Schumer Floor Remarks On Republicans’ Effort To Divert Military Funding For The President’s Wall, Urging President Trump To Endorse House-Passed Bipartisan Background Check Legislation, And Calling On The FCC To Review Prior Authorizations Of Chinese State-Owned Telecomm Companies In The U.S.

September 16, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Republicans’ proposal to take funding from the military to fund the president’s wall, urging the president to endorse House-passed bipartisan background check legislation and calling on the FCC to review the previously authorized presence of Chinese state-owned Telecom companies China Telecom and China Unicom in the U.S. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

I listened to Leader McConnell’s remarks about the appropriations process. He accused Democrats of wanting to provoke a partisan fight with the president rather than fund the military. It was a bold accusation considering it was the president and the Republican majority on the Appropriations Committee that proposed taking funding from the military to spend on the president’s wall. That is what Democrats oppose. That’s what Leader McConnell calls “staging a political fight.”

We see across the country: communities, military bases, and people in the military saying, ‘taking away this money hurts us.’ All the Democrats are asking for is to protect the troops from having their resources robbed for a border wall—resources that Congress said should go to the military. And by the way, the president promised Mexico would pay for the wall. Let’s not forget that.

Now, twelve Republicans voted with us in March to reject the president’s proposal. That’s a lot at a place where people fear the president and don’t like to buck him. The real question: will the rest join us now? That’s the issue.

Now, it’s been six weeks since President Trump, in the aftermath of two tragic mass shootings, signaled that he would be supportive of expanding background checks. It’s been over 200 days, 201 I believe, since the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would strengthen background checks in the most comprehensive way. And yet, despite those two facts, we still have no idea what policy President Trump might support.

So yesterday, at the request of Speaker Pelosi and I, we held a phone call with the president to urge him to support the bipartisan House-passed universal background checks bill and to make that position public.

We’re certainly willing to discuss the finer points of legislation with our Republican colleagues, but we made one thing clear to the president: the effectiveness of gun safety measures will be severely compromised if we allow the loopholes in our background check system to remain intact.

For example, it has been widely reported that the president is considering legislation dealing with extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) as part of the response to last month’s horrific shootings.

I support ERPOs and believe they can be an important piece to a broader effort to prevent gun violence. But even if we pass a strong bill on ERPOs, someone prohibited from possessing a gun under an Extreme Risk Protection Order could still obtain a firearm by exploiting the gun show loophole and the online loophole.

So let’s say, you know, a family member of John X. Smith says he doesn’t deserve to have a gun. They go through the proper procedure. And they say he can’t have a gun, or they take a gun he has away from him. He can then, the next minute, John X. Smith, that same John X. Smith, can go online and get a gun and there will be no check on him. So he’ll get it. Or he can go to a gun show and do that. So without background checks, these other protections can be skirted. A bad guy who shouldn’t have a gun will find a way to get around them, taking advantage of the loopholes that now exist in the law.

So we have to do background checks. That’s at the base of all this. Background checks that close all the loopholes. Allowing law-abiding Americans to have guns, that’s the second amendment, but saying that felons, those adjudicated mentally-ill, spousal abusers can’t. 90% of America agrees with that. 

In the wake of the torrent of mass shootings, in the wake of alarming rates of gun violence on a daily basis—our goal should not be to pass something just to pass something. We have a responsibility, bestowed upon us by the American people, to do something meaningful to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country—to save American lives. And to save as many lives as possible, the Senate must consider the bipartisan universal background checks bill.

Now this is critical moment for President Trump and for the nation. The president can provide the kind of leadership on this issue that his party has lacked for decades. He can break the vice grip the NRA has held on Congressional Republicans by supporting a policy that well over 90% of all Americans already support.

Such a commitment would undeniably be popular; it would be historic; and most important it would save countless lives. Speaker Pelosi and I told the president that if he endorsed this legislation and got Leader McConnell to act on it, we would be happy to join him in the Rose Garden for the signing ceremony.

On the other hand, the president could cave to the NRA yet again this week, and announce he’s supporting only the kinds of policies that won’t offend them—policies that won’t make a real dent in the problem.

The American people have waited long enough for Congress to do something about the decades-long nightmare of gun violence that seems to get worse and worse. The President can choose, this week, to help break that deadlock, the courageous and correct move, or he can slink away and perpetuate the status quo.

Now on another issue: China telecom. I have spent a lot of time on the Senate floor talking about the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, and the threat it poses to our national and economic security. This afternoon, I want to inform my colleagues about similar concerns I have about two other major Chinese companies: China Telecom and China Unicom. Alongside China Mobile, these three companies are the "big three" of China’s government-owned and government-controlled telecommunications network.

Earlier this year, the FCC rejected an application by China Mobile to operate in the United States on national security grounds. The Commission issued a two-hundred-page opinion outlining the various security risks of a state-owned Chinese company operating on U.S. networks. So, that made sense, but at the same time it turns out that both China Telecom and China Unicom, the other two major Chinese telecom giants, were granted authorization to operate in the U.S. in the early 2000s.

So today, Senator Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and me, Democrat from New York, are sending a letter to the FCC urging them to review and, if warranted, revoke those authorizations on national security grounds. If China Mobile shouldn’t operate here, it seems that neither should China Telecom and China Unicom.

Those approvals were issued well over fifteen years ago before the Department of Homeland Security even existed. In the same time, the national security environment has changed dramatically. The Chinese government has conducted a vicious and predatory campaign of cyber hostilities all over the world, including intrusions and hacks of prominent American companies and American institutions. The fact that these two telecom companies are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and have access to our networks seems to be a very serious problem.

At the very least, at the very least, the FCC should open a proceeding to review these two companies and, if necessary, revoke their access.

Senator Cotton and I, as everyone in this chamber knows, don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, but on this one were are in complete agreement: we must be really careful about the national security risks posed by China’s key telecom companies. And I think Senator Cotton would also agree with a larger point I’ve been making for months about U.S. access to China’s markets: If China doesn't let American businesses compete fairly in its markets, why should we let Chinese companies compete in ours?

Reciprocity is a real answer to the dilemma of China not being fair to us. They don’t let our top notch companies in or let them in under such restraint that many of them don’t want to come in, or can’t operate effectively, or have to surrender their family jewels—their intellectual property—to Chinese companies. If that’s the case, and it is, why do we just let any Chinese company come in here, particularly when they might be a real national security risk?

China’s telecom companies have ten “points of presence” in North American networks. You know how many American companies have the same in China? Zero! So China Telecom gets access to our networks, but T-Mobile or any other American telecom company can’t operate in China.

Enough of that! Enough of that! Enough of China trying to take advantage of us and we sort of sit there and not do anything to protect our workers, our wealth, or the great kinds of ideas that Americans come up with in terms of intellectual property.

And this isn’t just a question of fairness; it’s a question of which nation will lead the world in these industries in the coming decades, creating jobs and wealth. I want America to lead. Our businesses need to be able to compete equally and fairly. I’m confident if there were level playing field, America would prevail and we’d stay the leading economy in the world. But if we continue to let China take advantage of us while we sit there with our hands folded, woe is us, and particularly our children and our grandchildren.

So I’d conclude by reminding the Trump Administration that in the ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing where the president has been tougher on China than either of the previous two administrations—and that’s a good thing—but the topic of reciprocity and fair market access should be front and center and we shouldn’t give in until we are treated fairly.