Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For A Disaster Package That Aids In Puerto Rico’s Recovery, The Trump Administration’s Legal Assault On Americans’ Health Care, And Sen. McConnell’s Plan To Change Senate Rules And Cede Authority To The President

April 1, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need for a disaster package that aids in Puerto Rico’s recovery, the Trump administration’s legal assault on protections for people with pre-existing conditions and affordable health care, Senator McConnell’s plan to change Senate rules and cede authority to the president, and reports that the Trump administration repeatedly overruled career officials to provide security clearances despite concerns about blackmail and foreign influence. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Thank you, Madam President. And I heard my good friend, I’ll be speaking about rules changes in a minute. I heard my friend from Tennessee and he said, “We’ll be faced with a terrible choice.” And I would simply say that choice is being hoisted on us by Leader McConnell and none other. You can’t brag about passing more judge than ever before and then say the process is broken, we have to change the rules. There’s a total – well there’s a word that begins with “h” that I won’t quite say… ends in “y.”

Now on Puerto Rico, Mr. President. As the Senate takes up the disaster package, I want to implore my friends on the Republican side to remember that Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. From city to countryside, the entire island has been decimated.

And yet, the administration’s response to this catastrophe can be summed up in two words: cruel, nasty.

The administration has yet to disperse $20 billion in recovery and mitigation funds for Puerto Rico that were already appropriated, and this is more than a year after they were appropriated by Congress. Twenty billion sitting there as people suffer.

Bureaucracy has similarly delayed crucial rebuilding projects at hospitals and schools, and stoked real concerns that the administration is not interested in helping the island rebuild the way that Congress intended.

It should hardly bear repeating, but every single American citizen deserves a Congress – and a president – fully committed to providing every resource necessary to rebuild in the wake of a natural disaster. And our colleagues, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico are every bit as much American citizens – that’s by law – as we are. And yet President Trump seems to want to treat them differently, cruelly, nastily.

Now, Republican senators are attempting to strip away recovery funds for Puerto Rico and the other territories from the disaster package that passed the House. They’ve even rejected a Democratic effort to speed up the release of the billions in already-allocated funding – that’s no new appropriations. But they’ve already rejected our efforts to speed up the release in billions in already-allocated funding that the Trump administration has locked away in the U.S. Treasury.  

Now, because the House passed their disaster bill back in January, it didn’t include any aid to assist those affected by the recent devastating flooding in the Midwest. But my friend Senator Leahy is planning to offer an amendment to the House bill that would provide much-needed aid to survivors of those recent disasters, because they too deserve the aid they need to recover.

They said that Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. President Trump tweets while Puerto Rico suffers. I hope my Republican colleagues will join us in supporting this amendment, and voting YES on the House bill to support all communities that need to rebuild.

Now on another matter. Last week we were reminded of an evergreen truth: the Republican Party is still trying to take away the health care of millions of Americans – they’re just sick and tired of being blamed for it, even though the blame falls right on their shoulders.

Just this morning, we read that some of my colleagues from across the aisle have begged Attorney General Barr to reverse the administration’s wild decision to declare our current health law unconstitutional, a decision that would throw the future of pre-existing condition protections and health coverage for millions into doubt.

Well I’ve got a better idea: if Republican colleagues truly oppose this decision, they can work with their leadership and come down and offer some solutions. Stop with the backroom phone calls! Stop waiting for someone else to bail you out! Stop whispering, “Oh President Trump, don’t do it,” and then be afraid to buck him publicly because Americans are depending their health care.  This is a fiasco Republicans spent years in making, as they tried to keep voting on repeal and replace and couldn’t come up with a replace. Everyone knows it. It helped shape the elections of 2018; it’ll be on the minds of voters in 2020.

You know Madam President, facts are stubborn things. If the Republican Party is truly sick of getting blamed for standing between Americans and their health care, maybe they shouldn’t have voted again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Maybe they shouldn’t have voted to allow the president to sabotage piece after piece of the health care net we have provided for people.

If our Republican colleagues are sick of blame, maybe they shouldn’t have given this administration the green light to sabotage the exchanges and cut funding for programs that help people get covered, and protect them from pre-existing conditions.

If Republicans are really sick of getting blamed for sabotaging the American health care system then let me provide some friendly advice from across the aisle: stop sabotaging the American people’s health care!

Republicans can try to hide from their record, but the American people aren’t fooled. Health care has been a defining issue for Republicans for generations. In the same way that the party has sworn fealty to tax cuts for the rich and handicapping the government, the modern Republican Party now swears fidelity to the cause of higher health care costs and diminished coverage for tens of millions of American citizens.

Tomorrow, Senate Democrats will join our colleagues in the House to take action for ourselves against the Department of Justice’s war on health care. We will set the record straight on the Republican’s effort to steamroll American families who enjoy coverage for the first time thanks to this law. And we will make clear that unless Republicans join us in taking action, they will continue to own this mess. And a sorry mess it is, when people’s lives and health are at stake, and our Republican colleagues do nothing, nothing but make it worse.

Now Mr. President, on another matter: One of the Senate’s core responsibilities is vetting any and all of the president’s nominees.

Unfortunately, if we have learned anything in the last two years, it is that this administration seems far too often willing to put nominees forward to the Senate without performing their due diligence and careful background checks.

Just last week, we learned that the president’s choice for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors may have serious personal financial issues. That’s just the latest in a long line of red flags in the records of Trump nominees. It’s clear, we cannot falter in our role as a check on the administration.

So I was bemused this morning to read the Republican Leader’s case that the Senate needs to speed up President Trump’s nominees to even a faster pace.

Is this the Majority Leader’s idea of an April Fool’s joke? Was his op-ed his April Fool’s joke on the Senate, on bipartisanship, and on America? It is the most ridiculous thing in print since Sidd Finch!

Madam President, this is the double standard to trump all double standards. It is simply galling – galling – for the Republican Leader to say that we aren’t moving fast enough.

When Barack Obama was president, qualified nominees languished to the detriment of our government. Take the example of Richard Cordray. For no good reason he waited 729 days – more than two years – to be confirmed to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And he was hardly an exception.

And of course, because of Republican obstruction, in what the Republican Leader called one of his “proudest moments,” the Republican-led Senate refused to even consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court for nearly a calendar year.       

But now under President Trump, Leader McConnell has sung a different tune. Overnight, he’s become a reformer in the cause of Trumpism. Working hand-in-hand with the Federalist Society, the Republican Leader became, in the words of his own adviser, the principal enabler of the Trump agenda.

At Leader McConnell’s command, Republicans ended the blue slip rules for circuit court nominees and even refused to confirm Democratic nominees for bipartisan boards and commissions, like at the SEC and NLRB. With these moves, the Republican Leader has driven a stake further into the heart of comity and bipartisanship in the Senate.

Now, despite openly bragging about the number of Trump judges that he has led the Senate to confirm, Leader McConnell demands the rules of the Senate be changed to speed up confirmation. On the one hand, there’s too much obstruction. On the other we’ve supported a record amount of judges and gotten them through. Leader McConnell, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways, everyone sees through that. The Senate needs to do its job – we should not be a conveyor belt for President Trump’s radical and unqualified judicial nominees.

So let’s call this for what it is: this rules change is yet another power grab by Leader McConnell, the Republican Party, and its Right-wing allies. It is a transparent attempt to further politicize our courts by packing them with President Trump’s hard-right, ideological, and too-often unqualified nominees. And we will not be complicit in the Republican Leader’s games – games which sacrifice much of the comity and bipartisanship that this Senate used to represent.

On a final matter, I was extremely troubled to see yet another report that this administration repeatedly overruled career officials to provide security clearances to Trump officials despite concerns about even blackmail and foreign influence.

Our nation’s intelligence must be protected. That is why three weeks ago, Vice Chairman Warner and Ranking Members Feinstein, Menendez and Reed called for a thorough review of compliance with security clearance policies and procedures. The Trump administration has flouted these rules again and again – and the American people deserve some answers.

Where are the leaders of our intelligence community? Where is the inspector general of the intelligence community? Why will our Republican counterparts not let us confirm our nation’s top counterintelligence official? 

Director Coats and the relevant inspectors general must investigate these allegations immediately and take whatever steps are necessary to protect our national security. This cannot wait a moment longer.

I yield the floor.