Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Chairman Adam Schiff, Chairman Jerry Nadler, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Chair Zoe Lofgren, Chairman John Yarmuth and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon for a press conference on the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a sweeping set of democratic reforms to protect against presidential corruption and abuses of power. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of the state of – great State of Pennsylvania, for your tremendous leadership to protect our democracy.
My apologies for being late. I was on the Mall, where we had over 675,000 white flags fluttering in the wind, as the number of people who have died from COVID. It was a work of art. And, as you know, art is open to interpretation. We didn’t want white flags to be surrender. We want them to be fluttering as a sign of life of the people who were here, lives lost, families missing them at the dinner table and the rest. And we’re dangerously close to 700,000, which, by some miracle, we hope we never achieve. But we’re making the point that we have now surpassed the number of people who died – surpass the Spanish Flu 100 years ago.
You would think with science, and awareness and communication, that we would have done better. But the rejection of science and the misrepresentation in communication has taken us to a place we are. Thank God for President Biden for putting us on a different course, where over [180 million] people have been fully vaccinated and more vaccinations, that’s back on the uptick. That’s my reason for being late.
My reason for being here is as simple as the title: Protecting Our Democracy Act. And I wanted to thank the mover and shaker of this, primarily, Congressman Adam – Mr. Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Smith – Schiff. See, we got our Adams here. Smith is on the Floor shortly. Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff has been protecting our democracy ever since he stepped into the public arena, more recently, more conspicuously, in protecting our democracy from destroying the separation of power.
I’m honored to be here with Mr. Nadler, who has been a champion on this issue. I mean, such a long time, well before Congress, and when he speaks about it, he’s such an inspiration. Carolyn – Congresswoman Maloney from the Oversight Committee, which has jurisdiction here. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a leader in the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of her own Committee, House Administration. And Mr. Yarmuth, the Chair of the Budget Committee. He’s a very busy man all the time.
He has more hours in the day than the rest of us, right now.
Chair Yarmuth. Not more than you, Madam Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi. He said he’s happy to be here.
Under the mask. And I’m happy to be here with each and every one of you, and to represent so many in our Caucus who find this legislation absolutely essential. It didn’t begin just now. They had been working on this for a while. It had its resistance before. We think that we will be successful now.
The separation of power is the genius of the Constitution of the United States. It is exquisitely beautiful, and it is the essence of a democracy. And in these provisions in the bill – which I know had been expertly addressed, so I’ll associate myself with that expertise – shows you why we have to codify this, turn it into law so that no president of whatever party can ever assume that he or she has the power to usurp the power of the other branches of government. And it is specific in its remedies and its inoculations against future abuse.
So, I – well, being Italian American, we take special ownership of the separation of power, because we think it was inspired – an inspiration to Thomas Jefferson when he visited Italy, when he was in, an ambassador in Europe. So, apart from everything else –
Apart from anything else, the exquisite, as I said, exquisite beauty of our Constitution is that no person or no branch of government – the separation of power, just is a remarkable feature of a democracy, not only led by our country, but copied by other countries. We must protect it. And in doing so, protect our democracy.
Congratulations to all of you for bringing this forward now and hopefully soon to the Floor. Thank you, Mr. – I yield the Floor now the distinguished Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Chairman, Adam Schiff.
Chairman Schiff. Thank you, Madam Speaker, and we’d be pleased to take your questions. Yes?
Q: The bill reads like a rap sheet of Trump era abuses. Republicans, you know, frequently cite what they see as the rebukes of Trump as justifications not to vote for certain legislation. So, do you think that this can pass the Senate, where the filibuster requires ten Republican votes to pass legislation?
Chairman Schiff. Well, one step at a time. We’ll be, I hope, taking this up in the House this fall. And it has very strong support here on the House. It should have strong support in the Senate. There are many provisions within this bill, components of this bill that had primary Republican authors in the past.
And I think there ought to be a view among GOP Members of the House Conference as well as the Senate that these are good government reforms, no matter who the president is.
Now, I realize that many Republican Members live in fear of angry statements from the former President. And that when we introduced this bill, last session, certainly chilled Republicans from supporting it. I would hope that now that that Administration has receded into the past, that Republican Members will recognize, as Democrats do, that it shouldn’t matter who the President of the United States is. We should want that President not to be able to abuse that office to enrich themselves. We should want them to maintain independence from the Justice Department, not use it as their own private law firm, not use it to go after their adversaries. We should want both Democrats and Republicans to revert to form when both parties strongly supported whistleblowers and strongly supported inspectors general. Some of the leading champions in the Senate were champions of inspector generals and their independence.
So, we would hope that as time passes between this Administration and the last that Republicans recognize, as we do, the imperative of restoring these protections for our democracy.
Q: Madam Speaker, you will be meeting the President of Angola in a few hours, I think. Would you share with us your expectation for the meeting and what the Angolan people can expect in terms of results from this meeting with the President?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I’ll be happy to answer that question after we meet. I’ll be joined by Congresswoman Karen Bass, Madam Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
But right now, we’d like to just stay focused on what we’re here about. And I’ll have some comments later. And I’m very excited about the meeting and looking forward to it very much.
Q: Can you characterize the current White House’s involvement in this bill. Are they supportive of every piece of it, and what changes did they recommend?
Chairman Schiff. They have been engaging with us for months now very constructively. They have made any number of suggestions for different components in terms of concerns over executive prerogative, and we have made every good faith effort we can to meet the concerns that have been expressed.
I can’t say we’ve reached agreement on each and every one, but we made changes, for example, to some of the provisions that would individually penalize people for refusing Congressional subpoenas, to provide that, that in the case where there’s an explicit claim of privilege, where there is an explicit instruction to someone that – that – that could be stipulated to the court.
And in other ways we have tweaked some of the provisions to try to accommodate those concerns. For example, with respect to the independence of the Justice Department, we have redacted a provision that would require internal communications.
So, we, we have accommodated their feedback, but we’re not in complete accord. And we will continue to be working with the Executive, as you might expect. We take a, you know, Article I perspective to these issues. They take an Article II perspective.
But – but President Biden has acknowledged the – the central importance of these kinds of reforms, both during his campaign and during his presidency. And so we expect that we will continue to refine the provision as it moves along.
Q: The Speaker talked about separation of powers. You just kind of alluded to this a little bit. Is the existence of this bill a kind of acknowledgment that the modern presidency has gotten too powerful?
Chairman Schiff. Well, I think it is, and I invite my colleagues to add their thoughts. We have seen, over the last several decades, an accretion of power by the Executive. But what was also very revealing in the last four years is that so many of our current checks and balances really depended on Members of Congress of both parties having a deep abiding conviction of support for their own institution, that each would jealously guard their own institution.
And that broke down when Members were more devoted to the personal president than they were to the institution. And that’s made, I think, many of these reforms necessary. But – but you’re right. In innumerable ways, there has been this slow accretion of power within the Executive, and this is, I hope, the beginning of a corrective.
And Madam Speaker, did you address that as well? And my colleagues?
Speaker Pelosi. What I would just say that you just said the slow, slow, but it was quite rapidly under the previous President.
When we talk about this legislation, we’re talking about restoring ethics and the rule of law. We’re talking about establishing key safeguards. Our Founders, our Founders, in their wisdom, had a system of checks and balances and separation of powers. And they had guardrails for the president, and one of them was the Congress of the United States. They could foresee a rogue president – human nature – but they, I don’t think, could foresee a rogue president and a rogue Congress, and a rogue Congress. And that’s what we had. And again, those safeguards need to be there in preventing an assault on our democracy by whatever safeguards we have for whistleblowers and the rest. And we saw in the last Administration, the abuse of power in terms of the use of pardon and the rest without the, shall we say, routine that fairness would require. So, again, to restore the vision of our Founders, the government formed by the people. Thank you for restoring our democracy. But I agree that there’s been a slow movement, but it picked up steam in the last presidency.
Chairman Nadler. I want to add that – you talk about the slow accretion of power. Just one example: Congressional subpoenas. Congress [can’t] function without getting information from the Executive Branch. And so, we’ve used subpoenas for that purpose, as you do in civil law. But the last Administration simply refused to comply with subpoenas. The President announced he would defy all subpoenas. That’s a quote: ‘I will defy all subpoenas.’ And he instructed all his subordinates to defy all subpoenas.
And we found that we couldn’t enforce our subpoenas, because they would run out the clock. The – you go into court with a subpoena, and it would go on and on and on and run out the clock so that the subpoena was useless and Congress couldn’t get the information it needed. So, part of this bill is legislation to say you can’t do that. It’s legislation to put very strict time limits on the subpoenas. That’s just one example of the kind of accretion of power – and especially under this last Administration – that we have to put an end to, and that we will.
Chairwoman Maloney. And very briefly, the inspectors general whose job it is to oversee any suspected wrongdoing – anyone who started an investigation was removed, just removed from their position with no reason except that they had started an investigation that they didn’t like. And the same thing with – you saw it with whistleblowers. They need to be protected, and they ferociously went after whistleblowers.
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