Aug 24, 2021
Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats Press Conference After House Vote Transcript August 24
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats held a press conference on August 24 after the vote passing the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Terri Sewell: (00:47)
What a historic day in the United States Capitol. We are so happy to pass the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. What a historic moment, not just for us in the Capitol but really for the people. It is about restoring the voices of the excluded, the vote. I want to thank all of you for being here as we celebrate this historic milestone in our fight to protect the right to vote for all Americans. I want to extend a special thank you to Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Leader, Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn for your continued leadership and attention to the need of the American people to get this bill across the finish line. I also want to thank Chairperson, Jerry Nadler, Steve Cohen, Zoe Lofgren, G. K. Butterfield and the other members of the House committees on judiciary and administration for holding the necessary series of meetings and all of the oversight hearings to provide an opportunity for thoughtful engagement with civil rights and voting rights stakeholders, litigators, election officials and the department of justice.
Terri Sewell: (02:05)
Similarly, I want to thank the Tri-Caucus. Special thanks to chairperson Joyce Beatty, to Raul Ruiz, as well as Judy Chu and the rest of the Tri-Caucus members for their support and engagement throughout this process. Lastly, I’d want to thank all of the witnesses and organizations that participated in the series of congressional oversight hearings held by the house committees on the judiciary and administration. When I think about this day, I filed this bill in four successive congresses since the Shelby versus Holder decision gutted, pre-clearance section five by finding the Supreme court found that section four was unconstitutional.
Terri Sewell: (02:53)
This day is bittersweet for me because it’s the first time that we’ve introduced this bill without our beloved Congressman John Lewis. I know that John is smiling, smiling because we’re doing the people’s work by ensuring that every American has an equal access to the ballot box. 56 years ago on Bloody Sunday, ordinary Americans made extraordinary sacrifices to hold our nation accountable to its highest ideals of justice and equality for all. There on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that looms large over my hometown of Selma, Alabama, many brave foot soldiers like our beloved colleague John Lewis, Amelia Boynton Robinson and so many others fought, bled and died for our sacred right, that fundamental right to vote. As direct beneficiaries of their legacy, we have been similarly focused on ensuring that their contributions to this nation will live on. That’s why I’m so proud to celebrate today the House passage 219 to 212. Yes, HR4, The John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Terri Sewell: (04:15)
For me, not only is this bittersweet to not have John here, I started today by talking to our Democratic Caucus about the state of the union during the 2015 when we had the Selma to Montgomery March and my special guest was a 103 year old Amelia Boynton Robinson. I have a little post-it on my bathroom wall in Alabama, and it says, do your own work. Because Amelia Boynton Robinson at 103 said to all the people who came up to her that day at the state of the union, everyone to a person said, oh, Miss Amelia, we stand on your shoulders, we stand on your shoulders. She said, “Get off my shoulders and do your own work.” So I am so happy that today we’ve done our own work and that we’re going to continue to do the work of the people.
Terri Sewell: (05:06)
And I’m just so excited to be standing here with such dynamic leaders. And I’m speechless actually the girl from Selma because the boy from Troy is not here. But I just want to say to my constituency, Birmingham, Montgomery, my hometown of Selma. It’s not just that I represent you all each and every day in Congress, I represent the legacy that is the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Movement. It is a legacy that we should honor each and every day, not just on this monumental milestone because we do stand on the shoulders of giants. People who sacrificed, who had the courage and the temerity to stand up to impossible odds so that what we do today in making that we honor and restore the vote, V-O-T-E voices of the excluded, voices of the excluded. What we do today, we do for the people.
Terri Sewell: (06:10)
I want to now introduce our fearless leader, who made sure that we had the votes for the rule, as well as the votes to pass this bill. You honor me so often by coming to Selma, Alabama and walking on that pilgrimage. So do you Steny, and so do so many of you who have walked across that bridge with John Lewis. And we know that John is smiling because we got into some good trouble today, some really good trouble today. And with that, I’d like to bring the speaker up. Thank you again for your leadership. Really appreciate it.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (06:51)
Congratulations to Terri Sewell for her relentless persistent leadership and advocacy for this Voting Rights Act. Little did we know when it would be finally passed here in the house that John would not be with us. But I do know that he is with us in spirit and as Congress woman Sewell said earlier, he’s kind of looking down on us with great pride. Certainly pride in Terri Sewell. The district that she represents is full of history but she is making progress in addition to honoring that history. The district that she represents has seen great pain, but she wants to bring great change. And what better way than the vote, the vote to make things different. So much of the protection of the vote happened in her state in Alabama. And I just want to tell this one story. I was recently, the case Shelby county, Shelby County versus Holder. That would be Eric Holder, the former Attorney General of the United States.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (08:01)
Right now he’s working very hard to pass HR4, HR1, have fairness in our elections and the rest. And I saw him recently and I said to his wife, Sharon, “Sharon thank you for sharing Eric with us all because the work he’s doing for voting rights is just so remarkable, so remarkable.” And she said to me, “You don’t have to thank me for his doing that work.” And she showed me a picture of Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. Luci Baines is right behind him. She was with all of you last week when she was here with you before she said, “I was standing behind my daddy when they did the Voting Rights.” She’s standing right behind her daddy. But a few steps away is Sharon’s sister. She was the first one, one of the first to try to go to college in the University of Alabama that George Wallace presented.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (09:02)
So she said, “You don’t have to thank me for the work that he does for voting rights. It’s completely in our family.” So John Lewis was about connections, connections. And how he fought the fight himself, revered the past that brought him to the place he was and looked to the future. How proud he would be of our Texas friends who were here for the courage they are showing for the vote. So here we are, as standing and others will attest, we were here when we passed the bill in 2006, 2006. It was overwhelmingly bi-partisan. In the House nearly 400 votes, in the Senate unanimous. And we walked down those steps in a bi-partisan way, the steps of the Capitol to just celebrate together. Then President Bush signed the legislation with great pride, with great pride. And with great pride he came to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the march.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (10:03)
… pride he came to Selma Alabama, and for the 50th anniversary of the March, and he was welcomed with great pride.
Speaker 1: (10:07)
With Miss Laura.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (10:09)
That was a pretty wonderful honor to have Mrs. Bush, Laura Bush there as well.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (10:14)
But in any event, to thank all that you have acknowledged. Of course, Steny, Mr. Nadler. Mr. Clyburn, isn’t here, but this is what his life has been about. Steve Cohen and his committee did such a great job. GK Butterfield, Zoe Lofgren, Joyce Beatty, Judy Chu and Chuy Garcia, who is here from the Hispanic Caucus.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (10:34)
It took so many people, but it also took the spirit of our caucus, which has long been inspired by the spirit of John Lewis. What an honor it was, all of us, to serve with him. What a further honor it is to pass legislation in his name, and how fortunate we are to have such a great sponsor of the bill. Persistent, persistent, persistent, Terri Sewell. Thank you, madam. Thank you so much.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (11:01)
Now it’s my pleasure to yield to someone who’s been on this case for a very long time as well. He knows the history. He knows the people. He knows the possibilities. He makes things happen. And when it comes to voting rights and Selma, you’ve probably been there more than any other member.
Speaker 1: (11:23)
Yes, I think so.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (11:23)
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (11:24)
I think maybe.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (11:24)
Oh, not John Lewis.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (11:24)
Not John Lewis. John Lewis.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (11:24)
But our very distinguished leader, Democratic leader, Steny Hoyer.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (11:33)
Thank you very much. All of us are that are standing before you that are in the Congress of the United States had an extraordinary privilege and experience. We served with John Lewis in the Congress of the United States. The Boy from Troy would be so proud of the Sister From Selma.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (11:59)
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (12:02)
John Lewis was famous. An extraordinary picture was taken of John Lewis as he and 599 others, 600 young people mostly, walking across a bridge named for a Confederate general. Walking across that bridge to march to Montgomery for the premise that the color of my skin ought not to affect my right as an American citizen to vote. That’s what these folks are here for, from the state of Texas. They’re here doing the work that John Lewis and so many of his friends so nobly advanced, as Lincoln would have said. John Lewis was beaten, and that picture made him famous. What made John Lewis great for 50 plus years thereafter, he kept his eye on the prize.
Speaker 1: (13:11)
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (13:13)
And the prize was not just this bill. The prize was the beloved community, a community that accepted, lifted up and enabled people to participate fully in their democracy. That’s what the John Lewis/Terri Sewell Bill is all about. That’s why Jerry Nadler made sure this bill was going to be passed.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (13:42)
Where’s Jerry? Thank you, Jerry.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (13:47)
That’s why Judge GK Butterfield from the state of North Carolina, worked so hard to make sure that we passed a bill that would meet muster, we pray, with the Supreme Court of the United States.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (14:07)
Zoe Lofgren, one of the great members of this Congress, the Constitutional experts in this Congress, worked so hard. And Sheila Jackson Lee, a giant in her own right, in fighting for the rights of people.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (14:26)
And then Judy and Chuy, thank you for your leadership as well.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (14:31)
And then our one of our newest members, Troy Carter. He’s from Louisiana. I asked him if he could play baseball because his predecessor went to the White House. He was a great pitcher for our team.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (14:50)
John Lewis beaten in Selma. John Lewis almost killed in Alabama by troops deployed by the governor of that state to say to people of color, you cannot register. And as Nancy pointed out and Sharon’s older sister, as she tried to enter that door to the Alabama University, George Wallace stood there defiant, defiant of the Constitution. “And we hold these truths to be self-evident.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (15:33)
It’s a wonderful day. And John Lewis is saying to himself up there and saying to all of us, “You kept your eye on the prize.” The prize was temporarily taken when we passed this bill, but the prize will be taken when Joe Biden signs this bill.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (15:57)
I’m so honored to be here with my friend, Terri Sewell. The leader of the House of Representatives, our speaker, who has stood, she and I have known each other for a few years. I’m always careful to not get too personal in these. She has been a giant on behalf of civil rights and human rights here and around the world. I know John Lewis is sitting up there pretty close to the right hand, in my view, saying, “Well done, Nancy Pelosi. Well done, Terri Sewell. Well done, Joyce Beatty,” the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who worked this to make sure that we had that unanimous vote. Thank you, Joyce Beatty. Your leadership was critically important. I’ve walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 15 times with John Lewis over the years. On half of those occasions, I held his hand as I walked across that bridge and I felt the moral power of John Lewis. Our country was blessed with a man of his integrity, his character and his inspiration. This bill, the John Lewis Bill HR 4 The People.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: (17:46)
Now Chairman Nadler, Let me yield to you.
Rep. Gerry Nadler: (17:54)
Thank you very much. Since I became chairman of the judiciary committee, there’s no issue that we have spent more time examining than the onslaught of voter suppression measures that have emerged in recent years across the country. But this is no new thing. The history of this country, from its very beginning, is the history of translating the Declaration of Independence into reality. The Declaration of Independence was aspirational, not real, when it said all men are created equal. It certainly didn’t mean Black men, or Native American men, or women, or people of any other minorities, or even white men without property.
Rep. Gerry Nadler: (18:44)
But the history of this country is the history of the expansion of that concept. We fought a civil war over part of that, but that made so much progress. We passed civil rights laws in 1866, very good civil rights laws, and a very racist Supreme Court tore them down in the 1870s. They tried again in Plessy versus Ferguson in 1896, tore it down again. But we have made progress. We have made progress till today.
Rep. Gerry Nadler: (19:17)
We passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, as part of a long struggle, a struggle for which John Lewis almost gave his life and many others too. But that bill finally passed. That bill passed because of the struggles of all these people, that bill pass because of the vision of people like John Lewis, and because it brought around people like Lyndon Johnson who started out early in his career as a segregationist, but learned. But learned and was taught. And some people have the inner spirit and fortitude to learn.
Rep. Gerry Nadler: (20:02)
… inner spirit and fortitude to learn. And then, then we had the Supreme court of the United States in 2012, say that everything was fine. Everything is fine. We don’t need the voting rights laws anymore, because they were deliberately blinded. They thought, or so they said, they thought, that all the problems were solved. Everything was fine. But as justice Ginsburg pointed out, she pointed out that saying it was fine, was like saying that you didn’t need the umbrella anymore during the rainstorm, because after all, you weren’t getting wet. So it must not be raining anymore. So they destroyed a lot of the voting rights act and we started working again and people like Terri Sewell and others who were working for years to undo this.
Rep. Gerry Nadler: (21:07)
And then just a month ago, the Supreme court made it even worse with the Brnovich decision on section two. But today, we celebrate a day long fought for, hard fought for and prayerfully arrived at. A day in which we pass a bill that takes care of all those problems that will restore voting rights. That will stop the plethora of voting restrictions that we see passing in so many different States. And we pray that this bill will land on Joe Biden’s desk, that the Senate will do the right thing. The Senate has a history of lagging, but eventually doing the right thing, sometimes. So we pray we’ll do the right thing now, we know that the President will do the right thing if it reaches his desk. And we look forward to that great day. And now I want to introduce one of the leaders in this fight, Joyce Beatty. Thank you Chairman.
Terri Sewell: (22:30)
It always seems impossible until it’s done. John Lewis said, “Find a way to get in the way. Get in good trouble.” Madam speaker, thank you for finding a way. Thank you for getting in the way. To all of those, to our majority leader, thank you. To all of the chair’s and everyone here, but to you, the girl from Alabama, thank you for your consistent leadership. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of our children, our grandchildren, and those yet unborn. On behalf of the 57 members of the congressional Black caucus and to our friends from Texas, thank you for joining us. Let me simply say these few words.
Terri Sewell: (23:35)
Today, we passed H.R. 4. It stands for a more just society, for a better democracy, and today we voted for the future of America. I know our brother, the late John Lewis would be pleased today because our vote for H.R. 4 protects and defends the right to vote, thwarts the attempts to disenfranchise millions of voters. And lastly, as President Johnson said when he signed the 1965 voting rights act on August 6th right down the hall in the United States rotunda, he said, “This is one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom,” and tonight we say, thank God, thank God for American freedom. Our power, our message. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (24:41)
All right, whew!
Rep. Joey Garcia: (24:47)
Let me begin by thanking all of you whose fingerprints are on the success that we celebrate today. And that certainly includes our very fateful staff on both the judiciary committee and on the house administration committee. Moments ago, H.R. 4 passed the house of representatives by a vote of 219 to 212. Let me single out a few of my colleagues who were unrelenting, unrelenting in their advocacy, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, and what can I add to what has already been said? Terry Sewell has been unrelenting. Jim Cliburn and chairman Nadler and Cohen and chairwoman [inaudible 00:25:27], thank you for your leadership on this legislation. And Joyce Beatty who just spoke a moment ago in the CBC have been undeterred in our effort to pass this legislation.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (25:38)
And the tenacious leadership of our speaker, our majority leader, thank you so very much for all that you have done. In November 1964, after the passage of the civil rights bill, Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr was summoned to the white house. This story doesn’t get told very often. Martin Luther king Jr. Was summoned to the white house by President Lyndon Johnson to be commended for his civil rights leadership. He had just received the Nobel peace prize. During that meeting in the oval office, Dr. King, thanked President Johnson for the recognition. King then asked President Johnson to please support a voting rights bill. Dr. King told President Johnson that a voting rights act was needed. It was needed desperately in the South, because elections officials were using the literacy test to deny the right to vote.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (26:31)
King said that Black communities needed a law that would give them the right to litigate discriminatory voting laws and a law that would give the department of justice the ability to determine whether changes in voting procedures were retrogressive. President Johnson urged Dr. King to delay, to slow down, to delay this request. It was then the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and John Lewis and the foot soldiers and others descended upon Selma to launch a brand new movement, the Selma to Montgomery Movement. After the Edmund Pettus Bridge police violence and after the deaths of Jimmy Lee Jackson and [inaudible 00:27:11], President Johnson capitulated. He called a joint session of Congress. I ask you to go in line and take a look at the video. I did it today.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (27:20)
He called a joint session of Congress on March 15th, 1965. During his speech President Johnson capitulated and he called for swift passage of a voting rights act. Though the voting rights act was filibustered by Southern senators, the legislation passed on August 6th, 1965. The result has been nothing less than transformational. Our challenge, ladies and gentlemen now is to demand immediate Senate passage of this legislation, which will update the formula and breathe life into section five. We expect 50 Senate Democrats to vote for passage. We have no doubt about that, but we are hoping for at least 10 Republican senators. And if we don’t get those 10 Republican senators, we ask our Senate friends respectfully to make a rule change to allow passage by a simple majority. Remember this, Supreme court justices can be confirmed with 51 votes. Legislation protecting the right to vote should have a similar rule. Thank you very much.
Speaker 3: (28:41)
Well, I’m [inaudible 00:28:42] of the house administration committee and I would just like to join in the celebration today. Congress is a team sport and our team leader is Nancy Pelosi and we would not be standing here today except for her extraordinary efforts, so we thank you Nancy. Obviously, we had a captain and that is the author of the bill, Terri Sewell, who has been relentless on this effort and we congratulate and thank Terry for amazing efforts. We’ve had a team work experience between the house administration committee and the house judiciary committee, I serve on both.
Speaker 3: (29:26)
But I’d like to talk about the extraordinary efforts of the chairman of the elections committee, GK Butterfield, a former judge of the Supreme Court in his home State of North Carolina, a scholar and someone who really made extraordinary efforts to go all over the United States to create the record that is the basis for this bill. As we were starting the debate, I got in touch with Marcia Fudge, our former colleague to let her know the debate was starting and I was thinking of her.
Speaker 3: (30:03)
… let her know the debate was starting. And I was thinking of her and the work that she did in the last Congress as chair of the elections committee, going all over the United States. And of course, we provided that information to the judiciary committee, who’d held their own set of hearings. So through teamwork, we got to this day. The staff has already been mentioned, but I would be remiss if I did not say the extraordinary legal work that has gone on here that is really I admire so much and will serve us well.
Speaker 3: (30:33)
I’ll just close with this. I was thinking today, and sometimes I do this, I look across the floor of the House and there’s so many people, it’s hard to pick out the individual members. And sometimes I think I almost see John Lewis on the floor. And today, I had that feeling. So we owe so many people who came before us, but John Lewis is the name of this bill for a reason. God bless him. He’s looking down. And now I’d like to call on my friend and the chair of the Asian Pacific Island caucus and fellow Californian, Judy Chu.
Judy Chu: (31:17)
What a great day this is. Today, we get to celebrate the passage of HR-4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And we have so many champions to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, our chairs of the committees, Chair Nadler, Lofgren, and Butterfield. And of course, our most incredible champion who’s taken this under her wing with such persistence. And that is our Congress member, Terri Sewell. Every American deserves access to the ballot box. But for far too long, this has been violated by state and local laws that set up barriers to voting. For Asian American Pacific Islanders, these discriminatory laws have limited voting access for those whose first language is not English, shortened the window for voting, and also limit it voting by mail, making it harder for Asian Pacific Islanders and others to cast their ballots. But you know what? There’s power and potential in the Asian Pacific Islander vote. It’s grown tremendously.
Judy Chu: (32:44)
And in the 2020 election, the early voting of AAPIs in the battleground states grew by 300%, making a difference in states like Georgia in the presidential election and in the senators elections. But as the AAPI population continues to grow, what we are seeing is an onslaught of new discriminatory voting laws threatening to halt and even reverse this progress. Well, HR-4 is an opportunity for Congress to uphold this sacred right of ours. This provision will strengthen, update, and restore the Voting Rights Act through its new formula. I’m so proud to be here to mark the passage of this critical legislation. And I urge my colleagues on the Senate side to move quickly to pass it in its entirety. And now, I’m so proud to bring up the representative for the congressional Hispanic caucus, Representative Joey Garcia.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (34:00)
Thank you very much, Judy Chu. I am just full of gratitude tonight to be with this stellar group of leaders who are moving our country forward and advancing empowerment by renewing the Voting Rights Act. And this occasion is especially personal and moving for me because the right to vote is enshrined in the 15th amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. I came to this country from Mexico in 1965. The year that the Voting Rights Act was passed, unbeknownst to me as a child, I came to learn of what brought about the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Movement and how it has advanced us as a society and brought equal opportunity for everyone in our midst.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (35:07)
Today is also a special day because I’m remembering people who fought for and improved the Voting Rights Act. In 1982, a representative from Chicago by the name of Harold Washington amended the Voting Rights Act, so that one could invoke the effects of discrimination and not have to prove intent because sometimes it’s impossible to prove intent. This strengthened the Voting Rights Act. So it is that today with what we have learned as a society and decisions from the Supreme Court, we are advancing the Voting Rights Act and honoring John Lewis. And all of us have the great honor of saying that we knew him and we served with him.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (35:59)
And we celebrate his humanity and his struggle for opportunity for everyone in our country. There’s another personal note to this that when Harold Washington, former representative, got recruited by the people to become the first black mayor of Chicago, he empowered communities that were never represented in Chicago City Hall by building coalitions, empowering, not just black and brown people, but all people and especially women in his administration. It’s a part of the city’s legacy to be a diverse and representative type of administration.
Rep. Joey Garcia: (36:40)
So the calling for those who do the right thing is that they will achieve even greater things. Today, we celebrate the work and the legacy of John Lewis. At the same time, I want you to know that if it weren’t for the Voting Rights Act, I probably would never have been elected to the Chicago City Council in 1986, becoming one of the first Latinos elected to the council. And it’s clear to me that had it not been for the right Voting Rights Act, I would not be in Congress today. So I am full of gratitude calling on the Senate to do the right thing and to continue to ensure that in the 21st century more voices and communities will be heard. And that’s the pathway to becoming a more perfect union. Thank you.
Terri Sewell: (37:38)
So this concludes our press conference, but I want to make sure that I acknowledge the great work of Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas. And of course Ted [inaudible 00:37:50] from Louisiana. This concludes it, but we fight onward to the Senate. We asked for swift passage and we asked that it gets to the desk of resident Biden because there’s no way it won’t get signed. Again, thank you, Madam Leader. At that, we take a group photo before y’all go, but this concludes our press conferences.
Terri Sewell: (38:15)
Nancy Pelosi: (38:15)
Terri Sewell: (38:15)
Thank you all. Thank you.