Schumer Floor Remarks On Interior Secretary Nominee David Bernhardt, The Need To Approve Disaster Relief Funding For Puerto Rico And Other Hard-Hit Regions Across The U.S., And Nonstop Chaos In The Trump Administration

April 10, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt, the need to approve disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico and other hard-hit regions across the U.S., and nonstop chaos in the Trump Administration. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Later this week, the Senate will vote on the confirmation of David Bernhardt, a longtime lobbyist, to the position of Interior Secretary. An oil and gas lobbyist will be entrusted with our sacred, sacred inheritance, the great lands of America. I urge Senators to oppose this nomination.

The Department of the Interior is the agency entrusted with protecting our nation’s public lands, our water supplies, our wildlife, and our energy resources. It grapples directly with some of the biggest questions our country faces—how to respond to climate change, how to protect endangered species, and how to care for our precious natural resources.

And yet, to lead our Interior Department, President Trump has nominated Mr. Bernhardt: an oil and gas lobbyist who’s made a career harming the environment, subverting environmental protections, and helping polluters sidestep federal regulation. And as Former Secretary Zinke’s Deputy, he has paved the way for even more polluters to run rampant without accountability. Under his watch, the Department of Interior has already opened a colossal 17 million acres of federal land for oil and gas leases, generating millions in revenue for energy companies, all while Bernhardt recklessly managed our national parks during the government shutdown.

I’m especially troubled that this morning Politico reported that under Mr. Bernhardt’s watch, the Department of Interior might even greenlight offshore drilling off the coasts of Florida—a prospect that both parties in the state say they oppose. This should be a wakeup call to my colleagues all up and down the coasts – Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf. If they can’t find a reason to oppose this nominee based on the other serious and troubling issues that have been raised, maybe this is reason enough for them.

It is hard to imagine someone whose background is so at odds with the Department’s mission as Mr. Bernhardt’s. President Trump, for all his talk of draining the swamp, wants to add yet another Washington swamp creature lobbyist to his cabinet. And by the way, our oil and gas resources? They’re large. The motivation here, to foil public lands for oil and gas drilling – well, it’s the power of the oil companies. It has nothing to do with a plan for natural resources, and Mr Bernhardt is an exemplary example of the power of these oil companies.

Gravely troubling is the long list of conflicting interests that Mr. Bernhardt would bring to President Trump’s cabinet. Up to twenty of his former clients have lobbied the Department of Interior since his arrival—and the New York Times reported last week that he’s very likely been less than forthcoming about when he stopped lobbying. No, no other cabinet-level nominee in the Trump Era has so many conflicts of interest, and that is a low bar. It’s a distinction that no one should be proud to hold.

Worst of all, Mr. Bernhardt is a hardened enemy of climate science. Hey, if you’re a lobbyist for oil and gas companies, you’d be against climate change, and you’d say climate change isn’t real, too. The Washington Post reported that he attended a session of administration officials that quote “debated how best to establish a group of researchers that could scrutinize recent federal climate reports.”

Translation: Mr. Bernhardt is actively working to set up the White House’s fake climate panel to deny basic science. I’ve already introduced legislation to prohibit any funding from going to this fake climate panel, but knowing Mr. Bernhardt’s role in setting it up should send shivers down the spines of every American who is worried about the impact of our changing climate on their families, their farms, and future generations.

We cannot entrust our public lands to someone known to wage a campaign of censorship against fact and reason.

Now later today, I am going to be able to meet with Mr. Bernhardt to discuss his qualifications. And I’m letting him know now that I will ask him the same three questions that I have asked ask my Republican colleagues in this chamber: one, does Mr. Bernhardt agree that climate change is real? Two, does he agree that it’s a product of human action, and three, should the federal government have a role in combating its effects? His record suggests his answer to all these questions is “no”, but let’s see what he says today.

Caring for our planet and being good stewards of our natural resources are the most important responsibilities we owe to future generations. So I’m gravely concerned about Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination to the Department of Interior, and I urge my colleagues to vote no on his confirmation.

And one final point. It still amazes me. Donald Trump campaigns on cleaning up the swamp and he does exactly the opposite when in office. An oil and gas lobbyist as head of the Department of Interior? My G-d. That’s an example of the swampiness of Washington if there ever was one. And when are Donald Trump’s supporters going to understand this? That what he promised them in so many different instances, he’s not delivering. It’s befuddling. It’s a sign of the weakness of our democracy that someone can walk into the presidency promising so many things and then just immediately do that opposite. And still, a large chunk of Americans say they support him. It’s amazing to me.

Now, on Disaster Relief. 

For months, American citizens have been reeling from natural disasters and are in desperate need of federal aid. Parenthetically I would remind Mr. Bernhardt that a lot of these disasters scientists believe is because the climate is warmer and the weather is changing.

But rather than work with us to provide the much-needed aid to large chunks of America, our Republican colleagues have once again decided to follow President Trump and refuse compromise. They are so afraid of him that even when he proposes something that they know is wrong and irrational, they do 180 degree hairpin turn and support what he’s doing. Now that would be just politics except millions are awaiting aid and need help. Their homes, their farms, their offices, their factories, are underwater, literally in a lot of places still.

Just yesterday, we House Democrats offered a solution. We said let’s provide disaster relief, not to some Americans but to all Americans struggling to recover and rebuild from natural disasters.

Their new proposal that the House offered includes an additional $3 billion, this is House Democrats not Senate Democrats by the way. Their new proposal considers an additional $3 billion to address urgent needs following the floods in the Midwest and the tornadoes in the south.

This plus up includes $1.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood risk reduction, so crucial in the Missouri River Valley. $1 billion in CDBG for long-term recovery needs, and $500 million in Agriculture funding to help the farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and replace some of the farm animals that have been lost.

Yesterday’s House Bill comes in addition to the proposals that Senator Leahy and I offered last week, and are similar to them. And in addition to the work that Senator Leahy did last month.

So again and again and again, Democrats have presented option after option for disaster funding that helps the Midwest that helps the coasts, helps the South, and helps Puerto Rico and other territories. None of our offers are either-or. Help this, but not that. Enough excuses from our Republican colleagues! We’ve had enough of the slow playing! But more important, the people who need this help have had enough! The Bottom line is very, very simple: the aid we seek is what Americans have always done. When there is a disaster, we all come together and aid those areas in a disaster, because we know when a huge natural disaster hits from G-d, an area can’t deal with it on their own. They don’t have the resources, the ability. And they are many times in trouble because of the disaster itself. We say come to the aid, but all of a sudden Donald Trump goes into the Republican lunch a week and a half ago and says “I don’t want any aid to Puerto Rico”. He falsely claims they’ve gotten 91 Billion, not true. And then all our Republican friends go along. Well we’re not, the House wont. Senate Democrats won’t, plain and simple. We don’t believe you should pick and choose. Why did President Trump single out Puerto Rico, which are American citizens like everybody else? A lot of theories. But regardless of what your theory is, that is not the way to govern as president, and frankly it is not the way to govern as Senators.

It is bewildering that our Republican colleagues have caved to President Trump’s, what can be called a temper tantrum, even though they are well aware of the problems and were ready to help Puerto Rico before he threw that temper tantrum. And some say, “well Puerto Rico is getting a little money, they are getting food stamp aid.” Well great, well let’s just give food stamp aid to everybody else. Let’s give it to everybody else. What about the farms that are underwater, what about all the homes that are flooded and needed help? You give food stamp aid that doesn’t help them. So let’s be fair, let’s treat each area the same. Let’s do what we have done in the American tradition, come together when there is a disaster to help American’s and not be so afraid of Donald Trump that when you know he’s wrong, you just go along.

The idea that Puerto Rico should be treated differently from the rest of America is insulting. It’s against our American values, a betrayal of the promise to look after all American citizens, not because of their politics and not because of what their last names might sound like. American citizens we come together during times of need. Democrats will not yield on our responsibility to all American citizens.  And I tell that to all my friends from the farm states, even those who voted against aid to New York when we had our hurricane, I never even considered not voting for aid to any other place in the country, and always have. So I say to my friends, let’s treat everyone fairly and we can get the much needed disaster aid out there quickly.

Finally on chaos—over the past twelve days, the president has sought to fix his broken policies by breaking down his administration piece by piece. Even in an Administration where we have become used to seeing extremism and illogic rule the day, a government of whim, a government of erraticness, a government of temper tantrum, the last few days have reached a new low in dysfunction.

And all of this has a simple root cause: every time President Trump faces a new challenge, he just keeps pointing his fingers and blaming others. Blame her, blame him. Fire this one, fire that one. Mr. President, President Trump: you’re not a TV host. You’re the President. Work to fix it! Don’t keep firing. Don’t keep changing policies from one day to the next and then abandoning them. Roll up your sleeves, bring in the experts, and work to fix it. You’re the president. But the president seems to much more enjoy blaming people – whether they’re in his own administration, people of our political party, and everyone else in between – than of actually solving the problems.

He says he wants to keep Americans safe, but President Trump fires the DHS Secretary and Secret Service Director on a whim and provokes shutdowns that cripple our airports and our ports of entry.

The president says he wants to strengthen America’s standing in the world, yet no President has done more to undermine the work of diplomacy and the State Department than Donald Trump.

He says that Republicans will be the Party of Health Care, yet he sues to devastate our health care system with no plans to replace it.

In this administration, chaos reigns, and the source of the chaos comes only from one place: the President of the United States and his erratic, vacillating, often vindictive attitudes towards personnel and policies.

When will President Trump learn that the biggest problem is not the personnel executing his agenda – it is the extreme, irrational policies that are abhorrent to American values – and sometimes against the law – but he insists on them?

Every day that President Trump treats the most consequential job in the world like it’s some kind of reality TV show is another day that America’s security, stability, and long-term prosperity is further imperiled.