Schumer Floor Remarks Calling on Sen. McConnell to Hold Votes on Universal Background Checks And Election Security Legislation, The Trump Administration’s Failed Immigration Policies, and the Death of Senator Thad Cochran

June 3, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today gave the following floor remarks calling on Sen. McConnell to hold votes on universal background checks and election security legislation, the Trump administration’s vindictive and chaotic southern border strategy and the death of Senator Thad Cochran. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here: 

Mr. President, it’s with great sadness that last week we learned of the death of our friend and former colleague, Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

In nearly 40 years in office, Thad served with a fierceness and loyalty to Mississippi matched only by his sense of dignity and respect for his colleagues. When his issues were on the line, Sen. Cochran fought for Mississippi as hard as any Senator. He nurtured Mississippi’s universities, schools, farms, hospitals, ports, and fishing industry. He was a champion of the poor and gave a voice to rural communities by expanding assistance for southern farmers. Perhaps it is fitting that he was first bitten by the political bug in his run for head cheerleader at Ole Miss. Because throughout his career, throughout his life, Thad never stopped being a cheerleader for Mississippi.

One thing I’ll never forget was Sen. Cochran’s graciousness after my state was hit by Hurricane Sandy. He knew from his experience after Hurricane Katrina just how devastating the damage can be and how difficult the recovery process can seem in the aftermath of a disaster. At a time when many of his colleagues, who always voted for aid for their regions, but opposed Sandy because it was New York, Sen. Cochran not only supported it, but even made sure that his team was available to give us guidance. I’ll never forget that. That’s the kind of gentleman and fair-minded individual he was—something missing a lot around here.

In many ways, Thad Cochran was a model senator; he understood this body’s preference for cooperation, compromise, congeniality almost intuitively. Even as the Senate has gone further away from those values, Sen. Cochran held them close. That’s just who he was. It made him a better Senator and a better man. We’ll miss him. I think all of us will. Our prayers go out today to his wife Kay, his children, his loved ones, his many friends.

Now, Mr. President, on background checks. Last Friday, another horrible mass shooting transformed a peaceful community in America into a place of tragedy. In Virginia Beach, a dozen people were killed, several others critically wounded, and thousands of Virginians left to mourn and pick up the pieces. Today we grieve with the people of Virginia Beach and we send our thanks to the brave policemen and women who risked their lives to protect their neighbors. These tragedies leave scars that never go away on community after community that has suffered from them.

Now, it’s has been less than a month since I spoke on the Senate floor after a shooting. That’s the tragedy; less than one month, that I had to come to the floor and speak on the tragedy of one shooting, and now we have another. The list of national tragedies is already too long, the names and places of mass shootings and, victims of everyday gun violence already too many—far too many—to count.

So it is time—long past time—to bring a bill to improve gun safety to the floor of the Senate. The House has already passed a bill to close the loopholes in our background check system. It is commonsense. It is bipartisan. More than 90% of Americans support closing these loopholes, including a majority of Republicans, a majority of gun owners. It’s hard to defend the ability—the desire of felons, spousal abusers, those adjudicated mentally ill, to get firearms. And in fact, those who oppose this kind of legislation don’t defend that. They sort of slink away, hide, figuratively, if not literally, under their desks here on the Senate floor.

So why won’t Leader McConnell allow background checks to get a vote, even a debate, in the Senate? Why has Leader McConnell added this bipartisan legislation that has already passed the House to his legislative graveyard?

For too long, the gun lobby has reflexively opposed any gun safety reforms, the most benign and commonsense reforms like closing loopholes in our background checks. And for too long, the Republican Majority has marched in lockstep with them. Against the will of the American people. Against the safety of the American people. It’s time for that to change. Leader McConnell should call a vote on universal background checks now. Nobody pretends that it will stop every shooting, but if it could prevent even one more from happening, it deserves our consideration. Let’s not delay any longer. Let’s not cower before the NRA. Let’s do the right thing that 90% of Americans want us to do.

On election security. There is no principle more central to a democracy than the principle of free and fair elections. That is the very wellspring of our democracy. It’s what the people at Bunker Hill, farmers, put down their plows and took up muskets for. No taxation without representation. Voting. And over the past three years, we’ve been reminded again and again how that very sacred wellspring of democracy, voting and fair elections, were attacked by a foreign power. Mr. Mueller’s press conference last week was only the latest reminder of a concerted campaign by Moscow to influence our elections in 2016.

It was also a reminder of how much we have yet to do to secure our elections in the future. We included some—some only, but some—funding for election security in last year’s budget but we have been blocked so far from providing additional support in this year’s budget. We have bipartisan legislation to harden election infrastructure and sanction any foreign power that tries to interfere in our elections. That legislation is ready to go. But once again, Leader McConnell, the self-described ‘Grim-Reaper’ has refused to take it up. Another tombstone in his legislative graveyard.

At the very least, the Senate should be briefed by our intelligence and law enforcement chiefs about the threat of election interference in the 2020 election. So we can all be aware of the danger that FBI Director Wray already has pointed out. On that front, I have some positive news: I have spoken to the Republican Leader about that request and he has assured me that we will have a briefing.

We’re still trying to sort out the timing of the briefing but I’d urge that it take place as soon as possible during this work period so we can prepare new legislation that will go into effect at least a year before Election Day of 2020.

By no means does a briefing replace all the other things we must do to protect our elections. It is necessary but not nearly sufficient. But I hope when people go to this briefing—members, Democrats and Republicans—they’ll see the danger and act. How can we sit by? If we are a great power, to sit by with our arms folded while Russia or China or Iran or some other country—North Korea—tries to interfere in our elections…that’s not what a great power does. It protects itself and its people, especially when it comes to something so vital as elections. So I hope we have this briefing quickly. I hope it reignites a desire on both sides of the aisle to move legislation, increase funding, and do what’s necessary to protect our democracy.

Finally on the border. Since the outset, the Trump Administration’s policy at our southern border has been chaotic, ineffective, and in many cases, inhumane. One of the most fundamentally misguided elements of the Trump Administration’s policy is how it has approached the root causes of migration.

Because while the President complains loudly about the number of refugees and migrants at our border, his Administration has made a few of the root causes of this migration more severe.

One of the principal ways that we could address the surge in migrants is by helping to improve conditions in their home countries. Most of them are fleeing violence or huge economic hardship, so they feel it’s better to travel a thousand miles that’s dangerous—maybe in the hands of coyotes— than to stay home. But by cracking down on gang violence and drug trafficking back in their home countries, we could reduce the flow of immigrants at our southern border. So why? No one can understand it. So confounding.

Why in late March did the President announced that he’d be cutting off security assistance to Central American countries to address these very issues? The president cut his nose to spite his face. He made the problem worse by cutting off these dollars.

The Administration has provided virtually no information about or rationale for those cuts, which total $450 million.

It’s a completely self-inflicted wound to our national security that makes the problems the president complains about worse, not better. It’s almost as if the president is intentionally trying to add fuel to the fire; to fabricate a crisis; to create, post-hoc, a justification for a baseless emergency declaration he made months ago.

I don’t think many Americans would say that cutting funding to help Central American countries stop migration is a responsible policy. And that’s why Democrats have proposed just the opposite. We propose to actually get at the root causes of migration. By allowing asylum seekers to apply for asylum in their home countries—not at our southern border. By increasing the number of judges to process the cases at the border. By helping Central American countries crack down on gang violence and insidious drug cartels. In fact, our bill authorizes $1.5 billion in security assistance to the Northern Triangle to do just that, far and above what the Administration has just cut.

The policies the Administration pursues make no sense whatsoever. They seem vindictive; they seem done at the moment; they seem totally not thought through. We are proposing policies that would address the real issue here and Democrats will push for them in any legislation that deals with border policy.

I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.