as we did in the wake of September 11th, it’s time to set aside partisan politics, come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice. So we’re very, very pleased that the number of Republicans who voted for truth and justice.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:57)
Today, the House continues our work to protect the Capitol with an emergency supplemental funding bill. It’s based on the facts and findings of General Honore’s report. General Honore had a task force of national security and law enforcement experts who prioritized and sequenced how we should proceed, and also reflects the Inspector General’s reports to the appropriation and House administrations committee. The funding will respond to the cost to harden the Capitol, to repair the Capitol and then to harden against future attacks. And it also honors the sacrifice of the Capitol police officers, including the Howie Liebengood Center for Wellness. Howie Liebengood took his life following 9-11. His family has been very concerned about the counseling necessary for members faced with such tragedy, and it’s beyond shameful and beyond reason that any member would not understand why we need this. And I want to make a special shout out for the custodial staff of the Capitol. This legislation addresses the sacrifices that they have made, the needs that they have to go forward, and I’m pleased that the appropriations committee found the appropriate route to be helpful to them.
Nancy Pelosi: (05:31)
Okay, and all this is going on of course. We are getting ready for the American jobs and family plans to build back better. Our chairs have been working hopefully as much as possible in a bipartisan way to see where we can find common ground from the standpoint of the House committees. As you know, the President has been in negotiations with the Senate Republicans, we’ll see where that takes us. But we do have a responsibility and an opportunity to build that better, with not only what we want to do for roads, and bridges, and mass transit and high speed rail, but broadband into rural America and into urban deserts in that regard. With water projects so necessary, as a person in the West where water can be a fighting word.
Nancy Pelosi: (06:25)
It is certainly a vital word and source. So we have for the whole country, need to not only store distribute, better recycle, but get the lead out for the health of our children. And in order to build that better, we want to do so with much more larger participation of previously underrepresented communities, and starting with moms. Dads too, who may need healthcare. I mean childcare, or elder care or care for persons with a disability and their families.
Nancy Pelosi: (07:03)
When people talk about people not taking jobs now, they have to recognize. If kids cannot be in school, and children and families cannot afford healthcare and it’s not readily available, how can people go to work? So again, if we’re going to build back better, we have to think in a new way about what infrastructure is, and that workforce development childcare, family medical leave for all part of that initiative. And so we’re excited about what that means, and we’re so happy about the child tax credit, and universal pre-K, and the initiatives that the President sees as valuable to building our kids. It’s pretty exciting, when you think of the opportunity that is there. How we grow our economy with everyone participating a fuller way, and the benefits of our hopefully prosperity, as we grow the economy in a way that creates good paying jobs, preserves the planet, involves many more people. Any questions?
Speaker 2: (08:11)
Madam Speaker, Madam Speaker?
Nancy Pelosi: (08:11)
Speaker 2: (08:12)
On that commission-
Nancy Pelosi: (08:13)
Hey, you went first yesterday?
Speaker 2: (08:14)
Well, I can talk again [crosstalk 00:08:15].
Nancy Pelosi: (08:15)
You were loudest.
Speaker 2: (08:20)
What did yesterday’s vote tell you about the state of the Republican Party?
Nancy Pelosi: (08:24)
You know, I’m not here to analyze the Republican Party. All I say is to my Republican friends and I do have them, take back your party. This is the Grand Old Party, the party has done so much for our country. And quite frankly, many Republicans have courageously withstood the, shall we say, assault on our democracy that is going forth. When you think of the Republicans and the courage that they’ve had, in the electoral system in our country and election decisions have been made to support the fact that the election was legitimate, many Republicans were the ones who came forward.
Nancy Pelosi: (09:05)
So I think that there’s some courage that needs to be recognized in the party, certainly in our body, Liz Cheney and others. But it’s not for me to analyze them, except to say as one who has served with Republicans for a long time in the Congress, this is a different… I would say breed of cat, but I love our kitten Daisy so I’m not going to say breed of cat. I don’t want to do that to my granddaughter’s [inaudible 00:09:34] Daisy. But it is interesting to see 35 members coming forth, I’m very proud of them. And it was a recognition that this was a bi-partisan product, negotiated in good faith. That all of a sudden they wanted to say, “Well, if it isn’t Black Lives Matter or something like that,” we’re taking their eye off the ball, January Sixth.
Speaker 3: (10:00)
[crosstalk 00:10:00] Good morning.
Nancy Pelosi: (10:05)
Speaker 3: (10:05)
We saw the guidance yesterday from the Capitol attending physician. We saw the group statement as well, clarifying some of that. How does that pertain though, and I’ve asked you about this before. When do Congress get back to normal, and the continuation of hybrid hearings and voting? And you just reapproved the [inaudible 00:10:22]. I understand the issue with the floor, and what Dr. Monahan said. But with that issue, why shouldn’t some of those things, like the remote hearing get back to normal?
Nancy Pelosi: (10:32)
Well, what the attending physician, and that’s the guidance we have to go by, said is, unless people are vaccinated, we have to continue to wear masks in our meetings and on the floor. And so that’s what we are doing. It is unfortunate that a large number of people in the Congress have refused to be… Or I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if refused, or have been vaccinated and don’t want to admit. I don’t know what that is, because I shouldn’t know, it’s their personal business. But as the doctor said, until they are vaccinated, we cannot have meetings without masks.
Speaker 3: (11:24)
But he was specific to the House floor, talking about having a meeting place where everyone’s comes to meet. What about committees, where you might have-
Nancy Pelosi: (11:24)
[crosstalk 00:11:24] well it would be the same thing.
Speaker 3: (11:27)
… 20, 30, 40 people?
Nancy Pelosi: (11:27)
Well in the meetings, if you’re not vaccinated, the other people have to wear a mask. And we’ll see. I’m hoping that this new CDC guidance will encourage people to be vaccinated. We want to get through this as soon as possible. Does anybody feel like wearing a mask? So no, no, we all want to get through this, and we want to get back to… Much of the containment of visitors to the Capitol relates to COVID, not necessarily to what happened January Sixth only. We have to protect people and have safety and security, but many of the prohibitions of visits sprang well before January, came forth before January Sixth.
Speaker 4: (12:16)
[crosstalk 00:12:16] Madam Speaker?
Nancy Pelosi: (12:17)
Speaker 4: (12:18)
Hi, thank you. Just to follow up on that, the President has talked about July Fourth as being maybe this time when the country can begin to gather more and get back to normal. Do you see any openings or other aspects of the Capitol to visitors? And again, knowing that so many people have not been vaccinated, do you just keep waiting for them or is there an alternative?
Nancy Pelosi: (12:40)
We have to wait for them to be vaccinated, because they are selfishly endangerment to other people, including staff people here. So while we are hopeful, and I join the President and being hopeful that we can reach a place where it is safe for people to be. What is this, the honor system? The honor system, as to whether somebody has been vaccinated? Do you want them breathing in your face on the strength of their honor? So, let’s just see, let’s just see.
Nancy Pelosi: (13:15)
And then again, this is about science and governance, and science and governance. We have a responsibility to make sure that the House of the Representatives’ chamber is not a Petri dish because of the selfishness of some not to be vaccinated. Or to wear a mask, because it requires us to wear a mask. We could come to a place where we say, “If you don’t want to wear a mask and you don’t want to? If you’re not vaccinated, don’t even come to the floor. We have facilities up above in the gallery where people can come to vote. We don’t want to deter anybody’s ability to exercise their constitutional duties.” We have that responsibility as well. So we’re trying to balance everybody being able to exercise his or her constitutional duties, as well as protect the staff and the other members.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:16)
Now, I know a lot of things. As Speaker of the House, I know a lot of things. And I know a lot about people’s predispositions and the rest, because they share them with me. And I have to make judgements based on what the vulnerability of our members as well. But it’s not a, shall we say, subjective decision. The attending physician has said, “Until everybody’s vaccinated, we wear masks.” Yes ma’am.
Speaker 4: (14:51)
[crosstalk 00:14:51] Madam Speaker, back to the commission.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:54)
Speaker 4: (14:54)
I know that that is your strong preference, for a bipartisan, 9-11 type commission. Things are not looking great for that passing in the Senate, [crosstalk 00:15:02] there’s a lot of opposition. Are you committed to… If that fails in the Senate, are you committed to a select committee? How would that work?
Nancy Pelosi: (15:08)
We’re taking this one step at a time, but we’ve said we want is a bi-partisan commission. I don’t want to weaken that position. Everybody knows what my options are, they are no secret. But the preference, not only preference, overwhelming preference is for bipartisanship. And I don’t think that what we’ve heard from the Senate is so bad compared to what we’d usually hear from the Senate, and I’m very pleased with the statement made by the majority leader on this subject. And now that some of the senators, Republican senators are saying, “Well, if there’s Republicans who can hire staff, that would be okay.” Of course they can hire staff, that’s never even been a question. So we like that threshold that they want the committee to cross.
Speaker 5: (15:59)
[crosstalk 00:15:59] I just want to follow up on that question. So it doesn’t appear… There’s going to be an investigation no matter what happens, right? That’s what basically what you’re saying is. It’s this, it’s something else, but this Congress is not going to go by without some sort of large scale probe into January Sixth?
Nancy Pelosi: (16:14)
Well, let’s go back to 9-11. When 9-11, you saw it took 14 and a half months to get this signed by the… Did you know that?
Speaker 5: (16:24)
I didn’t know that.
Nancy Pelosi: (16:25)
Isn’t that surprising to you?
Speaker 5: (16:26)
Nancy Pelosi: (16:27)
[crosstalk 00:16:27] You would have thought just like that. But there was major opposition to a 9-11 Commission. I know that because I had the first bill, and I lost on the floor. We were in the minority at the time. And then Tim Roemer had the amendment to the intelligence bill with the help of the families, and that’s how we got a bill passed and then to the President’s desk. But it took time. This has been really on an accelerated pace, even though why don’t we have it? Well it’s in the works, and it takes time to negotiate.
Nancy Pelosi: (17:02)
In the meantime though, in 2011? Excuse me, 2001 and two leading up to that, we had a joint committee in the house and Senate. A bi-partisan committee of which I was a co-chair, as the top Democrat on the intelligence committee. Bob Graham was the chairman of the intelligence committee in the Senate, so he and Shelby, [inaudible 00:17:26], Pelosi and the House. And we had months of hearings and the rest, and the work that was produced by that committee was very valuable to the 9-11 Commission, and in the legislation establishing. It said it should take advantage of all those things. As we would hope that this commission would take advantage of some of the other oversight committees’ work.
Nancy Pelosi: (17:51)
So let’s just hope that we can have the clarity of a bipartisan commission, with high level, national leaders on it as the committee calls for, with expertise in the areas that are important. Whether it’s law, law enforcement, security, civil liberties, civil rights, privacy, different range. Well it’s in the bill, it’s online. So let’s just go that route. It’s the preferable route to go, why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t we.
Speaker 6: (18:31)
[crosstalk 00:18:31] Madam Speaker.
Nancy Pelosi: (18:32)
Speaker 6: (18:34)
Just a quick followup on that, but how long are you willing to wait when Democrats seem to have a real fear that what happened on January Sixth could occur again? So how long are you willing to wait before Democrats decide to just go about this on their own?
Nancy Pelosi: (18:47)
Again, these things take a little longer time than those who want immediate gratification on an answer on something. We passed it yesterday, what is your answer today? It takes time for issues to be socialized, bills to be reviewed and the rest. So again, we want to bring it to the floor when it is ready. I mean for them to bring it to the floor when it is ready, they may have some modifications it which we’ll see what they are. Then again, this is about prioritizing, sequencing, honoring the report of General Honore and the Inspectors General about what needs to be done. But I would like to have the trust that the Senate wants to find the truth as well, and let’s just give them a chance to do that without hanging something over them about a timetable, or other options that exist for the Speaker of the House.
Speaker 3: (19:45)
Can we just follow up really quickly about police reform? We’re approaching that May 25th deadline of the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Right now, Democrats and Republicans have said that it doesn’t seem like they would reach a deal. What does that say about [crosstalk 00:19:56]?
Nancy Pelosi: (19:56)
I don’t think they’ve said they’re not going to reach a deal.
Speaker 3: (19:59)
We’ve heard from Senator Cory Booker, who has said that it’s unlikely right now that it looks like they’ll reach a deal by May 25th.
Nancy Pelosi: (20:06)
By May 25th, so that’s a different story.
Speaker 3: (20:09)
[crosstalk 00:20:09] So what do you have to say about where it’s at?
Nancy Pelosi: (20:09)
[crosstalk 00:20:09] I’m not a timetable person. Those of you who may, I’m not a timetable person, I don’t want to, shall we say, empower those who are opposed to it to say, “Well, they didn’t do it by the date.” No, you do it when you’re ready, and it will be in a reasonable amount of time. The hope would have been that we could have done it by his birthday. But you can’t do it until it’s ready in the best possible way, and that is more valuable than having it a couple of weeks earlier or whatever.
Nancy Pelosi: (20:39)
So I think I have great confidence in Karen Bass, I think that with all due respect to your question, it’s unimportant in terms of… The fact that it will happen is what is important. We would have liked to happen at a certain time, it’s a legislative process. We’re operating under circumstances that are unusual, with people not here. Karen Bass says she will stay next week to hopefully complete, but to continue the negotiations.
Nancy Pelosi: (21:14)
I have a great deal of respect for how this is being handled in a bipartisan way, we’re very proud of Karen Bass for what she’s done. And again, this is not just about us. The maneuvering internally and insight is very important. But does that say about every bill? Inside maneuvering can only get you so far, the outside mobilization is what makes all the difference. And the outside mobilization we saw more than one year ago after May 25th was something that we’ve never seen before. Across the world, people in the streets for days if not weeks, millions of people speaking out against what happened to George Floyd. So there’s opportunity, we’ll have legislation. I don’t think we should bemoan the fact of what day it is as long as it is imminent and soon, and I think it will be. Thank you all very much.
Speaker 7: (22:16)
Nancy Pelosi: (22:17)
Yeah, it’s sad. And I stayed up so late.
Speaker 7: (22:21)
Nancy Pelosi: (22:23)
We’ve had the big [inaudible 00:22:23].
Speaker 7: (22:23)
We’ll be watching you.
Nancy Pelosi: (22:35)
I haven’t lied to you, I stay up very late.
Speaker 7: (22:35)
I was watching hockey.