SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) predicted a high court victory for same-sex marriage, signaled the passage of immigration reform efforts soon and promised a tough fight to ensure a federal background check is required for all gun purchases.
Pelosi’s wide-ranging remarks Thursday came during an hour-long CBS San Francisco editorial board meeting, and in subsequent on-air interviews with KPIX 5 and KCBS All News 740 AM & FM 106.9. The editorial board meeting is typically an off-the-record conversation with politicians and newsmakers, but Pelosi volunteered to engage in an on-the-record exchange with the panel.
Her appearance came a short time after President Barack Obama spoke at the White House with rows of grieving mothers behind him and publicly implored Congress to pass gun-reform legislation 100 days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
“If Congress cannot pass that, shame on us,” Pelosi said. “We cannot allow the status quo to exist – we must show that we have a conscious. It’s our first responsibility to keep Americans safe.”
At a minimum, Pelosi maintained, “we must have a very strong, effective background check after Newtown and all that we now know. We will have to do that, but I’d like to do more.”
Pelosi’s ‘more’ would include a ban on what she termed “weapons of war” – assault weapons and their high-capacity ammunition clips that make it easier for an individual to carry out a mass shooting. However, Pelosi acknowledged that “we cannot convince the Republican leadership this is the right thing to do” and said such a prohibition would require a significant “public uproar” to stand a chance at passage.
“I think anyone of my colleagues in Congress would stand in front of an assault weapon to protect children,” she explained, “so let’s stand in front of those who advocate assault weapons – to protect our children.”
If Congress doesn’t adopt an assault weapons ban, Pelosi said it “heightens the need for a strong background check” and vowed: “We will fight for that and use every parliamentary tactic that is available to us to do it.”
She cited the gun debate as an example of how Washington, D.C. was becoming a “government of the money – and not the government of the many” following last year’s high court ruling in the Citizens United case that allows for unchecked political spending by special interest groups.
Pelosi said the discussion over gun reform had been “hijacked” by powerful business interests that put profit above preventing violence and deaths.
“This isn’t about the Second Amendment, it’s about people who make money making guns,” she said forcefully.
Aside from moneyed-influences, the former House Speaker – who has spent decades in Congress – said “it is dysfunctional” right now because a group of “do-nothing, know-nothing Republicans” fueled by the Tea Party movement refuse to participate in the legislative process to solve the nation’s problems. She suggested current House Speaker John Boehner unfortunately, at times, has served as an “enabler” to those elements of his party.
“I say to my Republican friends: ‘Take your party back’,” Pelosi said. “You’re supposed to be here to solve problems. Our job is to legislate.”
She cited recent automatic budget cuts triggered after Congress and the White House failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan, noting that Tea Party Republicans “think the sequester is a victory” and want “government shut down” at the expense of growing jobs and the economy.
“Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education,” Pelosi contended, explaining that Republicans in recent budget talks pushed to cut $98 billion in Pell Grants for college students while defending $38 billion in tax cuts for major oil companies that have posted huge profits.
Returning to San Francisco just one day after attending a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage, Pelosi predicted that justices would strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that bars federal recognition of same-sex unions because it violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.
“It was quite remarkable and I came out of it very optimistic,” she said after watching the oral arguments with a gay couple from California. “I am very confident about a good decision on DOMA. The justices were very respectful of the issue, they will be taking us forward – how far forward we don’t know.”
“The Republicans knew this was unconstitutional when they passed it” in 1996, theorized Pelosi, who also thought California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex nuptials would not be allowed to stand by the court because it too was discriminatory and lacked a “rational basis.”
“The American people are well ahead of the politicians in Washington on the issue (of marriage equality) and hopefully not way ahead of the justices of the Supreme Court,” she said in an upbeat tone.
Pelosi indicated she also felt good about the likelihood of Congress passing immigration reform by summer, with work groups in the House and Senate making significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that enhanced border security measures sought by some lawmakers had been put into place.
“Immigration is a hopeful place and I believe we will have an immigration bill,” she said, but did not elaborate on specific elements that the bill might contain.
She said “people spoke in a clear way” about the immigration issue with the large turnout of Hispanic voters for Democrats in the last election. Pelosi said those election results had forced some Republicans to change their politics on immigration, even if their views hadn’t fully evolved yet.
Pelosi concluded by predicting that the mid-term elections in a little over a year and a half will again have consequences for the Republicans.
With 17 seats needed for the Democrats to retake control of the House of Representatives, and presumably restore her to the Speaker’s chair, Pelosi proclaimed: “We can beat them. Nothing less is at stake than our democracy.”
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