WASHINGTON – As the newly elected members of Congress were learning the ins and outs of Capitol Hill at orientation, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the top priorities when her party takes control of the House will be protection of voting rights, strengthening ethics in government, and improving fairness in drawing congressional districts.
Speaking at a news conference, Pelosi called the new freshman class one of the most transformative groups to enter Congress since the “Watergate babies” in 1974.
Questioned on whether she has the 218 votes needed to be elected speaker of the House, Pelosi said she already has them.
A reporter referred to a letter, allegedly signed by 17 House members, stating they would not support her. Pelosi shot back, “Have you seen the letter?” The reporter said he had not. She nodded her head.
One reporter asked if Pelosi thought anybody else was qualified to be leader and another asked whether she would accept Republican help to get the votes she needed to win. Pelosi’s answers were “Yes” and “Oh, please.”
Pelosi called the diverse group of Democrats just elected cause for celebration, not just for the Democratic Party, but for the American people. She reported that she has received many messages from the public stating, “Thank you for saving America.”
Pelosi credited grass roots organizers for their effectiveness in getting out the vote and thanked the candidates for having the “courage to run” and “the stamina to win.”
The number of new Democrats elected is close to 60, with approximately 40 seats shifting a Republican district to Democratic.
“Winning 23 seats in a voter-suppressed, gerrymandered map was a wave,” she said, but winning up to 40 seats “was a tsunami.”
Half of the 60 Democratic representatives are women, while there is only one on the Republican side. “Happy for that person, but sad to say, just one,” Pelosi said.
She said the new Democrats were elected on a “for the people” agenda.
“For the people we will lower health care costs, we will grow the paychecks and we will bring integrity to government,” Pelosi said.
She said voters had made clear the issues that mattered to them.
“Health care, health care, health care, like a jackhammer, that’s what is important,” she said.
The first bill of the new Congress, HR1, will focus on voting rights and ethics. It would create nationwide automatic voter registration, undo changes to the Voting Rights Act that were the result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision, stop gerrymandering by creating independent redistricting commissions. HR1 would overturn Citizens United and mandate disclosure of political contributions. It would extend conflict of interest ethics rules to the president and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
The bill is unlikely to be passed in the Republican controlled Senate or signed by the president.
Pelosi said the new Congress would also “defend protections for people with pre-existing conditions, lower drug costs, protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by taking them off the chopping block, and increase worker’s wages by building the infrastructure of America, and all that that implies, in the greenest possible way.”
She promised that Democrats will show respect for the people who sent members of the Republican Party to Washington.
But she was less bipartisan toward President Donald Trump.
Trump, she said, is engaged in an “all-out campaign to obstruct the Mueller investigation.” She accused the president of installing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general for the purpose of ending the investigation. She claimed there was bipartisan consensus that Whitaker’s appointment violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.
House Democrats will demand language be included in the omnibus spending bill protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without cause, and requiring that a three-judge appeal panel be provided in the event of termination, she said. Furthermore, the special counsel could only be removed by a Senate-approved attorney general, and all documentation of the investigation should be preserved and released to the public.