Good afternoon from San Jose! Our morning sessions are now over, and it’s on to our lunchtime keynote: Ask the Leader with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. This is former (and hopefully future) Speaker Pelosi’s third appearance at Netroots Nation. She previously took questions at NN ’08 in Austin and NN ’10 in Las Vegas.
I’m going to try to capture the questions from moderator Zerlina Maxwell and paraphrase Pelosi’s answers so they’re readable to those of you not watching the livestream. I’ll throw in links as appropriate to add context.
FIRST QUESTION: Recently, we’ve seen the House fail to come to agreement on a farm bill. When we get into bigger bills, what’s going to happen?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: What happened on the floor [of the U.S. House] was just really inept. They had $20 billion in destructive cuts (like to SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). They keep blaming their failure on us. They should take responsibility for what they’re going to do. It’s amateurish to blame it on somebody else. Sixty-one Republicans voted against their own farm bill, including fifty-nine who had voted for a mean-spirited amendment to make it worse. They couldn’t even pass their own bad bill.
SECOND QUESTION: Electing more women could solve the problem of ineptitude in the halls of power. What is your advice to a young woman who wants to go into public service?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: We can’t just celebrate every time we elect a few more women. We need more than incremental victories. We need to kick the door in. We have to reduce the amount of money in politics and increase the civility. We need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens Corporations United. We need a reinvigorated political discourse – a discourse that isn’t demeaning to women. We need a government that facilitates decisions driven by the many, not the money. If you want to run for office and you’re a woman, be yourself. Be authentic. If you don’t win the first time, don’t be discouraged. You will win eventually. If you’re a mom, put that right up there as a major credential.
THIRD QUESTION: When you see stories about people committing suicide after they’ve been sexually assaulted, does it make you angry, or sad, or both? What can be done to help victims of sexual assault, so they don’t feel blamed?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: At least now, some of these stories are out in the open. The situation absolutely must change. We believe the process (for reporting and responding to instances of sexual assault) must be taken out of the chain of command. We need systemic, structural change… good intentions aren’t enough. With more women in power, we could make more progress on these issues.
FOURTH QUESTION: What about a discharge petition to bring ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] to the floor?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: When we took over the majority, we had a number of priorities. We did hate crimes legislation first – and I fought to ensure that protection for transgender people stayed in the bill – and then we were going to go ENDA, but the community wanted us to do Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal first, so we made that our priority. The Republicans wouldn’t even vote for the defense authorization bill at the end of 2010 because it included repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I had to go to CPC members and ask for their votes for the defense authorization bill, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten DADT repealed. We could do a discharge petition on ENDA, but we don’t have the votes to pass it in the House. We’re eager to see what happens in the courts next week on marriage equality.
FIFTH QUESTION: What is your response to those who feel betrayed by the Obama administration on civil liberties issues like NSA spying?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: What President Obama is doing is not the same as what George W. Bush did. The two administrations have had different policies on the collection of signals intelligence and surveillance. We can do more, though. Representative Adam Schiff has a bill to make the FISA court’s proceedings transparent. [At this point, Pelosi was interrupted by a Netroots Nation attendee who stood up and began yelling "No secret law!" He was eventually escorted out of the hall after he refused to stop being disruptive]. Now that the public knows more about these surveillance activities (thanks to Edward Snowden’s leak), it gives us opportunities to press for a better balance between privacy and security.
SHOUTED AUDIENCE QUESTION (SIXTH QUESTION): And what about outsourcing of our national security!?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: “I am so with you, babe!” (That’s an actual quote!) I’m naming names (i.e. Booz Allen Hamilton). We need to reverse this dangerous outsourcing trend, not just in the national security sector but in other sectors as well. We should not be participating in a destructive global race to the bottom.
SEVENTH QUESTION: What can we do to help you get the speakership back?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: It’s not about me getting the gavel again, it’s about Democrats reclaiming the House majority so we can work on priorities that most Americans care about. When President Obama came in, the Republicans just shut down. They were for nothing. And when they got the House majority, it was even worse. Nothing, and never. They’re now interested in an immigration bill, at least in the Senate, because of the outcome of the 2012 election.
You have to respect the Republicans for this: They act upon their beliefs. And they do not believe in government. And that’s why every day we are voting on stuff that is goofy and makes no sense. President Washington, when he left office, cautioned against political parties that were at war with their own government. And that’s what the Republicans are. The 2012 election was urgent and important, but now the 2014 election is urgent and important. We need seventeen seats to regain the majority in the House. The DCCC has outraised everyone so far…. we’re committed to standing behind our candidates with small dollar donations. President Obama has promised to help and put his machine’s resources behind us. I’m hopeful about the election. If it were today, I think we’d win, but it’s not today, and we have a lot of work to do. We must overturn Citizens Corporations United.
EIGHTH QUESTION: What are House Democrats doing to ensure a humane immigration bill comes out of the U.S. House of Representatives?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: Immigrants make America more American. We have to treat people with respect. Luis Gutierrez and Zoe Lofgren have been working hard for years on this issue, and the bipartisan bill they’ve been crafting is the best vehicle we have right now. If Boehner would go with that, it’d be a good start. Unfortunately, it looks like House Republicans are pursuing a different approach. In the House, nobody is elected on a statewide basis and many Republicans simply aren’t concerned about the need for immigration reform, because they don’t need the votes of communities of color to get elected.
FINAL QUESTION: Why is John Boehner crying all of the time? If you behaved like that, do you think people would react differently?
RESPONSE FROM PELOSI: I don’t know why he cries all of the time. If a woman leader was doing that, can you imagine how she would be mocked and judged? But we can’t worry about him. We have to worry about the pain he and his caucus are causing to the American people. When we had the majority, we tried to do transformative legislation, like the Patient Protection Act. Even during George W. Bush’s tenure, we tried to improve people’s lives – for example, by increasing the minimum wage. It used to be that worker pay went up with an increase in productivity and profits, but not any more. CEOs are doing extremely well, but working families aren’t seeing any of that success. We are focused on ending that income inequality, that disparity, as Democrats.
And with that, we’re done!