Schumer Floor Remarks On Leader McConnell’s Commitment To Vote On 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Legislation And On The Iran Amendment To The NDAA And The Need To Improve Conditions At The Border

June 26, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Leader McConnell’s commitment to move legislation to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund before the August recess, his commitment that the Senate would vote on the Iran amendment to the NDAA, and the dire need to improve conditions at the border. Below are his remarks which can also be found here.

Mr. President, I begin this morning with some welcome news. After meeting with a group of the 9/11 first responders last night, Leader McConnell gave them his commitment to move legislation to reauthorize the victims’ compensation fund before the August recess.

That’s an important commitment, and I want to thank the Leader. We’ve been struggling for years to get not a quarter, not half, but the full victims’ compensation fund, as well as of course the healthcare for those who bravely rushed to the towers, right after 9/11 and the awful attack.

Even more importantly than thanking the Leader, I want to thank all the first responders who came down here to continue their advocacy. I have little doubt that without them, this wouldn’t have happened.

Many of them are sick. Some of them are dying. This week I spoke to New York Police Detective Luis Alvarez, who is now in hospice and dying of cancer. He would normally have been right next to John Feal and the other advocates meeting with Leader McConnell, because his illness never stopped him from advocating for his compatriots. Instead of him being there, John Feal gave Leader McConnell his badge. It’s not easy for a police officer to part with their badge, but Alvarez, in his usual selfless, magnanimous way, knew how important it would be for Leader McConnell to see it. I remember my dear friend Ray Pfeifer, before he passed away, was the same way: kept coming down, in pain, suffering, and knowing that his cancer caused by 9/11 and the toxins in the air was incurable. But Ray knew that if he kept coming down, it would help others who had not yet gotten those cancers, but were sure to get them, because they too had rushed to the tower.

This effort was about making sure their friends and the families of their friends are cared for. That’s what Alvarez stands for, that’s what Pfeifer stood for, that’s what all the first responders stand for—particularly those who come down, many of them.

That’s the very definition of selflessness, the same selflessness that compelled these men and women to rush to the towers without a thought for their own safety, to ensure the safety of others.

Now that Leader McConnell has committed to address this issue before August, we’re making real progress. We’ve gotten to the five yard line, but we’re not over the goal line yet when it comes to the victims’ compensation fund. There are still a few ways this Senate could fumble the ball. I’ll be there to make sure they won’t.

But, as the Leader well knows, there is a House and Senate version of the 9/11 bill. The House has already passed its version through Committee. The full House should pass it in early July. The best way to get this done, without fuss or muss, without somebody fumbling the ball, as we are on the five yard line, would be to have the Senate vote on the House bill. I hope that’s what the Leader will decide to do.

I would also say to the Leader, respectfully, that he need not wait for a must-pass vehicle. Based on the number of cosponsors on the Senate bill, we have sixty votes. I want to thank my colleague from New York, Senator Gillibrand, for working so hard to round up votes. We have the votes to move this bill separately on the floor, and alone. It would take very little of the Senate’s time to take up and pass the bill, whenever the Leader decides to do so. On an issue as important as this, we should consider the legislation as a stand-alone, rather than tucked inside a must-pass bill, because we know these must-pass bills often don’t pass these days.

Again, I appreciate the Leader’s commitment, it means a great deal to the 9/11 first responders. I spoke to John Feal this morning, and he is very optimistic now, but also told me, “Make sure we get this done. We’re not there yet.”

Feal and I agree. We’re at the five yard line. We’ve come a long way, ninety-five yards down the field, but we’re not at the goal line yet. And we can’t let a last-minute fumble, one way or the other, stop the victims’ compensation fund from being fully funded—permanently, or at least as long as can be—and helping those who need the help. Parenthetically, I prefer permanently, or at least the seventy-one years that is in the House bill.  

Iran: I also appreciate Leader McConnell’s commitment on another front. Yesterday, Leader McConnell promised that the Senate would vote on the Udall amendment to the defense authorization bill.

Democrats have been urging the Leader to allow this crucial vote on our Iran policy, and I am pleased that this chamber may consider it, and I am hopeful that the Leader and I will be able to come to some agreement on the timing of that vote soon.

This is a debate the Senate should have. For the sake of the Constitution, which houses the power to declare war here in this branch; for the sake of the Senate, which has ducked too many debates and too many amendments this year; and for the sake of the American people, many of whom are worried that the president will bumble us into another endless war in the Middle East that nobody wants.

So I look forward to working with the Leader to schedule a time for this very, very important debate—a debate mandated by the Constitution.

Finally, on the border.

Over the past several weeks, our nation has had to come to grips with the horrendous treatment of unaccompanied migrant children at our southern border. The reports of what’s happening at detention centers like the one in Clint, Texas, and Homestead, Florida have shaken the conscience of the nation.

Hundreds of kids crammed into a facility suited for a few dozen at most. No beds to sleep on. No soap or toothbrushes to clean themselves. Not enough diapers for toddlers to wear. Eight-year-olds are taking care of two-year-olds because they’ve been separated from their parents. Many have worn the same clothes for several weeks. Many have gotten sick. And several have died while in the care of our government.

Now yesterday, the New York Times released this picture: a Salvadoran father and daughter—Oscar Martinez and 23-month-old Valeria—washed upon the banks of the Rio Grande after trying to cross into the United States, her tiny head tucked inside his shirt, her arm draped around his neck. They were holding on to each other.

President Trump, I want you to look at this photo. These are not drug dealers. Or vagrants or criminals. They are simply people fleeing a horrible situation in their home country for a better life.

How could President Trump look at this picture and not understand that these are human beings, fleeing violence and persecution, willing to risk a perilous—sometimes fatal—journey in search of a better life? These people are not coming here to sell drugs or commit crimes, they’re coming here to escape brutality, starvation, threats of rape in murder in their home countries. Any normal person would flee. And the sad fact of the matter is we can do something about this if the President would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame. 

If Oscar and Valeria had been allowed to petition for asylum in the United States within El Salvador—if they asked for asylum to come here, but did it at the El Salvadoran embassy, as Democrats have proposed, they would not have had to make this perilous journey. If this administration followed through on foreign aid to help stabilize their home country’s government, they would not have had to make this perilous journey.  If our ports of entry were adequately staffed, we had enough asylum judges, and our asylum laws respected, they might not have perished. That is what is at stake.

There’s a rational solution here. It has had bipartisan support in the past. But the President only wants not to solve the problem—he jumps from proposed solution to proposed solution and abandons them. And instead, he says “Let’s blame the Democrats.” That’s a disgrace. Mr. President, you are President of the United States. You are head of the Executive Branch. You control what’s happening at the border.

And much of what’s happening at the border, President Trump, stems from the chaos and mismanagement in your administration. Just yesterday, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, abruptly resigned after just a few weeks on the job—throwing an agency already in turmoil into another round of chaos. The man who will replace him, Mark Morgan, was only installed as Acting Director of ICE this month. The Department of Homeland Security still lacks a Senate-confirmed leader. I saw a report this morning, based on reporting in the New Yorker magazine, that even rank and file ICE agents, who are not particularly sympathetic to the plight of these migrants, are fed up with the chaos in the administration, the erratic nature. One plan one week, another plan the next week, another plan the next week—and none of them implemented. They shouldn’t have been implemented, because they wouldn’t do the job.

The president’s actions at the border are a whirlwind of incompetence, leading to pictures like this. We’ve got to change our policies. So President Trump: if you want to know the real reason there’s chaos at the border, look in the mirror.

The president continues to blame Democrats but the real problem is the president. The Democrats believe that we have a moral responsibility to act. Right now, we’re working to pass a supplemental appropriations bill to help improve the conditions for the children at the border. The House passed its version last night. It’s a much better bill than the Senate version. We should take up the House bill here in the Senate and send something to the President as soon as possible, and then make sure that the administration uses funds to improve the conditions at the border immediately. The proposal done by the Senate Appropriations Committee, a compromise bill between Senators Shelby and Leahy, got thirty votes. So there is room for compromise to get something done here—only one dissenting vote.

Once we pass legislation to help solve the immediate humanitarian crisis at the border, we should talk about what else we can do to alleviate the situation, including allowing folks to apply for asylum in their home countries; including more security assistance to Central American countries to crack down on the drug dealers, and the violence and degradation; including more judges at the border to reduce the backlog in cases and reduce the strain on temporary housing.

We all—Democrats, Republicans, Americans—have a responsibility to act here. The Senate, the House, and especially the president—needs to act. And the President needs to end the chaos, end the fearmongering, and get a grip on his administration.