Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate GOP Pursuing Conspiracy Theories Instead Of Working To Address The Ongoing Economic And Public Health Crises And Announcing His Opposition To The Nomination Of Rep. Ratcliffe For DNI

May 21, 2020

Schumer Also Requests President Trump To Half Staff Flags To Honor Lives Lost When COVID-19 Death Toll Reaches 100,000  

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Senate Republicans’ focus on right-wing conspiracy theories instead of addressing the ongoing economic and public health crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic and urged them to pursue bipartisan talks to address the problem. Senator Schumer also announced his opposition to the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe to be the Director of National Intelligence. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

One side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we’ve become accustomed to the recitation of grim statistics. The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with more than 1.5 million. Another 2.4 million workers filed jobless claims this week, joining the more than 38 million Americans who have applied for unemployment assistance since the crisis began.

Very soon, our country will reach another grim milestone: we are fast approaching the day when more than 100,000 American lives will have been lost to COVID-19, the size of a small city, erased from the map.

Speaker Pelosi and I have sent a letter to President Trump this morning requesting that the American flag be flown at half-mast on all public buildings on the day the toll reaches 100,000. As families all across this great country mourn the loss of friends, colleagues and loved ones, flying the flag at half-mast would be a national expression of grief.

And, of course, this weekend is also Memorial Day, where we commemorate the so many Americans who through the centuries have lost their lives for our country. And we never forget them. We never forget them. I hope Memorial Day every American will take a minute amidst this crisis to remember our veterans who have served and made the great sacrifice and to remember their families, as well.

Now,  in a flash, this disease washed over the country like a flood, changing nearly every aspect of American society. Except perhaps, the Republican Senate. If you looked at our activity in the last three weeks, you'd hardly know that there was a COVID-19 crisis.

Leader McConnell called the Senate back into session three weeks ago. In that time, the Republican leadership has not put one bill on the floor of the Senate related to COVID-19. Not one vote on legislation having to do with COVID-19 in the entire month of May. The House has not been in regular session but it has voted on more COVID-related bills this month than the Republican Senate. For Leader McConnell to say that the Senate is working and the House is derelict is the opposite of what happened. The House has passed a major bill dealing with COVID. We have done nothing on this floor to vote on anything about COVID.

For Leader McConnell to think we're doing our job by voting for some right-wing judges, by engaging in some sort of show-trials to go to pursue conspiracy theories from the far right and even from Russia, to besmirch political opponents past and present, that’s not what we should be doing. When Americans look at what the House has done over the last three weeks and what the Senate has done over the last three weeks, they'll see that the House has done far more on COVID than the Senate, because Leader McConnell is not allowing the Senate to focus on the issues we should be focusing on.

What little business we have done related to the crisis—oversight hearings in a few committees—required weeks of pressure from Senate Democrats. We had to push and push and push our Republican colleagues to fulfill even our most basic responsibilities to do a hearing, to do oversight as to whether the money we passed weeks ago is being spent properly.

In the interest of making incremental progress—just incremental progress—Democrats have asked this chamber to consent to smaller measures related to our relief efforts. We asked our colleagues to increase transparency in the small business lending program. We asked to release the un-edited CDC guidance to help families, states, businesses and schools re-open safely. Senate Republicans blocked those ideas.

The inaction by Senate Republicans has gotten so bad that even one of my colleagues on the other side doesn’t want to adjourn today because his party has done nothing on the coronavirus for an entire month.

Leader McConnell has long presided over a legislative graveyard. But in this time of national crisis, when Americans all across the country are desperate for relief, the inaction of Senate Republicans is staggering. Making matters worse, Republicans aren’t just ignoring the coronavirus, they’re practically sprinting towards focusing on a partisan election, instead of us coming together and trying to solve this problem.

Instead of debating COVID-related legislation on the floor, Leader McConnell asked the Senate to confirm some right-wing judges.

In the Homeland Security Committee, the Republican chairman convened a hearing that slanders the family of the president’s political opponent with conspiracy theories invented by none other than the Kremlin. The Homeland Security Committee should be holding hearings with the FEMA administrator about the alarming shortage of PPE, but instead, the Republican majority is busy following bread crumbs left by Putin and his intelligence services. What a disgrace, what a sham, and what a dereliction of duties. The House, again, they're doing their job. They passed a major bill. Senator McConnell says, “Let's wait. Let's pause.” He doesn't see the immediate urgency. Well, Americans do.

In the Judiciary Committee now the Republican Chairman wants to issue a bonanza of subpoenas about yet another conspiracy theory related to the 2016 election, in the hopes of diving down as many rabbit holes as can be found.

And today in the Foreign Relations Committee, the Republican chairman is holding an “audio only” hearing to advance President Trump’s handpicked nominee for the Voice of America, a nominee that is currently under investigation by the Attorney General of Washington DC. That’s right—the Republican majority on the Foreign Relations committee is turning the cameras off so the press and the public can’t see what they’re doing: giving a promotion to Steve Bannon’s business partner in the middle of a health crisis.

This is such a gross misuse of the power of the majority. While unemployment reaches astronomic levels, the Senate Republican caucus is off on a wild goose chase. The conspiracy caucus is back with a vengeance. That's the name of this Republican Senate majority, conspiracy caucus. That's where their zeal is, where their focus is—not on eradicating COVID, not on helping people get back to work, not on feeding hungry families—but on pursuing conspiracy theories. Wow.

The Memorial Day weekend and state work period is usually a time for Senators to meet with their constituents and hear their concerns. In these strange times, we won’t be able to do that in person, but we will find other ways to hear from the people in our states. And I expect my Republican colleagues will get an earful. The American people should be furious about what Washington Republicans are doing in Congress, and more to the point, what they are failing to do.

As we approach a day of reckoning—more than 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus—I cannot imagine the American people are happy that Senate Republicans can’t focus on the coronavirus because they’re too busy doing opposition research for the president’s re-election campaign.

On another matter. Later today, the Senate will vote whether to confirm Representative John Ratcliffe to serve as Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the 17 different intelligence agencies. It is one of the most important posts that this chamber is asked to fill. It requires someone with unimpeachable integrity, deep experience, and the independence and backbone to speak truth to power. That's what Directors of National Intelligence, including the previous one, Dan Coats, did. Unfortunately, Mr. Ratcliffe doesn’t even come close to meeting that high bar.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak with the Congressman over the phone. I expressed my concerns that his history as a vocal defender of the President cast doubt on his qualifications and credibility. I asked him to simply confirm the unequivocal conclusion of our 17 intelligence agencies that Putin interfered in the 2016 elections to help President Trump. He could not confirm it. I asked him if he could commit to take basic specific steps to improve the transparency and communication between the DNI and Congress. For instance, that every two weeks staffs of the gang of eight be briefed by the DNI on what is happening in terms of election interference, that immediately Congress be notified if Russia or another foreign country attempts to interfere in our election. I asked him to do that within 72 hours. In neither case could he commit. That is not the kind of DNI we need.

So, Congressman Radcliffe did little to address my concerns about his nomination, and I will vehemently oppose his nomination today.

Now more than ever, we need the right person to serve as DNI. Over the last few months we have watched President Trump try to short-circuit nearly every measure of independence and accountability within the executive branch. By baselessly firing one inspector general after another, President Trump has shown he will not tolerate anyone standing up to his personal political interests, right or wrong. This is a dangerous pattern that should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who believes in democracy, and is particularly relevant to the intelligence community, which must be able to inform the president of difficult truths.

Mr. Ratcliffe unfortunately has not demonstrated the qualities nor the independence that we should expect of the next leader of the intelligence community. I will vote no and I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for the sake of the independence and strength of our intelligence community which has served us so well for decades to join me in voting no. 

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