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Pelosi on COVID-19 testing, FISA bill and whether to hold in-person convention

Lawmakers agree struggling Americans need another economic relief package due to the pandemic’s fallout. But congressional Republicans and Democrats differ over who should receive that assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joins Judy Woodruff to discuss a new House proposal for COVID-19 testing, being more “prescriptive” about how federal aid is spent and whether to hold an in-person convention.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Here in Washington, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree another economic relief package is needed to help struggling Americans deal with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

    But Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are divided over who should receive that help and how much the government should spend.

    Joining us now, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

    Madam Speaker, thank you very much for joining us.

    The American people right now are looking at, if you will, a battle between you and the Democrats, arguing, we need more help for the unemployed, we need more help for those front-line workers employed by state and local governments.

    On the other hand, Republicans saying, we have already spent too much money, a lot of money.

    Where is this headed?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, it's headed for us to have another package to again honor our heroes, our state and local health care workers, transit workers, first responders, police, fire, emergency services, food servers, teachers, teachers, teachers, you name it, all of our heroes who are on the front line.

    They're risking their lives to save lives. And now they're risking their jobs because of the cost of the coronavirus to state governments.

    We're here for testing, testing, testing, as Dr. Fauci just said, identifying, tracing, treating. We call that testing. And we have a great plan, a strategy to test, with a timetable, with benchmarks, with milestones, with effectiveness, to reach many more people, so that we can identify the size of this challenge, so that we can save lives.

    And then, third, to put money in the pockets of the American people. All of these have had bipartisan support. All of the bills that we have passed had been bipartisan, but they didn't all start off that way.

    And this — again, we have made our proposal, as they have made their proposals in the past, and then we negotiate. So, I have — I'm quite certain that we will have a bill, and it will be a big bill, because to do anything less will cost even more in the future, in terms of lives, livelihood and the life of our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, with regard to unemployment benefits, for example, the Republicans are saying language that's in there now, that they say it creates a disincentive for workers.

    Right now, it's assistance of $600 a week for workers up to four months. Republicans are saying, that's a reason for people not to want to go back to work.

    Do you see a compromise on this?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, again, we will go to — I'm not going to negotiate — as much as I love this show, and as much as I'm happy to be with you, that I'm not going to be negotiating here.

    However, I will say this. The $600, really, at a very, very difficult time in the lives of America's families, losing their jobs, concerned about their health, losing lives and their families, $600 is a small price to pay.

    As we go forward, we will see. Hopefully, the economy will improve, but it won't improve unless we test, test, test, so that we can open up the economy.

    So, all of this is connected. You just can't take one piece.

    But they had no trouble giving tax cuts in their bill, CARES 1, CARES Act, they gave a $120 billion tax break to high rollers, hedge funds, real estate high rollers, that was retroactive, had very little to do with the coronavirus. But when it comes to poorer people, they have a reluctance to help out.

    But the best thing we can do, in terms of it being a stimulus to the economy, is to put money in the pockets of the American people with direct payments, with unemployment insurance, with food stamps.

    They are opposed to food stamps, when people are hungry in our country. We have some differences of opinion, and that's what we will negotiate.

    But I would hope that the great movement in our country on food insecurity, to feed the hungry, will catch fire in the Senate, too, as it has in the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I do want to ask you about something in that CARES Act that you mentioned.

    We learned in a study that was done by the Kaiser Family Foundation that some $72 billion in that legislation that went to hospitals, most of it — or, I should say, twice as much went to hospitals that are well-endowed, sitting on a lot of cash, money that they have raised, as opposed to the hospitals that serve more of the public.

    So, my question is, is this the kind of thing that Congress can look at? Were you made aware of this? And is there some way to fix it?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, we were made aware of it when they dispensed the money.

    And that means, in the next bill that we are doing now, we have prescribed more carefully how it should go out, because they came up with a formula that was very strange, that would go the Medicare-favored hospitals, as opposed to Medicaid.

    It was a strange formula. And now we have to be, again, more prescriptive in how we put out the money, because, in the first CARES Act, they did that. In the second act, which was the interim bill on more PPP, that we put the money in for testing and for hospitals, $175 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing, $100 billion for health care, we were more prescriptive as to where this money should go.

    And then, of course, now, in the HEROES Act, we have even learned more about how careful we have to be, and not just leave it up to them to make those decisions, because it really, frankly, had no logic, and really wasn't meeting the needs of the American people, which is what we're supposed to be doing.

    But we will work together to come together on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    We didn't like what the administration did, but we will, in Congress, correct that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Several more things to ask you about, Madam Speaker.

    One is, you mentioned testing, coronavirus testing. We know the administration put out a proposal. They're leaving it up to the states.

    This is what the administration is doing. In the meantime, is there something Congress can do to help the states come up with the testing materials they need?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, that's what our second pillar of our bill is, honor our — honor our heroes, state and local, helping with state and local to help them with the cost of the coronavirus already in terms of outlays, but also in terms of revenue lost by the states, counties, communities, cities, municipalities.

    The second pillar is testing, testing, testing. What the administration put out this weekend was an insult to the intelligence of the American people and a disservice to the challenge that we're facing with the coronavirus.

    I don't know what — it doesn't even rise to the level of a notion, much less an idea or a plan.

    But, in our bill, we have a plan with a strategy, as I mentioned, a strategy, a timetable, benchmarks, milestones, and, again, the cultural compatibility that we have among the people who will do the tracing that Dr. Fauci said was so necessary, if we do it right with the second wave.

    If we had done it right with the first wave, we would not be observing 100 (sic) people dying in our country from the coronavirus this very day. It took about 100 days to get here. Hopefully, we can slow that pace as we go forward, testing, tracing, treatment, isolation, if necessary, but identifying it culturally, in terms of the disparity, so many in nursing homes.

    It breaks your heart to think of the high percentage of people who have died in nursing homes, but in terms of the communities of color, far higher percentage of incidents of the coronavirus than in the rest of the population. We have to identify that. We have to fight that. We have to stave those lives.

    But we can't save the lives if we don't identify them with testing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other things I want to ask you about, Madam Speaker.

    One is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is something the House is due to vote on.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has again said, just in the last few minutes, I'm told, that he will veto it if the House passes it.

    Why should — why does this matter to the American people?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    One of our — when we take the oath of office, we raise our right hand and we vow, take an oath to protect and defend the American people, the Constitution of the United States.

    And, in doing so, we recognize that our strength is measured many ways, the health, the education, well-being of our children and our families, our military might, so essential, but also the intelligence that protects the force protection, for those who would go risk their lives in the initiation of hostility, to predict what would happen, to protect once they're there.

    And, so, in — when I started in intelligence, like 25 years, that's what it was, force protection. Now it's so much technology. It's a whole new world.

    And the FISA is about how we — how we — we have to pass a FISA bill in order to protect and defend the American people. We have to have a bill. There are those who say, oh, I don't like this bill, I don't like that bill.

    You have to have a bill. Now, the bill we're taking up today is a bill that 48 of the 53 Republicans in the Senate voted for. It passed 80 — with 80 votes in the Senate just recently, and now they have sent it over to the House.

    There are some who say, I don't like this, I don't like that. And if they don't want to vote for a bill, then we will just send back our House bill, which isn't as good as the Senate bill. The Senate bill was very courageous, broke new ground, very, very progressive in terms of protecting the balance between security, privacy, security and civil rights.

    That's the constant balance that we have to have, and this bill does it very well. So, I would hope people would vote for it. If they don't, we will send back our original House bill.

    The Senate bill is better. I wish we could do that. Eighty senators, 48 Republicans, voted for it in the Senate. On our House bill, we had two-thirds of the House members who are Republicans vote for our House bill, two-thirds of the Democrats voting for it.

    So, it was bipartisan and veto-proof. But, as I say, the Senate bill is better.

    So, I would hope that we can pass the Senate bill in the House today, send it to the president. If not, we will just send back our House bill, which would be OK, but it's better if we could pass the Senate bill.

    But these Republicans in the House, in voting against the Senate bill, imagine, they voted against their own vote. They're countering their own vote, in support of having a check on the FISA system, just because the president told them to.

    How do you protect and defend, except if he says not to?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Final yes-or-no question, should the Democrats go ahead with an in-person convention this August in Milwaukee?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    You know there's no yes or no.

    At the moment, I would say not yet, because we want to — people's health is the most important part of all of it. But let's just see. God willing, we have a therapy, and, God willing, a vaccine, whatever.

    But from this vantage point, I think all options are on the table. I don't know. I'm not central to that decision-making. But I think that, until we know that we can do it safely, we shouldn't go down that path.

    But we will see. And I — we're in good hands with Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. We're proud of our nominee, Joe, Joe Biden. I'm sure they will — their teams, working together, will do what is right for our country to nominate the next president of the United States, Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Happy to be with you, Judy, always. Thank you.

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