Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate GOP Pushing Conspiracy Theories Instead Of Pursuing Bipartisan Talks To Help Address Public Health & Economic Crises Caused By Coronavirus And On GOP Complacency Over Trump IG Firings

May 18, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor calling on Senate Republicans to drop their focus on right-wing conspiracy theories and instead pursue bipartisan talks to address the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. He also condemned the complacency of Senate Republicans in response to President Trump’s string of inspector general removals. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

For the third week in a row, the Republican majority in the Senate has no COVID-related business on the agenda. For the third week in a row, Leader McConnell has scheduled zero votes on legislation having to do with the crisis. Senate Democrats have had to relentlessly pressure our Republicans colleagues to secure even the most routine oversight hearings on the pandemic. If we hadn't pressured them, I doubt there'd be any hearings at all, and they're few and far between. Those hearings will be the only work we’ve done in the Senate on COVID-19 in the entire month of May, and the Republican majority had to be pressured into doing even those.

There are now more than 35 million Americans out of work through no fault of their own; almost 1.5 million Americans are sick, nearly 90,000 have died; and Senate Republicans decided to take the month off from the coronavirus.

The American people may be wondering, what is the Republican-led Senate doing instead of addressing this urgent national crisis? What could be more pressing?  What is the Republican Senate doing in the midst of the crisis?

Well, this week, Leader McConnell has scheduled five right-wing judges for the floor of the Senate and the Republican Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee will be holding a hearing designed to slander the family of the president’s political opponent.

Is the Chairman of Homeland Security Committee calling in FEMA to find out if our hospitals have enough PPE? No, he wants to echo Kremlin-backed conspiracy theories and to go on a fishing expedition to smear Joe Biden’s son.

We all know this is what the president focuses on instead of the COVID crisis. But must our Republican colleagues gainly follow such an absurd, diversionary, and untruthful agenda? I guess so. It's a shame.

And even more shameful, the company that the Senator from Wisconsin wants to issue a subpoena for is voluntarily cooperating and providing relevant documents to the committee. Did you hear that? They want to make a big show of subpoenaing, but the company says it'll cooperate. It's a show. It's a sham. It has nothing to do with COVID, and everything to do with Kremlin-backed rumors that they want to use to divert attention from the president's poor showing on COVID. The subpoena is just for show.  It is not necessary, because the company will cooperate. A way to kick up dirt for exclusively partisan purposes.

It would be bad enough if they were doing this when COVID-19 wasn't raging. But with COVID raging, to spend time doing this, instead of focusing on the way to get relief to people?  Unbelievable! It is a low point for that committee, a low point for the Senate.

So this is what is on the Senate Republicans’ agenda in the midst of historic unemployment and a national crisis: five right-wing judges and a show mock hearing for partisan mudslinging. America is in crisis, and Senate Republicans are rearranging the nation’s deck chairs, and trying to put them in a political assembly.

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jay Powell, appointed by President Trump, said last week that we’re looking at the worst recession since WWII. Yesterday, Mr. Powell warned that layoffs will continue for several months and unemployment could reach 20% or even 25%. He said, “if we let people be out of work for long periods of time, if we let businesses fail unnecessarily, waves of them, there'll be longer term damage to the economy. The recovery will be slower. The good news,” he said, “is we can avoid that by providing more support now.”

Mr. Powell went on to encourage policymakers to provide greater assistance to families and implement measures to keep workers in their homes. He also pointed out if state and local governments don’t receive additional aid, they’ll be forced to lay off public employees and cut back on public services at the worst possible time.

Mr. Powell is spot on. And tomorrow, in the Senate Banking committee, my Republican colleagues will have a chance to hear this critical message straight from the horse’s mouth, with Mr. Powell and Mr. Mnuchin set to testify only after Senate Democrats had to push and push and push to have such a hearing.

We asked for it three weeks ago. It should have happened two weeks ago because the country is calling out for action. Trump appointees are calling out for action. Governors from across the country, Democrat and Republican governors, are calling out for action. When will my Republican colleagues hear the message?

After all, there is no shortage of action the Senate could take.

Millions of Americans are having difficulty receiving the expanded unemployment insurance benefits that Congress passed. Why aren’t Senate Republicans holding a hearing on why millions of our citizens aren’t getting the aid we intended to provide, instead of these sham political show-trial gotcha hearings?

Testing continues to be a major problem. A blockbuster report in the Washington Post last night said that we are “far short of [testing] numbers that most independent experts say will be needed to avoid another wave of death and illness.” The report described a concerning shortage of PPE, nasal swabs, and re-agents in nursing homes and other front-line settings. The report outlined another problem: there is a startling lack of awareness in many communities about the need to get tested.

Why aren’t Senate Republicans focused on these issues? These are life and death issues. They relate to people’s health and people’s lives and they relate to our economy getting well. Why isn’t President Trump leading a nationwide push to increase testing capacity and frequency and awareness? President Trump is so desperate to re-open the country as quickly as possible, but he refuses to roll up his sleeves and do the work that would allow us to do it safely.

There’s an anomaly here: he demands people get back to work but doesn’t do his work to make sure we have testing, to make sure there are guidelines, to make sure this works correctly so we don’t have another crisis a few months from now.

House Democrats have put together a major bill that would provide urgent and necessary relief to the American people. My colleagues on the Republican side don’t have to like everything in it. They could easily say, ‘let’s sit down and negotiate, let’s find some common ground.’ But instead, Leader McConnell has said that Republicans have “yet to feel the urgency of acting immediately.” Herbert Hoover redux.

Instead, his party is slowly preparing legislation to give legal immunity to big corporations that put workers in dangerous situations. Is that the number one problem on every Americans’ mind? Is that the number one problem for people who are losing their jobs, people whose small businesses are going bankrupt, people who can’t feed their kids—protecting corporations from liability? This Republican party is so, so out of touch with America, is so off-kilter, is so in obeisance to the hard-right, that they can’t even focus on a crisis when it’s right before their eyes.

We are confronted with a period of prolonged economy misery for millions of American workers and families. Americans who, for the first time, are waiting in staggering lines for food banks. Americans who, for the first time, don’t know if they’ll be able to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table, or pay the rent.

Just how long will it take, how much economic hardship—how much—before Senate Republicans feel the urgency to act?

On another matter. Last Friday in the dark of night, President Trump fired the Inspector General of the State Department, Mr. Steve Linick. Mr. Linick, according to reports, had been investigating the misuse of public resources by Secretary Pompeo and the Trump administration’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Linick is now the fifth—yes, the fifth—inspector general to be fired by President Trump from his or her post in the last few months. They all shared one thing in common: they had the audacity to do their jobs and speak the truth. They had the audacity to try and drain the swamp. And what is President Trump’s reaction when he hears the truth? Fire the people who spoke it. What kind of president is that? During normal times it’s bad enough, during a crisis it’s awful.

The inspector general of the intelligence community delivered a whistleblower report to Congress, as required by law. For this, it seems, he was fired. It was through the work of the HHS inspector general the public learned the extent of the Trump administration’s failure to provide hospitals and medical workers with the testing, PPE, and necessary personnel in the early days of the pandemic. She has been fired too. The inspector general for the Defense Department and the Transportation Department have both been fired as well, just as they were about to oversee parts of the administration’s response to COVID. Now, it’s Mr. Linick, who was looking into potential wrongdoing at the State Department.

Inspectors general are the watchdogs for our federal agencies, making sure that our government’s working for the people. That’s what they’re there to do: hold government accountable for waste and fraud and abuse. But if they actually do their jobs and say the president’s doing something wrong, he fires them. The president can’t handle the truth, and will not tolerate oversight of his administration when truth-speakers speak out. No other administration has come close to doing this. This president is so different, running almost a rogue administration that defies truth, that defies facts. And now five inspector generals have been fired, all because they were doing their job, telling the truth, and trying to clean up the mess in Washington.

And we know this about President Trump, but where the heck are my Republican colleagues in the Senate? My friends on the other side, especially the Senior Senator from Iowa, have long defended and even sought to pass legislation to further empower inspectors general.

Well, the president has just fired a parade of independent watchdogs and given no legitimate explanation for their dismissals. Is a mild rebuke the most my Republican colleagues can muster? A tweet? Concerned statements?

This isn’t the first time President Trump has fired an IG and “failed to provide a sufficient explanation.” So what are my Republican colleagues going to do about it? Nothing, it seems. Nothing. They are so afraid of President Trump—they so cling almost to his ankles—that when they know he is doing wrong, when they know he is hiding the truth, they are afraid to say a thing. They shudder. I’ve never seen anything like it: a president so out of control, with his party so in line behind him, marching in lockstep.

But when history looks back on this chapter—on President Trump’s purge of independent watchdogs during a time of national crisis—it will not give credit to Senate Republicans who let the president off the hook with at most—and only at times—a polite slap on the wrist. 

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