House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Conversation with Robert Costa

MR. COSTA: Good afternoon. I'm Bob Costa, a national political reporter at The Washington Post. I'm joined today by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. She is the nation's top Democrat, who's leading her party's push on police reform, health care, and oversight of the Trump administration.

Speaker Pelosi, welcome back to Washington Post Live.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you. Thank you, Bob. My pleasure to be with you.

MR. COSTA: I appreciate your time on this important and sad day, one month since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. We'll cover a lot of topics today, but let's begin there, Speaker Pelosi. The House is voting today on your bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It's an expansive bill. How many Republicans do you expect to join you?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I have absolutely no idea. I'm the last person to ask how many Republications will vote for a Democratic bill. But I am proud of the consensus that we have in the House Democratic Caucus. This is an historic day for us. We began this morning on the steps of the Capitol, led by Karen Bass, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chair of the Crime Subcommittee, Judiciary, along with Jerry Nadler and members of [audio distortion][A1] of the House Democratic Caucus, to present not only the legislation but a perspective on why it was so important. So, we may get some Republican votes. My understanding is that the White House is whipping against the bill, which is unfortunate, but we'll pass the bill.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, the protests continue nationwide about racial injustice, calling for political change. Will this piece of legislation satisfy the activists in the streets?

SPEAKER PELOSI: This legislation addresses the concerns that they are expressing. And, aren't we proud of them? So many people, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, day in and day out, week in and week out.

I'll just say it this way: When George--well, George's brother came to testify before the Judiciary Committee, and I was meeting with him before. He said to me, "Madam Speaker, for George's daughter, so that his name will be always remembered, will you name the bill after George Floyd?" I said, "I'll recommend that to the Judiciary Committee and to the Black Caucus, if you believe that our legislation is worthy of George Floyd's name." And he said, "We do." And they did name the bill for George Floyd.

So, yes, I think it addresses the concerns of the family and those in the streets. It's not the end. There are many other things we want to do and other bills that we will bring up, but in terms of justice in policing, this is the appropriate measure.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, you say it's not the end, but you also said Republicans, the White House are whipping against your bill. Is it perhaps the end for significant change on this front, in Congress, at least until after the election?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope not. I do think it's time for the Senate to sit down in a bipartisan way and come up with a real bill. What they had presented took some of the language from our bill, that's nice, but completely defamed the action contained in the bill. It did nothing, and so it was irreconcilable. You go to conference to reconcile bills, but when we saw what they had that couldn't happen. But they can now work in a bipartisan way to put something together that could be acceptable.

I don't think the street will accept no action, but we cannot--they say, "Oh, why don't you compromise?" Well, we don't want chokeholds. They allow chokeholds. What are we going to compromise on? The number of chokeholds? This is irreconcilable. Some things are just not reconcilable; that's it.

MR. COSTA: Beyond the Confederate statutes and paintings in the Capitol, which you've taken the lead on addressing in Congress, should art depicting slave owners, including our nation's founding fathers, come down in the country?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Are you talking about the patriarch of our country, George Washington? The author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson? No, I don't think they should come down.

I do think, though, that in the Capitol, where we have members of the Confederacy served as Speaker, their painting should come down. I do think that in the Capitol, where we have statutes of the President of the Confederacy, the Vice President of the Confederacy, along with what they said about people in our country, I think they should come out. But it's not about one issue of at the time did they own slaves. It's about what did they do about it.

And then in terms of the military bases, these had nothing--these bases were named years after the Civil War. They were statements of white supremacy. Those names have to go. Even if they're not named something else, their names have to go. I think the President, once again, is on the wrong track by not understanding that you don't glorify white supremacy in our country and have it be perpetuated once it is uncovered.

MR. COSTA: So then to follow up, what's your message to some activists who say the founding fathers, there needs to be a reckoning of some sort, whether it's tearing down their images or just having a conversation? How should this nation handle the issue of slave owners in our founding fathers moving ahead?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I'm very concerned about slavery in our country. I think it's a sin. I also am concerned about what happened to Native Americans in our country. So, we have a list of grievances that are part of the early years of our country, and we do not want that to be continued by glorifying any of the people who perpetrated those injustices.

I would say rather than tearing down and defacing, why don't we just have a review? Have a review in terms of let's take it down safely so that we're not hurting anybody when the statute comes down or costing more money to get rid of it or get rid of the defacing of something that might not--maybe shouldn't have been.

But I think that this--I'm all for it. Let's review this. Why are we glorifying the sins of the past? That doesn't mean that because Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or others were slave owners that we should undermine what they did for our country. These Confederates--Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens--they committed treason against the United States in the name of slavery. I think that's a different story.

But you know what? Subject everything to scrutiny and make a decision, but I do think we should do it in a safer way rather than a more dangerous way.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, let's turn to health care. Republicans keep fighting President Obama's health care law, and now you're moving forward with your own bill to expand health care coverage. How has the pandemic, in your view, affected that debate over that law and the broader health care debate?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, the pandemic, of course, points out the further need for making it more affordable and more accessible. As you know, or can read about it, when we passed the Affordable Care Act, it was named the "Affordable Care Act" because affordability is about accessibility, and that's what was very important.

We can do more. We can do more, and that's what we're doing in this legislation is to increase the number of people who would have access to subsidies, to expand those who would be on Medicaid. And really, so sad that some states would not even accept 100 percent coverage of the match for Medicaid so that people would have access to health care. So when you have a pandemic, and you have people avoiding testing because they don't know if they can afford any treatment that might be necessitated because of that, you're not doing the country any favor at all to follow your ideology at the expense of a good health of the American people.

Can you imagine? Right now, today, the White House is presenting their briefs before the Supreme Court to do away with the pre-existing condition benefit, to do away with access to quality, affordable health care for 20 million people, to do away for benefits for more than 125 million families, maybe 150 million families, to do away--I mean, there are maybe 125, 30 million families with a preexisting condition.

Right now, the White House is in the Supreme Court, saying, we're going to take down that benefit, and while we're at it we're going to take down the--we eliminated the cap so that people would not be confined to a cap on the insurance they would receive, either annually or lifetime cap. Forget that. If you have a child who is born with a pre-existing condition, or a family member, you want them to have the access to the pre-existing condition benefit, and you don't want them limited by any cap in that coverage because those caps, they go very fast.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, the bill does not include a public option. Would that still be--

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah.

MR. COSTA: --of interest for you to pursue in January should--

SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh, yeah. Well, I've always--we have--we have a public option--the option for--a present option in the Affordable Care Act that states could implement their own public option. I myself wanted a public option in the bigger bill. We had it in the House. We didn't get it in the Senate. But that doesn't mean that that isn't positive. I think that the competition that springs from that, and the opportunity that springs from that, is something that we should have.

And that's what elections are about. We can't wait. It's 131 more days, 7 hours, 15 minutes, pretty soon. And so, we're putting together legislation, and this is one piece of it with other legislation that will be ready. We're not measuring for curtains, drapes, whatever you call it, but we are going to be ready when that beautiful opportunity comes.

But in order for that to happen, people have to know the difference that it will make in their lives. In 2018, our agenda was a simple one and a victorious one. Forty seats, 30 of them in Trump-held--districts that Trump had won. For the people, we were going to lower the cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and preserving the pre-existing condition.

MR. COSTA: In all this debate over the--

SPEAKER PELOSI: We reinforced that in this bill.

And then secondly, we want lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, by building infrastructure in a green way, and we do that Tuesday, Wednesday and perhaps Thursday of next week. Cleaner government. Lowering the oppression of some of our voting laws that today, the anniversary of this unfortunate Supreme Court decision, gutting the Voting Rights Act. And that was in H.R. 1, to renew that. H.R. 4, we did it again on passing H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Act. And the manifestation of that better government is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. So, we have all three aspects of our agenda once again appearing in the next several days. And that's what--

MR. COSTA: Let's stay with health care--

[Overlapping speakers]

SPEAKER PELOSI: --[unclear] is all about. Hm? I'm sorry.

MR. COSTA: [Unclear] all these issues. But, Speaker Pelosi, for a moment, on the Corona virus, there's a spike nationwide, including in your home state of California. Who is to blame?

SPEAKER PELOSI: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But what's the use of blaming? Let's pass the Heroes Act, where we have an answer. Testing, testing, testing. Testing, tracing, treating. Isolation. There is a plan there to do that and to have the resources to reach out to--this is a justice issue. Overwhelmingly, people of color have suffered in a disproportionate way by the coronavirus. Why? Because they haven't had access to testing, tracing, treating, and isolation because they don't live in situations that would lend themselves that well except under regiment.

So, the delay, the denial that the President--the hoax, it's going to go away magically, a miracle is going to happen, we'll be in church together by Easter--cause death.

So again, why have after-action review about him? But what we have to do is go forward in a very positive way, and we have that in the Heroes Act that is sitting right there on Mitch McConnell's desk, along with honoring out heroes, state and local government, as well as putting more money in the pockets of the American people with unemployment insurance and direct payments, and resources to have "vote at home" for those who choose to do that.

Do I tell you something about our Heroes Act--

MR. COSTA: Vice President--

SPEAKER PELOSI: --that you should know? Because it's really important.

MR. COSTA: I'd love to have a status update, sure.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah, well, here's the thing. You go to your computer or whatever. Go to Speaker.gov/HeroesAct. Go there and look up any place you've ever lived, gone to school, where you have relatives, friends and all, and see how much money is going into those communities in order to cover their outlays for the coronavirus, their expenses for that and their loss of revenue because of the coronavirus. And you see all that money, all over the country, regardless of the size of the township, the city, county, states of course, and look at that. It's remarkable. It's going to help all of those entities balance their budgets by the end of June.

And realize this, it's one half--

MR. COSTA: Are you talking with the Treasury Secretary about this?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah, I'm not finished. It's one half, one half of the cost of the Republican tax scam that they passed in 2017, adding $2 trillion to the national debt, no stimulus to the economy, only debt heaped on our children, and this is one half of that, and it helps across the country. Look it up and you'll be dazzled by it, and then just think, this costs half of their tax scam with 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent, with no benefit to the rest of us. Just want you to know that.

MR. COSTA: I appreciate that, Speaker, and I didn't mean to interrupt. We're all doing the best we can in this Skype-era or whatever we want to call it, during this pandemic.

Just to follow up on that point you just made, are you in touch with the Treasury Secretary about another round of stimulus? You've been able to broker deals with him before.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Largely, our communication is, shall we say, more general? For example, right now. But they know. They're being communicated by mayors and governors, Democrats and Republicans, across the country about the need--about the need for honoring our heroes in the state and local government. They're being--they are hearing from scientists that we need to test, trace, treat and isolate.

They know from the Chairman of the Fed, and they even know by the Secretary's own statements, that if we do not act, we are going to have a bigger economic problem in our country, if we do not invest now in putting money in people's pocket. And even the Chairman of the Fed said, "Oh, state and local government. They create jobs, and they provide services. I'd recommend that to the--to the Congress."

So, this is self-evident. They'll come around. They know they have to do it. Unfortunately, they are putting doubt in people's minds as to when. But we're going to make sure everybody knows why it hasn't come sooner. And we actually have a piece of the Heroes Act on the floor on Monday; we can do it that way, too.

But anyway, no, I've not had communication directly with the Secretary on this, but they know that they have to do it. And we've gotten a lot accomplished without having to endure certain conversations just by, shall we say, what's in the public domain.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, you certainly watched all the testimony this week about the Attorney General, about the Justice Department. After digesting what you have heard and talking to your members, do you now support at least the consideration of impeachment articles against Attorney General William Barr?

SPEAKER PELOSI: One hundred and thirty-one days from now we will have the solution to many problems, one of them being Barr. Anyone who saw that testimony will know that Barr is a mess, is a disgrace to the Department of Justice. I've been talking about that for a while, and last year around this time we had a motion on the floor to hold him in contempt, civil and criminal contempt. So, he is contemptible; there's no question about that. But at this point, let's solve our problems by going to the polls and voting on election day, 131 days from now.

MR. COSTA: Following up on this idea of accountability, Ambassador John Bolton has this book out. He talks a lot about Attorney General Barr, a lot about President Trump. He's refused to testify before. Would you like to call him this summer to hear from him, on the record, under oath?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, my--I consult with my chairmen about how they want their committees to approach different problems. But he, too, is a disgrace. He chose money over patriotism. He decided to hold out to sell his book rather than provide what he knew to be so about the problems of the President of the United States. How can you characterize him [unclear] so varied.

But that fact is, is that, when, for him--because he always wants to curry favor with the far right and keep his connection there. He says, "They should have called me." Yeah, we would--we'd still be waiting for the courts to determine whether he should come before them. That was a good stalling tactic. "Why don't you just wait until after the election to hear from me?" No. We proceeded. I'm very proud. Oh, my god, could anybody be prouder than our--about our managers, Adam Schiff and the others? They did such a remarkable job.

But he chose a cash register over democracy in terms of accountability and transparency in government.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi--

SPEAKER PELOSI: I think it's disgraceful.

MR. COSTA: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Let's finish here on the campaign. How many seats do you expect House Democrats to gain this year, if any?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Any. Yeah, any. I don't know how many. Some of the most doomsayer people say under 10. All I want to do is hold our majority, grow it, but grow it in a way that also wins the Senate for the Democrats so that we're choosing our races in a strategic way, that coordinates with the Senate effort and governorships and certainly the electoral college, all about the electoral college.

So, I'm not taking anything for granted in terms of House Democrats because, as I mentioned, 30 of our seats will--seats that Donald Trump had won in and still retains some level of popularity. Don't ask me how or why, but that's--God bless those people for their interest in their government.

But nonetheless, we want to be sure that we have good solid majorities for our front-liners, which are people who won last time, so they come back strong, that are red to blue. So many women candidates, I'm very proud of that, will enhance our number. And we'll be strong. But we want to do so, as I say, strategically, so it not only wins the House in a strong way, but it also helps win the Senate and the electoral college.

And I'll probably never tell you how many I think we're going to win. I'll let you know that 131 days from now.

MR. COSTA: I'll follow up about that. Speaker, are you frustrated about Representative Ocasio-Cortez and her endorsement of Democratic challengers?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, not at all. She's a valued member of the Congress. I think that it was sad that Eliot--well, we don't know what the results are for Eliot Engel, but that that is in doubt. She's a very valued member. But Eliot Engel would want--he loves his constituents, he loves his district, and he would want the person who represents them to be well received in the Congress. And we will do that whether it is Eliot or the challenger.

MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden is considering some House Democrats, including Representative Demings of Florida, Representative Bass, your colleague from California. I know you don't want to meddle in that process, but would you like to see Vice President Biden pick a House Democrat?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I think it's good that he's considering Congressional Democrats, including members of the Senate as well, or a particular member of the Senate as well, Kamala Harris. You know what? I think that I have great confidence in Joe Biden. He's going to be a great President, and whoever he chooses is who I am excited about. I just--I love them all. I think we have just such a--we're so rich with great talent. Any one of them would be great, whether they're in Congress or they're not in Congress.

I just have one criterion. I want him to pick the person who makes sure that he wins. And I know that any one of them would serve our country well as Vice President with Joe Biden as President of the United States and whatever beyond that. So, they're all great. Just win, baby.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, will you go the convention in Milwaukee?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Either that or I'll stay home in California. I don't know what--they just put out the format for what it will be, and so if they want me to be in Milwaukee, I'll be there. But I do know that they're going to be having--from what I've heard, they're going to be having the votes coming from important places in the state. I'm thinking Golden Gate Bridge. I'm sure the Southern Californians are thinking something else. So, we'll see how that goes, but I'll be available, whatever serves the purpose.

I'm always happy to be home, and we have the largest delegation. You know, the California delegation. So, I'll be proud to stand there with them as we announce all of those delegates for Joe Biden for President of the United States and for Vice President of the United States, whomever.

MR. COSTA: We've received many, many notes from our readers at The Post, Speaker Pelosi, including one from Ellen Toplin [phonetic] of Pennsylvania. She hit a theme that was quite noticeable in our inbox. Here's her question: Are you concerned that if Vice President Biden wins President Trump will challenge the results and refuse to concede?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, I don't think so. But just to be prepared, I would say, just win big because he will try to question the certification of this event.

No, I don't think so. I mean, you know my opinion of the President. I don't have to go into that. But even with that opinion of the President, I think that he will respect the results of an election. And even if he didn't, that the henchman around him would understand that he would have to respect results of the election.

No, I think--I don't--I don't--you know, you have to be prepared for everything. I take nothing for granted. Own the ground, so you turn out and vote. Message with the most clarity and connection to people and their aspirations. Just make every day count. No underutilized resources. No wasted time. No regrets the day after the election. Just fight it out every single day, 131 of them.

It will probably take a few more days to count the votes. Maybe. I don't know. But--but no regrets the day after the election. I believe that he would understand the office that he holds requires him to step aside. Having said that, be prepared for everything. Hope for the best; be prepared for the worst.

MR. COSTA: Final question, Speaker Pelosi. I know your time is valuable, and I appreciate it. Let's say the Democrats do win big and you hold onto your House majority, the Democrats win the Senate and the White House. What would be your first priority in early 2021, policy-wise, in that scenario?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Our first priority will be what it's always been, the first priority in America's households, health care. It's a health issue. It's also a financial health issue. And so that would be to remove all doubt that we're moving to health care for all Americans. Affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans.

But as I said before, for the people, our agenda is about lower health care costs, bigger paychecks by creating good-paying jobs, and our country having many more people participate in the prosperity of our country, and cleaner government. So, it's--they sort of all go together.

But health care is a financial--a health issue and a financial health issue as well, and that's why it has been such a focus for all of us, and that's why it's really hard to understand why the President of the United States has made it a priority to go to court to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care, making it more costly for others and the rest. It's just not shared values. But it is our value, and as Martin Luther King said, of all the forms of inequality, health care is the most inhuman--he said, inhuman--because people could die.

MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi, thank you for your time this afternoon.

SPEAKER PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you, Bob. Nice being with you.

MR. COSTA: And thank you all for joining us here at Washington Post Live. We really appreciate you taking the time.

Tomorrow we’re going to have a program on the toll first responders are paying in the fight against the coronavirus. And next week on Monday, my colleague, Jonathan Capehart, he will have a discussion with Stacey Abrams, the former legislative leader in Georgia and author, and The Post Live will also welcome William Flynn, the new President and CEO of Amtrak. We hope you can register for those events and other events we’re holding throughout the summer at WashingtonPostLive.com.

And for now, we appreciate you joining this conversation with Speaker Pelosi, the nation's top Democrat, and we will see you soon. For now, though, I'm Robert Costa. Good afternoon.

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