Dec 9, 2021
Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff Press Conference Transcript: Bill Addressing Presidential Abuse of Power
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff held a press conference on December 9, 2021 to discuss the bill addressing presidential abuse of power. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Adam Schiff: (00:00)
Punishment of the last President who is now beyond legislative reach, but to guard against any future President of either party who would be tempted to make themselves a king. Many of the protections in PODA have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. In fact, many of these provisions had once been authored by Republicans, and one would expect they would be embraced by the GOP as desirable limits on the current Democratic administration.
Adam Schiff: (00:27)
The Protecting Our Democracy Act is a natural compliment to H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights legislation, as part of our pro-democracy agenda. This is a precarious moment in the long history of our struggle for more perfect union, when the fate of our democracy is once again in question. We must rise to meet that moment, and I’m grateful that the Congress has begun that process with passing the Protection of our Democracy Act.
Adam Schiff: (00:55)
This legislation is the product of… worked by many hands, many Committee Chairs and Members, but no one more so than the Speaker of the House, who has stood as a bulkwark, defending our democracy since her election to Congress, but most particularly over the last several years. And I’m very proud to introduce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:21)
Thank you very much, Chairman Schiff, for your kind introduction, more importantly for your great leadership and protection of our democracy. It’s an honor for me to join you and our distinguished Chairs, Mr. Nadler, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Madam Chair Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Oversight core Committee, Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee. I used to serve on that Committee, it had a different name way back when, but a very important Committee that has such scope and such responsibility, oversight in the Congress. Adam Schiff, thank you for your outstanding patriotic leadership and honchoing this legislation, and bringing us together right now today.
Nancy Pelosi: (02:04)
So when we call Protection of Our Democracy Act, what is that about? Well, it’s about 245 years ago when our families declared independence from an impressive monarch. They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men,” I’m sure they meant and women, “Were created equal and that they were endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights among them. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Nancy Pelosi: (02:36)
Imagine that in our founding documents, the pursuit of happiness, and they continued talking about the oppressive governance that they were under at the time. “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends,” that I just described, “It is the people’s duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for our future security.” And they did indeed throw off the British in a war that they won, and began to write our founding documents. Our founders would forge those guards, the democratic institutions enshrined in the Constitution, and have for centuries now, safeguarded the rights of the American people.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:26)
The Protecting our Democracy Act ensures the strength and survival of a democracy of, by, and for the people. Defending the rule of law, revitalizing our system of checks and balances, and restoring our democratic institutions is sweeping and future focused. As the distinguished Chairman said, it’s we understand from the past, but we’re focused on the future, designed to revive our American democracy now, and for generations to come.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:58)
It’s by coincidence that today we are taking up this bill on the same day that the President is having his Democracy Forum at the White House, virtually. Over a 100 leaders from around the world participating as we talk about democracy versus autocracy, and the erosion of democracy in some countries. We have to save that out off in our very own country.
Nancy Pelosi: (04:25)
This legislation ensures that no one, not even a President, no matter who he or she may be, is above the law. One of our founders, George Mason warned during the Constitutional Convention, “Shall any man be above justice? Shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?” No. Addressing Presidential abuse therefore goes the very heart, the very survival of our democracy.
Nancy Pelosi: (05:00)
And so therefore, this is about being worthy and honoring the vision of our founders, being worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform who have defended our democracy and our freedoms contained within our constitution, which we take an oath to protect and defend, but which others have abused. Worthy of the vision of our founders, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, worthy of the aspirations of our children as we go into the future, being custodians of our democracy for now and for the future.
Nancy Pelosi: (05:37)
Now I’m pleased to yield to a champion of our democracy, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from New York, Jerry Nadler.
Jerry Nadler: (05:49)
Thank you, Madam speaker. Under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Schiff, Chairwoman Maloney, and the many other Members who contribute to this legislation, the House took a major step today in repairing the damage to our democracy brought by the Trump administration.
Jerry Nadler: (06:05)
Time and time again, we saw a President who placed his personal interests above the national interest, who sought personal enrichment above all else, who weaponized the Department of Justice, who welcomed foreign interference in our elections, and who used the pardon power to reward his allies and protect himself.
Jerry Nadler: (06:24)
And when Congress sought to exercise its oversight function and to hold him accountable, he brought stonewalling to a new level and tied us up in court for years, as he followed through on his promise to fight all the subpoenas. That is why the Protecting our Democracy Act is so urgently needed. After Watergate, congress learned the lessons of the Nixon administration and enacted a series of landmark reforms to prevent the future President from abusing the power of the presidency as Nixon had.
Jerry Nadler: (06:53)
A few generations later, in the wake of the Trump administration which systematically worked to erode transparency, evade accountability, and upset the system of checks and balances that are so fundamental to our democratic order, it has become clear that a new set of reforms is necessary. Although many of the provisions of this legislation draw directly on our experience with the prior administration, they are pointedly not anti-Trump measures. Rather, they are forward-looking and they protect against future abuses by any President of any party.
Jerry Nadler: (07:27)
I’m especially proud of the reforms in this bill within the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction. We add much needed transparency to protect against abuse of the pardon power, and we reaffirm that pardons may form the basis of a bribery scheme. We also reaffirm that self-pardons are prohibited, adhering to the principle that no one should be a judge in his own cause.
Jerry Nadler: (07:48)
We ensure that the presidency is not a get out of jail free card by pausing the statute of limitations on offenses committed by a President of Vice President, to preserve the ability of prosecutors to bring them to justice after their term is over. We ensure meaningful enforcement of Congressional subpoenas through a streamlined and expedited court process, to ensure that no administration can evade accountability by simply running out the clock through years of court delays. And we work to prevent political interference from the White House, with the independence of the Department of Justice, by ensuring that logs of certain communications be recorded and periodically reviewed for any improper communications.
Jerry Nadler: (08:30)
These and the other provisions in this vital legislation will strengthen the essential guardrails that protect against unchecked executive power. And they will help restore the American public’s faith in our democracy. I appreciate the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Schiff, Chairwoman Maloney, and the other distinguished Members who helped craft these critical reforms, and I look forward to working with them to see that this legislation makes its way to the President’s desk without delay.
Jerry Nadler: (08:57)
And it now gives me great pleasure to introduce my colleague of longstanding from New York, a distinguished Chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, Carolyn Maloney.
Carolyn Maloney: (09:13)
Thank you Jerry, and I am very proud to be here with Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff, and Chairman Nadler, following the historic action taken by the House today in passing the Protecting our Democracy Act. This package of reforms will restore integrity, accountability, and transparency to our government. With today’s passage, we are one step closer to getting these critical reforms enacted into law.
Carolyn Maloney: (09:41)
The Protecting our Democracy Act would put important guardrails in place to hold the President and his or her political appointees accountable to the people they serve. This includes preventing abuses of the President’s pardon power, requiring the President and Vice President to disclose their tax returns, making it easier for Congress to enforce subpoenas.
Carolyn Maloney: (10:07)
The bill would strengthen protections for inspector generals by allowing an Inspector Generals by allowing an Inspector General to be removed for specific documented reasons only. This important protection passed the House last Congress is part of the Heroes Act. And again, this year’s part of my Inspector General Independence and Empowerment Act.
Carolyn Maloney: (10:28)
The bill also includes the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act, which I was proud to introduce with Representative Nancy Mace. These reforms would strengthen protections for whistleblowers when they provide information to Congress, and it would ensure that they have the opportunity to challenge retaliation in court, including access to a jury trial.
Carolyn Maloney: (10:52)
The bill would also strengthen enforcement and penalties for political appointees who violate the Hatch Act, the cornerstone law that protects the government from political interference and prevents the government from being used to advance political campaigns. Republicans have criticized this package as being targeted at President Trump. However, the House passed the package now, when President Trump is no longer in office because we are committed to reforming the law to protect against future abuses, no matter who is President. We call on the Senate to swiftly pass this landmark legislation, and I yield back. Thank you.
Adam Schiff: (11:45)
Thank you very much, Chair Maloney and Chair Nadler for your extraordinary leadership on this legislation. Chairman Nadler, I think there’s been no greater champion of the rule of law in Congress in the last quarter century. And Chair Maloney, I think you have done an extraordinary job overseeing the government to root out fraud and corruption, and tremendously value your contributions to this package. Happy to respond to a few questions. Yes.
Speaker 6: (12:11)
Chairman Schiff, I hear you say H.R. 1, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Protecting our Democracy Act are vital to protecting American democracy right now, but those things are facing the filibuster in the Senate, which two Democrats are unwilling to reform.
Speaker 6: (12:28)
Are Democrats losing their window to protect democracy, when we are hearing stories of election workers being threatened, local election officials who do not want to run again because of what they see happening in their communities as undermining democracy?
Adam Schiff: (12:46)
I think you put your finger on really the gravest threat facing our democracy right now, which are these actions around the country to strip independent elections officials of their duties, give them over to partisans and partisan legislatures. The enactment of State laws intended to allow a State legislature to overturn the popular will of their own constituents in the next election. And yes, I think any delay in passage of these democracy reforms continues to put our country at risk, and this experiment in self-governance at risk.
Adam Schiff: (13:23)
I firmly believe that at a minimum, there should be a carve-out to the filibuster for reforms that are vital to the health of our democracy. And I know that Senator Schumer is working around the clock to try to get these vital bills across the finish line. I think these bills are really in the right order.
Adam Schiff: (13:49)
The foundational right is the right to vote, and those two bills, H.R. 1 and the John Lewis bill are the most essential. Without a proper democratic foundation based on the right to vote, anything built on that crumbles down. But even that foundation alone may not be enough if a President is allowed to abuse their power the way we’ve witnessed over the last four years.
Adam Schiff: (14:13)
So I quite agree with you. I feel a tremendous sense of urgency. I think our country is at an incredibly fragile point in the history of our democracy. And so, we need to get these bills through the Senate. And if that requires a carve-out, it requires a carve-out to do it. Yes.
Speaker 7: (14:34)
So this bill is to limit the abuse of power from the President. So I’m wondering, the Senate just passed the vaccine and testing mandate. They wouldn’t have blocked that, there were two Democrats that joined them with that. Do you think that Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate is an overreach of Presidential power? Why or why not?
Speaker 7: (14:52)
And also, do you think that there’s enough support in the House to bring that to the floor for a vote?
Adam Schiff: (14:58)
No. Look, I think the President was right to impose vaccine mandates to try to protect the health and welfare of the country. That’s our best tool. Vaccines are our best tool to combat the pandemic, but I’m going to abbreviate my answer because we’re really focused on the Protecting our Democracy Act today. Yes.
Speaker 8: (15:15)
If I can, and you’re talking about protecting the ability of Congress to have things like subpoenas honored. We’re seeing with the January 6th Committee that, that’s proving to be difficult. Mark Meadows is now suing the Committee and the Speaker to avoid a deposition that he didn’t show up for.
Speaker 8: (15:35)
Can you speak to what you’re seeing in terms of that investigation, and what that means to what you’re trying to do here?
Adam Schiff: (15:42)
Yes. Let me address that, and then turn to Chairman Nadler, who really has been a champion on the issue of enforcement of subpoenas. I think what we’re seeing among a few people thus far is a real effort to thwart Congress’s oversight ability to prevent Congress and the American people from getting answers about a violent attack on the building we’re in right now.
Adam Schiff: (16:05)
In the case of Mr. Meadows, Mr. Meadows made the decision to cooperate. He provided thousands of documents to us that are very pertinent to the investigation. He acknowledged through his counsel, these documents and the subject matter they cover is not privileged. He then subsequently refused to appear to testify about the same documents he has admitted are not privileged.
Adam Schiff: (16:27)
And I don’t know what happened between then and now to convince him to curtail his cooperation, but the reality is he’s under a lawful obligation to appear. He refused to do so, and we will move expeditiously to hold him in criminal contempt. I’m grateful the Justice Department moved as swiftly as it did with abandoned contempt, and I’m grateful that we have an Attorney General who recognizes that the rule of law applies to everyone, and you don’t get a pass depending on your relationship to the former President, or your position or power. So we will move with all expedition, but on the broader issue, let me turn to my colleague, Chairman Nadler.
Jerry Nadler: (17:13)
Well, thank you. I think that what Chairman Schiff just said feeds into the problem. Not that what he said is wrong, but it feeds into the problem, and I’ll explain that in a moment. It took us two-and-a-half years to enforce our subpoena against Don McGahn, two-and-a-half years. And during that time period, it was a different Congress.
Jerry Nadler: (17:42)
And obviously, the Trump or the strategy of all the Trump people, all the January 6 people, is to play out the clock. And they might succeed in that. They might succeed in playing out the clock for years, as Don McGahn did. So that’s why we have in this bill, the provisions to expedite Congressional subpoenas enforcement.
Jerry Nadler: (18:09)
And specifically, what it says is that any motion to enforce a subpoena goes directly to a three-judge Federal Court, and the appeal is directly to the Supreme Court of the United States, and there are time limits placed on those proceedings, so that no longer will people be able to play out the clock and frustrate Congress’s oversight ability, and Congress’ ability to enforce the… to oversight.
Speaker 9: (18:37)
Adam Schiff: (18:40)
Speaker 10: (18:40)
So Republicans are already starting to put out statements on this as expected, saying that this is another partisan bill. It passed on party lines, sending over to the Senate where the prospects are grim because of the filibuster. What do you say to the American people who are hearing that message from Republicans, who are also seeing issues like crime not be addressed, or they don’t think they’re being addressed because that’s not the message that they’re getting from your Republican colleagues?
Speaker 10: (19:05)
So you’re addressing something now that’s talking about the Trump administration, and not focusing on things like crime and rising crime in our cities right now.
Adam Schiff: (19:14)
I’m happy to address that, and also happy to recognize Chair Maloney, if she’d like to contribute to the response as well. First of all, we were very pleased to have bipartisan support today. Adam Kinzinger voted in favor of the bill. We’re grateful for that act of courage, and many of the provisions of this bill were supported by Republicans in the past.
Adam Schiff: (19:37)
The question is not why Democrats are supporting it now? Many Democrats have supported these provisions in the past. The question is why have Republicans changed their view on whether subpoenas should be enforced? Why did Darrell Issa, who once championed the power of Congress to expeditiously enforce subpoenas, vote against a bill that would do so?
Adam Schiff: (19:58)
Why would Republicans oppose a bill that includes provisions that Senator Leahy once championed about curtailing Presidential emergency declarations, or that Chairman or Senator Grassley champion in terms of protecting Inspector Generals or whistleblowers? What has changed within the GOP?
Adam Schiff: (20:18)
And the short, terrible answer is fear of the former President, that if they support these reforms, which enjoy by the way, the support of 150 good government groups outside the Congress, spanning the spectrum from conservative groups to liberal groups, they fear the disfavor of the former President. And I had hoped that they would see the utility in these reforms, in democratic administrations and Republican, but apparently most of the GOP still runs in desperate fear of the former President.
Adam Schiff: (20:54)
In terms of the other parts of our agenda, we are heavily focused as you know, on passing Infrastructure bill, which we did. For four years, the prior administration and Republican Congress talked about… or Republicans in Congress talked about Infrastructure Week, never got it done. We did. We passed a Rescue Plan that lifted families out of poverty, half the kids out of poverty in the country, and helped speed vaccinations. We are on the brink of passing the Build Back Better bill to address the need of families to find affordable childcare, and be able to afford college, and the ability of people to put a roof over their head.
Adam Schiff: (21:34)
So our domestic policy agenda is broad. It is widely supported by the public, and part of that agenda, which people also care about, is whether we still have a democracy in a few years. And we’re going to need to do both, both meet the economic needs and the quality of life needs of the American people, but at the same time, make sure that their vote matters in the future, that they can vote in the future. So we have to be able to do both. And let me recognize Chair Maloney.
Carolyn Maloney: (22:09)
Well, I join my colleagues in saying that this Congress I’ve had the opportunity to vote on three of the most transformative bills in my life. In terms of infrastructure, it’s the strongest bill that’s been before this body, that many have proposed. They always say it, we passed it.
Carolyn Maloney: (22:26)
The American Rescue Plan was a transformational to New York City. We were the epicenter of the epidemic and we needed the help that came. And then the Build Back Better is attacking climate change and the high cost of prescription drugs, with reforms to help lower that cost and invest in families. I would say that Democrats have put forward a very strong pro environment, pro-family, pro-work. We’ve created more jobs in the past six months than I think ever in history, over 6,000,000 jobs.
Carolyn Maloney: (23:01)
So we have put forward substantive and passed. And the Republicans, if you listen to their arguments on the floor, they were attacking it as, “Being political,” yet even at the Rules Committee Meeting, Mr. Comer was saying, “I agree with a lot of what you’re putting forward, including revealing the taxes of the President and the Vice President.” He testified that, he said that. On the floor, he was against it.
Carolyn Maloney: (23:25)
So it was a political response to substantive reforms. And this is just part of a broader agenda that we are putting forward for the American people. Tomorrow, we’re having a hearing on ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs. It’s a report we’ve been working on all year, that the Speaker is joining with us. And many of the reforms that we recommend are in the Build Back Better bill, that we hope the Senate will pass.
Carolyn Maloney: (23:53)
In terms of voting rights, I agree with the gentle lady, that it is the most important issue that we confront, and we support a carve-out. If you can’t get the filibuster, at least give us a carve-out on voting rights so that we can pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Act.
Speaker 9: (24:10)
Adam Schiff: (24:12)
Thank you very much.