Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate Republicans’ Responsibility To Help End The Trump Shutdown, AG Pick William Barr’s Confirmation Hearing, And The Motion To Disapprove The Trump Administration’s Proposal To Relax Sanctions On Three Russian Companies

January 15, 2019
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Senate Republicans’ responsibility to help end the Trump Shutdown, AG pick William Barr’s confirmation hearing, and the motion to disapprove the Trump Administration’s proposal to relax sanctions on three Russian companies. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Madam President, as the Trump shutdown drags on, more and more Americans are getting hurt. Public servants have been working without pay. Critical agencies are unable to perform the functions they’re supposed to perform for the American people: whether that’s inspecting food supply, protecting our airports and prisons, or helping farmers and small businesses get loans. We’re now approaching tax season with the IRS under severe limitations.

When will the president’s ridiculous, manufactured crisis come to an end? I have three words for President Trump, Leader McConnell, and our Republican Senators: Open the Government. We can debate border security. We’ve debated it for a month and a half – we haven’t come to a conclusion yet. Open the Government and we can debate border security while the government is open.

Now for weeks, as I’ve said, we’ve been at a standstill. We’ve offered the president several ways to uncouple his demand for a border wall from a government shutdown. The president has been obstinate, insisting on 5.7 billion dollar he promised Mexico would pay for.

The few times that his deputies – the Vice President and Chief of Staff – have made proposals to Democrats, the president contradicted them soon thereafter. Just yesterday, the president flatly refused to consider a proposal from his close ally in the Senate, Sen. Graham, to open the government temporarily while we debate border security.

Sadly, neither Republicans in Congress nor the president’s own staff seem willing to tell him what everyone else already knows: the president does not have the votes in either house of Congress for his expensive, ineffective wall. 

The reason we’ve been unable to make any progress is that President Trump is not yet interested in making progress.

So there is only one person who can help America break through this gridlock: Leader Mitch McConnell. For the past month, Leader McConnell has been content to hide behind the president, essentially giving him a veto over what comes to the floor of the Senate. It has put him in the ridiculous position of refusing to consider legislation to re-open the government that nearly every Senate Republican has voted for. Legislation that Leader McConnell has proudly voted for. Legislation that the American people favor by a 2-to-1 margin, including nearly 40 percent of Republicans!

The American people, suffering the dire consequences of this shutdown, can no longer afford to wait for the president to come around. The president must be shown the will of the Congress. And I believe that if Leader McConnell were to put the House-passed bills on the floor, they would receive a significant majority in the Senate – veto proof majority.

So I would appeal to Leader McConnell: do what’s right for the country. Do what’s right for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees laboring without pay. Do what’s right for our farmers and small businesses, homeowners and taxpayers. Do what’s right for America. President Trump may not care about the harm he’s doing to all these people, but our Republican Senators, including Leader McConnell, should.

A few years ago, Leader McConnell remarked: “remember me? I’m the guy that gets us out of shutdowns.” Well, now’s the time! Leader McConnell: Allow a vote on legislation to re-open the government.

In a short time, a few of my Democratic colleagues will ask the Senate for that chance. Will Leader McConnell help us re-open the government? Will some of our Republican Senators actually join us, not in nice words, but in actually voting to reopen the government?  Or will Leader McConnell block it yet again -- aiding and abetting President Trump’s desire to extend his government shutdown?

One final point here. President Trump thinks if he holds out long enough he’ll win the fight with the American people. Everyday he’s losing. The Gallop poll today had him at a near record low of 37% popularity. Even some of his base is losing face. President Trump, you’re not going to win this fight with the American people. Every day it drags on you are less popular. Every day it drags on people blame you and the Republicans, not the Democrats. You’re not winning the fight – you might be in your own untruth bubble.  But you’re not winning the fight. Everyone knows that – we certainly do.

On another matter. As we speak, the Senate Judiciary Committee is conducting its hearing on the nomination of William Barr to be the next Attorney General of the United States. It is an august position that demands the highest degree of credibility, transparency, and fidelity to the rule of law – even during a normal presidency.
But given President Trump’s actions – his disdain for rule of law, his derision for the rulings of an independent judiciary, his public contempt for the law enforcement procedures of the Justice Department – the burden of proof for Mr. William Barr is higher than it would be for other presidents. This is not a normal presidency, we don’t need an Attorney General who will just comply with this president – that’s a danger to the Republic.

The Senate should expect unequivocal and explicit commitments from Mr. Barr to resist President Trump. Mr. Barr cannot merely give perfunctory boiler page assurances.  Saying “I’m for transparency” is not good enough. Will he release Mueller’s report? Yes or No? If he can’t answer yes he doesn’t deserve the position. Will he not interfere in any way with Mueller’s investigation, as opposed to saying he likes Mueller and thinks he’s doing a good job? If Mr. Barr can’t say yes – that he won’t interfere in anyway with the Mueller investigation – he doesn’t deserve the job. Particularly in light of his writings.

We should expect unequivocal commitments from Barr to defend the integrity of the FBI and our federal law enforcement officers. Not vague statements that give him plenty of wiggle room to do President Trump’s dirty work if he gets to be Attorney General.

And we should expect an unequivocal commitment from Mr. Barr to allow the special investigation to proceed and conclude without any – underline any – interference.

One last point: the expectations for Mr. Barr are even more demanding given the recent revelation that he wrote a detailed, unsolicited memo to the Justice Department criticizing the Mueller investigation, despite having no knowledge of its workings. The memo revealed that Barr holds an astonishingly broad – almost imperial -- view of executive power. That should also be a serious line of inquiry for our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.

The next Attorney General will take charge of a Justice Department that has been embroiled in near-constant chaos for two years, at a critical moment for our democracy. The Senate should only approve an Attorney General of unimpeachable integrity, unimpeachable fidelity to the rule of law, with the strength and conviction to resist the worst impulses of the president — who, when it comes to the Justice Department, has probably the worst impulses of any president we’ve ever had.

Finally, on Russia sanctions. Later this afternoon, the Senate will move to consider a motion to proceed to a resolution of disapproval on the Treasury Department’s proposal to relax sanctions on three companies owned and controlled by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

The case against the Treasury Department’s proposal is strong. It fails to sufficiently limit Deripaska’s stake in the three companies. It merely reduces his ownership to 45%. Many US companies are heavily influenced by an owner who controls much less than a 45% share. Why didn’t they reduce it to 10 or 15? But they didn’t. Treasury’s plan also allows for Russian shareholders with family and business ties to Deripaska to retain shareholder interest! Considering Deripaska’s ex-wife and father-in-law control 7% of the company – add that to the 45, he’s got total control. So Treasury does not come close to going far enough.

Beyond the weak terms of the deal, the Senate must consider that Deripaska has deep ties to President Putin and his intelligence apparatus, organized crime, and Mr. Paul Manafort, a subject of the Special Counsel’s investigation. It is deeply suspect that the Trump Administration would propose sanctions relief for Deripaska’s companies before the Special Counsel finished his work. We should not allow any sanctions relief for President Putin’s trusted agents or the companies they control before the conclusion of the investigation.

And finally and maybe most seriously of all, there is a foreign policy issue here at stake. President Putin’s government, one of Russia’s largest banks, and the Russian economy have a direct interest in sanctions relief for Deripaska’s companies. Why is the Trump Administration proposing sanctions relief when President Putin has not yet made any move to curtail or constrain his malign activities around the globe?

Now this morning, my friend from Kentucky called this a political stunt and a farce. That’s appalling. After all Putin has done, this is a stunt and a farce? And why are we doing it now? Because the underlying law that allows for this resolution of disapproval has a 30-day alarm clock on it. The alarm clock is scheduled to go off on Thursday. Democrats aren’t forcing this vote, the law is.

I’d say to the Leader: Democrats were not the ones who decided to relax sanctions on Putin’s cronies before the Christmas holiday, hoping no one would notice. That was the Trump Administration. If Leader McConnell wants to know why we’re voting on Russian sanctions this afternoon, he should go talk to the White House.

So allow me to appeal directly to my Republican colleagues: whatever your view on this issue, there are enough questions that we should vote for the motion to proceed so that you may hear the debate.

It’s an important debate. Putin is laughing, with the damage he is doing to America. We cannot go along. And in the past, one of the finer moments of this Senate which Leader McConnell talks about all the time, was when we joined in a bipartisan way to impose sanctions on Russia. We should not relax that view. We should not relax that vigilance. The details here are complex, so the Senate and the American people ought to have a real understanding of the facts before voting.

If that debate is allowed to proceed, I believe my Senate colleagues will see the wisdom of keeping the current sanctions in place.