Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Members of Congress for a press conference to discuss the Administration’s failures on COVID-19 testing and the strong testing plan House Democrats included and passed in The Heroes Act. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. Here we are. When we invited you to this meeting, we were going to be talking about three things: testing, testing, testing. Testing to open up our economy. Testing to send our kids back to school. Testing to defeat this villainous virus, the coronavirus.
Little did we know that we would be coming here almost at the exact time that our country would be registering 100,000 people dying from the coronavirus. 100,000 people in about 100 days. Think back 100 days. We just observed Memorial Day, think back to President’s Day weekend. Would you have ever thought that we would be observing 100,000 people?
So, I am honored to be here with our distinguished Whip, Mr. Clyburn; Frank Pallone, the distinguished Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. They are going to share their views about saving lives by testing. They have been outstanding forces in the Congress on this subject.
We are also delighted to be joined by Representative Robin Kelly of Illinois, who is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Brain – Health Braintrust. Grace Meng of New York, a leader in this House of Representatives and Member of the Appropriations Committee. Mr. Pete Aguilar, another Member of the Appropriations Committee. And Deb Haaland, a new Member of Congress and Chair of her Subcommittee on [National Parks, Forests, And Public Lands] on Natural Resources. All of them leaders in the Congress with something to say from their standpoint generationally, geographically, ethnically and committee-wise and the rest.
So, our first bill, March 4th. We wrote it in February, passed it in March, March 4th. Testing, testing, testing, that was what the bill was about. We had thought that the Executive branch would act upon that. They did not, but we put out that commitment.
By the time the President signed CARES 1, which was March 28th – we had March 4th, March 14th and then March 28th, our third bill – we had some funding for hospitals and health care and the rest there, PPE and addressing the spread of the coronavirus. And, then, when we did the PPP interim bill, a couple of weeks later, that was a place where we put a big chunk of money for testing and for hospitals and the rest. Still, we had not seen what we would have expected from the Administration.
So, over the weekend, they put out something. I won’t call it a plan because it wasn’t a plan. A plan has a strategy. It has a goal. It has a timetable. It has benchmarks. It has milestones. It didn’t have any of the above. No guidance, real guidance, for how we can test, trace, treat, isolate, defeat this virus.
In our bill, that we put forth in The Heroes Act, we provide just such a strategic plan of action and I’m so pleased that our distinguished chair of the committee, Mr. Pallone, is here to talk about it. But, for a long time, Mr. Clyburn has been talking about how we do outreach into underserved communities. He used the examples of previous health issues in rural America where they had mobile units going out to reach out to people to provide services to them to save lives and limbs as it turns out, lives and limbs.
In the bill that we passed, The Heroes Act, it strengthens the testing and contact tracing by requiring an updated testing plan with clear timelines and benchmarks, as I mentioned. It provides $75 billion in grants to support testing, tracing and isolation, with a special focus on addressing disparities on how this villainous virus is assaulting communities of color in our country, and requiring linguistically-appropriate strategies for increasing access to testing and tracing.
We – it’s one of three pillars: our first pillar is honor our heroes, state and local; open our economy, testing, testing, testing; money in the pockets of the American people. Three pillars of our Heroes Act legislation. This is the testing pillar. It is essential for the economic recovery of our country. It is essential for the health and well-being of the American people. It is essential to sending our children back to school. It’s usually all about the children.
So, we’ll wait. We usually expect that we’ll go to the table to do the smart thing that scientists all advise we must do to win this battle against the virus. We must test. It is central. We must trace. It is central. We must treat. It is essential.
The Republican Leader in the Senate says, ‘I think we need to pause.’ I don’t think the virus is taking a pause. I don’t think hunger is taking a pause. I don’t think job insecurity is taking a pause. I don’t think paying your rent takes a pause. We don’t need a pause. We need action. And, today, we are focusing our action on testing, testing, testing.
And, with that, I am pleased to yield to the distinguished Whip, Democratic Whip of the House, the gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Clyburn.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Haaland, Madam Chair.
As you can see, my friends, whether it is California, Peter Aguilar; Illinois, Robin Kelly; New Jersey, Mr. Chairman, Frank Pallone; New York, Grace Meng; Deb Haaland, New Mexico; Mr. Clyburn, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Whip, Mr. Clyburn of South Carolina. That all of us? And I’m California as well. We all have the same message for the President: Mr. President, take responsibility. You had that in every comment that was made. The refusal to take responsibility is taking lives, livelihood and, again the vitality, the life of our democracy.
This testing is the key. It is the key. You cannot cross the threshold inside to outside, to open the economy unless you have this key, which is testing.
I hope you have some appreciation for the breadth of knowledge, the depth of commitment and the specificity of suggestions that our colleagues are making here today. They represent the concern of the House Democratic Caucus. More importantly, they represent the concerns of their constituents. Constituents who want, obviously, to open up, want children to go to school, want to be healthy. Testing, testing, testing.
So, I thank them all for their leadership, for being with us this afternoon on this, nearly – around 100 days since the first death. 100,000 deaths later, we’ve got to put a stop to it. Thank you all very much.
And, with that, I’d be pleased to take any questions. Yes, ma’am.
Q: Madam Speaker, understanding everything you are saying about testing, parts of the country are starting to reopen. We are seeing reopening plans. How soon do you think the country should reopen? How should we handle that? Is the President handling that correctly, as well? Especially regarding political conventions, should we assume political conventions are moving forward?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let us say that we all want the country to open up, but science tells us that there is a path, a healthy path, to open up in a healthy way, and that path is through testing, tracing, treatment and isolation, if necessary.
No, I don’t think the President has handled it well. I don’t even think he gives good example by wearing a mask for heaven’s sake, not to protect him if he feels invulnerable, but to protect others. That’s why we wear masks.
The number of people who should be in church, the number of people who should be at any gathering, those are determinations that are made locally and I respect that as we unfold this opening. I don’t think there’s anyone that would say, at this point, that tens of thousands of people should come together for a political convention. No matter how great an ego trip it is for somebody, it is dangerous for so many.
But let’s hope and let’s pray that a vaccine is imminent, that a therapy or cure is nearby. But, they aren’t. Testing is. Let’s go there first. Yes, sir.
Q: Madam Speaker, can you describe where you are in the status of these negotiations. Obviously, getting the Senate Republicans’ flat out rejection of The Heroes Act.
And have you had any conversations with the Administration, with Leader McConnell? What is the state of play here?
Speaker Pelosi. A week and a half ago, we passed, on the Floor of the House, The Heroes Act. The Heroes Act: we gave a trillion dollars, nearly a trillion dollars to states and localities to meet the needs of their constituents, of their people – to meet the needs of the American people. It went to them to meet the expenses they incurred fighting the coronavirus and also for the lost revenue.
A week and a half ago, we passed a bill with a great strategic plan, thank you Mr. Pallone, for testing, testing, testing. A week and a half ago, we passed a bill to put more money in the pockets of the American people. That was our offer to the Republicans, invite them to negotiate.
When I read in some of my local metropolitan journals that it was partisan and nowhere to go, nobody said that when Mitch McConnell put first his bill, CARES 1. Nobody said that when he put first the next bill, right Mr. Clyburn, the interim PPP? It was an offer. And we came, we negotiated, we turned those bills around and we had bipartisanship.
So, I would like the same, shall we say, courtesy extended to the House Democrats for our putting forth our disciplined, focused, necessary legislation to kill the coronavirus, to open up our economy, to send our kids to school and to, again, honor our heroes: our state and local workers; our health care workers, our first responders, firefighters, police, emergency services, transportation, sanitation, food service – did I say that already? – teachers, teachers, teachers. The list goes on. Let’s honor our heroes. Let’s end this virus. Let’s do that.
And, if they want to say no, I have news for them: the American people are on to this across the country, and my colleagues can attest. There is a drumbeat that says we need to do more. They need to do more. So, I don’t – my interest is with the message the American people send the Republicans in the Senate that it’s time, that we cannot take a pause.
We have to end the death, the dying. We have to open the economy. We have to do so in a way that gives more opportunity for access to care, to credit, to opportunity. Because, as Mr. Clyburn said, this is an opportunity. Every crisis is.
Q: Would you be willing to take the testing portion of The Heroes Act and put it forward as a stand-alone bill the way you’re doing with the PPP legislation later this afternoon?
Speaker Pelosi. Our bill is a – it has a one-ness. It has its integrity. The only piece we took out was the PPP because it really, every day, made a difference. It was urgent. So too with testing.
If I thought that they would pass it, I would. I think that maybe they don’t share our value on that or else they would have done it themselves. So, we have to use other leverage in the bill as we go forward.
Yes, sir. Garrett.
Q: This week, on the topic of reopening, the Mayor of D.C. announced they’re going to start rolling back the restrictions in the District of Columbia Friday. Does that play into your decision at all about ending the state of emergency in Congress and bringing the full House back as opposed to keeping proxy voting and so forth going on longer?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, we are pretty much fully – we have a large number of Members who are here. Again, it’s transportation, it’s individual situations with the virus and with someone who might be in their home who might be susceptible, but we are here. And for those who can’t be here, we have the proxy voting.
It is there for 45 days starting [May 20th]. Right, Mr. Clyburn? It’s starting [May 20th]. Forty-five days. If we see a need at the end of the 45 days, then we can extend that, but our timing was predicated on the Sergeant-at-Arms giving us the signal that we could put this forward.
Q: So, you wouldn’t end it sooner than 45 days if conditions in D.C. continue to improve? Or else, we –
Speaker Pelosi. Well, let’s hope and pray that they do and then we can cross that bridge, we can cross that threshold when we come to it. Yes, sir?
Q: The House is voting this afternoon on this FISA bill –
Speaker Pelosi. Excuse me. Just one second. If you would hold on that. Any other questions for my colleagues? Anything you’d like to say about any of the questions that were asked? Step up. Mr. Clyburn, anything?
Whip Clyburn. I don’t think so.
Speaker Pelosi. Whether we should take the testing piece out, whether, what we think about the Republican – I said the same thing. That will never pass the House when they put forth their bill. That bill will never pass the House, right?
Whip Clyburn. There is one thing I would like to mention, Madam Speaker. One of the things that we have in The Heroes Act is language, thanks to Frank Pallone, that asks the Federal Communications Commission to step up its allocation, billions of dollars which are already appropriated, so that we can use this money now to do the broadband that Representative Grace Meng talked about. Just South Carolina alone will reap $353 million. We asked them to do that by June 30th.
And that is a piece of legislation that I am going to be introducing along with Representative Upton of Michigan. That bill is being filed today, because we think it’s critical to spend out that money between now and June 30th, because little children stand the threat of losing a second year of school if you don’t have broadband available to them. And so the Speaker has worked with me and we are going to propose that as a separate piece of legislation.
Speaker Pelosi. Mr. Clyburn has been a champion, working with, again, with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone on this issue of broadband. It will be even more significantly put forth in our infrastructure bill, which we hope to bring up soon. Because it is so necessary – we thought it was necessary before, right? But then with [distance] learning, tele-medicine, with so many things that are happening electronically, it is absolutely essential. We can have a whole press – well, we have had whole press conferences on that.
So, unless there are any other questions on testing, testing, testing, tracing, treatment, isolation? Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. The House is voting later today on this FISA bill, but you’re no longer voting on a bipartisan bill by Zoe Lofgren to limit the collection of internet search history. Why not? And if the underlying bill goes down, what’s the recourse? What’s your next move on that?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, we have a – we passed a bill a while back supported by the two chairs, Mr. Schiff of Intelligence and Mr. Nadler, the committee of jurisdiction, of Judiciary. It passed in a very bipartisan way. Actually, a veto-proof amount, bipartisan.
Went over to the Senate. The Senate amended it in a very positive way. Eighty senators voted for passage of the bill. Eighty senators. Something like  Republican senators voted for the bill. And it was more progressive than the House bill – the Leahy-Lee amendment took it to a better place in my view. So, that’s the bill we will be – that’s what is sent over to us. That’s the bill that we’ll be voting on today.
And if the Members – Congress will work its will, if Congress doesn’t want that, we have our original bill that we’ll send back over.
Q: Why not you offer an amendment? Why not –
Speaker Pelosi. That is up to them. The – we thought that we might take up, that was under consideration. Then the Wyden amendment came, it was different things and we decided that where the votes were, were to go with the – look, I, my long history in Intelligence going back to the early 90’s, either as a member, Ranking Member or Ex Officio all these years. We have to have a bill. We have to have a bill and we have to have it signed.
The Administration, Attorney General Barr would like nothing better than not have a bill. Then you don’t have all these protections that are built into our bills. And that really is what is essential about having our bill. Otherwise, we could just have an extension. But if you want to improve protections, this is always about security and civil liberties, security and privacy. That’s the balance we have to strike. And that bill in the Senate goes a long way, and it is bipartisan. So, that is – the Rules Committee reported that bill out today. It is up to others in terms of consideration of different amendments. Mr. Clyburn is the vote counter.
But we salute Congresswoman Lofgren. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is a real champion of civil liberties in the Congress of the United States. She’s just been remarkable. A very senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and she really opposed the first bill that we passed – the Leahy-Lee amendment is a vast improvement over it. However, our bill was good enough. This bill is much better. We hope that it could be the bill that could get the signature of the President of the United States.
But – we can – all kinds of things have been considered. This is the path we’ll be on today.
Thank you all very much.
Oh, yes sir. One more?
Q: I just want to know your thoughts, Speaker Pelosi, on what’s happening in Minneapolis with George Floyd’s death and what should be done? Should the DOJ get involved?
Speaker Pelosi. Today, we’re talking about disparities in access to testing, disparities in access to health care and the unfairness of it all. Mr. Clyburn began his remarks, as he usually does, talking about liberty and justice for all. This is such a tragedy. It’s a crime. I feel so sad for the family, but also just for the community there.
We had some conversations about this on our Caucus call earlier today, and we had a couple of – some are hearings, some are forums and all the rest to continue that conversation and where we can go from here. There’s a commission on the status of young African American men. It’s a bill in the Judiciary Committee that we’ve been talking about now, and all of a sudden, become all the more necessary. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has been talking about that for awhile, including intensely yesterday and this morning.
So, just, it breaks your heart. It just breaks your heart. It’s so sad, but there has to be liberty. There has to be justice. Mr. Clyburn, may I yield to you.
Whip Clyburn. Well, let me first of all thank you, Madam Speaker. And I thank our former colleague Vince Ellison – Keith Ellison. I’m sorry. I saw him last night. I listened to him last night expressing a tremendous amount of regret over this. It’s kind of interesting. I spoke of Senator Rubio’s comments in the Washington Post this morning. If my memory serves, the commission on males – young males, et cetera that the Speaker just spoke about. I think he mentioned that in his article – not that one, one I read this morning. And the necessity for us to take a look at restructuring, and we started in a bipartisan way.
One of the things that we had worked with here – Democrats had worked with this Administration on restructuring some things in our judicial system. In fact, Senator Klobuchar, last night, mentioned the fact that when she was a prosecutor, she filed what was the structure in place at the time. And she said that we have to change that. We have to restructure.
I just think that we ought to really take a look at this pandemic, look at everything that is happening around us, and let’s admit the fact that it is time for us to restructure some things in our society. We’ve got to restructure things so that we can build out broadband. So that locals, low-income communities, rural communities can receive the greatness of this society. We’ve got to restructure things so that we can have online education for our children. We can have tele-health for rural and low-income communities. That’s the only way to make the greatness of this country accessible and affordable for everybody. And justice is really a threat in this country.
Rubio talked in his article about how if we do not do this, he sees real calamity in the not too distant future for our country. I’ve been seeing this for some time now, and that is why I’m sounding this warning. Because, I got out there. I talk to people. I stop on the street corners. When I walk up and down these hallways, I nod at the Speaker and to Frank. But I spend time with the people who are scrubbing the floors and moving the furniture. I talk to them about their children. I talk to them about what their experience is, and I can tell you we have got to do something to restructure things.
Speaker Pelosi. I know that you do that, but do they call you momma?
Whip Clyburn. I hope not.
Speaker Pelosi. They call me momma. Let’s just close this by just mourning the loss of 100,000 people. Grace mentioned that such a large number were from New York State and how Elmhurst Hospital in her district was affected. Let’s also just remember all those people in nursing homes. Like 40 percent of the deaths I think are in nursing homes. So, so very, very sad and heartbreaking for families.
And of course with me, it always comes down to the children. We want to be sure that when these people go to work that they have the PPE, that they are tested so that they know when they come home, their children will be safe.
Let us close with the story Tlaib – Rashida Tlaib – Congresswoman Tlaib told the day we were passing the CARES Act. She showed the picture of a beautiful little five-year-old girl who just died of coronavirus. Her father was a firefighter. Her mother was a police officer. What’s the question? How did she get this? Of course, they’re big advocates now for testing, about that. Five years old, bringing it home to the children.
We’ve got to stop this vicious thing because it’s taking from our children, our parents, our grandparents, whatever, and everybody in between. We have a responsibility to get the job done. That’s why we say to the President, stop making excuses. Take responsibility. That’s what the President of the United States is supposed to do.
In the meantime, thank you, Frank Pallone for the wonderful legislation. We hope to soon get it passed into law one way or another and make a big difference for our country.
Thank you all very much.
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