Schumer Floor Remarks On Gun Safety In The Wake Of The Highlands Ranch School Shooting, President Trump’s Unfair Treatment Of Puerto Rico, And The Role Of Dark Money In Blocking Progress On Climate Change

May 9, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding gun safety in the wake of the Highlands Ranch school shooting in Colorado, President Trump’s unfair treatment of Puerto Rico, and the role of dark money in blocking progress on climate change. Below are his remarks:

Thank you Madam President. Now, on Tuesday afternoon, our country suffered another school shooting – this time in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. It was the second shooting of the week following a weekend where at least 19 people were shot in Baltimore, 16 in St. Louis, 28 in Chicago.

Madam President, my grandson is less than a year old – turned over in his crib last night, a great accomplishment – but on a serious note, I don’t want him to live in a world where this is the norm. I don’t want him to see this on TV every other week. I don’t want him to come home from school – I don’t want him to come home after school to tell his parents about learning to hide under his desk with the lights off. I don’t want him to grow up in a country where children and adolescents are more than 20 times likely to be killed with guns than their peers in other high-income countries. I want him, little Noah, and every other child in America, to live in a world where America’s gun violence epidemic is a thing of the past.

It may seem a naïve thought in a cynical time, but I believe we can get there. We can take steps right now to make these incidents less likely. Nothing will prevent them. But there are lots of things we can do to make them a lot less frequent. A few months ago, the House did just that. The House passed legislation to close the loopholes in federal background checks – something that more than 90% of all Americans support.

No one here pretends that we can prevent every incident, but we have a choice to face moving in the right direction in a significant way and doing nothing. That is why I am so disappointed, once again, in Leader McConnell and the Republican majority who have turned this chamber into a legislative graveyard, where even the most bipartisan, broadly supported legislation like background checks can’t even get a vote or a discussion.

Here we are at another week in the Senate, this week we have done nothing but process nominations. It’s not because there’s nothing else to do. There are over 100 bills – many noncontroversial, many bipartisan – that have passed the House awaiting Senate action. But McConnell has turned the Senate, Leader McConnell has turned the Senate into a legislative graveyard.

When the American people demand action, Leader McConnell does nothing. When the American people demand action, the Senate Republicans are in obeisance to this strategy of graveyard, even when in their hearts they may know that doing it is not right and they’d like to debate the issues, whatever their views.

Leader McConnell promised to preside over an open Senate, with vigorous debate and amendment votes and the ability to vote on the issues of the day. He promised that. And he said no matter which party offered the ideas. Leader McConnell is breaking those promises when he consigns bill after bill, every one of them needed by America, needed by the middle class, needed by working people. And he assigns every one of them to the legislative graveyard. No debate. No amendments. No progress. No hope for the American people if the Senate continues to be such a legislative graveyard, at least from this body.

Now on Puerto Rico.

Last night, President Trump held his first Florida rally of the year, in Panama City, the heart of the Panhandle that was so awfully devastated by hurricane Michael last year. President Trump’s speech contained all the usual demagoguery and bloviating, but one thing, in particular, stuck in his craw. The president used his rally in Florida to denigrate, once again, the island of Puerto Rico, to repeat falsehoods about how much aid it has received, and to pit one Americans against another, which seems to be his MO.

Again, the president said that Puerto Rico had gotten $91 billion of disaster aid. Flat-out false. They’ve received a hair over $11 billion.

Mr. President, ask your budget people how many dollars Puerto Rico has received and they will not tell you the $91 billion falsehood that you have repeated over and over again.

And again, I saw the president pit Americans against each other, going so far as to hold up a flimsy graphic to get Floridians in his audience to turn against Americans in Puerto Rico.

At a time when we need unity, at a time when we should be together with all the threats challenging us – domestic and foreign, all the other kinds of challenges – all the president can do is appeal to people’s worst instincts and divide us. You know, we’re humans, we’re made by God. We have good and bad in each of us. The president should be appealing to the good side, not the bad side, but all he does is the bad side. It’s a shame.

Of course, he said that Puerto Ricans should be “grateful” for whatever disaster aid they’ve received as a pretext for not doing more. Does he say that to people of Florida? ‘You shouldn’t get any more aid because you’ve received some already and you should be grateful’? Of course not. Double standard.

President Trump ought to be ashamed of himself for condescending to and publicly mocking a community that is still suffering. These are men and women and children. They still don’t have their homes, their hospitals, their schools. They can’t go on with life. And he’s mocking them? What did they do wrong? They’re American citizens. I sometimes cannot believe the depth of cruelty that the president uses to treat fellow Americans citizens this way.

The fact remains; we can end the impasse over disaster aid at a moment’s notice. To the people of Florida, all you’ve got to do is tell your Senators, ‘Vote for the full aid package including aid to Puerto Rico’ and you’ll get all the aid you need. All the aid that Congress has allocated. Just do that. But Republican Senators after President Trump winning said ‘No aid to Puerto Rico,’ blindly bowed in obeisance, and that’s why the aid isn’t here. The House will never pass a bill that doesn’t treat Puerto Rico as fairly as it treats the other states of the union. Let’s decide now that we’re going to help every corner of America when it’s hit by disaster because that’s what Americans have always done.

Now, on climate and dark money. I want to return today to the topic of climate change, specifically today: why in our political system has progress on climate change been so slow and halting? Why is it that so many Republicans here in the Senate are afraid to say yes to three questions? Is climate change real? Is it caused by humans? Should we do something bold about it? They’re afraid to say yes on any of those. Why? It’s so obvious to almost everybody else.

Well, one of the dominant reasons is that for decades, Big Oil, Big Gas, and Big Coal have devoted huge financial resources to stymie political progress and sow doubt about climate science. And for years, one of the biggest perpetrators of this anti-climate campaign has been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The national Chamber of Commerce, which bears almost no resemblance to local chambers across the country, has acted like a fossil fuel front group. It accepts millions of dollars in dark money, won’t reveal its secret donors, and has consistently fought any attempts by our government to grapple with climate change: carbon pricing, reducing methane emissions, even the Paris Climate Accords.

The game has become so obvious that major American corporations have disassociated themselves with the chamber over its climate policies.

Now recently, the chamber has begun to talk as if it intends to get better on climate change. They’ve added a new page to their website and announced an “energy innovation” agenda.

I welcome the progress. But truthfully, the chamber has made a shocking about-face from climate denier to supposed climate believer and advocate, that it’s hard not to be skeptical.

Now, if the chamber were serious about combating climate change, it would disclose its donors and let the world see that it is finally changing. Maybe it would start endorsing different candidates or getting behind truly bold legislation. Maybe they’d come in here and lobby that we should support the Paris Accords. But until that day, the chamber’s so-called big change on climate seems to be cosmetic.

It may seem, Madam President, that I’m spending an awful lot of time on one group. But it matters. The chamber is part of a vast network of generally right-wing organizations that accept and disseminate billions of dollars of special interest money with zero disclosure. It has warped our political process by creating a financial incentive for many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to oppose climate policies that deal with climate change, to oppose appropriate consumer protections, to oppose environmental protections, and to oppose things like gun safety, as well.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has done an amazing, outstanding job of bringing this issue to the forefront and exposing the web of dark money that lurks evilly behinds our politics. And I want to thank him and commend him for it.

I’m glad that organizations like the chamber are feeling the heat to acknowledge climate change and propose solutions. They should. But the bigger and more pervasive issue is that the dark money will continue to flow into our political system until we change it. Until we deal with it, or until groups start voluntary disclosures, in all likelihood these organizations will continue to frustrate progress behind the scenes. And the longing we all have to keep our planet the beautiful place that it is, to prevent the seas from rising, and the weather from changing, and the coral reefs from disappearing will not become a reality so long as this dark money is still having a stranglehold on so many in the other party on climate.

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