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Pelosi says ‘Grim Reaper’ McConnell delaying lifesaving pandemic aid

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many Americans are calling on Congress to provide a new economic relief package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how to stimulate the U.S. economy and contain the virus outbreak, her take on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops and where congressional negotiations stand on passing police reform legislation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With more than half of the country grappling with this summer COVID surge, eyes are on Congress, with calls for a new economic relief package.

    We turn now to speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. She represents California, one of the states hit hardest and earliest by COVID-19.

    Madam Speaker, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

    As we have been hearing, there is this new surge, alarming reports on the comeback of this pandemic and, at the same time, people looking to the Congress for economic relief. But, right now, Democrats and Republicans seem to be in your separate corners.

    You said over the weekend you think Republicans are going to come around. What are Democrats prepared to do?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    What we were prepared to do is pass the HEROES Act, which we did, and everything that is in there, almost 99 percent of it, is what Republicans have voted for before.

    But as you go through these statistics about COVID, understand this. In the HEROES Act, we have an answer. We can open up our economy by testing, testing, testing. They're talking about masks. I agree. Washing your hands, I agree. Keeping your distance, I agree.

    But testing, tracing, treating, and distancing are the tools that we have at our disposal now. This administration has been a terrible failure. I don't like to dwell on them. I want to go forward.

    But for them to call — come out there and say their plan from the start has put us in a good place, over 125,000 people died from this. Because the president called it a hoax, delayed, denied, death pursued.

    We have in the bill the testing that is the answer. We — all of the scientists tell us, the academics tell us, you must test many more people every day, test, trace, and then treat, so that we can stop the deaths, which are disproportionately hurting our communities of color as well.

    So, in that bill is an answer. It's a strategic plan, that — they haven't thought strategically. Our first bill on March 4 on the COVID issue was for testing, testing, testing. Our recent bill — the most recent bill that passed was about helping small business and testing.

    And they still haven't embraced a strategic way to go about it. Instead, they are just — I mean, I feel so sad for the vice president for what he is being forced to say.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But for most — but for legislation to be passed, of course, Madam Speaker, both parties have to be on board.

    The Republicans have said — you have said the Republicans need to give some. My question is, are the Democrats? We heard the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, say today that this unemployment benefit, $600 a week above the normal unemployment benefit, he said it's too much, it is allowing — it's paying people to stay home from work.

    Is that an example of something that you think Democrats are prepared to give on?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Forgive me for not appreciating giving so much time to Mitch McConnell's objections to $600 to people who are out of work.

    We will have that negotiation. But, in this bill, in the first pillar of it is, honor our heroes, state and local — assistance to state and local government for their outlays on the coronavirus, as well as the revenue lost because of the coronavirus.

    All of that, if you look at speaker.gov/heroesact, speaker.gov/heroesact, and look any place in the country, and see how those places are helped by the HEROES Act, and then remember this, that it's only — all of that money is one-half of what the Republicans had in their tax break of — in 1217 (sic), which gave 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent.

    So he's saying, we need a pause in testing, we need a pause in helping state government, we need a pause in unemployment insurance, we need a pause in food — the food stamps, we need a pause in all this, because he's worried about some poor person getting $600.

    That's a negotiation, but it's not a reason for him to make it as if we have no place to go.

    All of those other things, the Republicans have voted for before. Shame on them. Shame on them for not helping state and local governments, where Democrats and Republicans outside the Congress have come together to say, we need these resources, we have to balance our budget by June 30.

    Shame on them for worrying about $600, when everybody's going to lose their unemployment insurance by the end of July if we don't act soon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me turn you, Madam Speaker — so much to ask you about — but a national security question.

    And that is this new evidence that looks very solid that the Russians paid the table Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The New York Times is now reporting President Trump was briefed on this back in February. The White House is saying he was not briefed.

    Who do you believe?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, my — what I have said is, if the president wasn't briefed, it was probably because they were afraid to tell him about anything, any bad news about Russia and his friend Putin, and that we might be — they might be afraid that he would call Putin and warn him of what we knew already.

    But whether the president — the point is, is that this is — force protection is the purpose of intelligence. I'm 25 years in intelligence. Force protection, how we initiate hostilities, how we respond to assaults, and — but force intelligence is about how we protect our troops and how they go on.

    So, that for somebody to make an assault on our troops, and there to be any question as to whether the commander in chief would be briefed about it, tells you what disarray exists in the White House and how serious this problem is, if they're even afraid to tell him.

    Whether he was briefed, they — I don't know. You hear two different schools of thought. It was in his — well, I won't go into any of it. It remains to be seen. We will have a briefing in the Gang of Eight tomorrow. There will be a briefing in the Intelligence Committee.

    I have asked for a briefing for the entire Congress of the United States. And perhaps we will learn more.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    But what we do know is, if he were not briefed, he should have been. And if he were not, why wasn't he?

    Because all roads lead to Putin with him. And what does he have on the president that they would withhold that information from him?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Someone you know very well, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said today that, for the sake of American lives lost, because of this, someone has to be held accountable.

    Who do you think should be held accountable?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    We have to — again, we have to get the facts of all of this.

    But the fact is, the buck stops with the president of the United States. And if he — if information was withheld from the commander in chief because they were afraid to tell him about his friend — their — his friend Putin, that's quite an indictment.

    But let's do this. Let's protect our troops. Let's make sure that this possibly can't continue to happen. Our men and women in uniform, we owe them so much. And you think force protection would be just such a given, and that the White House would be in such disarray about when they knew and who they knew and what they told the president and when.

    But this is — when we get more information, I will be able to label it appropriately. But it should never, ever be the case that a president of the United States would have awareness of it, or his White House would have awareness of it, and not act upon it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another important issue to ask you about, Madam Speaker, and that's police reform.

    The House passed legislation, the Democrats. The Senate Republicans tried and failed. Right now, the two sides seem very far apart. Are Democrats — are you and other Democrats going to reach out, given the urgency of this, to Republicans to try to find common ground?

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, that's up to the Senate Democrats.

    I think that, first of all, when you're in a negotiation, and the other side wants nothing, it's hard to negotiate, right? What leverage do you have? They won't yield on anything, because exactly what their bill is was nothing. It made no difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, they…

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    They have language which is like ours, but they have no deeds. And so it won't make a difference.

    So, it's up to them to negotiate with the Senate Democrats, so they can have something that they could pass in the Senate. They don't have anything that could pass in the Senate, much less pass in the House.

    So, that's up to them to do their negotiation there, and then we can find our common ground.

    But we cannot — I mean, the message that would go out from — to the country if the Senate Republicans said, this is all you're going to get, rhetoric, and no results.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in your view, is there going to be — is something going to happen on that? Because the American people look at the protests that happened around the country just days ago. So far, Congress has done nothing.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, Congress has done something. The House of Representatives has passed the Justice in Policing Act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But no legislation has been passed.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, the Senate has not acted in a way that is — that makes a difference.

    So, the question is for the Republicans in the Senate, are they willing to have a negotiation with the Democrats in the Senate? And then we will take — Congress will work its will from there.

    But we're not going to negotiate as to how many choke holds would be a compromise between the House and the Senate? No, that's not going to happen. They — we ban choke holds. They don't. Are we supposed to negotiate what common ground we might find? No. No choke holds. That's our position.

    But it doesn't mean there couldn't be some other areas where we might have some — a negotiation. But that's up to the — Mitch McConnell has called himself the Grim Reaper, that any legislation that goes over there will die in the Senate cemetery.

    It's a most unfortunate metaphor or term, analogy to use, when people are dying because of the coronavirus, and he will not engage in testing, tracing, treating, and distancing, with a strategic plan, where he will not open up to real negotiations on what we do about ending police brutality, recognizing that many of our men and women in blue honorably perform their duties, but some don't. And that has to stop.

    McConnell wants a pause. He wants a pause. Well, a pause isn't happening in hunger in America, where people are going to food banks who never thought they would. Hunger — rent is not pausing in America, and we passed a bill to help with that. But he is — you know, the Grim Reaper is going to put a stop to that, a pause to that.

    So, I do believe that they understand that, if we don't act to invest in our economy soon, that the consequences are going to be even worse than they are now.

    Don't take it from me. Just ask the chairman of the Fed, who testified to Congress to that effect. Just talk to the chairman — the secretary of the Treasury, who knows that we have to do something.

    But, but, again, they don't want to admit the consequences of COVID, so they don't want to do testing. They don't want to admit the test — the consequences of COVID, so they don't want to honor our heroes in this and compensate for the dollars spent to — on the — and the revenue lost.

    So, it is a — there is a big difference here. But you know what? We have to put the other stuff behind us, go forward and, as you say, try to find the common ground that is necessary to meet the needs of the American people, to open our economy, to honor our heroes, to put money in the pockets of the American people.

    And when we do so, we're also going to be fighting for voting at home in the court. And the — now, don't forget, speaker.gov/heroesact, look up and see how much money is spent in any region in the country you have ever lived.

    And then understand it's one-half of what they spent on their tax scam, benefiting 1 percent of the population, with no stimulus to the economy, except heaping billions of dollars of debt onto our children.

    Six hundred dollars. Please.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

    Thank you, Judy. Lovely to see you.

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