Schumer Floor Remarks Calling For Passage Of The Equality Act, Demanding That Leader McConnell Bring Policing Reform Before the Fourth of July, And On The Need For Further Action Now to Combat the Ongoing Coronavirus Economic and Public Health Crisis

June 16, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor calling for the passage of the Equality Act, demanding Leader McConnell to bring the Justice in Policing Act to the Senate floor before the Fourth of July, and laying out the immediate need for further action on the coronavirus economic and public health crises. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does, in fact, prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was a landmark decision that represents a step forward on the long march to full equality for LGBTQ Americans. We salute that decision. That's what the Supreme Court should be doing, moving us in a direction of equality and fairness. All too often it doesn't these days, so this was a refreshing breath of fresh air from the Court.

But the march, of course, is not over. Yesterday’s decision, welcome as it is, reminds us that even today—even in 2020—we have so much work left to do to advance the cause of justice and equality for all Americans. Only a few days ago, our laws didn’t clearly establish that you couldn’t be fired by your employer simply because of who you are and who you love.

So, yesterday’s decision is not the end of this fight. It was one step forward. The decision is certainly not the end of the fight. Disparities and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity still exist in so many aspects of our lives: education, housing, credit, public spaces and services, and many other ways. If it's wrong to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and gender on jobs, on employment, it's equally wrong in these other areas like housing and education. So we need to pass the Equality Act that expands the prohibition of discrimination to many other needed areas.

Today, Senate Democrats will send a letter from our caucus to Leader McConnell urging him to schedule the Equality Act for a vote on the floor. The House passed it over a year ago but it’s been languishing in Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard.

And I would say to my Republican colleagues: if some of the most conservative people around—like Justice Gorsuch, Justice Roberts—can come to the conclusion that we should stop discriminating—then where are you? Senate Republicans always seem 30 years behind the times. On this issue, for sure.

I urge the Leader: put the Equality Act on the floor now, and let's extend what the Supreme Court did in terms of employment to so many needed other areas. Wake up, my Republican friends, the times, they are a-changing. Discrimination against LGBTQ Americans should be over once and for all and should be the law of the land in every aspect of our lives.

Now, another issue where the Republican caucus seems to be behind. Since the killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice, we’ve been pushing our colleagues in the Senate to respond to our national pain with collective action.

This is a moment in American history. The great mass of our people are demanding change in the streets of our largest cities and our smallest towns. Now is a moment to reach for real, lasting, strong, comprehensive change. We can’t merely make some changes around the margins.

So Democrats drafted and proposed comprehensive police reform legislation last Monday—the Justice in Policing Act, led by Senators Booker and Harris.

With four weeks to go in this current session, we asked Leader McConnell to commit to a vote on the Justice in Policing Act before July 4th.

We didn’t say: do our bill immediately. We asked our Republican colleagues to commit to a debate on our bill before July 4TH, with four weeks left to go.

But so far we haven’t heard any indication that the Republican majority will take up comprehensive police reform this month. Last night, a member of the Republican leadership said the bill was “unlikely” before July 4th.

Of course, Leader McConnell has also reportedly told his caucus that the Senate was unlikely to do another COVID-relief bill until after July 4th.

When it comes to urgent national priorities, the Republican majority is like a broken magic eight ball that keeps saying “ask again later.”

Peaceful protests have continued for three weeks. And Republican Senators want to wait yet another month, maybe even longer, to consider some reform on the floor of the Senate?

The popular anger over long-simmering issues of police brutality and racial justice has reached a tipping point. There is no reason to wait. There is no reason to delay.

By delaying action, Senate Republicans are playing the same dangerous political games they played after mass shootings last summer.

Why is it that when it comes to confirming right-wing judges who want to roll back the clock on health care and on voting rights,  Senate Republicans always make the time? But when it comes to making real changes to police departments, Senate Republicans are already making excuses?

Democrats and the American people, who overwhelmingly support real, meaningful change and accountability in our nation’s police departments, will not rest until we achieve comprehensive and bold reform.

Of course, we’re also still waiting for the Republican Senate majority to propose anything related to COVID-19. Only a few weeks ago, Leader McConnell said that another coronavirus relief belief was likely during the June work period. But once again, in typical fashion of this Republican majority, that deadline seems to have slipped, and now we have no time to consider another COVID bill before July 4th.

And it will have real consequences for the American economy.

Leader McConnell is willing to blow through his own deadlines but some deadlines will arrive whether the Republican leader likes it or not. Whether he likes it or not, his inaction is creating some very steep cliffs for our economy and the American worker. 

  • Small businesses will no longer be able to get assistance through the very popular and bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program after June 30th.
  • State and local governments need to finalize their budgets by July 1st, and many will be forced to cut back on critical public services without public support.
  • The moratorium on evictions that we passed in the CARES Act expires on July 24th.
  • The emergency unemployment insurance we passed in the CARES Act expires on July 31st.
  • And K-12 schools need over $150 billion and as much time as possible to prepare to safely re-open this fall.

So to Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans: there are at least five cliffs (and many more) we face if we don't act soon. The cliff of funding small business, the cliff of helping state and local governments, the cliff on evictions, the cliff on unemployment, and the cliff on the need for schools to reopen in September.

Today, Leader McConnell and I received a letter signed by over 100 economists and scholars, including two former chairs of the Federal Reserve, three former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, and two Nobel Laureates, urging Congress to pass another relief package “commensurate with the $16 trillion” hole in our economy caused by COVID-19.

“At a minimum,” these distinguished economists wrote, the bill should include “continued support for the unemployed, new assistance to states and localities, investments in programs that preserve the employer-employee relationship, and additional aid to stabilize demand.”

Sounds a lot like the HEROES Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives, but once again, is sitting in Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard.

Economists from all walks of life are telling Senate Republicans to get off the mat and do something to help the economy before it’s too late. Governors from both political parties are pleading for aid. Even the Chair of the Federal Reserve Jay Powell, appointed by President Trump, is sounding the alarm about the need for another emergency relief bill.

When will Senate Republicans finally get the message? When will they understand that unless we do these things, the economy will decline in the future, that millions who are unemployed, millions whose businesses are in jeopardy, millions who want to see schools open, will not get what they need? We must act now.

When will Republicans in the Senate finally get the message that we need to act?