Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For A Bipartisan Appropriations Process, Calling For Whistleblower Protections For Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, The Senate Vote On The Trump Administration Rule To Promote Junk Health Care Plans, And The All-Senators Briefing On The Situation In Syria

October 30, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need for a bipartisan appropriations process, the Senate vote to overturn the Trump administration’s rule to push forward junk health care plans, and the all-Senators briefing from members of the administration on the situation in Northern Syria. Senator Schumer also called on Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army General James C. McConville to ensure that Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman is protected both professionally and personally from retaliation after he testified before Congress. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Even as we consider the package of appropriations bills on the floor this week, we must also think about how both parties can reach an agreement on all twelve bills that we need to pass before Thanksgiving. It’s way past time for Democratic and Republican appropriators to sit down and hammer out a bipartisan agreement on allocations to the various agencies, known as the 302(b)s.

That’s how we got this done in the past. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have successfully negotiated two budget deals. The key to those agreements was that the president allowed Congress to do its work, and stayed off to the side. I believe that, again, if left to our own devices, Congress could work out an agreement to fund the government.

As everyone remembers, the president’s meddling and erratic behavior caused the last government shutdown, the longest in our nation’s history. The best way to avoid another shutdown would be for the president to keep out of the appropriations process, and for Republicans to stop the games and get serious about negotiating in a bipartisan way forward. I believe there was a meeting yesterday, and I think some progress was made, let’s continue moving in that direction. The four corners of the Appropriations Committee: House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and put together an agreement that we can all support.

On the whistleblower, as the House of Representatives continues its impeachment inquiry into whether the president jeopardized national security by pressuring Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 elections, the White House, their allies in Congress, and the media have resorted to despicable tactics to falsely discredit individuals who have provided the House testimony.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, an active-duty Army officer serving on detail in the White House, testified before Congress. Since LTC Vindman’s testimony was announced and especially in the past twenty-four hours, he has been vilified by individuals in the media and elsewhere. Although he has served our country for more than twenty years, although he is a recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded serving in Iraq, he has been called derogatory terms, and some have even gone so far as to call him a spy and question his loyalty to the United States.

These attacks are outrageous, they’re unacceptable. And they are not much unlike the attacks the president and his allies have levied against the whistleblower whose account first alerted Congress to the president’s misconduct with Ukraine. The president has publicly suggested the whistleblower is treasonous and a spy. And, separately, recent public reports suggest that a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee is actively trying to expose and leak the whistleblower’s identity.

This is so, so wrong. Disclosing or causing to be disclosed the identity of a whistleblower is such a breach of faith with our whistleblower laws, which are designed to see that the truth gets out. Anyone seeking the release of the whistleblower’s identity is frustrating the truth and is potentially in violation of federal law. Not only that, the disclosure of a whistleblower’s identity may result in reprisals and threats to their personal safety and the safety of their families.

So today, I’m sending a letter to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army asking them to provide us with what actions the Army is taking to ensure that LTC Vindman is afforded appropriate protections. LTC Vindman and whistleblowers like him are standing up for the Constitution they swore an oath to defend. Their lives and families must not be put in jeopardy by outrageous attacks or disclosure.

On health care, today, the Senate will hold a vote on a resolution to repeal a Trump administration rule promoting junk health insurance plans, which offer a way around protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. The administration has worked to make it easier for states to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize these junk insurance plans—many of which don't cover essential benefits like maternity care, preventative screenings, and mental health care. These junk plans leave families vulnerable and are nothing but a boon to health insurance companies.

For nearly three years, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration have sabotaged Americans’ health care. Funding to sign up Americans for health insurance has been eliminated. Programs to help low-income Americans afford insurance have been canceled. President Trump’s budgets have threatened deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. And now, the Trump administration is suing to repeal the entirety of the health care law.

Yesterday, just yesterday, new data shows that 400,000 fewer kids have health insurance now, most who are under six. Innocents, who when they have bad health they need help. That breaks your heart. The effect of all this sabotage is very, very real. 

Now think about this issue, about protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Think of a mom or dad, who has a son or daughter, and they discover he or she has cancer. They go to the doctor and the doctor says “Look, I have this very expensive medication or this expensive treatment that would help cure your child. But the insurance company, your insurance policy doesn’t cover it.” The family doesn’t have enough money to pay for it, and watch their child suffer. That should not happen in America. We want to prevent it from happening. And that is why we hope our colleagues will join us in this CRA, to overturn what the administration has done which would allow that terrible example to go forward.

Despite making explicit promises to defend protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in campaign ads—I even heard some speak about it as recently as yesterday—Republicans have voted to undermine these protections in Congress on several occasions. There is no getting around the fact that junk insurance plans offer a way around these important protections, and drive costs up for everyone else. Do Republicans want to use taxpayer dollars to fund these junk plans and pad insurance company profits? I hope not. But we’ll see today.

Because today my Republican colleagues face a test: they can vote to defend healthcare protections for Americans who need it the most, or they can stand with President Trump and vote to allow these junk health insurance plans, with so many devastating effects on so many families, flood the market.

Finally on Syria, we were informed yesterday that after multiple requests, the Senate would finally receive an all-member briefing by the administration on the situation in Northern Syria this afternoon. I’m glad the briefing is taking place, but it is regrettable that it has even taken this long. Secretary Pompeo also will not participate, which is profoundly disappointing given that we must hear from the Secretary of State at times and on issues such as this.

Nevertheless, those members of the administration who will be there today must answer several important questions: what’s our strategy moving forward on Northern Syria? How are we going to protect troops and our national interest? And most importantly: exactly what is our plan to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, and to make sure that those who are still imprisoned don’t escape, and those who have already escaped, don’t hurt us?

These urgent questions go to the heart of America’s national security, and we need them answered today.