Schumer Floor Remarks Condemning President Trump’s Summer Of Division And Discord, Foreign Policy Blunders, And Missed Opportunities To Help The Middle Class; Calling On Leader McConnell And President Trump To Help Pass House-Passed Universal Background Check LegislationSeptember 9, 2019
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding President Trump’s summer of division and discord, foreign policy blunders, and missed opportunities to help the middle class; calling on Leader McConnell and President Trump to help pass House-passed universal background check legislation. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.
Madame President, let me first welcome my colleagues back from the August state work period. As usual, it was an opportunity to travel our states and meet with constituents, to hear from them about the issues that matter most in their lives.
Some of the things I heard: middle-class families are struggling with costs that keep going up while wages barely budge. Recent college graduates are saddled with crippling college debt. And are worried about their future, their ability to buy a home and do the things they want for their children. Families and seniors are worried about rising health care costs, particularly prescription drugs. And voters asked if we’re doing enough to keep our elections safe from foreign interference.
I spent time talking with educators in upstate New York about teacher shortages, with farmers about the future of agricultural production, with homeowners about improving flood insurance policies, and with middle-class families about keeping more of their earnings in their pockets after Republicans repealed the state and local tax deduction.
I heard from New Yorkers in every corner of my state, and the overwhelming consensus was that Washington has to do more to shore up the middle class and those struggling to get there.
Typically, with Congress out of session, the president can spend the month of August highlighting issues and building support for laws, and initiatives, and programs to help working Americans. But not this president. Not President Trump. As we all could have predicted, he spent the month of August sowing discord and division at home, comforting our adversaries, alienating our allies abroad, and spreading recrimination and self-aggrandizement on Twitter. 20 years ago if you read what the president done this year, you’d say that’s fiction. This August, that would be fiction. But unfortunately it’s true. And although we’ve become a bit inured to the president’s volatility, it’s hard to recall a president having a more destructive or bizarre summer.
On the world stage, President Trump canceled a planned visit to Denmark because they refused to consider selling us Greenland, he released a reportedly classified satellite image on Twitter, and suggested inviting Putin to return to the G7, hoping, of course, that he could host the next one, out of all places, his private resort in Florida.
Here at home, the president called the Chairman of the Federal Reserve an “enemy,” continued to attack the FBI, again falsely claimed he won the popular vote, and called Jews who voted for Democrats “disloyal.”
On issues of policy: the president began the month vacillating wildly on support for gun safety measures despite three mass shootings, and ended the summer by diverting funds intended for our nation’s defense and for our soldiers and their families and taking that money away from them for the construction of a border wall that we all know he promised Mexico would pay for.
And of course, we’ve now spent the past week-and-a-half watching the president desperately try to justify—sometimes with a Sharpie—his warning that the state of Alabama lay in Hurricane Dorian’s destructive path. What a circus! This is America. We’re so proud of this country. We can’t be proud of the president’s actions in the last month. No one can, no matter what you your politics.
I say to President Trump: there are real issues facing real Americans. And it’s our job as their elected representatives—whether we be in the executive branch or the legislative branch, whether we be Democrats, Independents, or Republicans—to do something to help them. But this president seems uninterested or maybe simply incapable. So as we return to work in Washington, let us aim for progress on the issues President Trump ignored during his strange, lost summer: gun safety, election security, health care, infrastructure, making progress on funding the government in order to avoid another government shutdown that the president caused and had to back off from last time.
That’s the people’s business. Even if the president isn’t interested in it, it’s our job to be. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. And sometimes we have to ignore the president’s shenanigans.
One issue of particular importance looms on this upcoming Senate work period: gun safety. In the month of August, more than fifty Americans were killed in mass shootings, the latest barrage in the litany of mass shootings that have so become all too routine in our country; to say nothing of the American lives lost in everyday gun violence in our communities. It’s on the minds of the American people. I was at the airport, someone I didn’t know grabbed my arm and he said, “Senator, do something about gun violence. I lost my nephew to gun violence last year.” It’s on so many people’s minds.
That’s why our first order of business in the Senate should be to take action on H.R. 8, the House-passed bipartisan Background Checks Act. We must grapple with the stark reality that gun violence is becoming an all too routine occurrence, and that we in Congress have both the ability and responsibility to do something about it.
H.R. 8 is the most commonsense way for the Senate to save American lives. It is bipartisan. It has already passed the House. And as a matter of policy, it is absolutely necessary to close the loopholes in our background check system in order to make other gun safety laws effective. We can and should pass a very strong red flag law, but what good would a red flag law do if someone were adjudicated unable to have a gun and he could go online and get that gun with no check at all? If you don’t have background checks bad people will get guns. Felons, spousal abusers, those mentally ill, and people who get red flags. So it is critical that we pass a universal background check law and close the loopholes, that we do everything we can to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands in the first place.
Background checks must be the base, the foundation we start from, when we talk about gun safety legislation.
Just look at the case of the shooter in Odessa, Texas, who reportedly failed a background check in 2014 but was able to purchase a firearm through a private sale with no background check. This is one of the loopholes that the bipartisan Background Checks Act would close. And these loopholes were never intended. I was the author of the Brady Law. I’m proud of it. It saved tens of thousands of lives. Back in 1994 when I was a House member and the chair of the Crime Subcommittee. But back then, there was no internet. When some of the gun advocates here said, ‘well exempt gun show loopholes,’ gun shows were simply a place to show antique-type guns—your 1938 Derringer. But now of course, they’ve become the huge loophole that felons and other people who shouldn’t have guns seek to use to get guns. So we’ve got to close these loopholes. It’s not doing anything more to take away the legitimate rights of American citizens who want to bear arms, something I believe in, than it was when it passed. It’s just closing loopholes as time has evolved.
Now, there are two people in Washington to make this legislation, which would greatly reduce gun violence, pass: Leader McConnell and President Trump. Leader McConnell has the power to make sure this legislation passes this body, or to make sure that it doesn’t pass. It’s in their hands.
The Republican Leader determines the Senate’s business. After the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we demanded that the Leader call the Senate back into session so we can respond to the crisis. He refused. Maybe he hoped the scenes of violence would fade from minds of the public and the issue would fizzle out.
Well, that has certainly not happened and Democrats won’t let that happen. And unfortunately, the increased frequency of mass shootings won’t let it happen either. As Democrats return to Washington, we carry with us the frustration of Americans who demand action but have seen far too little. These are demands of Democrats and Republicans- people northeast, south and west. Men and women, people from urban areas, suburban areas and rural areas. And so, with their importuning in mind we will make sure the issue of gun safety remains front and center for these next three weeks and beyond, until meaningful change is achieved.
By contrast, Leader McConnell did not even mention gun violence in his opening remarks today, after promising that we would have a debate in the Senate when we returned. We await word from the leader when that debate might take place.
One thing we do know is that Leader McConnell has said that the question of background checks will come down to President Trump. “If the president took a position on a bill,” Leader McConnell said, “I’d be happy to put it on the floor.” That’s what he said, those are his words.
If that’s the case, the President has a historic opportunity to save lives by signaling his support for the House-passed background checks bill. So far, he’s been all over the lot. The president told me he is going to get the “strongest possible bill” but also has not committed to what he might support. And then in future days seemed to have backed off that statement.
That is why Speaker Pelosi and I sent President Trump a letter today urging him to support H.R.8, the universal background check bill to make his position public.
President Trump can lead his party to do something that the NRA has long prevented Republicans from doing by providing these republicans cover of a Republican president’s support.
President Trump: please read our letter. Support the bipartisan universal background checks bill. It’s common sense. It’s enormously popular with the public, 93% , popular even with Republicans and gun owners. And, above all, it would save American lives.
Maybe that man at the airport, I don’t know his name or where he was from, would not have to come up to me and tell me his nephew died of gun violence if we had passed some of these laws. The time to act is now, before more lives are lost. The pressure is on President Trump and Leader McConnell to act.