Washington, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-34) was joined by Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley (NY-14), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) for a press conference, following Caucus meeting, to discuss Republicans’ unprecedented Supreme Court obstruction and their fumble on the budget, as well as the Flint water crisis. Video of the press conference is here and a partial transcript follows:
Chairman Becerra: “I want to take a moment to allow a very special guest here in Washington, D.C. to say hello and maybe a few words. Amir Hekmati — some of you will recognize his name as someone who has given service to this country in uniform and also as someone who spent some time in Iran.
“We want to thank Mr. Hekmati in a big way not just for his words, but for his courage. Dan, thank you for all the work you have done. You were tireless in this effort to help Mr. Hekmati. I don’t know how many times we recall you chiming in when the discussion was about the Iran nuclear deal and your laser focus was on those who were being held in Iran who were U.S. citizens, including Mr. Hekmati.
“I’d like to begin first by taking a moment to acknowledge the victims and the families in Kalamazoo, who are right now experiencing what folks in San Bernardino experienced and folks throughout the country – Charleston, you could name any place where mass killings have occurred — have experienced. We would like to say to them: you have our thoughts and prayers.
“Yesterday in the House, we held a moment of silence for the victims and their families in Kalamazoo. The problem is that that may be the only thing this country does to help the victims of mass killings and the victims of senseless gun violence. It seems like the allegiance of too many in this Congress is not with the victims and the families and the American people who want to be safe, but with the NRA. And that is distressing.
“It doesn’t stop there. It seems like the allegiance of too many in the Senate, as we saw yesterday, is not with the people of this country and the Constitution but with their particular party. Republicans in the Senate have declared that they will not consider the nomination made by the President of the United States to fill the vacancy made by Justice Antonin Scalia. But, again, it seems like the allegiance of Members in the Senate on the Republican side is with their party and not with the Constitution.
“It seems like too many Members in government are aligned not with the people in Flint, Michigan but with the actions of their particular interests. Why is it that the families in Flint had to wait so long before they were actually informed that they were drinking poisoned water that had lead in it? And, of course, we find the results in Kalamazoo and the fact that we can’t expect this Congress to take any action to make Americans safer and prevent the acts of senseless gun violence that we see in these mass killings that go on month after month.
“It’s time for Congress to do something. To do nothing is not action. And to do nothing is not why we get elected. Senators are being paid close to $200,000, not so that they just sit on their seats and do nothing about a vacancy on the Supreme Court but so they do something. And we should all do something to prevent senseless gun violence, to prevent our water from being poisoned, [to prevent] a Court from being crippled by political inaction. We all have to do something. We hope our colleagues, whether it’s the Speaker of the House or the Majority Leader in the Senate, and that this Republican Congress will decide it’s time to do something.
Question about fiduciary rule: “Is there any concern that the Democratic party has about the rule at this stage?”
Chairman Becerra: “The Secretary [Thomas Perez] touched on it, though he could not get into specifics because the rule has not been issued. Essentially what the Secretary, along with Jeffrey Zients, the director of the National Economic Council, said is that they’re looking for a way to make sure that all investors, but especially modest income investors, have a way to know that they’re going to make the best investment that’s in their best interest — working with those financial advisors who work in the industry — without having to worry that they will be ripped off by those that they’re placing their trust and their life-savings with.
“He made it very clear that they’ve taken quite some time to issue the rule. Secretary Perez said he thought that he had spoken with each and every Member of the Caucus who was present this morning at some point about this, so they’re trying to do as thorough a job as they can. They’re reaching out and listening to all the concerns and issues raised by Members and that’s why it’s been taking quite some time — close to six years — to issue the rule.”
Question: “One of the main criticisms of the DOL conflict of interest rule is that it will cause stock brokers to drop lower income and middle-income clients, that those people will lose advice. Did the Secretary talk about any changes they’re making that would mitigate that risk?”
Chairman Becerra: “There’s not much more than what I think you’ve already heard us say that we can tell you because the Secretary’s limited to what he can say about a rule that hasn’t been published. But he did mention that they had tried to exhaustively reach out to people — they’ve heard from consumers, the industry, they’ve heard from everyone…the rule helps protect investors but it doesn’t prevent advisors and the industry from wanting to do business with those investors.”
Question: I know the Secretary can’t relay details of the discussion. But based on the tenor of the Q&A, do you get the feeling that most Democrats are going to stick with the Administration on this rule?
Chairman Becerra: “It’s pretty fair to say that most Democrats want to head in the direction that the Secretary said. Most of those who want to do well and also do good within the industry want to make sure that the best interests of that small investor, of that senior is taken into account first. My sense is that the Secretary found a lot of agreement with what he was saying generally.”
Question: “With regards to the Supreme Court, given the position the Republican Senate has taken – no hearings, no meetings, no votes – do you think that should influence the sort of nominee the President chooses? Some people suggest a more centrist person but given that even that sort of person isn’t likely to get consideration, do you think the President should pick someone more inspirational, a liberal Scalia, or perhaps the first black woman justice or first Latino man or first openly gay justice?
Chairman Becerra: “The President has made it very clear. He’s going to pick the person who is most qualified to be the next lifetime justice on the Supreme Court. Fortunately for us, there are many people in America who fit that bill and who are very qualified. I hope the President moves forward. As you see from this chart, it’s not as if the Senate hasn’t acted in an election year to confirm a Justice that’s been nominated by the President. In fact, the last Justice is Justice Kennedy, who was nominated by a Republican and confirmed by a Democratic Senate. Republican Senators yesterday came before the public and essentially professed allegiance to their Party — when, under the Constitution, they are sworn to move forward the best interests of our country and they pledge on the Bible to move forward the provisions of the Constitution. They said they are not going to do this, not because they can’t, but because they don’t wish to as a party. I think all of would recognize if individual Senators decided to vote “no” on any particular nominee and let the chips fall where they may on any final vote. But to say simply not only will we not vote but we will not have a hearing on the merits of the nominee or even ourselves as individual Senators sit down and meet with the nominee? Again, the allegiance to party is breathtaking. At some point, I hope this do-nothing Congress will recognize that it has an allegiance to the people of this country and to the Constitution of the United States.
Question: “Mr. Becerra, I would like your thoughts on whether the Republicans have been handed some more ammunition by the health care system if the GAO report is saying that unqualified folks are getting into it.”
Chairman Becerra: “I think what we’re finding in all the investigative work so far [is that] more than 18 million Americans have been able to acquire legitimate, meaningful health care insurance, so that they can send their daughter to the hospital when she is ill, so that they don’t have to worry that the daughter will be rejected by an insurance company for coverage for a pre-existing condition, so that that daughter can go all the way to the age of 26 and now continue to be covered by the parents — all as a result of the Affordable Care Act. And a whole bunch of seniors today in America — millions of them — now get free preventative health care that they don’t have to worry about paying for on a fixed income, based on their benefits. So what most of the examinations are showing is that the Affordable Care Act is working and that we’re continuing to make improvements. It would be great if those Republican governors throughout the country who have refused to adopt the Medicaid expansion program, which helps millions of modest income families afford health insurance to finally adopt the program and which, by the way, is covered 100 percent by all of us as the federal government for the first several years, would help a whole bunch of working families today who can’t afford coverage and fall through the gaps in those states [by implementing] the expansion of the Medicaid program.”