TONY BRUCE: I'm Tommy Bruce, Vice President for University Communications, I'm happy to introduce the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Please.
NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much, Tommy. I'm honored to be here, to have received the invitation to deliver the convocation address to the class of 2010. Had the opportunity to meet with many of the students this morning and their families to extend congratulations and best wishes to them personally, and from the Congress of the United States.
It's wonderful to be in this great community of Ithaca and Tompkins County, where people care about each other and the sense of community is so evident. Following my meeting with the students, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the leaders, the political leaders, community civic leaders, I would say-- not political-- civic leaders, as well as the arts, health care, environment, so many issues, young women interested in advancing women. And so let's put it this way. There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the room for the future.
I told them that my two colleagues in Congress who represent this area, Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Congressman Michael Arcuri. You can barely talk to them these days without them saying, go big red. It's just part of their conversation to begin or to end. They're very proud of the sports athletic successes. When I met with the students this morning, I received a signed jersey, a signed jersey, the basketball team, immediately tweeted that picture of that to the world with very pride, and students liked that.
But imagine now, in addition to going to the first Ivy League school-- gosh, ever, is it? Certainly in a long time. Certainly a first time for Cornell to go to the Sweet 16. Of course, today big lacrosse day in my native town of Baltimore, where children are born with a lacrosse stick in their hand there. So we know what a big day this is, the semifinals in lacrosse.
So whether it's the education of our children, our future leaders, which is what a commencement celebrates and sends on their way, or the spirit of community demonstrated in the community, or on the athletic field, Cornell is a wonderful place. We are so proud of our Cornell grads. Gabby Giffords from Arizona, a newer member of Congress, very proud Cornellian. Kurt Schrader, veterinarian, who's now a member of Congress, Cornell grad.
Bob Filner, who is here. I'm not sure his year of graduation. He said he was here throughout the '60s. He also said that it gave him an ethic that enabled him-- encouraged him to go be a freedom fighter in the civil rights movement down south. And he is always recognized in the civil rights community as a freedom fighter.
But he says, when I was at Cornell, everybody was so, shall we say, Renaissance in terms of their interests that he found himself walking precincts one day with Carl Sagan. So again, the breadth of interest from being a land grant college to Carl, to the stars, to the civic responsibility.
We're a Cornell family. My son-in-law is an MBA from Cornell. Any party, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, whatever we celebrate are Cornell events. The friendships made here have been friendships that have lasted-- when I say a lifetime, he graduated in 1993. So that's the lifetime since then and protecting you for the future.
So when you think of Cornell, you think of this great institution, the first land grant and only land grant institution in the Ivy League, founded on principles of a universal approach to knowledge in kind of a different way, following a different model, and producing a great diversity of intellectual resources for our country, and as I saw today, a beautifully diverse graduating class. And I'll see more of that later.
But I'm very excited about being here, and I consider it a great honor and look forward to speaking to the students. And I hope to give them some hope about how we go forward, but how much we're depending on their contribution. So thank you very much to Cornell for the invitation to be here.
Do you want to take some questions?
TONY BRUCE: Absolutely. We'll take some questions at this point. [INAUDIBLE], go ahead. Introduce yourself, please, and tell us who you're from.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Williams from The Ithaca Journal. A controversial local issue here in this area is determining regulations for drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. Considering the magnitude of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf, what do you think the federal government's role should be in setting drilling regulations?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, as you may not be surprised to know, I heard about this in the community meeting and have a good deal of reading to take on the road with me when I depart here. And I look forward to reading the local perspective on it.
Again, as you say, it's a local issue. But I do think that the oil spill in the Gulf is very serious evidence that we need a new energy policy, and that we have to subject the techniques and the technology that we are depending on to some pretty tough examination as to not only is the technology there to drill, but if there is an error, if it doesn't work, as it didn't in the Gulf, what is the technology for that cleanup? What does this mean to the community ecologically, environmentally, more specifically, and economically and culturally, because it makes a cultural difference.
So perhaps this will engage us in a fuller national debate. When I became speaker, I made energy independence and addressing the climate change issue my flagship issue as speaker. I established-- much to the dismay of some of my members of select committee on this particular subject-- I say dismayed because they all wanted the ownership of the issue in their committee. But I wanted to focus on it in a very different way.
And we passed our energy bill. We're waiting for the Senate to pass theirs. But I think the oil spill gives us an opportunity, now that the public's attention is on this issue, to say, what does this mean to communities? And getting back to your question, I saw pictures of what it might mean to a community in terms of location of such drilling and the rest. Local decisions are important, and we defer to locality, but we do have to have federal standards because we have been-- I think the government has been persuaded and convinced that the technology is there to be very precise and sophisticated about how you drill. But if it goes wrong, there is no send us your hair. I mean, that's what-- you know, golf balls, haircuts. That can't be the technology of the future. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Ms. Pelosi, [INAUDIBLE] radio here in Ithaca. Thanks for being here today and welcome to Cornell. To follow up on that, would you favor or would you encourage New York to ban the hydro fracking method until the EPA finishes its study of that process, as Congressman Hinchey is a proponent of? And as a follow-up to the gulf oil disaster, do you feel the Obama administration's response to that and handling of that has been adequate?
NANCY PELOSI: Taking your first one, I, of course, look to Mr. Hinchey for his judgment about what is important to his district. There is no question that we have to subject these techniques, as I mentioned, to a stricter scrutiny and not make assumptions that may not be true. So what we're trying to do is, in our hearings, our oversight hearings of the Congress, is get the facts-- what is real? And this is a very emotional issue for all of us, but be very unemotional in how we make these decisions to go forward.
But I've always said a decision should be environmentally sound and economically sound for the US taxpayer. But as we see in the Gulf, and you are telling me about here, are there cultural and community interest that have to be taken into effect. So the safety and the effectiveness of the technique may be one thing, but there are no guarantees. And how do we weigh the risk to the gain, and why do we get for it?
In other words, we get natural gas, which, as a transition, is better than petroleum. It's better than oil. But it is a transition. It's cheaper, it's American, and it's abundant, and it's here. But we have to recognize it's not a final answer. It's a transition to renewables until they're all in place. Now is that worth, in judging community community, to what that means to the community? And again, community input is very important there. But it should be on the grid of what do you get for it, what is the safety in terms of the drilling, what is the community sense, what is the economic impact and cultural impact of that?
I'm excited about it because it opens the question to many more people. Gulf Oil probably aroused more interest in what was happening here because does the technology work? It's a very legitimate question.
Yes, I think the administration is in charge of the issue. I know something about how the president leads, and it's strong. And he wants, again, the facts to make the right decision. And he thinks in a broader sense than an immediate reaction. So I think what you see-- what I see coming out of the White House, and now I want to read more about his visit, but from what I've seen, I see reflected there leadership that will take us to a place that really can make judgments about this.
I've been criticized for a long time because I've been an opponent of offshore drilling. And they took over the floor of Congress to protest me two years ago. And I respect that we have to have strong domestic production, and some of that will be offshore. I'm not opposed to that. All I have said is, let's be sure that it's sound and that it's fair to the taxpayer.
But that has not been the measure up until now. And I think that the president will have his criteria to take us, really, in a new direction on how do we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is a national security issue, and I'll talk about this in my speech. How do we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which is a health issue.
And here you are. We talked about the drilling. And how to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, again, a national security issue. How to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, a health issue, an emissions issue and a health issue. How do we do so in a way that makes us the leader in technologies in the world?
Because as the president said, and I will say. Countries realize that the country that is preeminent in this regard is the country will have the leading economy, and we want America to be that country. So there has been resistance to this change. I can tell you the special interest, when I did my bill, I had the car patch, the oil patch, the gas patch, the coal patch. And we have to be respectful of all of that. But we have to also know what the risks are, what the gains are, what the renewable alternatives are, and go forward. It's absolutely essential. And again, it's our responsibility to future generations. So yes, I'm OK with the president.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] McNamara, Channel 9 Syracuse. I just wanted to ask you. You've been a little bit back and forth on the Tea Party, most recently saying you share some common ground. Since we have some protesters here today--
NANCY PELOSI: Oh, we do. I missed that. There must not be as many as usual.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ask you where you stand on it right now, and secondly, going into the midterm elections, what's the growing strength of this party, what it could do?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, let me be clear. I'm not backing forth on the Tea Party. This is America. Everybody has a right to their opinion and to express it. So they don't need to worry about what I think of them. I do think that issues that say special interest have too much power in Washington, DC, which is what I ran on to become Speaker of the House, is a view that is shared by many Americans.
That we want to reduce the deficit, that's really a moral responsibility for us. I'm a grandmother. I don't believe in leaving bills for my grandchildren or my children. We want to leave them a stake so they can have many more options into the future. And that's how I feel about our national budget, as well as a personal budget.
So in those respects of reduce the deficit, reduce the influence of special interest in Washington, DC, I think all Americans share that view. Again, I respect everybody's right to speak out. Where may differ is while I don't think people should shut down meetings. That's not appropriate. And I don't know if they're the ones who have done that. But god bless them for their interest in the civic life of our country.
People say, oh, so-and-so is a Republican. But you'll probably like them. I said, I'm happy when anybody's interested in government and has an opinion. My son-in-law went to-- did I tell you about my son-in-law? Yes, I did. Went to Cornell. He's a Republican. It's a mixed marriage. Not in terms of faith, but in terms of political faith. But it's America. It's pretty exciting thing. But again, words have weight, and we all have to understand the weight of our words as we go forward because they do have an impact.
I didn't know they we're here today, but I don't go anyplace that they're not. So I'd be disappointed if they weren't.
AUDIENCE: My second question is, going into the midterm elections, do you fear for the majority?
NANCY PELOSI: No. Let me declare that the Democrats will be in majority after the midterm elections. Our members win their elections one election at a time. They know their constituents. They communicate with them on a regular basis. They're proud of our agenda of jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.
Yesterday we passed a bill in the House that will create, immediately, summer jobs. It'll be about jobs that will be created by investments in the future research and development initiatives, jobs that will be created by our Build America bonds in terms of building infrastructure of America, and jobs that will be saved because we closed a loophole. We repealed a loophole that enabled businesses to have a tax break to send jobs overseas.
Can you imagine that our tax system gives a tax break to businesses to offshore jobs? We closed that. Bring those jobs home. And that's our thrust. Everything that we bring to the floor must do two things. It must create jobs and it must reduce the deficit. And that's a careful balance that we must have. And our members are great advocates for that. And I have great confidence that knowing their dedication, their knowledge, their ability to communicate in a very special way-- every district is a different one-- that we will retain the majority.
We just won a special election in Pennsylvania. I didn't come here to talk politics, but since you mentioned it, there was an election in Pennsylvania to fill the seat of Congressman Jack Murtha. It was the election day that people said, oh, there's a rejection of Washington, this or that. But we won. We were predicted to lose. All the pundits, oh, they're going to lose, and this is going to be a precursor of November.
And we had a great candidate. He ran on jobs. His opponent ran against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. But in this case, I came first. He ran against Nancy Pelosi first, and he ran against Barack Obama. But that's one way to get people's attention. But then what do you have to offer? And there was nothing.
And our candidate at ran on creation of jobs, closing a loophole to send jobs overseas, reducing our deficit. Mark Critz, beautiful, lovely candidate who was of his district. He said, they want to talk about Washington, DC, I want to talk about Washington, Pennsylvania, which is a town in his district.
And so we won by eight and 1/2 points. They didn't even ever suspect that they would lose. We won by eight and 1/2 points. So I have never fully accepted-- while I never take anything for granted, I tell my members don't underestimate your opponent, but don't overestimate them either. Understand what you have to offer and be proud of that. And they are, and I'm confident about November.
And I love to talk about politics, especially a recent campaign that was victorious. But that's our seventh straight of contested special elections.
AUDIENCE: So you don't think incumbents should be concerned.
NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think this. No differently than they should be concerned ever. Assume nothing. Every time we are up for election, we owe the public a justification as to why we should be reelected from time immemorial. You know, that's a fact. So just be as prepared as you always have to be, and communicate in the way that your constituents deserve. They need to know what you have done, why you should be reelected, and to be able to compare you to your opposition.
But I'm not ever vigilant that I'm not yielding one grain of sand. But on that score, I've always been that way. In the easiest of years, I would say the same thing to them. Be very vigilant. Be very prepared. Get your grassroots out. There's one more, this young lady. I guess it's two more.
AUDIENCE: Would you speak about the [INAUDIBLE] to end don't ask, don't tell [INAUDIBLE] an issue that's of high interest here [INAUDIBLE] guest speaker didn't come after students protested. If you could talk about that.
NANCY PELOSI: About don't ask, don't tell? Well, as you probably are aware, two days ago in the House of Representatives, we passed a repeal of don't ask, don't tell. It's a discriminatory policy that you never been in effect. But despite the good intentions of those who put it there to hopefully end some discrimination, it only contributed to it.
The provision that we put forth was respectful of the review that is going on by the Department of Defense in communicating with members of the military. It would not go into effect until that review and that report was finished, and the report was made. That would be in December, and it would not go into effect until the President of the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military, and the Secretary of Defense were assured that this would not hurt our national security, our unit cohesion, the measures that they have in the military.
So it was respectful of what is happening now, won't happen until that is finished, but is passed, so that as soon as that's finished, we're ready. Yesterday at the end of the day, we passed the defense bill in which this provision was passed. It was part of the defense bill, hence we call it Defense Authorization bill.
I was really sad to see that only nine Republicans voted for the Defense Authorization bill. This is a bill that Republicans vote for en masse. But because don't ask, don't tell was in there, they rejected that. I understood that they didn't want to vote for don't ask, don't tell. But to reject the entire defense budget because of don't ask, don't tell, I thought, was very telling.
President Skorton had sent a letter to us. He organized other presidents of universities, who signed the letter, too, supporting the repeal, and I'm grateful to him for that. Because of that outside advocacy as well as our inside maneuvering, but the outside advocacy raising this to a special level, we won by 40 votes. People wondered if we could even win. We don't win anything by 40 votes. We're like two, three, four votes. Five votes is a gaping hole for us. But 40 votes, that was quite remarkable. I was very proud of the Congress.
And we did have bipartisan support for ending don't ask, don't tell, and then in the House and in the Senate committee. Now the Senate committee voted that it will go to the Senate floor. Senator McCain said he's going to filibuster it. I hope not. But in any event, when the bills go to conference, then we will.
But don't ask, don't tell, I believe, is over. The review will take place, the report will be made, and the evaluation will be not whether or not we repeal don't ask, don't tell, but how we do it. Thank you.
TONY BRUCE: Last question.
AUDIENCE: Speaker Pelosi, Katherine Underwood, WBNY TV. Thank you for being here. I just have a quick question. You know, it was a big deal. Why former congressman Eric Massa won a heavily Republican 29 district. What do you think the chances are of a young unknown holding that seat for the Democrats come November?
NANCY PELOSI: I'm not familiar with the race, to tell you the honest truth. My responsibility at this point, from a political standpoint, I wear two hats, Speaker of the House by day, legislator and that. And then because, as you know, the elections are coming, nights and weekends, when I'm not honored by delivering this convocation address, I have to make sure we win in November. And my first responsibility is to protect my incumbents.
So we have a diversity of opinion in our caucus. Not everybody votes the same way all the time, and that's the beauty of it. And so in our area, Michael Arcuri, Maurice Hinchey, two that I have named, would be priorities for us over an open seat. So I think there's another one.
TONY BRUCE: Thank you very much.
NANCY PELOSI: I think we have to get onto the reason that I visited here. Thank you all for your interest. And again, thank you to Cornell University.
TONY BRUCE: Well, let me just reiterate the honor. I'm sure you've already seen that the Ithaca community feels that your presence here, and on behalf of my colleagues here, we'll welcome you back to this podium at any time.
NANCY PELOSI: Thank you. I'll consider that a wonderful invitation. And Tompkins County was very well-represented, and Ithaca, Ithaca College, even. What a wonderful county that is hospitable to two wonderful institutions of higher learning. That's what it's all about, investment in education for the future. Thank you all very much.
TONY BRUCE: Thank you.
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Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, gave a press conference preceding her Convocation address at Cornell on May 29, 2009.
Pelosi discussed her party's prospects for the fall, the federal government's role in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.