Feb 25, 2021
Pelosi, Schumer Press Conference on House Equality Act Transcript February 25
Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Democratic leaders held a press conference on February 25, 2021 to discuss the House Equality Act. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Congressman Nadler: (00:00)
Speaker, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Congressman Takano will be her momentarily, Leader Schumer, the lead sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, Senator Merkley, and two of our greatest champions, of course, Senator Booker and Senator Baldwin. Today, the House will take up and pass for the second time, the Equality Act, HR5, and we are really excited to have the incredible support of President Biden and his commitment to make the Equality Act the law of the land. As you all know, our country was the first country founded on the principle of liberty and justice for all.
Congressman Nadler: (00:32)
And we have made progress in that quest. We’ve stumbled sometimes, but we’ve made some progress. But the LGBTQ community while having made some progress continues to be in this fight for full equality. In most states, members of the LGBTQ community are at risk of losing an apartment, being denied credit, being turned away from service on a jury, all because of who they are or who they love. Every American deserves respect and dignity. And it’s important that the Equality Act become law because it will once and for all ensure that LGBTQ Americans can live lives free of discrimination.
Congressman Nadler: (01:06)
And in particular, it amends the existing civil rights architecture and adds sexual orientation and gender identity to employment, education, housing, credit, jury service, public accommodations, and federal funding. It’s a fully inclusive civil rights law that will once and for all make discrimination illegal in this country. Finally, it’s not a controversial issue anymore. 83% of Americans support anti-discrimination legislation for LGBTQ Americans, 68% of Republican voters. So this is not a controversial issue.
Congressman Nadler: (01:35)
We’ve built a coalition that ranges in everyone from the US Chamber of Commerce to the ACLU and everyone in between and over 600 major organizations, hundreds of business leaders representing some of the most important companies in America all support the Equality Act. And I’ll end with just in remembrance of our extraordinary colleague, the late John Lewis, who had a very critical moment in our fight for the Equality Act, made certain that people understood the urgency of this action and the importance of doing this comprehensive bill.
Congressman Nadler: (02:05)
And I hope in his honor, we will finally make the Equality Act the law of the land. And with that, I’m delighted to introduce the Senate sponsor, the lead sponsor in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley.
Senator Merkley: (02:17)
The Equality Act is all about freedom. President Lyndon Johnson said the freedom is the right to share fully equally in American society. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others. But today LGBTQ Americans are not free. They do not share fully and equally in our national life. They are not treated as individuals equal in dignity and promise to all others. In 29 states, it is still legal today to discriminate against Americans because of who they are and whom they love.
Senator Merkley: (02:56)
In over half the states of the union, LGBTQ Americans can be married in the morning, ejected from a restaurant at lunch, denied a mortgage, dismissed from jury and the afternoon, evicted from their house that night. It is way past time we changed that, way past time we pass a national Equality Act. Together, we all introduced this bill in 2015. In fact, John Lewis was standing right here. Well, not in this room, but across on the Senate side. And I think as David mentioned that his presence was powerful then, and as we think of him, it’s powerful now.
Senator Merkley: (03:32)
And he said, we should get in good trouble, engage in good trouble. And we need a lot of good trouble to get this bill passed. In 2019, we had a powerful moment in May 17th, 2019 with consideration of passage of the Equality Act in the US House of Representatives. And I applaud my House colleagues for that tremendous victory. Well done. That was an awesome moment, but the leadership of the Senate at that same time refused to hold a vote, refused to hold a debate, refused to hold a hearing on this fundamental issue of freedom. But this year of 2021, it’s different.
Senator Merkley: (04:15)
We have leadership of the House and leadership of the Senate that supports this vision of opportunity and equality for all. We also have a tremendous number of civil rights partners that are taking us forward in this effort, the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Urban League that are working passionately and diligently to make sure we get this right. And this year is different because we have a President Joe Biden who believes in the dignity and humanity of every American and it’s different because we have more Senate sponsors.
Senator Merkley: (04:58)
And as David mentioned, we have more organizations and we have more businesses. We have more religious organizations with us at this moment. My friends, it is time we end this dark history of prejudice and discrimination and ring the bells of freedom for opportunity and equality for all. It is my pleasure now to introduce the Speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi.
Speaker Pelosi: (05:25)
Thank you very much, Senator, and thank you for your leadership on this important issue. It’s an honor to welcome you over to the House side as always a pleasure to welcome back the distinguished now majority leader of the Senate back. Senator …
Senator Schumer: (05:41)
It’s a pleasure to be back.
Speaker Pelosi: (05:43)
And even more of a pleasure with Senator Baldwin with you returning to the House. We always took such pride in her being in the House, and then when she went on to the Senate as well. And thank you for being here for this very special occasion for all of us, Senator Booker, welcome to the House. Not necessarily back, but welcome. It’s an honor to be here with …
Senator Schumer: (06:06)
He might get there one day.
Speaker Pelosi: (06:08)
Mr. Takano, the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, but a leader in the Equality Caucus. And of course our chair of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler, who has made so many things possible for us, it’s an honor to be with you. David Cicilline is a person we’re very, very proud of. And we thank you, David, for giving us this opportunity today and to you, Senator Merkley. Senator Merkley referenced when we were together five years ago. We were in the LBJ room, as a matter of fact, over on the Senate side, when this Equality Act was introduced.
Speaker Pelosi: (06:46)
Senator Merkley, Congressman Cicilline were the lead sponsors, but as Senator Merkley mentioned right there, standing with them was John Lewis. And that was very important. Again, we stood there with an icon of the Civil Rights Movement in a room named for LBJ who had been the sponsor who fought for and signed the civil rights bill. The Civil Rights Act is a pillar of freedom in our country. It is not amended lightly. So how proud were we to have our beloved, as I said, John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus with us on that day as they gave their imprimatur to opening up the Civil Rights Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Speaker Pelosi: (07:41)
The two sponsors of the bill have said why this is necessary. It shouldn’t be necessary, but why it is necessary and why it’s important for us to act. And as we remember John Lewis’ life, we remember his words spoken at the pride parade, the pride parade in Atlanta, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, we are one people, one family-
Speaker Pelosi: (08:03)
… being diagnosed with cancer. We are one people, one family. We all live in the same house, and those words have been an inspiration to us.
Speaker Pelosi: (08:11)
In closing, I just want to say that our two lead sponsors, Senator Merkley and Mr. Cicilline, talked about the outside groups who are endorsing this legislation. And I want to thank all of them. For some, it’s the easiest thing in the world. For others, it took a level of courage and, shall we say, fortitude to go forward. But all of them very important as we do our inside maneuvering to get as many votes as possible, hopefully as bipartisan as possible. The outside mobilization, so essential to have a drum beat across America, for freedom, for liberty and justice for all.
Speaker Pelosi: (08:51)
Thank you all very much for being here. I’m going to excuse myself to go to the floor as we have the bill on the floor right now, and I don’t want to lose my time. I don’t know who’s in charge there, but I don’t want to lose my time. With that, I’m very pleased to yield to the distinguished former member of the House, now Majority Leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, and a champion on this issue when he was in the House, and now as the leader in the Senate. Welcome.
Chuck Schumer: (09:17)
Well, thank you, Speaker Pelosi. It’s great to be here. I want to thank all of my colleagues. I want to thank my dear colleague, Senator Merkley, for his steadfast, unrelenting passion on this issue. He reminds us every day how we have to pass the Equality Act, because that’s what America is all about. And Jeff has been a great leader here, and I thank him. Tammy Baldwin, of course, is one of our just outstanding Senators who’s been right by Jeff’s side, pushing this bill, and I want to thank all of the House sponsors, and Senator Cory Booker, who was also at Mr. Merkley’s side, pushing this legislation.
Chuck Schumer: (09:57)
I want to start by addressing head-on some of the despicable comments made by a few Republicans about trans people. Their attacks on trans people and the transgender community are just mean, mean, and show a complete lack of understanding, a complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views, and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans. Their despicable comments just make my blood boil with anger. If I didn’t have a mask, you could see my teeth gritting. But that’s why we’re here today to talk about the Equality Act. That’s why we need it, because of the hate out there that gets in the way of the great American dream of equality.
Chuck Schumer: (10:44)
In many ways, the story of America has been about making those words true for all Americans. That’s what brings us here today, to reintroduce the Equality Act in the Senate, essential, urgent, long overdue, that will move us closer to a society where all Americans are equally treated under the law. Even today, the signs of discrimination based on sexual orientation abound, from education, to housing, to family planning, from the workplace, to adoption, to immigration. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people remains a serious problem that demands Congress’s attention. Congress must pass the Equality Act so that LGBTQ+ Americans will no longer have to face discrimination in some of these most basic areas of life.
Chuck Schumer: (11:39)
This legislation is personal for me. Just six years ago, LGBTQ Americans like my daughter won the legal right to marry who they love. The Equality Act would make sure she can continue living her life with her wife, with the security and dignity of knowing she won’t face basic discrimination because of who she is. So proud of them. So proud. Now, no American should ever face discrimination because of who they are and who they love. When the Equality Act passed the Congress last year, it was a bipartisan vote. Yet for years, Leader McConnell buried the Equality Act and other common sense bipartisan House-passed bills in his legislative graveyard. Those days are over. Those days are over.
Chuck Schumer: (12:36)
Now, with Democrats in the majority, the Senate will have the opportunity to act on this critical civil rights legislation. I will use my power as Majority Leader to put it on the floor, and let’s see where everybody stands. Let’s see where everybody stands. I’m hopeful that just like in the House, the Equality Act will get Republican votes and pass the Senate with bipartisan support. And of course, we now have an ally in the White House with President Biden, who’s promised to make the Equality Act a priority.
Chuck Schumer: (13:09)
Discrimination against LGBTQ Americans should be over once and for all, and Democrats will fight tooth and nail to make sure that that happens. And now I’m going to turn it over to a dear friend, a fellow New Yorker, who whenever it comes to civil rights is at the forefront, Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
Jerrold Nadler: (13:33)
Thank you very much, Chuck. First, let me begin by thanking Congressman Cicilline for his leadership on this landmark legislation, and thanking Speaker Pelosi for her steadfast support of this legislation. The Equality Act represents one of the most significant opportunities we have had to expand civil rights in this country in many, many years. For a long time, whenever the LGBTQ community came to Congress, it was to defend their rights, from the Defense of Marriage Act, to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Even when we considered NDAA, there was a major discussion as to whether we can include protections for transgender people. It is not lost on me that this is only the second time in history that Congress has been able to consider truly comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights legislation, and I could not be more proud of the gains we have made to even be standing here today.
Jerrold Nadler: (14:28)
By freeing the LGBT community from discrimination, the Equality Act makes America a little more free for everyone. We cannot rely on the Supreme Court to continue to advance these issues for us. Instead, I expect that without the Equality Act, we will begin to see the court chipping away at the rights the LGBT community has already had acknowledged. I am hopeful that with Majority Leader Schumer at the helm of the Senate and President Biden in the White House, that we have a chance to see this signed into law and to take decisive action against the discrimination faced by the LGBT community nationwide.
Jerrold Nadler: (15:06)
Thank you very much. And like Speaker Pelosi, I have to get back to the floor for the debate, but before I do that, it’s my pleasure to introduce Senator Booker. Thank you very much.
Cory Booker: (15:24)
It is so good that we are here today, but let’s be clear. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for foot soldiers of justice who fought to push this body to pass civil rights legislation that gave me and other African Americans equal dignity, equal rights, and equal opportunity in this country. John Lewis, who has passed us, bled for that right. And so now here we are again, in a nation where the ideals of liberty and equality and equal justice under law-
Cory Booker: (16:03)
… [inaudible 00:16:01] of liberty, and equality, and equal justice under law, are what we say, how we define our aspirations, but we still fall short. We still live in a nation where the destructive darkness of discrimination reigns, enshrined in the laws of this land that prevent equal dignity and equality to LGBTQ Americans. That is unacceptable, and so let us all feel the fierce urgency of now to not just see this legislation pass in the United States House of Representatives. But for the sake of our ancestors and generations to come, may it pass in the Senate and get to the desk of the president of the United States for his signature. Thank you, and now I bring up Representative Takotna.
Rep. Takano: (16:53)
Thank you, Senator Booker, and thank you Senator for reminding us of the history of civil rights and how if it weren’t for the foot soldiers we both wouldn’t be here. I remember being at my first inauguration with President Obama, and he invoked the image of Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall, drawing that direct line of civil rights history of a nation becoming a more perfect union. Thank you to David Cicilline for your amazing efforts of building this coalition.
Rep. Takano: (17:25)
It’s truly moving to be here with you, David, and I couldn’t … I mean Chairman Nadler had to get back to the floor, but if you’ve ever had Chairman Nadler tell you stories about his conversations with Bella Abzug. I mean, Jerry, before LGBT members were really a presence on the Hill, there was Jerry Nadler. We are so proud of him. Senator Merkley, we’re so proud of the work that you’ve done, amazing work, and I want to talk to you more about what we got to talk about. But David, we’re going to talk to him. We’re going to talk to him David.
Rep. Cicilline: (17:54)
We were talking.
Rep. Takano: (17:57)
All right. Almost 30 years ago, I was outed in my first campaign for Congress. 27 years ago, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was established in the military. 25 years ago, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was signed into law. And nearly 10 years ago, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. Seven years ago, in the United States vs Windsor case, it struck down DOMA. Five years ago, marriage equality became the law of the land. Last year, less than a year ago, the Supreme Court extended non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people in the workplace. Today, we are just one step closer to full equality under the law, and that’s real progress. But despite the strides that we have made toward greater acceptance for LGBTQ people, in a majority of States, 27 to be exact, our community still face discrimination, and they do not enjoy the same civil rights as other Americans.
Rep. Takano: (18:52)
They do not have the recourse to go to court or to ensure that they are treated fairly. This is particularly harmful to especially vulnerable members of our community, trans people and queer people of color, who face greater discrimination and violence motivated by hate and what really as Senator Schumer alluded to gets my blood boiling, is the irony of people who are murdered and beat up, who are victims of discrimination being made the bogeyman of this bill. How insidiously ironic is that, that the opponents of this bill are using the people who are victimized the most, who need the productions of this bill the most, as the argument against passing this bill? How absurd is that?
Rep. Takano: (19:43)
The Equality Act would be a powerful tool to protect these most vulnerable people in our country, and a great nation cares about the dignity and well-being of its most vulnerable citizens. Today as I go back to the floor and thankfully the Speaker’s going to take her magic pen on the floor to extend the amount of time I have here. But I’m going to cast my vote. I’ll be thinking of all the LGBTQ activists who marched, protested, and built a movement to protest the lives of LGBTQ people and expand our rights. I’m ready to go vote, and before I do, I want to introduce a pioneer, a hero of mine. I knew her when she was back in the House and watched her become a Senator with the integrity of being elected to office already out, not coming out afterwards, truly a trailblazer, Senator Baldwin.
Senator Baldwin: (20:34)
Thank you so much. Oh wow. Well, I want to start by thanking my colleagues for your courage, and your standing up, and getting us to this moment. I feel like we should have a drum roll because soon the House will vote for the second time to advance the Equality Act. I appreciated everybody’s comments, but I wanted to also appreciate Leader Schumer’s comments with two regards. One is, decrying and condemning in the strongest of terms the unfortunate and hateful remarks of some of our colleagues. The level of ignorance is unacceptable. But I also harken back to the power of the LGBTQ movement of visibility helping to change hearts and minds, and that’s what this long movement is about.
Senator Baldwin: (21:40)
I secondly appreciated Leader Schumer’s personal remarks. He said, “It’s personal for me,” and I will certainly say this is personal for me too. Not only as a member of the LGBTQ community, but for my brief time as a practicing attorney before I was full-time involved in public service, I had the occasion to represent clients in the LGBTQ community who had faced discrimination at the workplace or in seeking housing. I got to see how devastating that can be, especially when the law falls short in terms of protections. In a majority of states and local jurisdictions, LGBT Americans live without fully inclusive non-discrimination laws and can still face discrimination because of who they are or who they love.
Senator Baldwin: (22:39)
That’s just wrong, and it’s time to end this kind of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. All Americans should have the full freedom of equality. It’s why we’re here today. It’s why I’m so proud to stand with my colleagues in the House and Senate as the House prepares to pass the Equality Act. We’ve been here before, but this year we have a pro-equality majority in both the House and the Senate, and we have a president who is pro-equality and prepared to sign this bill when it gets to his desk. So, let’s just get the job done. Let’s pass the Equality Act in the House and Senate. Let’s send it to President Biden so he can sign it into law, and we can finally provide full equality for every LGBTQ American across our country. David, I think you’re back to post Q&A.
Rep. Cicilline: (23:45)
Thank you. Thank you, Senator. I too have to get back to the floor, but we have time at least for a few questions. Yes, sir.
Speaker 1: (23:47)
First thing. If I can ask two questions real quick. The first one, how do you get the 60 votes in the Senate that you need to pass this? And two, off topic, but Chief Pittman today said that there’s a group of militia members who may have been here on the 6th who are plotting to-
Speaker 2: (24:03)
… militia members who may have been here on the 6th who were plotting to perhaps blow up on the Capital, or to express a desire to blow up the Capital around the State of the Union. I’m curious, given all we’ve learned about the response and the intelligence failures, how safe you all feel and your confidence level in the security and the police?
Congressman Nadler: (24:18)
I’ll defer responding to that at another time, if that’s okay, because I need to… I hesitate to speculate about the Senate, but I’ll just say one thing before I allow or invite one of the Senators to say. It’s the good old fashioned way, we’re going to make our case. Our community is going to advocate with members of the Senate and we’re going to work hard until we get the votes necessary to pass it. There’s no shortcut for it. This is really an instance in which the Senate of the United States has to catch up to the American people. As I mentioned, it’s overwhelmingly supported Republicans, Democrats and Independents by 83% of the American people. Another poll shows a majority of voters in every single state in America support non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.
Congressman Nadler: (24:58)
So the biggest challenge we face is a lot of people think it’s already the law. When you tell them that someone can get kicked out of their apartment, be denied service in a restaurant or not be allowed to serve on a jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they can’t believe that’s true. That’s because it doesn’t comport with our basic understanding of fairness and equal in this country. So there’s not a shortcut, we’re going to work hard and get the votes. Obviously, the senator’s will have tricks up their sleeve about how we do that.
Senator Merkley: (25:26)
Your question immediately assumes that Republicans will insist on cloture, 60 votes to close debate. I was thinking about how when Ted Kennedy first brought the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor back in, I believe it was 1998, we had no one in opposition ask for cloture. So we have a story here of how dramatically the Senate has changed. I can tell you, as one Senator, I do not believe that Mitch McConnell should be able to veto a bill the majority of the Senate supports that is about fundamental human rights.
Senator Merkley: (26:08)
But we’re not in 1998 and we are still closer to 2013. In 2013, I took the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor and we did not have 60 votes. We had to get 60 votes and we worked it. We worked it in partnership with our organizations, that are civil rights organizations that have huge insight on the nuances of the language and the law. We worked it with our colleagues. Our colleagues shared their stories. We ended up with a vote that was two to one, bipartisan, in support. That is the path we’re going to work to achieve this year.
Congressman Nadler: (26:49)
Speaker 3: (26:50)
What specifically would you want to tell Republicans, your colleagues about… They’re talking about an infringement on religious liberties, bringing more lawsuits against churches and places of worship.
Congressman Nadler: (27:02)
We were very careful in the Equality Act to ensure that the religious exemptions, which currently exist, remain undisturbed. So what I’d first say is, in the same way that all of the other areas of civil rights law have established religious exemptions, they would apply in the same way to the provisions of the Equality Act. The LGBTQ community is not looking for more protections, nor are we willing to accept less, just treat it the same as all the other protected classes. So religious organizations would still enjoy the rights they have in terms of their ministerial functions, to limit their services and facilities to members of their own congregation, to members of their own faith in good standing, as they determine all those exemptions, which have been established, remain in place. So that’s been an argument that has been advanced, but we have two interests that are protected here, the right to religious expression and the deeply held commitment to ending discrimination. The Equality Act achieves both of those things.
Senator Baldwin: (27:57)
Can I just-
Congressman Nadler: (27:57)
Senator Baldwin: (27:58)
… add to that, the Bostok versus Clayton County decision has basically extended to the entire nation one portion of the Equality Act relating to employment, obviously a critical one, but by doing so has kept intact the current and existing religious exemptions. So that’s now the reality in the United States. So I just wanted to underscore what David Cicilline just said, that we want no more, nor should we accept any less.
Speaker 3: (28:36)
Thank you, Senator.
Congressman Nadler: (28:36)
We’re going to take one more.
Speaker 4: (28:38)
On the Public Relief Act, Senator Sherman this morning said [crosstalk 00:28:43]-
Congressman Nadler: (28:43)
Is there any more questions on the Equality Act, because I got to run to the floor.
Speaker 5: (28:46)
I have one.
Congressman Nadler: (28:46)
Speaker 5: (28:48)
Chris Stewart has signaled that he’s going in to introduce on Friday the Fairness of All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act with bipartisan support. Would that be that bill be better than nothing?
Congressman Nadler: (28:57)
No. That bill very clearly is worse than nothing. It, for the first time in our history, would actually put in Federal statute provisions that permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community. It would be a tremendous step backward, which is why it’s not supported by any major LGBT organization. All of the major LGBT organizations support the Equality Act. The Stewart bill is a tremendous step backward in our fight for full equality.
Speaker 5: (29:25)
Any problem with Democrats co-sponsoring that bill?
Congressman Nadler: (29:27)
Speaker 5: (29:28)
Would you have any issue with Democrats co-sponsoring-
Congressman Nadler: (29:30)
Well, I hope people who are committed to equality for the LGBTQ community would not support that bill, because it would put in statute and authorize expressly, discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Senator Merkley: (29:42)
Thank you all very much.
Congressman Nadler: (29:42)
Senator Baldwin: (29:44)