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Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Press Conference. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 11:00   ET



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He spoke with unsurpassed clarity and moral integrity when he spoke on the floor.

I had the just coincidental opportunity to speak at a breakfast with someone who served with him in the state legislator at Maryland. And he said when Elijah Cummings would stand up in the state legislator, or House of Delegates, as it's called there, the room would fall silent because everyone wanted to hear what Elijah has to say.

And that is, of course, what was the case in Congress, in his committee and in the country.

He -- he -- he used to always say, "Our children are our living messengers to a future we will never see." So he wanted to be sure that that future was going to be better for them, and that they would bring with them our values.

In that regard, in terms of a better future, I'm so proud that this morning Richie Neal announced in the markup -- in -- in the hearing -- the hearing that they were having on H.R. 3, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, that he was suggesting that -- to name the bill for Elijah Cummings. So appropriate, because Elijah was a fighter for lowering the cost of prescription drugs, reaching the aisle to do so. He always strove to reach across the aisle and treat our -- all of our colleagues with respect, and even had dialogue with the president for a while on this subject. So it would be very appropriate that H.R. 3 would now be the Elijah Cummings -- Low -- Low Drug Cost Now legislation, whatever the formal title will be.

It's very sad, very sad for all of us. We've all lost a friend. I'm devastated by the loss.

Conveyed our condolences of our caucus to Maya, his dear wife this morning. And she said what we all knew: He just fought 'til the end. But that's the way he was not only on his personal health, but what he believed in in the Congress of the United States.

So we're, you know, back now after our district work period, where members all over the country are part of the drumbeat for H.R. 3, for our For The People agenda.

Our first one was to lower the cost of prescription drugs. They presented H.R. 3, heard feedback, and we are benefiting it with two markups this week, one in Energy and Commerce, the other in Education and Labor. The hearing in -- in Ways and Means this week, and then the markup next week. And then we'll be well on our way to reconcile the different versions and bring something to the floor.

PELOSI: I think it's really important to note that since the break, at the -- toward the end of the break, we did get this Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, score of $345 billion in savings just in the medical part -- Medicare Part D part of the bill. Other savings, $158 billion in savings for family households; $50 -- $46 billion of -- in rebates and the rest. So the savings are considerable, and the Congress will decide how they will be -- some of it will be reinvested into innovation at the National Institutes of Health, perhaps in community health centers across the country, and expanded benefits for Medicare, visual, hearing, dental, perhaps. That's up to the committees, we'll hear back from them. And just trying to lower the cost to -- to the community.

Bobby Scott's committee is marking up this bill. But as many of you know, earlier in the week, we announced his College Affordability Act, and we're very proud of the response from the members on that, and that will be making college less expensive.

The -- we're still at work on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, and making progress every day on our path to yes. But we're not there yet. As soon as we can get the assurances from the administration and from the other -- everyone involved that there will be enforceability of some of the provisions of the legislation, that it will really be an improvement on the current NAFTA, then we'll be able to proceed. But I'm optimistic about that.

I'm still hoping that -- and this came up across -- we (ph) were focused on For the People agenda, our health care cost bill, and bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America, cleaner government, that was our agenda in the campaign.

One of our priorities in this session has been to reduce the risk of gun violence in our country. It's now been 232 days since we sent our bipartisan legislation to the Senate. Every day, about a hundred people die from gun violence, nearly half of them children up to the age of teenagers.

My colleague Frederica Wilson, when I was in Florida during the break, gave me this bracelet made from a bullet and the orange color of gun violence protection. So we're not going away until we get legislation passed to reduce gun violence in our country.

The -- as you know, this has been a week of some issues that relate to our foreign engagement. I was very proud of the work on the floor of Congress to associate ourselves with the democratic aspirations of the young people of Hong Kong.

I've been working with, now, three generations of Hong Kong democratic leaders, just for them -- for the Chinese regime to obey the Basic Law under which Hong Kong was to exist, one country, two systems, living under the Basic Law, which made certain guarantees that are not being lived up to.

But Congress came through this week, spoke very clearly in a bipartisan way about our support for that, (inaudible) we have bipartisan support in the Senate, too. So hopefully that will come up soon there.

As you know, yesterday on the floor, 354 members voted in a bipartisan way to oppose the president's dangerous decision with regard to Syria. By two to one, Republicans voted to oppose the president's actions. There were only 60 votes in favor on the legislation.


The legislation would have called for Turkey to use restraint, for us to help our friends, to be a trustworthy ally to Kurds especially in humanitarian needs, now that they're being bombed by the Turks or being attacked by the Turks. It also calls for the president to show a clear plan for how Americans will be protected from ISIS, which has been further unleashed.

PELOSI: Green light to the Turks, actions taken that are -- renege on our handshake with the Kurds, and now -- and now we need to have a plan to deal with what happens with ISIS.

As you know, that was the subject of conversation yesterday at the White House. I also pointed out to the president I had concerns that the -- all roads seem to lead to Putin. The Russians have been trying to get a foothold in the Middle East for a very long time unsuccessfully, and now the president has given them that opportunity, with the Kurds reaching out to them for support in Syria.

They have -- the Russians were the beneficiaries of any withholding of assistance or encouragement to the Ukraine. Again, Putin benefits.

The Russians benefited, Putin did, when the president placed some doubt about our commitment to NATO, right from the start of his administration. All roads lead to Putin.

Then the president said, "Well, the reason I'm taking the troops of Syria is because I promised in the campaign to bring the troops home."

My question to him was, "Is Saudi Arabia home? Is Saudi Arabia home? Why are our troops going to Saudi Arabia, if you promised to bring them home?"

He said, "Well, the Saudi Arabians are paying for it."

Really, we're putting our troops in harm's way for Saudi Arabia because they're paying? It just didn't add up.

But what it did do was cause a meltdown on the part of the president, because he was unhappy with those questions.

And it was so unfortunate because we really went to -- we were invited to the meeting. The president started off the meeting by saying, "I don't know who asked for this meeting; I didn't." And we're like, "Well, then -- well, let's proceed anyway" and made hopes (ph) -- our real mission was to find out what the plan was. Leader -- Leader Schumer was very forceful in that discussion with the president, "What is the plan?"

"My plan is to protect America," so that's a goal. That's not a plan.

What is the plan for us to be protected from ISIS, now that some of them have been unleashed in Syria because of the green light that the president gave the Turks in reneging on our trustworthiness as an ally with the Kurds, who had been our friends?

So for these and other reasons, that was most unfortunate.

On a separate front (ph) of all of that, I'm very proud of the work of Chairman Adam Schiff. Again, this is so solemn. None of us came to Congress to impeach a president. That's not what we come here to do. And any such actions are to be taken very solemnly and seriously, in my view, prayerfully.

It isn't a unifying thing for the country to go through this. But we do have to go -- we do have to honor our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Our democracy and our republic -- as Benjamin Franklin said, "A republic, if we can keep it." Well, it is our fight to keep it. As I've said to you before, the times have found us to do just that.

So I'm very proud of the work that Adam Schiff is doing. And this isn't about politics or partisanship. It's about patriotism for our country. And I value the way he is conducting this, with equal time on all sides for the questioning that are there.

You've heard from him. We were here together when he presented how he was proceeding. He also sent a letter to members yesterday, which is in the public domain. I'd call it to your attention, in case you have some questions about the professionalism with -- and the fairness with which these hearings are being held.

Any questions?


QUESTION: First, our condolences on Chairman...

PELOSI: Yeah, that's so sad.

QUESTION: (inaudible).

On the impeachment inquiry, how important is it to you not to let this bleed over into an election year?

PELOSI: Well, I think -- I'd really -- thanks for the question. And thank you for your condolences on Elijah.

I keep saying to people, impeachment is about the truth and the Constitution of the United States. Any other issues that you have -- disapproving of the way the president has dealt with Syria, whatever the subject is, reluctance, cowardice to do something about gun violence, the cruelty of not wanting to help our DREAMers and transgendered people, the denial about climate crisis that we face, the list goes on -- that's about the election. That has nothing to do with what is happening in terms of our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution and the facts that might support -- we don't know where this path will take us, but could take us down a further path.

But -- but these two are completely separate.


QUESTION: But at what point (inaudible) "Let's let the voters decide"?

PELOSI: Who said that?

QUESTION: No (ph), at what point might you say, "Let's just let the voters decide"?

PELOSI: No, no. We -- the voters are not going to decide whether we honor our oath of office; they already decided that in the last election.

Yes, ma'am (ph)?


QUESTION: Republican Leader Mitch McConnell seems to think that an impeachment trial in the Senate could wrap up before the end of the year.

PELOSI: I have no idea.

QUESTION: Does that seem unrealistic to you?

PELOSI: I have no idea. The path -- the timeline will depend on the truth line. And that's...


PELOSI: Chad (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

On the Syria policy (ph), this is sort of a two-part question. Number one, do you think we would have gotten into this question about (inaudible) in Syria? Because there has not been AUMF since 2001...

PELOSI: Right.

QUESTION: ... 2002. Second part (inaudible) at this point, Nancy (ph) was asking, is there -- because you said yesterday, it's dangerous, what the president had done in the...


QUESTION: ... that this could bleed over into the impeachment...


QUESTION: ... because it's such a grave problem?

PELOSI: No, no, no.

Let me answer your second question first. When I became speaker the first time -- well, maybe not, but -- there were those who are here who...


QUESTION: I was here.

PELOSI: OK. Who knew that people -- hundreds of thousands of people in the street, asking me to impeach President Bush because of the war in Iraq and because of the misrepresentation that was made at the time as to why we should be going into Iraq.

That's a policy matter. That -- that isn't, in my view, an impeachment matter. And I said if they had any case to make, they could make it, but I was not going down that path.

Again, what could be worse than the war in Iraq and the misrepresentations that were made to the American people? And as you know, says I, I was the senior Democrat on Intelligence, I had the Adam Schiff job, the one he had before becoming chairman in the majority.

But in the minority, I was a member of the Gang of Four. I saw all the intelligence. I knew that there was no intelligence to support the threat that the administration was putting forth. And I said at the time, "The intelligence does not support the threat."

Senator Graham of Florida was actually the chairman -- because they had the majority at the time, the Democrats -- the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. And he came to the same conclusion. We both voted no on the war.

So -- so I -- I think that the war in Iraq is one of the worst mistakes in our country. I did not think it was about impeachment. It's about policy, and that's a different debate.

Impeachment is about the law, not being above the law, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, about honoring our oaths -- honoring our oath of office.


QUESTION: Thank you very much.

On the USMCA, you just said that a short time ago, you're making progress every day.

PELOSI: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Leader McConnell, however, has charged in recent days, as has the president, Speaker Pelosi is still blocking the USMCA because Democrats have impeachment obsession in blocking urgent work for American families.

QUESTION: So much of the work of negotiation here, Speaker Pelosi, kind of happening behind closed doors. Are there ways for Democrats to better convey the good-faith progress to prevent the president and Republican leaders from charging that you are trying to block (inaudible)?

PELOSI: Anybody else want to put all the Republican talking points on the table? Because we could just get rid of them all at once.

QUESTION: Well, I get that (inaudible).


PELOSI: Let me just respond to the second -- let me respond to your question, rather than their misrepresentations, OK?

First and foremost, might be interesting to you, but a negotiation of this nature and -- and the administration would support this, not only support it but it's what they want.

These negotiations are not in the public domain. The exchange of -- of -- of proposals in this or that is -- I can't even share them with members. In fact, I have a hard time getting some of it myself from time to time, and when I do, it has (ph) "Pelosi" written across it so that should it -- should it go astray or I try to copy it to show anybody, that wouldn't happen.

So these are confidential backs-and-forth, and -- and I -- I can honestly say that I think every day we are becoming closer. The meeting yesterday with the trade representative with some of our task force. I think they're going to meet again later today perhaps one more time. And then we should just see that the issue is do we have enforcement?

So the people who are saying it don't know what they're talking about, or have a different agenda that they want to present. But we feel very good about being on a path to yes. We're not there yet because we don't have the enforceability assurance that we will need to have. But we have some good things in the bill. It's only a list of good things unless it can be enforced.


QUESTION: ... environmental standards continue to be the Democrats (inaudible)?

PELOSI: There are three things. The overarching is enforceability of the whole thing. And then the three concerns, as we have discussed before, are environment -- the environmental concerns, and as a Californian, I can tell you firsthand, that needs to be addressed, but all the border states could probably tell you that as well, vis-a-vis southern -- the southern border.

The -- but the agreement has to be respectful of global agreements that are there on the environment, and as we get -- this is -- this is about what is realistic that we can get done.

In terms of the prescription drug, that's a very big issue in our caucus, and we hope that we can resolve that.


And then the third are the workers' -- workers' rights and the rest. We don't see a situation where diminishing the prospects for workers in Mexico is any good for our -- for our hemisphere, so we want that to be very fair in that regard.

Yes, ma'am?


QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Speaker. And again, condolences on Chairman...


QUESTION: There was a picture yesterday that was taken at the White House of you standing at the table (ph) speaking to the president. Can you tell us a little bit about that picture, and what was being said at that time?

PELOSI: No, I -- I think I was excusing myself from the room.

I -- I think I told you what the -- my -- the -- the thought that I conveyed to the president in the meet about the 354-to-60 vote in the House disapproving of his Syria actions, A; B, my concerns all roads leading to Putin, and if the president is saying, "I said I -- during the campaign I was going to take the troops home," then is home Saudi Arabia? That will be about the essence of either sitting down or standing up, what my conversation was with the president.

PELOSI: But most important part of the meeting was what is the plan, and that was part of my report on the legislation on the floor. What is the plan for fighting ISIS now that we had reneged on our handshake with Kurds to do that fighting for us there? And that was strongly presented by Senator Schumer.

So one or the other of those things, what was being said -- I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices because, oh, they come out and say, "Oh, this happened and that happened," you're like, "We must have been at two different meetings because that didn't happen."

But nonetheless, then you get these kind of questions and the rest that -- no fidelity to fact. But it's true that that's what they said. It is true that that's what they said. So...


PELOSI: ... I don't know what that -- at that moment, I was probably saying all roads lead to Putin.


PELOSI: Yes, ma'am. Last question.

QUESTION: Madam Speaker, as you pointed out, (inaudible) Adam Schiff sent out the letter yesterday...


QUESTION: ... describing the process that he's going through in his committee right now, saying there could be public testimony ahead.

PELOSI: That's right.

QUESTION: I'm curious, how will you determine, and when in the future, rules for this process including whether the president will be allowed to have counsel or representation down the road as part of impeachment?

PELOSI: Well, you know what? This is a matter for the committee. And the rules are -- we have rules of the House that govern all of this. But I think it's really important to reiterate the following.

The process that the House is going through right now would be the equivalent of a special counsel in case of -- whatever the name was at the time for the Clinton or Jaworski and Sirica, way back when, before you all were born, for the Nixon.

So they had prosecutors who were doing the investigation, and they were not doing that in the public domain. And so this is the part where we gather evidence.

And, as I've said to the president over and over, if you have some -- I said this to him on the phone the day that we made our announcement about proceeding with the -- the inquiry -- that, "We've asked for your taxes. If you have nothing to hide, show us your taxes. We've asked for Mazar (sic), your accounting. If you have nothing to hide, show us that. We've asked for this, that and the other thing. If you have nothing to hide, we're giving you opportunity to show that you have nothing to hide, but what you're doing is just going further up into the courts."

Now, last Friday, we have five court decisions -- five court decisions in our favor. Another one this week.


PELOSI: So in terms of the law this is about the Congress, the courts and the Constitution. And in terms of the Congress our responsibility is to fairly get the information according to the rules. And Mr. Schiff is running that show for us now.

Thank you all very much.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right there.

A lot to cover. Let me bring in CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson. And CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger, who, of course, is also a national security correspondent for the "New York Times."

Gloria, where Nancy Pelosi kind of ended off there in talking about what Democrats say was a meltdown from the president in the White House meeting yesterday, a lot of the question has been since both sides put out that picture that we probably have an image of it we can put up to remind folks from that meeting. Nancy Pelosi now says it was her excusing herself and at that moment she thinks she was saying all roads lead to Putin.

What's your take on after a colossal break down in any hint of communication that still remained between the two sides there going in. What now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to know. I mean it's very clear people had different reads. I thought it was interesting she said maybe we ought to record these meetings because we come out and we effectively live in alternate universes.

She made it clear --


BORGER: Yes. And she made it very clear why the president was upset with her because she pointed out that he lost his Republicans by a 2-1 margin in the House on the vote on Syria, that she had said to him, OK, all roads lead to Putin.

And then she talked about troops in Saudi Arabia. And the president said, well, the president said apparently, well, I promised during the campaign I want all the troops home, and she said, well, what about our troops in Saudi Arabia. Is that home? And clearly he was incensed by this. And she didn't go into the back and forth about name-calling.

But it does seem there's been a break down. And the president starts a meeting by saying, I don't know why you're here, I didn't want you to be here. So what kind of communication is that? I think there's no communication.

Honestly, she wants a trade agreement, but it's clear to me that these folks have come to an impasse and I don't know how this gets resolved.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

David, and this was all over Syria. Nancy Pelosi and all the leaders have said impeachment was not brought up at all during this meeting. And on the issue of Syria, there's a bigger question going on right

now as the situation devolves. And something you've been covering for a long time. And when you look at the Middle East, what the options of the possible consequences or simply results from this one move by President Trump to pull back U.S. Forces from the border and then remove them?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Kate, first, to pick up on Gloria's good point about that exchange the speaker reported having with the president where she raises Saudi Arabia, where, of course, they announced last Friday they're sending 2,000 troops, his answer was fascinating. His answer was the Saudis are paying for those troops.


So the president's policy seems to be we're going to pull back from the Middle East unless we are paid back as mercenaries to act as a defense force.

BOLDUAN: Yes, unbelievable.

SANGER: Which, you know, sounds fairly consistent with things the president has said before.

But to your broader question, so before the president had his conversation with president Erdogan of Turkey two weekends ago, there were a series of predictions about what would happen if the United States took a very small force, just really 50 or 60 people on the border, and removed them.

And that series of predictions included the military moves, that it would benefit the Russians, that it would benefit Assad, the dictator in Syria, that it would benefit the Iranians, and that it would betray the Kurds.

What -- we almost came through. What we missed was the size of the carnage that has taken place. And I think that the president --


BOLDUAN: And how fast it's happening.

SANGER: The size and speed of the carnage, I would agree, Kate.

Rarely do you see a moment where a single presidential decision results in such an instantaneous result and one that seems to be at such a disadvantage to American interest.

And the reason the president was so testy is even his own party has abandoned him on why the Russians are occupying territory that we occupied a week and a half ago, why the Iranians are moving in, and why this has so strengthened Assad.

And I think this is what happens when you have a White House that has no process and no way of laying out what the options are and the way the president absorbs and acts on.

BOLDUAN: And even if it is hard and complex to track the history and what's happening on the ground there, what you just said, David, is something I think is important for folks to hear one more time.

Territory ground that the United States occupied just last week, the Russians now occupy. That's all you need to know to figure out how much this has changed and how quickly.

And with that I'm wondering what are you hearing in your reporting? The concept of course correcting at this point, can they even do that?

SANGER: There's a partial course correction they could reach. Right now we have vice president Pence who we're waiting to hear from in Ankara and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, meeting with President Erdogan.

But what are they asking for? They're asking for a cease-fire. That would certainly be a great thing because we'd stop seeing the level of killing going on. But it would also enshrine the gains that the Russians and that Assad and that the Turks have made.

They are not asking for Turkey to come back over its border and bring its troops back home. That's what we asked the Russians to do after their incursions into Crimea. They didn't do it.

But it would be an interesting question. Would we lift the sanctions for Turkey that the president imposed last week simply for a cease- fire, not for a return to the status quo ante?

BOLDUAN: That's a fascinating question hopefully someone will ask when Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence will be speaking at a conference within this hour. We think it will be happening following their meetings in Turkey.

Nia, covering the -- I think it crystallizes all of the fast-moving moments and things happening in the last 24 hours.

The range of what was discussed in that press conference with Nancy Pelosi as she started off speaking about Elijah Cummings and talking about the Congressman, the chairman of civil rights champion, who passed overnight. And she said when he lived the American dream and he wanted that for everyone else. That is really striking statement.

And what are you hearing from folks on just the impact of the loss of Elijah Cummings in the present and in the future?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, he was a lion of the House, right? A voice for moral clarity. You heard Nancy Pelosi talk about, even before he got to Congress and when he was in the House of delegates in Maryland, when he got up to speak, people listened.

And of course, it was the same in the House as well. He was the son of sharecroppers, I think, was born in South Carolina and he ended up being a graduate of Howard University here in Washington, Phi Beta Kappa.


And you saw him, as chairman of the Oversight Committee during the Cohen hearings. I think probably that's where people will remember him most recently, really, again, being a voice of clarity, moral authority and real insight --