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Transcript of Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Garcia Press Conference in Houston on House Democrats’ Moving Forward Infrastructure Plan and USMCA

Houston – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee held a press conference in Houston following a roundtable discussion with local business and labor leaders on House Democrats’ Moving Forward infrastructure proposal, U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement and the critical role that the Port of Houston plays in trade.  Below is a full transcript:

Congresswoman Garcia.  Thank you all for coming.  I’m Sylvia Garcia, Congresswoman in this area.

I was real pleased to host a meeting, here in the port of Houston, for a visit with Speaker Pelosi to focus on infrastructure and trade and the deepening and widening of the ship channel to ensure that this area continues to grow, to ensure that we continue to protect the jobs in my district and in the area, and to make sure that we have the dollars that we will be needing going forward. 

Obviously, a lot things are still moving targets.  But, we are here for any questions that you all might have.  And, Madam Speaker, did you have anything you wanted to add?

Speaker Pelosi.  No, we’ll just take questions.

Congresswoman Garcia.  Okay, we’ll just take questions then.

Q:  Madam Speaker, after latest report on Russia, how come we –

Speaker Pelosi.  Oh, excuse me.  Sorry to interrupt you.  Let me just say we’d like to keep the questions on the subject at hand, and then we can go to other things.  But right now we are here as part of our For The People agenda.

In the last campaign, we had an agenda, For The People.  We would lower the cost of health care.  We would increase paychecks by building the infrastructure of America.  And that is our focus today. 

And we see the Port of Houston as a place where infrastructure, trade, good jobs, protecting the environment, workforce development all come together.  We salute the Chairman for his excellent work.  His recent testimony in D.C.

And we’re here just to learn more specifics from our friends in the international – from labor, from the academic community, from the business community – across the board.

And so, it’s really an honor to be here.  My interest in Houston runs deep.  About ten years I was here to talk about some of these same issues with Congresswoman Jackson Lee.  And, here today at the invitation of a brand new Member – relatively new, in her first term, but you’d hardly know it from her effectiveness – Sylvia Garcia. 

She has been a force in protecting – in passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.  She’s been a force in her Committee in doing the work of passing – authorizing the Ex-Im Bank.  She’s been a force in workforce development.  And, the list goes on and on.  And she has worked in the legislature and as a Commissioner on these subjects, so she is effective from the start in that regard.

And as you know, Congresswoman Jackson Lee – we were together ten years ago at this meeting, here we are again – has been a great force and leader for Houston as well.

I am very proud of Lizzie Fletcher, a new member from Houston, who again is helping on this issue, as well as a force in her class to help pass U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.

Q:  Madam Speaker, there has been some reporting that communicates Republicans might see some common ground on this infrastructure plan, in you know, flood resilience and tackling this backlog of army corps projects.  Do you see any truth to that?

Speaker Pelosi.  Yes, historically, we have not — infrastructure has not been a partisan issue.  Really, the communities come together, when communities come together, whether it is public, private, non-profit, communities say this is a priority for us and especially in a non-partisan way.  That gives us a real opportunity to move forward, because, just to use an expression, when we decide on a project that is going to get resources, we want dirt to fly.  We want it to happen.  We don’t want it to be in the courts or in disagreements in the community.  So the bipartisan, nonpartisan agreements that bring the project to our attention, make it a priority.  So that we know when we make, when it is authorized and it’s funded, it is going to be happening rather than making it a priority over something else and the local support is not there. 

But it’s clear from all of the meetings in DC and here, that the local support for widening – well, doubling – making a two-lane highway I guess you would say, deepening the harbor, so important. 

So, we are excited about it and it’s a model, really, to the country on how to just, take advantage of what has happened in the Panama Canal.  And as I say if you want trade, if you want trade, you have to just build your harbors to accommodate it.

Q:  Madam Speaker, how confident are you that you can get an infrastructure proposal through the Senate, especially with the focus on climate?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we just want to do it in a green way.  It’s, we have another initiative that will be our very entrepreneurial initiative on climate. 

But I do think that if we go forward with infrastructure bill we shouldn’t be doing a 1950s model, we should be doing a 21st century model at least.  But I do think that again, we haven’t had, we haven’t had opposition, in terms of infrastructure.  So we will pass our bill, maybe they will pass their own bill, we’ll go to conference. 

I think it’s something that we can do.  I think we can work together with the Administration on this.  But this project will move forward – won’t wait for that.  Because this has its own life, we wait for the decision from the chief that is, the chief decision from the Army Corps of Engineers.  When that comes through, we can authorize legislation.  Members from this area have already been laying the groundwork for that, and once that happens, then it is a matter of appropriations, the competing for funds, where we want the money spent to see dirt fly.

So this doesn’t have to, understand this, other projects that will be helpful to this would be in our Moving Forward agenda.  But this has a life of its own.

Q:  What sort of timeframe do you see this as potentially turning into an actual bill and making it through the House?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well I don’t know if you want to speak to that but again, we – first step is we get the approval of a Chief – the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, that imprimatur is important on any project, any place.  You know really, they make an evaluation and that should be a couple of months, maybe end of March?  April?  And then when that happens, then the question is when would we get what is called a WRDA bill which would be part of — to authorize and it is just a matter of public sentiment weighing in in a bipartisan way –

Congresswoman Garcia.  – And we will need your help on that.  So I think it’s as soon as, as quickly as we can honestly.  For some of us, it can’t be soon enough.  But we will all be working together and I agree with the Speaker, I think this is the kind of issue that does bring both sides of the aisle together because it’s important to our area.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee.  To the credit of the Caucus, we have been meeting in small groups, taking messages back from our own communities.  And the drafters, the Committees of jurisdiction are well aware of, – they’re well aware of Houston, Hurricane Harvey, flood mitigation and those crucial issues that we have to have, and it’s just a matter of making sure that we are collectively united in delegation with Congresswoman Garcia and Republicans, we’re a united delegation to work on those issues.

Speaker Pelosi.  And Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee.  – and Lizzie Fletcher.

[Crosstalk]

Speaker Pelosi.  – and Al Green, as well.  So we’ll see, but when we put our agenda together – our For The People agenda, we were striving to find common ground.  And this is an issue where we’ve always had common ground.

Q:  How exactly would this plan speed up –

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, excuse me, if I just may, if we have questions from any other folks before –

Q:  How big of a challenge do you see any projects, especially when we’re talking about the environment, when we have a president who believes it’s a hoax – the climate emergency is a hoax?

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, let me just say that in and of itself, to widen the highway here is – would be done in an environmentally sound way.  I don’t think that that is something he would interfere with.  I don’t know, but again, let’s give it its own momentum and have public sentiment weigh in on it.  

But again, we talked about in our meeting about the climate crisis and how we all have to think in ways of coming together, listening to each other and having business and labor, environmentalists and labor, environmentalists and business, people of faith and concerned scientists, agriculture community, academic community, workforce development community – have everybody at the table and talk about how we go forward.  It is inevitable – it will happen, but we want to do it in a way that is job-creation, not job-deterring.

I’m sorry.  Back to you.

Q:  I was just asking about the tackling that backlog of Army Corps projects  – we just, we hear about that a lot from local officials, how it’s such a headache.  How specifically would this plan seek to speed that up?  I mean is it eliminating rent –

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, we’ll just – how can I say – without discriminating it to anything else – we’re just going on the merits of this case and there is a line of priorities there, but I think this has an excellent chance of moving forward. 

You had a question?

Q:  After the latest report on Russia, how can we be sure we can have a fair election?  Are there enough protections in place to ensure the integrity of the next election?  After the latest report on Russia?

Speaker Pelosi.  So you’re talking about the integrity of the next election?  Well, I don’t want to be going into territory that is classified, but what we see in the public domain is a suggestion that the – what we have known, has been in the public domain for a long time, is that 24/7 the Russians have been striving to disrupt this election.  Forgetting the – well, not forgetting, but apart from that – but, disrupting this election.

We did get in our legislation over $400 million dollars to protect the integrity of the election system.  That doesn’t mean we can protect people from bots and false stories put on the – in the social media.  We want to be vigilant enough to say to people, ‘Beware of this,’ but not instill fear, so that people don’t say, ‘Well, why should I vote because my vote may not be counted as cast.’  So we are, again, vigilant.  The evidence is clear that the Russians are up to the same old same old that we just have to protect against.

Now, we have some resistance from the other side of the aisle to do some of what we’re doing, but we were able to get the money because we had leverage in the discussion on the budget.   

Staff.  Last question.

Q:  If I may, next week it will be Super Tuesday.  Texas is without a doubt a very important state.  What’s your message to the Houstonians and also to the Texas Democratic Party?

Speaker Pelosi.  Vote, vote, vote.  I say to everyone, ‘Don’t be counted out.  If you don’t vote, you don’t count.  If you don’t vote, you have voted for your opponent – the person you don’t support.’  So, this is exciting because we in California – my state – we are early too.  We used to be June or something, now were all the same day – early – and can have an impact.  And what’s exciting about it is both of our states represent the full diversity and inclusiveness of America.  So, it will be a more accurate picture of how we go forward by an election of, again, the full diversity of America.

Congresswoman Garcia.  They should be first in line, instead of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Speaker Pelosi.  Well, that’s another discussion. 

[Laughter]

I’m sure you’ll find a market for that.

Q:  What is your reaction to President Trump pushing out the Acting Director of National Intelligence over a briefing that went to the House.  Was that appropriate?

Speaker Pelosi.  Intelligence is one of my places in Congress where I was forged – longer on Intelligence than anybody in the history of our Congress – Intelligence and Appropriations.  And what the President did – two things that he did – one to object to Congress getting a briefing that was a bipartisan briefing for the Committee.  And he said, ‘Oh, they just briefed the Democrats,’ which wasn’t true.  So that was wrong.  Understanding this enlarges the issue.  The President, the Administration are the custodians of the intelligence, but the intelligence belongs to the Congress of the United States as well.  And we need to know what they know, so we can make our decisions. 

So, for the President to object to Congress getting that information is frankly not that unusual, but that it is public is unusual – and b, to therefore oust the Director of National Intelligence and put somebody in with absolutely no credentials whatsoever for the job, for something that’s very much apart of our national security.  This is dangerous.  This is dangerous to our country, because intelligence is how we —force protection, how we protect our troops, how we try to avoid war – but if we have to engage in a military action – how we do so with the most information and best intelligence possible.  To undermine that, as he has being doing all along, is a really – undermines our national security.  And what he’s doing in terms of putting in somebody who doesn’t – would be like sending me in for brain surgery – to do brain surgery on somebody.  What?  He just doesn’t know the territory, and it’s very important territory.  So, what the President did is dangerous, but don’t associate that with what we came to do here today.

Staff.  Thank you all.

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