Schumer Floor Remarks On Republicans’ Refusal To Seriously Confront Climate Change, Three Voting Rights Priorities In The Wake Of Continued Efforts To Curb Voter Access, And The Need For President Trump To Take A Hard Line On U.S.-China Trade Negotiations

March 7, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Republicans’ refusal to seriously confront climate change, three voting rights priorities in the wake of continued efforts to curb voter access, and the need for President Trump to take a hard line on U.S.-China trade negotiations. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, for all of the Senate’s vaunted traditions about grand debates, we rarely practice the actual art – the real back and forth exchange of ideas. For weeks now, we’ve heard our Republican colleagues come to the floor to rail against the green new deal. Democrats have simply been trying to get a few honest answers out of the Republican leadership about their position on climate change so that we might have a real debate. So yesterday, as Republican after Republican lined up to give speeches against taking bold action on climate change, several Democrats tried to steer the conversation in a more positive direction by asking our Republican colleagues simple questions.

And I ask this again of every Republican, and particularly Leader McConnell: do you, Leader McConnell and our Republican friends, believe climate change is real? Yes or no? Do you believe that climate change is caused by human activity? Yes or no? And most importantly, do you believe that Congress should do something about it? Yes or no? If our colleagues believe that it’s a problem and agree to that, what is their plan to deal with climate change? We know they don’t like the green new deal. They’ve made that clear. It doesn’t forward the debate. But what is their plan then?

We might have ruffled some feathers on the other side. I think my colleagues just wanted to give their speeches on the Green New Deal and then leave the floor. It’s a sad state of affairs when even a little debate, even heated debate, is something unsettling here in the Senate. But I have to give credit to the few Republicans who did engage with us.

A few said that they did believe in climate change, and offered some examples of minor legislation where our parties could work together to begin tackling this crisis.

I give them credit for that but here’s the problem – when is Leader McConnell going to schedule time for consideration of this and other climate change legislation? 

We Democrats are ready to work. Will Leader McConnell bring his own members clean energy legislation to the floor?

Others have said climate change is happening, but the free market could take care of it through “innovation.” With all due respect, that doesn’t mean much. Most of us would agree that we live in a time of incredible innovation in technology, and yet we continue to pour even more carbon into the atmosphere than in previous years, not less. Left alone, the market has proved incapable of curbing climate change for the simple reason of what economists call externalities. You run a coal plant. You make the profits from selling the electricity that the coal plant produces. But you don’t pay the price for the carbon you put in the air. So it’s not going to happen through the free market alone because of what even Adam Smith recognized. There are externalities that have to be captured, and that’s government’s job to at least make sure they are captured.

Another block of Republicans took a different tack. A few of our Republican colleagues said yesterday that climate change was real, but only because the climate has always been changing and all “flora and fauna” contribute to it. What are we to do, they said, as they throw up their hands and look to the sky, ban volcanoes?

Unbelievable. What an amazing canard that is. Those who said it – and there are a few right here who said it yesterday – you’d get an F in middle school Earth science with that kind of reasoning. We all know – at least we all ought to know – that human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, has pushed the amount of carbon in our atmosphere to record levels, trapping more heat than ever before, and changing the climate in ways not seen before in our history.

Maybe denying or misleading about climate change is considered acceptable in the modern Republican party, where it’s come to be expected. And we wonder why that is so. Some argue it’s because the people don’t believe in science. Some argue it’s because they’re stuck in the status quo. And some argue it’s because there’s a lot of oil money cascading into the Republican Party. When you read about all these multi-millionaire and billionaire new oil magnates who send tons of money there, some argue that. We can’t prove which one is true but we do know it leads to terrible, terrible inaction. So I’d like to see my colleagues who don’t admit the severity of climate change go talk to the farmers in Iowa dealing with drought, the fishermen in Alaska and North Carolina, the homeowners in Florida and the Mountain West. See if denying recent climate change works there. It sure doesn’t work on the south coast of Long Island where we had Sandy, which made believers out of many who were skeptical in the past.

Nonetheless, Madam President, we made some progress yesterday. At the very least, my friends on the other side know they will not be able just to execute their standard playbook. Democrats are not going to sit around while Republicans come to the floor and yell about socialism as they have for the past two decades.

We’re going to make Republicans answer the core questions about real change – that’s what America wants. That’s one of the reasons all the scare tactics didn’t work in 2018 and the House is now Democratic and we kept most of our seats even in very red states. I suspect many of my more reasonable colleagues would prefer that – a real debate rather than “gotcha” politics that Leader McConnell is so adept at playing and is playing once again with his cynical green new deal ploy.

Now, on another matter – voting rights. Today marks the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the protest march in Selma, Alabama that led, ultimately, to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. It was one of the most noble acts in American history and will be remembered centuries from now. The courage of those who walked across that bridge, including our colleague John Lewis. It’s a reminder that one thread of the American story is about how, despite our founding, democratic principles, there has been a long march to achieve the franchise for all Americans. We had great democratic principles in the beginning – it was brand new, it was great. But remember, in 1789 in almost every state, the only people who could vote were white, male, Protestant property owners, leaving out -- probably I imagine -- a majority in this chamber.

And so we have to keep improving that democracy. No one says we should only have white, male, Protestant property owners vote today because it was true in 1789. We have to move forward. We have to make voting more available and easier because the right to vote without barriers is what our soldiers for centuries have died for, and what the people on that bridge marched for.

Well the march is still not over.

In the wake of the disaster that was the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, 19 states rushed to pass discriminatory voter restrictions. In North Carolina, the Republican state legislature drew up laws that “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” How despicable. How despicable the Republican legislature did that. And that’s not my words, they’re the court’s after looking at the evidence. Fifty million Americans are now not registered to vote. And even though we don’t talk about it enough, we have a population larger than two states living here in Washington, D.C. without full congressional representation.

We Democrats are ready to work. Again, Leader McConnell gets up and he talks all this negativity, exaggeration, hyping, scaring just like President Trump. Well why doesn’t Leader McConnell put some legislation on the floor?

Now today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I want to mention three things we could do right now to bolster voting rights: 1. Undo the damage of the Shelby county decision by restoring the formula for preclearance; 2. Automatic voter registration; 3. DC Statehood.

Anyone who has been observing the floor of the Senate will have noticed by now just how vociferously our Republican Leader opposes H.R.1, which among other things would make Election Day a federal holiday and attempt to get big money out of politics. Leader McConnell has called those ideas a “power grab,” labeling the bill the “Democratic Politician Protection Act.” Leader McConnell, we are proud that we want more people to vote. Why are you ashamed of it? Why do you run away from it? Leader McConnell, we are proud that we want to get the influence of big special interest money out of politics. Why do you say that’s partisan? It’s the wrong thing to do and 90 percent of all Americans, Democrat and Republican, don’t like to see big money cascading into politics. Argue the merits, Leader. When you think doing those things and Democratic things, we’re proud. And the Republican Party should be ashamed that they’re not for them and have to call them names. To say that allowing more Americans to vote, getting big money out of politics, is bad for Republicans and good for Democrats – that says a lot right there.

It’s a dark day – a dark day – for the Republican Party if their leader in the Senate has to argue against more Americans voting because it could hurt their party at the polls. Maybe we should go back to the old days and have fewer people vote; 1789, when only white, male, Protestant property owners. Come on. This idea that having more people vote is a Democratic power grab, when it’s part of the fundamental root of our democracy? It’s an act of desperation by the Republican Leader.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Republican Leader has pledged to bring his version of the Green New Deal up for the vote but not HR1. He’s happy to twist words against it himself, but he knows that voting rights is a hard thing to argue about. And if he wants to try to bring it up on the floor, we welcome it and welcome a discussion.

So make no mistake: Democrats are going to fight to make ballot access easier, challenge all attempts to disenfranchise American citizens, and get the influence of big special interest money out of politics.

Finally, on China. News reports continue to suggest that President Trump is close to cementing an agreement with Beijing that, unfortunately for American workers, would fall far short of expectations. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that China is drafting new laws on foreign investment to pacify the United States. But those new laws DO NOT INCLUDE any changes to how China forces American businesses to transfer technology and know-how as the cost of doing business. Our best companies, if they were allowed to sell in China unfettered, they would have huge amounts of profit and they would employ huge amounts of people here in America. China doesn’t let that happen, while they can sell freely here. The president was right to target China. President Trump will have taken defeat out of the jaws of an almost victory if he now backs off for the sake of a photo-op or some brief changes in what China purchases, and forsakes American wealth, American workers which China is stealing. They are stealing our wealth, un-employing our workers every single day.

If President Trump accepts a short-term purchase of American goods in exchange for a reduction in our tariffs, without structural reform to China’s predatory trade policies, shame on him. If he thinks that photo-op will help him, it won’t. If he thinks that temporary little bump in China buying more soybeans or soy products, it won’t. He will lose, because one of the best things that he has done, something I’ve praised him for, and many other Democrats, and many other Americans have, will be gone.

I have given the President credit, publicly, when he’s taken on China. America, as I said, has lost trillions of dollars of wealth, millions of jobs to Chinese IP theft. The President has been right to challenge China on those issues and his tariffs have brought China to the negotiating table – but now that China is at the table, President Trump must not walk away without achieving what he set out to achieve.

In short, to cut an unacceptable deal, a weak deal, a photo op deal, at this stage would be to squander a historic moment to put American businesses, workers, and inventors on a level playing field at long last. And it would be viewed as a capitulation by the president on one of his signature issues. It would be an inverse of what he did on North Korea.