Schumer Floor Remarks Calling on Senate Republicans To Join Bipartisan COVID-19 Relief Talks And Introducing The Protect Our Heroes Act To Provide the PPE Our Frontline Workers Need and Deserve

November 18, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor, introducing the Protect Our Heroes Act to provide for the purchase large quantities of PPE like N-95 masks for our frontline workers. Senator Schumer also reiterated his call for Leader McConnell to join negotiations on a COVID response bill that meets the needs of the American people. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The country is facing the worst phase of the pandemic. As the number of new infections and hospitalizations threaten, once again, to overwhelm the capacity of our health care system, we have to make sure that our nurses, and doctors, and all of our health care professionals have the PPE they need to protect themselves and their patients safely.

We all remember the early days of the crisis, when health care professionals in some parts of the country were forced to jury-rig masks and gloves from spare clothing and bits of string. In my home state of New York—nursing homes alone were burning through 12 million pieces of PPE a week during the height of the pandemic in April.

The recent surge in cases might bring us all back to—or beyond—the peak levels we saw earlier this year. We must do everything—everything—in our power to avoid a repeat of the widespread PPE shortages.

So, I am joining Senators Murray, Peters, Baldwin, and Murphy, and we are introducing new legislation that authorize $10 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile to purchase large quantities of PPE, including N-95 masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and surgical masks.

N-95 masks don’t need to be worn by every American on a daily basis, but they provide a much higher degree of protection to our health care professionals and frontline workers who are exposed to the virus more regularly. That’s why we need the Defense Production Act to get those N-95 masks in the hands of any health care professional who needs it.

We are calling once again for the Defense Production Act—grossly underutilized by the current administration—to be invoked in order to expand industrial capacity to meet surging demand.

Our bill will create a $1 billion grant program for small businesses to retool their facilities to assist in the production of PPE.

For months, our communities have been held together by the quiet heroism of nurses, doctors, caregivers and essential workers. We call them frontline workers because they are like our soldiers, putting their own lives at risk to protect the lives of others. And just as we would never send our troops into battle without helmets or bullet-proof vests, we must never leave our frontline workers to battle diseases without the N-95 masks they need, as well as other PPE like gloves, and gowns that serve as their armor.

So our bill, the Protect our Heroes Act of 2020, should be a part of a bipartisan discussion on the next Covid-relief bill. Our bill will allow frontline workers to get the N-95 masks they need and deserve. We urge bipartisan support for this proposal.

The truth is: there should be a great urgency to get something done here in Congress to defeat the virus, save American lives, and forestall even greater pain for our workers and businesses.

Speaker Pelosi and I had negotiated for months, in good faith, with the Trump administration to find an agreement on a COVID-relief bill. Democrats lowered our proposal by $1.2 trillion to move closer to our Republican counterparts.

Meanwhile, Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to take part in those negotiations. Instead, the Republican Leader has asked the Senate to accept several inadequate, partisan proposals. And in every version of COVID-relief legislation that the Republican Majority has put on the floor, there have been poison pills included to ensure the bill will fail.

Many members of the Republican Senate caucus want to spend no dollars, so Leader McConnell has to twist himself into pretzels to put any bill on the floor. The only way he can get support of his caucus is to put poison pills in, so he can wink at them and say, hey, this won't pass.

So, Senate Republicans are seeing this pandemic as an opportunity to try and make it harder to hold corporations accountable when they put their workers at risk.

I heard the Republican Leader this morning, give the same long, tired speech that pretends as if Democrats haven’t been trying to negotiate with our colleagues; that we haven’t been trying, over and over again, to get our Republican colleagues to talk with us.

The Leader’s position hasn’t changed at all over the past few months. He said it again this morning: it’s the Republican proposal, or nothing at all.

I would remind the Republican Leader: the House has passed a bill, the Senate has not. And the only Senate bill that the Leader brings to the floor gets zero Democratic support.

And yet that’s the Republican Leader's position? He says if you don't take my bill, you get nothing—when he knows his bill can't pass the Senate, can’t pass the House.

It’s a feeble position, as the pandemic rages. And it just doesn’t fly.

We Democrats have lowered our proposal by over $1 trillion dollars to move closer in negotiations, and what did Senate Republicans do? They didn’t move in our direction, they moved further away, by cutting their already-inadequate proposal in half, making compromise even more difficult.

So look, we need to reset the conversation here. The country is in desperate straits, maybe more desperate than it has ever been in this crisis. The consensus view of economists and experts is that the country requires a substantial injection of aid, meaning relief to our schools, small businesses, the unemployed, state and local governments, our health care system, among other things.

These are not frivolous. These are not someone's whim. These are the desperate needs of people crying out for help, almost none of them covered adequately in the Republican Leader's bill.

This morning, New York’s MTA announced a cut to subways and buses —a flashing warning sign about how desperately we need transit relief. We are going to fight hard for transit relief. None of it is in Leader McConnell’s bill.

The two vaccines in development must be produced and distributed at a massive scale, and they must reach under-served and minority communities. The House Heroes bill goes much further in getting that done than Leader McConnell’s bill.

So, it’s time for our two parties to sit down, together, and hash out a compromise on a bill that meets the needs of the American people. We have been going around in circles—the Republican Leader in particular—for far too long, with nothing new added to the conversation.

So Speaker Pelosi and I have formally invited the Republican Leader and our Senate Republican colleagues to join us in bipartisan talks.

Our colleagues face a simple choice. They can put the election behind them and work across the aisle to get something done, or they can remain in their partisan corner, defending the poisonous lies of a flailing president, refusing to do the people’s desperately-needed business.

 

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