Leesburg, Virginia: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Attorney General William Barr after he told lawmakers this week that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on 2016 election interference was not ready for release and that he believed President Donald Trump’s campaign had been spied on.
“How very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails,” she said during a news conference in Leesburg, Virginia, where House Democrats are holding a retreat. “He is the attorney general of the United States of America, not the attorney general of Donald Trump.”
Separately, Pelosi said in an interview that she does not trust Barr and suggested his statements alleging spying on Trump’s campaign undermined his independence as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
Barr told a House Appropriations panel Tuesday that Mueller and his staff were working to help remove sensitive information from the nearly 400-page report so it could be released to Congress and the public by next week. And he defended the summary conclusions he delivered to Congress last month and the speed with which those conclusions were made public.
“We want to see the Mueller report,” Pelosi said, repeating a mantra of congressional Democrats. “There was an assault on the integrity of our elections in our country, the basis for our democracy. … You would think that every resource in our country would say we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again instead of engaging in this obstruction of giving the truth to the American people.”
Pelosi is leading a retreat marking 100 days after the new Democratic-led Congress was sworn in, presenting Trump with a major check on his authority.
Asked about the recent departures of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other federal officials in charge of border security, Pelosi called for comprehensive immigration reform similar to the bipartisan effort in 2013 that fizzled after House Republicans refused to take it up.
“What is happening on our border is something that is so contrary to the values of our country, so undermining to our commitment to families,” she said. “This administration is in a downward spiral of indecency. … We just have to restore order; order on the border, order in the White House so that we can address who we are as a nation.”
Immigration is one of several policies House Democrats hope to address when they return from Easter break later this month.
They’re hoping to build on their first 100 days in which they passed bills to reform government, strengthen gun background checks and close the pay gap between men and women.
None of those measures, however, are going any further given that Republicans control the Senate.
Mapping out a strategy
But as Democrats gathered at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa about an hour from the U.S. Capitol, the mood was expected to be upbeat as they decide how to move forward on priority issues, such as climate change and voting rights, that figure to be key during the 2020 elections.
And even though legislative victories haven’t resulted in bill signings, Democrats can take comfort that they have so far been able to weather ideological fissures in their caucus and a few procedural hiccups over the last few months.
“They’ve set the right structure in place. They’ve navigated through some of the difficulties of new members coming in, integrating them into the process,” said Norm Ornstein a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. “There’s still plenty of challenges ahead but the start has been an impressive one.”
Ornstein gives much of that credit to Pelosi, who he said has been able to wrangle a divided caucus energized by freshmen who won both in swing districts that supported Trump and deep blue communities eager to confront the president on climate, health care and impeachment.
Pelosi was hammered on the campaign trail last year for being a San Francisco liberal, but in an interview, she embraced the label as a way of showing her party’s left wing she is one of them, before asking them to move toward the center.
“I’m a progressive from San Francisco. I think I can have some credentials on the left, as a person who has represented a very liberal city,” Pelosi said last month in Ferguson.
“But you have to govern mainstream,” she added.
The three-day retreat in Leesburg, which started Wednesday afternoon, includes closed-door policy discussions on key Democratic issues such as raising the minimum wage, infrastructure and protecting LGBT rights,according to a copy of the agenda. There are also strategy sessions on engaging young voters, expanding social media messaging, and one on “effective advertising under franking rules.”
John Legend, Chrissy Teigen
John Legend and Chrissy Teigen are lending some star power to the retreat.
The Grammy-winning R&B musician, known for pushing criminal justice reform, and his celebrity wife, a model and cookbook author, are among several notable folks scheduled to attend the three-day strategy session.
Other speakers include Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell, bestselling author Arlie Hochschild, comedian Jordan Klepper, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and technology journalist Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode.