Schumer Floor Remarks on Recent Tragedies, Criticism of Special Counsel Mueller, Year-End Budget Negotiations, and the GOP Tax Bill

December 18, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the train crash in Seattle, the death of Bob Wilmers, recent criticism of Special Counsel Mueller, year-end budget negotiations, and the release of the final GOP Tax Bill. Below are his remarks:

First, Mr. President, our hearts go out to everyone who was affected by the train crash today near Seattle, Washington. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash, but we must find out what went wrong and then work to fix it. We in New York know what this is like. We’ve had a few of these derailments and crashes - Spuyten Duyvil - on the metro north where four people died about a year and a half ago, or a year ago or two. Very, very bad. So we have to work on train safety, and there are lots of things to do, I’m not going to talk about that now, but we do have to. Right now, we’re all wishing the very best for everyone on that train and remain deeply grateful to the first responders who reported to the scene.                                                                                               

Now on another sad note, Mr. President, before I move to the bulk of my remarks, I’d like to spend a moment in recognition of a dear friend of mine who passed away this weekend, Bob Wilmers, who was one of the most respected and prominent benefactors of Buffalo, one of the great cities in my state.

There have been very few men who did as much for Buffalo since its founding hundreds of years ago, as Bob Wilmers did for several decades.

As the chairman of M&T Bank, he helped grow a small bank into one of the largest employers in the region – nearly 6,500 employees.  And as he built that business, creating thousands of good-paying, middle-class jobs, he helped upstate New York dramatically. M&T Bank was a large bank, but it was not one of these banks engaging in swaps overseas, or other risky types of investments. They lent money to small businesses, they had a deep caring for the communities in which they served, and they were a model bank in my opinion. They really did an amazing job helping revitalize our upstate economy which has had trouble over the last several decades, due to so many different things including bad trade policies.

But Bob was also not just committed to the bank, which he loved – and he loved the employees and cared about them, was such an honorable employee - he was also committed to Buffalo in philanthropy, directing almost $5 million to local non-profit organizations in Western New York under his leadership.

And that’s because Bob himself was a philanthropist at heart. He spent many years supporting both the Albright Knox Art Museum and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, just to name a few.

Bob was a booster of everything Buffalo. He was never in the camp that thought Buffalo’s best days were behind her. He always believed in its potential and its future and worked to make the city he loved a better place. The city of Buffalo is turning around, we are so proud in so many different ways. It is in good part because of Bob Wilmers.

On a personal level, my wife and I will miss him. He visited my wife for lunch a few months ago - he was 83 years old - he was on his rickety old bike and rode through the streets of New York to come meet her so they could have lunch. My wife Iris and I spent many happy hours together with Bob and his wife. Bob was a brilliant banker, decent, caring, civic-minded. The loss is the Wilmers family’s – and our condolences go to Elizabeth - Buffalo’s loss and the United States of America’s. He will be truly missed. His untimely death sent shockwaves throughout New York state, and we just will miss him so. 

I’d like to again warn about the danger of the smear campaign against Special Counsel Mueller. Over the weekend, allies of the President in the media escalated their phony attacks on Special Counsel Mueller to an outrageous degree.

One of the assertions that arose this weekend was that Special Counsel Mueller improperly obtained emails from the Trump Transition Team. This is a bald-faced lie. There is no proof behind the allegations. There is no substance behind the allegations. There is no indication that Mueller’s team did anything improper, much less illegal. The Mueller team is allowed to request whatever they want. They either have to get the account holder’s permission, or go through appropriate criminal process. In this case, there is no indication they did not follow those guidelines. So those complaining here in the Congress, on the media, point to something specific Mueller did wrong here. They can’t.

These attackers are creating impropriety where there is none. Their attacks are not based on fact or logic. This is a hatchet job, plain and simple. If they had a legal complaint, they could pursue it in court. But of course they do not, that’s why these attacks are only speculation on TV by partisan pundits.

Robert Mueller is one of the most respected and trusted civil servants in our country. His integrity is unimpeachable. The concerted campaign to discredit him and his investigation in the right-wing media is nothing more than propaganda and disinformation, to try and turn the public’s attention away from the real investigation, President Trump’s potential collusion with Russia and the collusion of his campaign. The attempt, if it is found, to obstruct justice and prevent an investigation from going forward.

I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will defend the Special Counsel from these spurious attacks. Everyone – Democrat and Republican alike -- must reject the strident voices that falsely impugn Special Counsel Mueller.

Now, Mr. President, we have much to accomplish before the end of the year.

Government funding runs out on Friday. We still haven’t yet reached a bipartisan agreement on lifting the budget caps to ensure our investments in economic growth and job creation rise in tandem with our investments in the national defense. We haven’t yet reached a bipartisan agreement on a disaster supplemental that treats equitably California, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, as well as Texas and Florida.  We also need a bipartisan agreement to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers, end the sabotage of our health care markets, protect the Dreamers, and shore up pension plans for hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans.

We should be doing these things all together instead of in a piecemeal fashion. It will lead to a better, bipartisan result, which is a necessity. And to try and do it in a partisan way as the House of Representatives seems to be doing will lead to nowhere, and to a government shutdown.

Instead of jamming through a partisan tax scam in the House and Senate, we should have been working on these critical middle-class priorities.                                           

And to make matters worse, House Republicans continue to waste time on a partisan “cromnibus” that is dead on arrival here in the Senate. There is another path – Republicans and Democrats should continue to negotiate a genuine, bipartisan agreement that paves the way for the major unresolved issues to get to the President’s desk. 

With so little time left before the end of the year, those negotiations must proceed in earnest. And they haven’t been. Today again, the House – the Republican members of the team – called off the negotiations and said ‘let’s do it tomorrow’ as the clock ticks.

A few items have become sticking points and should be addressed.

We still don’t have a deal on pensions. Over 1 million Americans are waiting for our Republican friends to do what’s right and work with us on a solution to the pension crisis in America. These working people every month put money into a pension, hoping that when they retire they are not going to be rich, but they could live a life of dignity. A lot of that has been robbed from them. We have an obligation to help them. That is a high priority for we Democrats here in the Senate and in the House.

We still don’t have a resolution on Democrats funding requests for opioid treatment. We know the scourge of opioids. The number of deaths throughout America – rural, suburban, urban, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, everybody – the flower of our youth, so many young people are being taken by opioids, and we don’t do enough. There is a clamor in the nation to do more.

What about veterans care? Our veterans who served us, the cuts have hurt them. They are not getting the help they need.

Infrastructure: our infrastructure is crumbling. We need help in rural areas, urban areas, suburban areas, what about that?  

And there’s no resolution on adequate funding for Puerto Rico and its resiliency, for the Virgin Islands; no resolution on fixing our wildfire funding problem, which we have proposed.

We still don’t have an understanding of the Republican’s plan to extend the 702 FISA Court program. The Majority Leader has told us ‘oh we have to work on FISA.’ He could put it on the floor today. He could’ve put it on the floor last week instead of putting three judges, some of whom have dubious credentials, on the floor. So to tell us that we are running out of time for FISA when the Majority Leader controls the floor and hasn’t done anything for months, rings a little hollow. 

We still don’t have a good deal on the health care package. Now that Republicans are pushing through a partisan repeal of the individual mandate in their tax bill – which would cause premiums to rise 10% (America, when you get those premium increases this spring and summer, you know who to blame) and reduce the number of Americans with insurance by 13 million -- the bipartisan stabilization bills won’t have the same impact.

We’ll need new legislation to account for the Republican’s latest attempt to undermine our healthcare system.

We still don’t have a disaster package that adequately takes care of California, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. I hear that my friends from Texas – on both sides, both Houses - are demanding we rush through a partisan disaster package before the end of the year. ‘Texas needs the money.’

But the Governor of Texas has refused to tap the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund, the largest in the country, to help Houston and other parts of the state recover from Hurricane Harvey. At the same time, he’s demanding immediate federal assistance.

On its face, it’s an absurd position for a routine critic of the federal government to take. To demand money immediately while he has a $10 billion fund sitting there. You can imagine if those monies were in New York or Maryland, what our Republican colleagues would be saying. But constantly, we have this ‘what’s good for the goose, is not good for the gander’ on our Republican side.                                     

I say to the Governor of Texas, if a rainy day fund is not for a rainy day, which Texas had, then what the heck is it for? I for one don’t want to vote a nickel for Texas unless they tap that rainy day fund. 

And of course, last but not least, we have to ensure protections for the Dreamers. Bipartisan negotiations are ongoing in the House and Senate – that’s good news, Democrat and Republicans in the Senate and the House, trying to come to an agreement on helping the Dreamers who just want to become Americans. And coming up with border security, which we all believe we need.  1,000 dreamers a week are losing their status while Republicans twiddle their thumbs. We need action on Dreamers, and we need our Republican colleagues to cooperate.

On these issues and more, there is a lot of work left to do. Instead of rushing through their partisan tax bill, I’d urge my Republican colleagues to focus on the year-end negotiations.

Speaking of the tax bill, it appears that it will be before us for a final vote early this week.

Though there were significant changes in the conference report, Senators will not have much time to grapple with them. The conference report was released late last Friday. We’re taking a final vote on a bill that would change the entire tax code only a few days later.

It will be the culmination of the sloppiest legislative process I’ve witnessed in my time as a Senator. Fittingly, the result will be a mess as well.

My Republican friends are squandering their so-called “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for tax reform on a massive corporate bailout paid for by middle-class tax increases.

What a shame. At a time when our economy is increasingly stacked against the middle class and in favor of the wealthy, the Republican tax bill will skew the playing field even further out of whack. It will explode inequality in a country where the top 1% of earners already capture more than 20% of the national income, while the bottom 50% take in only 13%.

And then it will explode the deficit, starving our country of the resources it needs to invest in education, infrastructure, and scientific research – all the things that help the middle class.

And, after all of that, it will endanger Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, when, a year or two or three down the line, Republicans come back to slash those programs to pay for the deficit they created.

Finally our Republican friends say ‘well it will create a whole lot of jobs, give money to the wealthiest corporations.’ But as has been shown over and over again, the wealthiest corporations have a ton of money right now and they are not creating jobs. Give them more money? They won’t create any more jobs. The only claim our Republican colleagues have for the middle class is trickle-down. Well my friends, no one believes in trickle-down except for a handful of wealthy, greedy people who seem to control what you’re saying and doing in this tax bill.

It’s a cynical one-two gut punch to the middle class – raise their taxes to pay for corporate tax cuts and then decimate their earned benefits as a kicker.

Surely, we could do better than this. Tomorrow, Republicans will have a chance to vote down this tax bill, which is one of the least popular pieces of legislation in the last 30 years. My Republican colleagues have accomplished an amazing trick: a tax cut usually popular is 2-1 unpopular in America. Good work. They know what’s in it, the public knows. They know they’re getting crumbs if anything, many are getting increases, while the highest-income people do great.

Let me just say, if by some miracle our Republican colleagues get the good sense to vote this package down and really help the middle class instead of just helping the wealthy, we Democrats will be there. They’ll find a Democratic leader and a Democratic party that’s willing to work with them on real, bipartisan tax reform.