Donning an all orange suit with shoes to match, in honor of ending gun violence- a hot button issue that was set to hit Wednesday’s House floor for the first time in eight years- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi frankly spoke to Howard University students on an array of subjects relating to their lives and futures.
The event, held on Feb. 27, was part of the “Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy Lecture Series.” This year’s endowed chair is former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair, political strategist and author Donna Brazile.
Brazile, who has brought political heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, including former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, told the AFRO why she felt it was important to bring Pelosi from the House to Howard.
“I wanted to bring [Pelosi], because she’s the Speaker of the House. She’s the one who controls the legislation. She’ll be very much engaged in the budget discussions and she’s the one who helps us with the policy in the House of Representatives. And I think having her on an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) campus, Howard University in particular, is a great way to remind her that this university, like all other universities, deserve her time and attention. And she readily accepted the invitation.” Brazile told the AFRO.
Brazile posed a question on student loan debt, which has increased 102 percent since 2009 according to Bloomberg.
“The debt is bigger than credit card debt. So when they want to give a tax break of over a trillion dollars to the richest people in America, why don’t we just eliminate the debt for higher education, instead of giving a tax cut to the top one percent in our country?” Pelosi said to the audience. “That would be something constructive to do that everybody would share in. And by the way, nothing brings more money to the treasury to further reduce the debt, than investments in education.”
On the topic D.C. statehood, Pelosi was very supportive of the idea, yet skeptical that the bill, H.R. 51, would pass this year.
“I’m supportive of the idea of statehood for the District of Columbia. I’m all for it. It’ll probably happen, or have a better chance of happening… under a Democratic president. But it’s something that we have to build a crescendo for. So unfair,” she said. “When we took office just a month and a half, we gave Eleanor Holmes Norton a right to vote on the floor, not on all measures, because that would mean a Constitutional change, but on many measures in the House.”
In less than hour students were able to listen to the moderated discussion between Pelosi and Brazile and then ask questions to the Speaker herself.
One student asked about reparations, the unrealized promise of valued land and goods to Blacks post the Emancipation Proclamation, and how to serve African Americans who still struggle today as a result of slavery. The Speaker admitted that reparations is a challenging issue that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has tackled with legislation to study the topic of giving African Americans their promised goods- further than 40 acres and a mule. With the difficulty of reparations, Pelosi touched on the troubling issues of poverty and disparity, which disproportionately affects African Americans.
“When you want to be involved in public service, know your why. What attracts you to this? I went from the kitchen to Congress, housewife to House Speaker, and my why is the one in five children in America living in poverty,” she explained. “We have to reduce the disparity in income in our country. We have to reduce the disparity in education…. We have to reduce the health disparities in our country… So while we’re studying how we deal with the reparations issue, there’s plenty we can do to improve the quality of life of many people in our country.”
Melyvonn Leon, a second year MBA student and graduate assistant at the School of Business, said he felt it was important to have Pelosi present at a place like Howard.
“This was an awesome experience. To get that up, close and personal experience with such a prominent member of society- such a large name in the leadership of this country right now. To have that easy access at Howard, and specifically within the School of Business, is unbelievable.”
This article originally appeared in The Afro.