Schumer Floor Remarks Ahead Of Chairman Powell’s Testimony Before The Senate Banking Committee And The Senate GOP Pushing Conspiracy Theories Instead Of Focusing On Addressing The Ongoing Economic And Public Health Crises

May 19, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Federal Reserve Chairman Powell’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. He also discussed how Senate Republicans are pushing right-wing conspiracy theories instead of addressing the ongoing economic and public health crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The Senate Banking Committee will hear testimony from Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell about the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This testimony from the Secretary and Chairman of the Fed is one of the requirements that Senate Democrats secured in the CARES Act, and we have been pushing for it to happen for several weeks. The fact that it's taken so long is once again just one more indication that our Republican Senate colleagues are not focused on the COVID-19 crisis, but on other diversionary issues, witness Leader McConnell’s speech, which I will have something to say about in a few minutes.

 

It could not be more urgent that they are testifying: the COVID-19 Pandemic has thrown over 35 million people into sudden unemployment—the highest level since the Great Depression—and Chairman Powell has said that further layoffs could continue for months. The anguish that so many will feel.

 

Without further action, Chairman Powell said, we risk “prolonged recession and weak recovery,” with unemployment reaching 20% or even 25%. In Chairman Powell’s words, “It may be that Congress has to do more. And the reason we’ve got to do more is to avoid longer-run damage to the economy.” That's Chairman Powell's words, a nonpolitical appointee by President Trump.

Mr. Powell’s testimony this morning hopefully will jolt my Republican colleagues into action, finally. At the very least, his testimony should wake them from their slumber and compel some understanding of the scope and urgency of the problem at hand. Maybe his speech will somehow galvanize our Republican colleagues into coming forward and talking about COVID, doing oversight of COVID, and coming up with the kinds of plans that we saw in COVID-4 in the House that are so well needed.

Maybe they will talk about things like this. Are they for aid for state and local governments? Are they for so many of the things in the bill, more money in the hospitals, more help for testing, more money for PPE, more help for those who have lost their jobs, or are they not?

All we hear is silence from our Republican colleagues.

Now, I sat on the House and Senate Banking Committees for decades. I may hold the record for attendance at hearings with our Fed Chairs. So I can tell you that chairs of the Federal Reserve, whether appointed by Democratic or Republican presidents, do not frivolously suggest that more congressional action is taken. Rarely do they do that. They try to avoid it. That is another reason of why Chair Powell’s comments are so important. If he feels the need to push this Congress and particularly this Republican Senate to act, problems must be deep and real, and most Americans know it, but our Republican Senate colleagues don't seem to. 

We are looking at an economic situation “without modern precedent,” Powell's words. And we can either take action to soften the blow to businesses, families and workers and average folks, or through our inaction, prolong the recession and hamstring our nation’s recovery. Up to now, it seems our Republican colleagues are unfortunately choosing the latter: no immediate need for urgent action. Amazing. Amazing. The greatest crisis America has faced in decades and decades.

Now, my Republican colleagues like to point out the costs of the House Democratic bill to provide another round of emergency relief. Republican leadership has even taken the time to assail parts of the Democratic bill that account for only 0.0003% of the bill. They're not expected to like every single piece, but they are expected by the American people to act, and mark my words, the American people will force them to act.

There are so many costs to inaction, and none other than the Republican-appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve is saying that those costs are likely greater than the costs of any relief bill.

When will our Republican colleagues start to get the message?

Because, looking at the floor of the United States Senate, you’d never guess that we are in the middle of national economic crisis. For three weeks, Leader McConnell has not scheduled any legislative business related to the coronavirus. Senate Republican leadership is not even discussing their response to COVID-4 in the House.

Instead, this week, the Republican leader has scheduled five right-wing judges for the floor of the Senate. The Republican chairman of the Homeland Security committee will hold a hearing tomorrow designed to slander the family of the president’s political opponent, delving into a Kremlin-concocted conspiracy theory that has no truth and fell over like a dud in the impeachment hearing. And last night, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee announced that his committee will soon consider subpoenas related to yet another conspiracy theory pushed by President Trump—this time to try to re-write the history of Russian interference in the 2016 election to match the fantasy in President Trump’s head.

And what does Leader McConnell devote most of his floor remarks to today? That wild conspiracy theory. Aimed at somehow smearing the fine reputation that President Obama has well deserved. It's amazing. That was the bulk of the speech.

Leader McConnell, stop listening to President Trump and his wild theories and listen to the American people. We need action. We need action now. Every day, every week—and now almost every month—we wait, the recession gets deeper and worse.

More people are unemployed, more people lose their jobs, more small businesses are in jeopardy. And we're talking about some wild theory because President Trump demanded it? When everyone knows the president's penchant for truth is at a bare minimum, as exemplified by his hydroxychloroquine comments last night? Wow. This is unbelievable.

In the midst of historic unemployment and economic and health tragedy, Senate Republicans are using their majority to simply block and tackle for the president’s re-election campaign. Senate Republicans are using their majority not to tackle the COVID crisis but to block and tackle for the president's reelection campaign. In the midst of a public health crisis, Senate Republicans are diving head-first into the muck to smear the family—the family—of the president’s political opponent.

It is such a gross misuse of the power of the majority. We were sent here to do the nation’s business. At the moment, that means helping our constituents through a time of immense challenge and large hardship. But Senate Republicans are using their committees to hold fishing expeditions dictated by the president’s twitter feed, which even his supporters don't usually believe.

If anyone doubts this is about politics, if this is about Senate Republicans doing the bidding of President Trump’s personal political agenda, just remember what House Minority Leader McCarthy said before the last presidential election. Leader McCarthy went on Fox News and bragged that Republicans put together a Benghazi select committee to bring Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers down. And now, Senate Republicans, are using the same playbook to smear President Trump’s political opponent once again. It will not work.

The American people know there's a crisis. They know that the Republicans are doing nothing right now. They know that this is political folderol to please President Trump but not solve America's problems. And rightfully many Americans are just furious.

Senate Republicans are using their majority to pursue the president’s political agenda in a time of national crisis. The president is tweeting insane conspiracy theories and demanding that his water carriers on Capitol Hill make them look legitimate. Instead of focusing on testing capacity and policies to safely re-open our country, to help the so-many individuals and businesses in need, the president is telling the press that he’s taking a unproven treatment—hydroxychloroquine—for a disease that he doesn’t have, and that is reckless.

Please, citizens of America, don't take hydroxychloroquine as a prevention for COVID-19. It is not, medical experts have said, it is not. Remember, it is risky. The F.D.A. has said it has risks.

This is a medicine that experts say, at best, may not be effective in treating or preventing COVID-19, and at worst, causes serious heart problems in patients with certain conditions.

It is astonishingly reckless. I don’t know why the president did it. Maybe he has family or friends who stand to benefit from the popularity of this drug. It wouldn’t be unlike the president that someone called him and said “this is a great drug” a friend of his, and he just talks about it.  He has no penchant for research or science even truth. It just pops into his head, he thinks it sounds good. He thinks it's a diversion from his failures which are so many in dealing with COVID, so he just says it. He doesn't care if it hurts people.

But I do know this, if President Trump was focused on testing, or the production of PPE, or fashioning a careful plan to re-open the country instead of pushing quack medicines and inventing new conspiracies, the country would be in far better shape than it is today and the country knows it. The majority of Americans don't trust the president to handle this crisis, and senate Republicans just say how high when he says jump, no matter how off base, false, or unrelated to COVID his theories are.

On a very different subject. I would like to echo the kind words said by the Majority Leader about Mike DiSilvestro as he prepares to head into retirement on Friday after thirty-seven years of service to the United States Senate.

Mike serves as, everyone knows, as the Director of the Office of Senate Security, in charge of the secure facility here in the Capitol where Senators can receive classified briefing and review sensitive documents. There are very few individuals who have given as much time and attention to this institution as Mike with so little recognition or fanfare—such is the nature of the job. But on the cusp of his retirement, I hope he’ll allow us to pay him a few compliments.

Mike’s counsel is wise. His word can be trusted implicitly. His focus is always on serving the institution, never on politics or party. His judgment and guidance have always been excellent, and he did not rely on subtlety. When you walk into the Senate’s secure facility, you pass a World War II era poster reminding you that “Loose Lips Sink Ships”.

 

His job has had many difficult responsibilities, and Mike was never more valuable or trusted than in difficult times.

He tracked down absent Senators on 9/11. He comforted terrified staff waiting to be decontaminated after Ricin was discovered in Senator Frist’s mailroom. And during the Anthrax incident, he donned a bio hazard suit and entered the contaminated Hart building to retrieve vital documents from Senator Daschle’s office. Even now, in the middle of this public health crisis, Mike has faithfully reported to duty to make sure this institution is able to complete its constitutional work.  

I know he is finding this attention on the floor today uncomfortable. I don't know if he's still there. Yes. Sorry for all the flattery, but it's well deserved. As he is accustomed to working entirely outside of the limelight. He will never be quoted in the paper, and I suspect he will never write a “tell all” book about his time in the Senate. But those of us here, Senators and staffers alike, will long remember his sense of humor, his devotion to his family, his work ethic, and his strong, principled leadership.

There are only a few staff known and respected by every single Senator.  Mike is one of those few.  His absence will be felt by all of us. 

Mike, I wish you well, and hope you finally get to play all the golf you want, complete the Appalachian Trail, and that you enjoy every day of your well-earned retirement. Congratulations!

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