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Nancy Pelosi Discusses The Government's Response To The Protests Around The U.S.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been a week and a day since four Minneapolis police officers were implicated in the death of George Floyd, setting off protests around the world that have ranged from somber and reverent to violent and explosive. Last night, as a 7 p.m. curfew neared in Washington, D.C., the National Guard and Park Police officers fired tear gas and set off flash-bang explosives to push out a peaceful crowd of demonstrators that had assembled in a park across from the White House - this after President Trump delivered remarks where he threatened to deploy the U.S. military if states and local governments are not able to put an end to any violence immediately. Given the gravity of the moment, we've asked one of the leaders of the coequal branch of government - the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - and she's with us now.

Madam Speaker, thank you for joining us. I'm sorry for the circumstances, but thank you for coming.

NANCY PELOSI: Most unfortunate circumstances - most unfortunate. Just when we thought we had seen it all of this president, last night, he crossed another threshold of undermining our democracy. That the federal forces would be used to disperse a crowd using billy clubs and tear gas takes us to the status of banana republic to make way for the president to come out and to threaten an overall (ph) deploying of the U.S. military.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that because there - the fact is there has been violence in cities across the country. Do you feel that the president's threats to call out the military are warranted? And if not, is there anything Congress can or should do?

PELOSI: I don't think the president's calling out the military are warranted. I think that there, by and large, have been peaceful demonstrations in large numbers across the country. There has been some violence, and there is no place for that in any of our expressions of concern that the American people want to make. And violence must be addressed. But there is no reason for the U.S. military to be called out for this.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the role of Congress right now. Does Congress have any role in this? If you find this unacceptable and if other members disagree that it's unacceptable, is there any role in addressing it?

PELOSI: Well, there has to be. And I'm very proud of the work that our Congressional Black Caucus has done over time. This is a terrible thing that has happened, but it's not the first time that it's happened. It's been a pattern. So they're making determinations about what legislation we'll use to go forward, whether that's a comprehensive bill or it's a series of bills. But that will all be taking place in the very near future.

MARTIN: Can you identify at the current moment, though, a priority, something that would - for example, changing immunity laws for police or perhaps limiting funding or condition funding for federal departments in an effort to make some reforms? Can you identify any concrete change that you are willing to embrace and push for at the moment?

PELOSI: Well, the immunity laws are very important, and that would be a priority, along with withholding funding. Yes. But there are things that are very common and people understand very clearly, like racial profiling, that has to stop, the use of force in a manner in which was used, whatever form you want - there are different descriptions of it that our colleagues are reviewing as to what will be the most effective and universal. But let me just say that this is a 400-year-old challenge - more than that - 401-year-old challenge.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, I can't help but remember that your brother Thomas - your beloved brother whom you lost not long ago - was mayor of Baltimore during...

PELOSI: Yes.

MARTIN: ...The 1968 riots. Is there something that you feel you learned from his experience that is guiding your feelings and thoughts now?

PELOSI: In terms of my brother Tommy and what happened, at that time, my brother was a big civil rights leader. And one of the things that just discouraged him from continuing in politics was the disrespect that was shown by many in the community there to the arch-cardinal, who was a civil rights advocate. And so to see at that time something that was new in our lives - that we would see a church would disrespect the archbishop - it was really an awakening as to how deep some of this racism goes.

MARTIN: That's the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Madam Speaker, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

PELOSI: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.