Mar 17, 2021
Nancy Pelosi Press Conference on Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Transcript March 17
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus held a press conference on March 17, 2021 to discuss the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jackie Speier: (00:24)
Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Jackie Speier, member of Congress from the 14th District in California. And I’m joined by a number of colleagues who will be introduced shortly. Let me start with a series of thank yous. Thank you to Tom Reed, who is my joint sponsor on the ERA measure. He shows that this is indeed bi-partisan and that we cannot allow women to be disrespected, dishonored, and unequal. I also want to give a shout out to Carolyn Maloney, Congresswoman Maloney has been a fierce ERA warrior for over 20 years. To chairman Nadler, who will be here shortly, but who was the first chairman of the judiciary committee in 36 years to grant this resolution a hearing in the judiciary committee. And without that, we wouldn’t have been on the floor today, and this would not be a reality. I also want to thank my co-leads and the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Congresswoman Franklin and Lawrence and Escobar. But most of all I want to thank the speaker of the house who has been shattering in her term and history making as the first woman speaker of the house. She embodies when women’s succeeds America succeeds.
Jackie Speier: (01:52)
This particular measure is really quite simple. A little pocket constitution that I should have had in my hand is not here, but I want to say all we want is in. We want to be in the constitution of the United States. We are the only country in the world with a written constitution that does not have a prohibition against sex discrimination. We demand that we be put into the constitution. There is no expiration date on equality.
Jackie Speier: (02:31)
I heard a very interesting story today that typifies what sometimes happens here in Congress. The chair of the judiciary committee at the time was Emanuel Celler and he was not supportive of the legislation. So he made sure that there was a deadline put in the resolution for the constitutional amendment, he only wanted it to be two or three years. Then Congressman Don Edwards, the author of the resolution acquiesced. Interestingly enough, that election year he was defeated in his primary by Elizabeth Holtzman. So that poison pill that he put in is something that then in 1978 the House decided to extend. And the House in 2021 is deciding to strike the deadline out of the resolution.
Jackie Speier: (03:33)
For too long, women have been second class citizens. In fact, when our constitution was first constructed, we were not in it, and we were not in it intentionally. We are now 240 years plus and it’s time that we get in the constitution. We’ve put our lives on the line since the founding of our country and even taken our cases all the way to the Supreme Court often only to have lose because we weren’t in the constitution. Now, some of my colleagues across the aisle still insists that we don’t need the ERA. Well, tell that to Christy Brzonkala, who was a young student at Virginia Tech raped by two football players. She sought justice under VAWA, but the Supreme Court struck down the civil supervision claiming Congress lacked the power to pass it. Or Tracy Rexroat, who’s starting salary at the Arizona Department Of Education was $17,000 less than her colleague who was hired at the same time and it was only based on what your salary had been in your previous position. So she took it all the way to the Supreme Court and again she lost.
Jackie Speier: (04:53)
Or Jessica Gonzalez who’s estranged husband kidnapped and murdered their three young daughters after the police refused to enforce a restraining order. The Supreme Court ruled that Gonzales had no constitutionally protected property interest in the enforcement of the restraining order. All those women are emblematic of what happens day in and day out in this country because the ERA is not in the constitution. It’s about building the America we want and becoming the more perfect union. The ERA is about equality, survival, dignity, and respect. And the words of Antonin Scalia keep ringing in my ear and should be ringing in every woman’s ear in America, “Certainly the constitution does not require discrimination based on sex, the only question is does it prohibit it? It does not.” And with that, it’s a great honor to introduce the speaker of the House who I spoke of earlier as being someone who epitomizes when women succeed America succeeds.
Nancy Pelosi: (06:09)
Thank you very much Congresswoman Speier for your relentless leadership on this important issue to our country. That because as you say, when women succeed America succeeds, so this is about our entire country. Let me take up for you left off. This justice of the Supreme Court not known to be friendly to some of our issues but to be clear about the constitution, it does not forbid discrimination against women, it does not. So that’s why it’s an honor to be with Jackie Speier and with Carolyn Maloney who for 25 years has been fighting this fight. Jackie fighting this fight on removing that time barrier. Thank you to the chairman of the judiciary committee for being here for the ERA it’s a good day here. You don’t have a white suit, but it’s okay, you got the gavel. And to be with the co-chairs of the women’s caucus, Lois Frankel, our colleague from Michigan, Brenda Lawrence, Veronica Escobar from Texas, and There’s one more though. I’ll always Lois Frankel from Florida, of course and of course, Jackie Speier. Deb Haaland, I knew there was another, Madam Secretary.
Nancy Pelosi: (07:41)
So let me just say this one point when Congresswoman Speier mentioned Don Edwards, Don Edwards was the floor leader of the ERA Equal Rights Amendment. We take great pride in his leadership in the Bay Area and California. And the person who succeeded him in office is Zoe Lofgren, who has been his assistant for a long time carrying on that work here. But the way Jackie spelled it out, you had to know that the chairman of the committee was the one who was the obstacle at the time, not because he was a friend to the amendment, but because he wanted it to be a barrier and we cannot allow that to stand. So I’m so glad that you also have bi-partisan support with Congressman Reed of New York.
Nancy Pelosi: (08:35)
And just say that when it was introduced 1921, it read men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Imagine the courage of the people putting that forth. Imagine the courage of the suffragist working to get the right to vote, but also for equality in our country. And that’s why we wear white today in their honor, we are standing on their shoulders and we will continue the fight as others stand on our shoulders. When they do, they will be doing so with the already passed Equal Rights Amendment to our constitution. With that, I’m pleased to yield to the distinguished chairman of the committee. He has four bills on the floor today, so we had to cut him in line here. Thank you, Mr. Chairman for your extraordinary leadership. Thank you.
Jerry Nadler: (09:32)
Well, thank you, Madam speaker. I want to thank Representative Speier for her great leadership and her determination in introducing this resolution every year to make sure that nothing stands in the way of ratifying the ERA and Carolyn Maloney who has been carrying on this fight for so many years. Today is a century in the making, a century in the making. It’s long past time that the constitution officially recognizes and guarantees that equality of rights under law shall not be denied on the account of sex. We have made great strides in affirming the rights of women and ensuring equality in this country since the ERA first passed Congress by overwhelming majorities. But there is still so much more work to do. There should be no mistake, congress put this deadline in and Congress has every right to remove it now and to clear the way for enshrining equality in the constitution.
Jerry Nadler: (10:30)
I am glad that Representatives Fitzpatrick and Reed and some other Republicans have joined us. But the arguments we heard on the floor today that we cannot extend the deadline because Congress put it in the constitution. Congress did not put it in the constitution, the deadline is part of the resolution proposing the amendment. Every amendment since the 22nd amendment has had that deadline, except for the 27th, has had that deadline in it. But if you read the amendments in the constitution, it doesn’t talk about seven year deadlines. That’s because the deadline is not part of the constitution, it’s simply part of a resolution that Congress enacted and Congress can repeal or change. So there’s no question about that and that’s why we have no problem passing this bill today. It’s now time for the Senate to take up the simple resolution. I look forward to working with our colleagues to get this done. A century of effort, a century of effort to get women recognized as equal is long enough. Thank you.
Nancy Pelosi: (11:41)
Thank you Chairman Nadler.
Carolyn Maloney: (11:45)
I am Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York and there is only one thing I know for sure, equality has no time limit. With today’s vote, we are one step closer to finally ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the US constitution. Almost 100 years ago, sufferer Alice Paul, along with many like-minded and determined women and like-minded men authored the Equal Rights Amendment. She is my family’s great aunt and was a lifelong Republican and a Quaker. She was sent to jail, she was sent to an insane asylum because she believed in women’s equality and our right to vote. When Alice Paul heard that an arbitrary timeline on the ERA was added to the preamble in 1972 but not to the text of the ERA, she knew it was put there by opponents of women’s rights and that the struggle would not be an easy one. But the suffragists knew specific language was needed in the constitution in order to achieve equality of rights under the law and they were right.
Carolyn Maloney: (13:03)
For the last four generations, feminists like myself and all the like-minded men and women here today have been marching, lobbying, attempting to win law suits, and defeating anti ERA legislators, and today we say enough is enough. March is Women’s History Month, and we can finally celebrate the first woman speaker, the first black and South Asian vice-president to the white house, and a record number of women in Congress. Today, we have the opportunity to make history to help make equality a reality for our mothers, our daughters, our granddaughters, and ourselves. We must recognize that there is no time limit on equality as we send the joint resolution to the Senate so that the ERA can become the 28th amendment to our constitution. By enshrining gender equality in the constitution, we give ourselves the legal bedrock to finally achieve justice for women in the workplace, in the courts, and beyond. We have fought long and hard for equal pay for equal work dating back to before the Equal Pay Act in 1963. With our equal rights built into the constitution, we can finally enforce permanent pay equity.
Carolyn Maloney: (14:26)
Today as we also passed three Authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, we are reminded that there is nothing more basic and essential to human dignity than protection from domestic violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, our nation still lags in providing fundamental safeguards for women and girls against violence. In 1994, Congress included the right to sue one’s attacker in VAWA. But when a woman named Christy Brzonkala tried to exercise that right, the Supreme court dismissed her case and deemed the provision unconstitutional. Women must be in the constitution to enforce their rights to sue to protect themselves.
Carolyn Maloney: (15:13)
Unfortunately we’re seeing the effects of gender inequality during the pandemic, with both more reports of domestic violence, greater wage, and unemployment disparities between men and women. An estimated 1 million more women than men have lost their jobs since the COVID pandemic was declared a year ago. The biggest impact of the virus has been on the vast majority of essential workers most of whom are women and disproportionately the number of black women and Latinas, nearly all of whom have the majority of caregiving responsibilities. These trends along with other tragic realities make constitutional rights for women more urgent than ever. By ending sex discrimination and cementing equality of rights under the law in the constitution, we can finally make good on 100 year old promise, it’s time to spell out equality in the constitution with three words, ERA equality has no limit. I thank my colleague, Jackie Speier, our leader, our speaker, the women’s caucus, Jerry Nadler, and everyone here today. I now represent the co-chair of the DWC, Brenda Lawrence.
Brenda Lawrence: (16:39)
I want to thank my co-chair Jackie Speier for her leadership and my committee chair, Ms. Maloney for all your hard work. We’re here during Women’s History Month to reaffirm our commitment for doing better to support our women and girls. I want to say how incredibly proud I am to be on the floor today to pass the Equal Rights Amendment resolution to remove this time limit. Can we really look our daughters and our sisters and our mothers and our nieces in the face and say, “I’m sorry, there’s a time limit to you getting equality in America.” No, I’m not going to have that conversation. For far too long, women in the United States have been denied equality, and this pandemic has only worsened that inequality, especially for women of color. We have borne the brunt of this pandemic and we have a system in America that so often suppress and also do not support women.
Brenda Lawrence: (17:43)
We have heard so many people during Women’s History Month reconfirm their commitment to do better in supporting women and girls. This is how we do it, by fighting for ERA, by fighting sex discrimination, making gender equality the law of the land. It’s unacceptable that we are having this conversation or discussion in 2021. But one thing about women, we will continue to fight, we will not back down. We know that the soul and the moral of this country rests on the shoulders of women like it has for centuries and I’m proud to stand today with the women of the women’s caucus to make a difference. 38 States have now ratified ERA, this is a historic time for our country and Congress decides what’s next, and I’m so proud of that. I want to turn it over to my other co-chair and that is this Ms. Franco from Florida.
Ms. Franco: (18:41)
Thank you. Thank you. And thank you. I wanted to be with my colleagues here. I pose this question, what do the following women have in common teacher Melissa Falkowski who saved 19 children during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Senator Tammy Duckworth who lost both her legs in a combat mission in Iraq, Alice Augusta Boyle a chemist who revolutionized the treatment for leprosy, Joe Harjo the first native American poet laureate, Delores Herta civil rights activists, the majority of essential workers as we combat COVID, including nearly nine out of 10 nurses and two thirds of the workers at grocery store checkout and fast food campus. What do they have in common? No matter the sacrifice or contribution to society, if you are a woman or a girl in the United States of America, you are not guaranteed equality under the law.
Ms. Franco: (19:44)
It took women 144 years from the birth of our nation to get the right to vote, even longer for women of color. It took 197 years to gain the legal right to an abortion, 198 years to be able to buy a home in our own name. And now if the 245 years have passed since the birth of our nation, isn’t it time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment? The United States House of Representatives took an important step forward today. I applaud everybody who helped make that happen. And I urge the United States Senate to join us. And I yield back.
Jackie Speier: (20:26)
Thank you. Let me just conclude by saying this. Oh, sorry. Sorry, Veronica, I thought we…
I know we’re running out of time and I will be very succinct. I want to recognize the incredible powerhouse of women that I have the privilege to serve with in the Democratic Women’s Caucus. We have these amazing women leading the way, and I’m just so humbled to be standing beside them and working beside them. I want to add just a couple of details to the context that my colleagues have provided you. There are structures in place that are deliberately placed there to prevent women from achieving everything that we can. There is not just discrimination against us because of our gender, but because we have babies, there’s pregnancy discrimination, we have unequal pay. Then when it’s time to reenter the workforce after raising families or being caregivers to family members, we face additional obstacles and hardships along the way. And it is because we are not an equal member of society in the same way that men are. I will say that minority women suffer even greater disparities.
Latina women, as an example earn 53 cents on the dollar for every dollar that a white man earns in America, 53 cents on the dollar. So it should not be a surprise why minority women, especially black and brown women in America, often spiral into poverty more quickly, they have more barriers to healthcare and to education. So the work that our foremothers and our colleagues did to get us to that moment, this moment right now, our daughters, our granddaughters, the women that we work with every single day, your mothers, your sisters, we will finally, finally at the end of this journey, once this becomes law, we will finally achieve the equality that we deserve. Thank you so much. madam chair.
Jackie Speier: (22:51)
Let me just close with this. The pandemic has created a situation where 2.3 million women have lost their jobs permanently. Thousands and thousands of childcare slots have been lost. It is time for us to stop with the excuses, it is time for us to do what’s right in this country and make sure that women are in the constitution of the United States. We implore our Senate colleagues to do the right thing. We represent 53% of the population, it’s time to just make us equal under the law. Thank you.
Ms. Franco: (23:31)
Some ones got a question, John.
Speaker 8: (23:32)
There’s no questions allowed him in here evidently I’ve been told.
Jackie Speier: (23:37)
That’s what I was told, sorry. I can talk to you outside of the…
Ms. Franco: (23:45)
Why is it? Because of COVID?
Jackie Speier: (23:46)
I don’t know.
Jackie Speier: (23:48)
Speaker 9: (23:48)
Thank you all.