Apr 21, 2021
Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats Press Conference Ahead of D.C. Statehood Vote Transcript
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and House Democrats held a press conference on the upcoming vote on D.C. statehood on April 21, 2021. Read the transcript of the news briefing speech here.
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Steny Hoyer: (00:00)
I’m going to be joined today by Delegate Norton, By Speaker Pelosi who was running a little late, by Chairwoman Maloney, who chairs the Committee of Jurisdiction. And by my dear, dear friend, former House member, former governor of Delaware, now, of course, the senior United States Senator from the state of Delaware. When I’m with Tom Carper or Lisa Blunt Rochester, I introduced myself as Steny Hoyer, I represent suburban Delaware. So we’re very, very close.
Steny Hoyer: (00:40)
Tomorrow, once again, we will be considering legislation to assure that the 700,000+ people who live in the District of Columbia are in fact equal citizens to all their brothers and sisters throughout the United States of America. That’s what this issue is about, equality of citizenship. The House will put that bill on the floor tomorrow morning. I have been proud to support DC statehood, which is a civil rights issue for our country. Really it’s a civil rights issue, but it’s an equal rights issue.
Steny Hoyer: (01:22)
Why should I living some 50 miles from here or Tom Carper living some 75 miles from here, 80 miles from here, be represented by three voting members at least of the Congress of the United States. And somebody who determines that they want to come to work for the government. And they moved to Washington, D.C. they lose their equality of citizenship. Yes, it’s a civil rights, but equality of citizenship. That’s a principle that we hold dear in the constitution.
Steny Hoyer: (02:03)
And no other democratic nation in the world does the capital city of that nation not have a vote in their parliament. Now our parliament is called the Congress. Think of that. In no other democratic nation in the world are their citizens treated unequally in terms of a vote in the parliament of their nation. I brought this legislation to the floor last year and I’m proud to do so again tomorrow. I expect it will pass. I expect the overwhelming majority of not 100%. I really do expect 100% of Democrats to support this legislation.
Steny Hoyer: (02:50)
And it is in our platform as a democratic party to treat the citizens of the District of Columbia as equal citizens of the United States of America. It will then go to the Senate and I want to thank very, very sincerely my dear friend of… When did you come to the Congress?
Speaker 1: (03:14)
Steny Hoyer: (03:15)
400 years. When did you come to the Congress?
Speaker 1: (03:16)
Steny Hoyer: (03:17)
’82. I came in 81. So we have worked together for 39 years and he is a dear friend and I am so proud of his leadership in the United States Senate on behalf of this legislation. I want to thank of course an extraordinary representative. I’ve served here for 40 years when Walter Fauntroy was the representative when I came here and it was clear that Walter was frustrated because he didn’t have a real role on the floor of the House of Representatives. And he did a lot of great work and he was a great advocate for the District of Columbia.
Steny Hoyer: (03:55)
But I have not seen any representative of the District of Columbia more conscientious, more engaged, more intimately involved in the daily workings of the Congress of the United States than Eleanor Holmes Norton, without the ability to vote. Now, I have extended when I was first majority leader and then the Republicans took it away, and now the right for Eleanor Holmes Norton and the representative of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam to vote in the committee of the whole. But constitutionally we can’t do that in terms of the final passage. She needs to be a state.
Steny Hoyer: (04:38)
That’s why I came. Eleanor and I really talked about, I said, “Eleanor, we really need to try to get you the vote.” But I came to the conclusion that the only way to get the citizens treated equally of the District of Columbia is to extend statehood to them. And they are larger than two other states in our nation.
Steny Hoyer: (05:02)
So although Eleanor Holmes Norton will not be able to vote on the floor in the passage of this bill, she has been an extraordinary advocate and she is the principal reason why so many of us are engaged in this issue. So Eleanor, thank you so much for your leadership. Let me now yield to the sponsor of this legislation and the warrior who’s going to make it happen, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (05:35)
Thanks very much from my good friend, Steny Hoyer, our majority leader. I appreciate the strong initiative and support of our leaders that you see before us of the House and Senate for full equality for the residents of our nation’s capitol as we make final preparations for tomorrow’s historic debate and vote, which all of them have worked to achieve. I especially thanks Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Chairwoman Maloney, and Senator Carper for standing together to ensure that the citizens of the District of Columbia are on their way to statehood in order to achieve equality with other American citizens and with the citizens of the capitals of every other democratic country in the world.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (06:46)
In fact, please note the effect of what we’re doing today. According to a detailed poll. Now, 54% of the American people support DC statehood. That is the result of the hearings, which have told the American public what they did not know. They were confused. In fact, some Americans said they thought we had statehood, many said that they didn’t know. Some said they were against it, but this latest, very detailed poll shows that 54% support DC statehood. And I am predicting that as a result of tomorrow’s vote and the hearings we have been having that educate the public, that percentage will even go up.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (07:47)
Across the United States today, Americans are taking down the remnants of the Confederacy as symbols of inequality just as the House of Representatives is rising up its nation’s capitol to ensure equality for all citizens. Not long after being elected to the House of Representatives, I got the first ever vote on DC statehood. Even with my party in power then, I did not succeed because there were some Democrats who opposed the bill.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (08:28)
Today, however, Democrats from every section of the country are united on the principle that equality of responsibility, such as paying federal income taxes. And the district is number one per capita in the United States in federal income taxes and serving in the armed forces to defend our country demand equal rights in return. My service in the Congress has been dedicated-
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (09:03)
… in return. My service in the Congress has been dedicated to achieving equality for the people I represent, which only statehood can provide. My life as a third generation, Washingtonian has marched toward this milestone, mindful about my own family has never known equality in our country. My great-grandfather Richard Holmes walked away from a slave plantation in Virginia. I continue to walk that walk that got my family to freedom in this city until all of us who live today in the district go the full distance to achieve the prize of equal citizenship for all DC residents with statehood for the District of Columbia. I’m pleased now to introduce the speaker of the house of representatives, speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi: (10:11)
Thank you very much. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. How inspiring it is to hear you talk about your grandfather Holmes walking away from the plantation and you continue that walk. You continue it for your family. You continue it for your district. You continue it for everyone in our country. Thank you for your tremendous leadership. And really, last Congress when we passed the bill, it was Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes, Norton’s reputation and the respect she commanded among our colleagues, but with Steny’s determination and insistence that the bill would be brought to the floor and that we would have the votes and we celebrated. It was the first time that the house of representatives had recognized and voted and supported statehood for the District of Columbia. I proudly wear this 51.
Nancy Pelosi: (11:11)
So it’s an honor to join Democrats from both sides of the Capitol. I’m pleased to welcome Senator Carper back over to the house side. Steny talked about serving with him all that time. I sat next to him in the financials, what was called banking in those days, it was so long ago, it had a different name, the banking committee. And I remember celebrating the birth of his two sons at that time, are now in their 30s. You said 31, 32 like that. So it’s been a long time friendship. So I’ve seen his championing of America’s families for his own and others for a long time. And so, pleased that he is the author of this important legislation. From the first State, the first State, and now the 51st State. So it’s an honor to join from both sides of the aisle too and of course our persistent, relentless determined chair of the committee of jurisdiction, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, she wears it, not only on her sleeve, [inaudible 00:12:19].
Nancy Pelosi: (12:21)
Okay. By voting for DC statehood, the house of representatives reaffirms this truth that all deserve a voice in our democracy. To hear Congresswoman Holmes Norton talk about equality for the people of the District of Columbia. Equality because of equal representation in the Congress. I salute her, the patron Saint of DC statehood. I thank her for her decades of persistent dissatisfied leadership, HR51 has a record breaking number of original co-sponsors. Congratulations. Again, I thank our leader, Mr. Hoyer has been relentless in this fight as well. Chair Carolyn Maloney and Chair Carper, the author of the legislation in the Senate. Our founders built our democracy on a simple promise that every American should have a voice in our government from city hall to the halls of Congress.
Nancy Pelosi: (13:17)
Washingtonians, as Congresswoman said, pay taxes, fight in our wars, contribute to the economic might of our country. But for centuries, they had been denied their right to representation. What does the license plate say? Taxation without representation is one of the manifestations. It is imperative that we correct this injustice, which is also a matter of civil rights and security. As last summers protests in the January 6th insurrection made clear, DC must be empowered to protect its people. If District of Columbia were a State the chief executive would have been able to call out the National Guard like any other head of State in our country. Another reason for this to happen. To me, this is personal. Mr. Hoyer talked about his long times relationships and his commitment to this idea, Eleanor Holmes Norton talked about her family and her commitment to this.
Nancy Pelosi: (14:20)
We’ve been talking about Mr. Carper’s children. To me, it’s personal. When I was born, let’s not go into that. My father was a representative from Baltimore and he was chair of the District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee. Now those of you who’ve been following this issue because we’ve had many press conferences have heard me tell this story many times. That position chairman of the District of Columbia Subcommittee of Appropriations made him what is called then the unofficial mayor of Washington, because of the authority the committee had over the district. He did not like that. He was a big believer of home rule. So I often say that statehood for the district of Columbia is in my DNA. If you come to my office, when you will be allowed to come to any of our offices, you will see his picture there with Eleanor Roosevelt.
Nancy Pelosi: (15:17)
He has chair of the committee welcoming her, the first, first lady in American history to testify before Congress. And she testified about welfare conditions in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia. Today, with HR51, Congress is taking a significant step to franchise the people of DC and empower them to participate fully in our democracy. Again, we’re excited that we will pass it. We will celebrate. And we hope that that momentum will help it pass in the Senate so that the president can sign it into law. And to that end, we are very magnificently served by the respect that he commands and the commitment that he has to this issue of equality that our former house member now chairman of the committee in the Senate, Tom Carper, I’m pleased to yield to him. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (16:19)
Carolyn’s going to go first because we had Tom Carper’s cleanup …
Nancy Pelosi: (16:23)
Speaker 2: (16:23)
… because he’s going to get it for the United States Senate.
Nancy Pelosi: (16:27)
I’m please to yield to the distinguished chair of the committee of jurisdiction, who long before she was chair of that committee had been a strong advocate for fairness for the District of Columbia.
Speaker 3: (16:39)
Thank you so much. I am honored to be with all of you for this historic moment. I would first like to thank my dear friend and colleague on the Oversight Committee, Eleanor Holmes Norton for her tenacity and sustained advocacy on behalf of the people she represents the District of Columbia. I would also like to thank a speaker Pelosi and majority leader Hoyer for their commitment to putting this bill on the floor of the house for a second time in two years. Democrats have clearly stated the facts about the financial contributions that the residents of the district of Columbia have made to the United States.
Speaker 3: (17:22)
We have made the case as to why this must happen and why it should happen now. Unfortunately, there is not one single Republican co-sponsor on this important bill. Our Republican colleagues care more about partisanship than they do about giving 712,000 Americans their voting rights. Think about this argument. They are willing to violate the core principles of our democracy merely because of the senators that DC elects may possibly be from a different party and they publicly say that. Adding DC as a State should- …
Speaker 3: (18:03)
They publicly say that. Adding D.C. as a state should not be about politics, it is about equality and democracy. And Congress has a responsibility to ensure all Americans are given full rights promised in our constitution. Now is the time to write this historic wrong. It is time to finally give a voice to the Americans and the District of Columbia. I want to close by again commending Congresswoman Norton for her leadership and Speaker, leaders, Pelosi and Hoyer. And I look forward to working closely with them to ensure that this historic legislation is finally signed into law. And I now turn it over to the great Senator Carper who is going to pass it in the Senate.
Senator Carper: (18:54)
Thank you, Madam Chair. To my friends Steny and Eleanor, to our Speaker. I wish that Nancy was still here. My wife, Martha, went into labor with our first child, and about midnight, the night before a big banking committee hearing, actually a business meeting. And about 12:00, we headed for the hospital, midnight. And about 8:00, 7:00 the next morning, the obstetrician came in to see how we were doing, and Martha was getting very close to delivering. He walked in standing and he said to me, he said, ” What’s going on in the Congress today, in the House of Representatives today, Congressman?” And I started talking about the legislation we were voting on. My wife was there in labor, just about to deliver, I said, “How about me?” I’m like, “What am I, chopped liver?” And maybe that captures a little bit the way some of the folks here in Washington, D.C. feel, “How about me? How about me?” I want to thank Steny and Eleanor, [inaudible 00:19:57] and the Speaker. I’m going to thank you for your tenacity, and not giving up on what is an important issue.
Senator Carper: (20:02)
People say to me, “How did you ever get involved in it, why do you care about this?” Election night, 2000, I got a phone call I’d won, and a phone call from Joe Lieberman. And he called to say congratulations. We’re long-time friends, happy you’re one. And he said, “You ought to try to get on a committee that I lead.” And I said, “What committee is that?” He said, “Governmental Affairs.” And he said, “You’re an old treasurer, you’re an old governor. These are your kinds of issues. You’d like this.” And he said, “It’s a small committee, you might even get to be chairman someday.” And he was right. I chose to get on the committee, enjoyed it a lot, and I got to be chairman one day. He was a chairman, as it turned out, before me. He and Susan Collins actually took turns.
Senator Carper: (20:50)
One of the issues that he championed, many, many issues, but one of the issues that he championed was the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia. He was the original author of cosponsors, sponsor actually, of legislation to provide the opportunity for people to live in this state, in this district, to actually be heard, have a voice that’s heard in the House and in the Senate. I said, “Why is this so important to you?” And he said, “240 years ago, we fought a war against the mightiest nation on earth, and the reason why we fought the war was taxation without representation.”
Senator Carper: (21:26)
He said, “It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.” And he went onto it to remind me, he said, “The people of the District of Columbia pay more on a per capita basis in federal taxes than any other state in the nation, they pay more.” He said, “11,000 of them actually serve on active duty in the Army, Navy, the Air Force, and Marines, and in the National Guard. And despite having one of the best credit ratings around, a AA+, better than most states, whenever they want to pass a budget, the Congress has to approve it.” Don’t forget that, the Congress has to approve it whenever the District of Columbia has a vacancy for a job, a judge, the Congress has to approve it. If you have been following lately, the mess that we make are judicial nominations in the Senate.
Senator Carper: (22:12)
You might wonder, say, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding?” And that not only to make matters worse, the judiciary will have judges, will have vacancies and judges in the District of Columbia. And there’ll be vacant for weeks, for months, in some cases for a year. It wrecks havoc on the judiciary and their ability to do their business, and to make sure that justice is done. I remember what Joe said to me, he said, “This is wrong. This is wrong. We have to pick.” I also would say, Joe’s a deeply religious Jew, and he said to me, “This is a violation of the Golden Rule.”
Senator Carper: (22:55)
That’s what he said, he said, “This is a violation of the Golden Rule. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. I don’t care if you’re Jewish, I don’t care if you’re Protestant, if you’re Catholic, you’re Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist. The Golan Rule is in every one of them, the notion we ought to treat other people the way we want to be treated. The people of the District of Columbia should not be treated this way. We have the opportunity to do something about it, and we’re going to. Thank you.
Steny Hoyer: (23:18)
Thank you very much, Senator. Let me say that, things are different today than they were last year. First of all, we have a President of United States who says he wants to sign this bill. Secondly, we have a majority leader of the United States Senate who says he wants to see this bill passed. So we’re not in the same position we were last year. We knew that Senator McConnell was not going to put the bill on the floor, for the wrong reasons. So we’re very hopeful that we can move forward on this. Obviously, we’re going to need some Republicans to vote principle rather than politics. Let’s hope they do. Are there any questions?
Speaker 4: (24:07)
This puts you in the same position as before, which is, you’re still going to need 60 votes in the Senate to break the filibuster. [crosstalk 00:24:18].
Steny Hoyer: (24:17)
Well, at this point in time, we are in the same position. I am one who has said regularly, long before this year, that I thought that the filibuster was undemocratic and inconsistent with the Founder’s principles. I bet you could not find a single Founder, a single writer of the Constitution of the United States, who would have said the Senate cannot pass a bill by majority vote, not one. It is an artifice that it was created for the minority to obstruct the majority, to obstruct the will of the people. I hope that the filibuster is jettisoned. It is not a democratic principle that a minority can impede and stop, not just impede, but stop, the majority. So I think your observation is correct in that sense. I think we need to get rid of the filibuster and I hope that the United States Senate does that.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (25:14)
Can I say something?
Steny Hoyer: (25:15)
Let me add, and then yield to Ms. Norton, that I do believe the Senate… The Founders did believe that the Senate would be a institution in which there would be longer debate, and I think that ought to be maintained. But it ought not to be carried to the extent where the people’s will cannot be implemented. Eleanor.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: (25:39)
Actually, I’m very hopeful about the Senate. If you will notice, the Senate held up organizing this session. They held up organizing because of the filibuster and it wasn’t the filibuster for the District of Columbia, it was the filibuster, period. They finally did organize, but remember that we’ve gotten rid of the filibuster for everything except legislation. We got rid of it for nominations. We don’t do any filibusters for anything now, except legislation, so it’s on its last legs. With the movement of the filibuster, there will be movement for D.C. statehood. And I do believe that the filibuster is on its way out. [crosstalk 00:26:32].
Speaker 5: (26:38)
[inaudible 00:26:38] the idea that this bill [inaudible 00:26:43]. Other pieces of legislation, firearms, [inaudible 00:26:49], trouble over there, they need to stack up to this bill. Isn’t this part of a strategy or tactic, pressure, wavering Democrats across the [inaudible 00:26:58] to say, okay, let’s get rid of the filibuster, let’s modify the filibuster so you can advance some of these goals.
Speaker 5: (27:03)
… filibuster, but modified filibuster. So you can advance some of these bills, just stack up those bills next door.
Steny Hoyer: (27:05)
Chad, let me say this. Our strategy is to pass bills that we think the people of the United States will be advantaged by and support. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Every piece of legislation we sent in the last Congress, every piece of legislation we’ve sent in this first quarter, which is a very, very substantive number of bills, we believe represent what the majority of the American people want. That’s our strategy. And you are correct.
Steny Hoyer: (27:38)
Hopefully at some point in time, the people themselves will say to the United States Senate and their representatives in the United States Senate will say it is undemocratic with a small D, it is un-American to have the minority hold the majority hostage. So our strategy is to pass good bills that we believe in, that we believe are good policy for our country and hope that the Senate will through the majority vote and act in the people’s will. Carolyn, do you want to say something about that?
No, I just-
Steny Hoyer: (28:19)
Speaker 6: (28:22)
Following up on that point, obviously we want the result, but given the fact that if it does get through the Senate, how is important is it to at least be a symbolic vote that actually takes place, because it’s been so long since it’s been able to even reach the Senate floor. And also, are you concerned at all that a few Democrats would not support these?
Steny Hoyer: (28:43)
Well, I hope that any Democrat that has reservation will think very carefully about it. And whatever state they represent, that if their state was up for admission as a member of the United States, 51 states, that they would want members to approve their admission to the United States. That’s what we’re talking about. So that some years ago in ’93, as Elena knows, had reservations about statehood, not because I was not for fully empowering and having two senators and a voting representative in the House, but because I thought the difficulty of getting it enacted was so great that we really ought to focus on getting, at least as a start, the Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton the vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Steny Hoyer: (29:51)
However, I’ve concluded, the only way to do that is admit the District of Columbia or Washington, Frederick Douglas Commonwealth, to the United States. But I think ultimately if that becomes a possibility, then I think we’ll have the votes.
Speaker 7: (30:23)
Speaker 8: (30:23)
Yeah. I guess to follow up on that, specifically there are four Democrats who are not yet co-sponsoring this in the Senate, and Senators Mark Kelly and Angus King said today that they’re still holding back to not yet co-sponsor it. What is the case to somebody from a small state like Angus King, or like Joe Manchin that you would make for them to vote for this?
Steny Hoyer: (30:50)
It’s the right thing to do. Now, that may sound like a simplistic, naive argument, but that’s the argument I would make. That we have 710-
Steny Hoyer: (31:04)
712,000 people, otherwise known as 200,000 more than Wyoming has, who are less than full citizens of this country. And that may, as I say, sound like a naive and simplistic argument, but it’s the right thing to do. I concluded that. And I would hope that members… Now, the fact that they haven’t sponsored, of course does not mean they’re not going to vote for it. You understand that, of course.
Steny Hoyer: (31:36)
I think that if this comes to the floor, they’ll have a decision to make. You make a good judgment about… We knew McConnell was not going to bring it to the floor. Chuck Schumer may well bring it to the floor and have people stand up and vote against the vote, or otherwise known as stealing the vote from 712,000 citizens who are just as much American citizens as I am or anybody else in the Congress, the United States is. And they all have the same rights, equal rights, equal representation in the Congress. So that’s the argument I would make. And I’m sure Eleanor Holmes Norton will make that argument very, very forcefully and very effectively. And I think the residents of the District of Columbia will make that fight. The reason we’ve gone from less than 50% support to more than 54% is because they’re making that argument all over the country. Last question. Well, two. I’ll go quickly.
Speaker 9: (32:41)
Have you heard from Democratic leadership in the Senate on plans to either bring it to a committee or to the floor?
Steny Hoyer: (32:48)
Well, you’ve heard from the committee chairman. The rule in the Senate is you know they’re divided 50/50? And the rule is if they can’t get a positive vote on a bill, it comes to the floor without recommendation. I have not talked to Schumer about this, but I do intend to talk to Mr. Schumer and to Mr. Durbin about bringing this bill to the floor so that as you point out it… What?
Mr. Schumer supports the bill.
Steny Hoyer: (33:21)
Speaker 9: (33:22)
[crosstalk 00:33:22] was wondering specifically whether there would be some kind of vote on it?
Steny Hoyer: (33:27)
I will urge that there be a vote. I’ll urge that people have to stand up and say, I am for or against treating 712,000 citizens of the District of Columbia as equal citizens in the United States of America. Last question.
Speaker 10: (33:43)
Mr. Leader, thank you. A question on police report, if I may. I’m just wondering if you think that there’s any room for compromise on qualified immunity. Senator Scott seems to think there’s a bi-partisan path to putting more responsibility, more liability on agencies and departments rather than on individual officers.
Steny Hoyer: (34:00)
Look, we pass justice and policing, as you know, on June 26th or 5th of last year. We passed it about a month after George Floyd was murdered. We had a historic day yesterday in America, where a jury of his peers held accountable somebody who acted in a way that led to the death of George Floyd. We believe the bill that we sent was a good bill. And that accountability was provided for in that bill. The Senate will now have to work it’s will. I hope it does work it’s will. I hope it brings that bill to the floor. I hope it gets 60 votes.
Steny Hoyer: (34:42)
We do not expect in the House that… I’ve been abandoned, that the legislation that we adopted will be taken hold by the United States Senate. They’re going to have their own ideas and their own views, and they will amend it. And then we’ll we’ll have a conference, but hopefully in the next few months, we will pass a justice and policing bill that will ensure the greater confidence among the American people that those who serve them as law enforcement officers, the overwhelming number of which, overwhelming number of which serve with great courage and with great concern for their fellow citizens. But when that doesn’t happen, we need to have accountability. And we hope that a bill passes to affect that end. Thank you all very much.