Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For A Bipartisan Appropriations Process, Election Security, The Trump EPA’s Terrible Decision To Block States From Setting Their Own Climate Standards, And The Nomination Of Robert Destro

September 18, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor on the need for a bipartisan appropriations process, the need for Republicans to join Democrats in voting to terminate the president’s emergency declaration, the harmful Trump administration decision to block states from setting their own environmental standards, and the need for the Senate to vote no on the nomination of Robert Destro to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

The appropriations process demands that Republicans and Democrats work together. If one party decides to go it alone, it can wreck the spirit of bipartisanship necessary to responsibly fund the government. Unfortunately, Republicans elected to depart from a bipartisan path early in the appropriations process this year.

We had a bipartisan deal on budget caps: the 302(a)s, the defense, non-defense side. We were working on allocations to the twelve subcommittees when the Republicans decided, without consulting any Democrat, to divert funds from medical research, opioid treatment, and our military and their families so that they could appease the president’s wish to spend up to $12 billion extra for a border wall. A wall, by the way, that the president promised Mexico would pay for.

Leader McConnell and Chairman Shelby knew it would not fly with Democrats. And this ruse, this stunt—as the Republican Leader is fond of calling things that can’t pass—puts the entire appropriations process in jeopardy. Somehow, in the wake of all of this, the Republican Leader has been accusing Democrats of threatening to block military funding. Now that is an absurd statement if there ever was one. We’re simply trying to stop Republicans from stealing the money from our military and putting it into the wall, which he said Mexico would pay for.

So the outcome of the upcoming vote to proceed to defense appropriations is not in doubt. Leader McConnell knows Democrats, as well as several Republicans, oppose moving funds to the president’s border wall that have been duly allocated by Congress for other important purposes—all military.

The fact that Leader McConnell has scheduled this vote, knowing it would fail, makes it nothing more than a partisan stunt. My friend the Leader reminds us all the time that the Senate is a place to make laws, not engage in political theater. With the vote, Leader McConnell will shatter his own rule.

At the same time, Republicans are considering having a vote tomorrow to instruct the NDAA conferees to backfill some of the money that they want to divert for the president’s wall. The House already voted this down. Democrats, myself, Speaker Pelosi, Chairwoman Lowey, and Ranking Member Leahy, have been crystal clear: we are not going to bless the president stealing money from the military by backfilling it later. This would render the Congress toothless, and the appropriations process meaningless.

If the president is allowed to take money from where Congress allocates it and put it wherever he wants, and we just give it back to him—what’s the point? Democrats won’t vote for that ridiculous precedent.

Let’s remember what this is all about. The president pledged to build a border wall that he promised Mexico would pay for. He then broke that promise and demanded that Congress appropriate taxpayers dollars for the wall instead. When Congress declined to do that, the president declared a legally dubious national emergency to divert already-allocated military funds to his wall. Now he is trying yet again to appropriate taxpayer money for the wall—the same strategy that failed when he tried it a year ago and then threw a temper-tantrum and promised the famous Trump shutdown.

I know my Republican friends want to wiggle out of this. But there’s only one way to return the money to our troops, where it belongs: Republicans and Democrats join together in voting to terminate the president’s emergency declaration.

Now, on a related matter. In the Appropriations Committee markup tomorrow, there will be a vote on an amendment to increase election security funding for the coming year. Senate Republicans blocked a similar amendment last year, and since then, Leader McConnell has stonewalled election security legislation, even the most bipartisan, sensible compromises.

So while we still greatly desire to move that legislation and believe it to be essential, additional funding for states to harden their election infrastructure and prevent Russian or Chinese or Iranian interference is what this amendment provides tomorrow and is also a no-brainer.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Leader McConnell said, “As partisanship bogs us down here in Washington, Moscow and Beijing are not exactly slowing down to wait for us.” I agree. Foreign adversaries are lining up to do what Putin did in 2016.

With the presidential campaign to begin in earnest next year, the time is now to safeguard our elections from foreign interference. The country will be watching how Senate Republicans vote on the election security amendment tomorrow.

Now, EPA. It’s been reported the Trump administration is planning to finalize a rule that would block any state from getting ahead of the federal government to deal with carbon pollution from cars. That includes revoking a waiver granted to California that allows the state to place more stringent limits on carbon pollution than the federal government.

In the Trump era, we are frequently confronted with the absurd, this is beyond ridiculous.

This president is the leader of the self-proclaimed party of states’ rights, yet he’s blocking states from setting their own standards.

This president has repeated that “we have the cleanest air, the cleanest water,” almost like a mantra, yet he’s trying to prevent California and other states from cleaning up their air pollution.

This president’s position is very simply put: “No, California, I insist that you pollute more.” That’s in effect what the president is saying.

Congress has spoken on this matter: The Clean Air Act says in no uncertain terms that California can go further than EPA to reduce pollution from cars. 

So this is a terrible idea by EPA, a terrible idea by the Trump administration, full of hypocrisy and contradiction, clearly illegal, I am confident it will be struck down.

And one final issue: the Destro nomination. Today, the Senate will vote on the confirmation of Robert Destro to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, responsible for the State Department’s promotion of democracy, of civil rights, and fair working standards across the world. Typical of the Trump administration, they have nominated someone whose record is diametrically opposed to the mission of the job to which he’s nominated.  

Mr. Destro has vocally opposed the movement for LGBTQ equality, been a staunch supporter of state-level religious-freedom laws that have acted as backdoors to discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

He has a long record of opposition to a woman’s constitutional right to make her own health care decisions. When asked about the requirement that insurance plans cover contraception, his response was: “the idea that you’re entitled to have somebody pay for your birth control is kind of ridiculous.”

If confirmed, Mr. Destro—this very same Mr. Destro who’s opposed to the rights of women, who’s opposed to the rights of LGBTQ people—will be in charge of promoting civil rights around the world.

What message would that send to women and members of the LGBTQ community who struggle under intolerant and oppressive governments? The answer is obvious.

That’s why yesterday, every single Democrat, and even one Republican, voted against proceeding to his confirmation. I urge my Republican colleagues to study Mr. Destro’s record, consider the job he’s supposed to do and join us in voting no on his nomination.