Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Big, Bold Legislation To Address Health And Economic Crises Caused By Coronavirus And Sen. McConnell’s Comments That GOP Has Yet To Feel Urgency To Act Immediately

May 12, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor urging that the Senate focus on a big, bold plan to help Americans suffering from the current health and economic crisis and called for a nationwide expansion of testing. Senator Schumer also spoke regarding Leader McConnell’s comments that Senate Republicans have “yet to feel the urgency of acting immediately” to address the health and economic crises, despite record unemployment numbers and widespread reports of families going hungry and not being able to afford rent. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

No challenge in our lifetime resembles the depth of our current challenge. We have faced diseases, and recessions, and natural disasters. But at no time in recent history has a public health crisis on this scale been paired with such an extensive economic disaster.

Finally—finally—we are beginning to see signs that the spread of this evil disease has abated in parts of the country. Not over, but at least the curve is going down. My home state of New York is just beginning to turn the corner.

But unfortunately, there are many parts of the country that have not yet reached their peak. The unemployment rolls are as long as they’ve ever been since the Great Depression. Working Americans are struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, and many have no idea when the next paycheck might arrive. It breaks your heart to see people waiting for hours in their cars to line up at food banks, and when they are interviewed by the press, they are people who never went to a food bank before. That's how deep and troubling this crisis is being.

So we here in Congress have an obligation to do the nation's business during this time of crisis, to be focusing on this crisis, to help the millions of American workers and businesses pleading—pleading—or assistance. The Constitution instructs us to provide for the common welfare, but at this critical juncture in our nation's history, the Republican leadership, led by Leader McConnell, is ducking their responsibility, plain and simple. Leader McConnell has yet to schedule any legislative business for the floor of the senate this month having to do with COVID.

It has taken sustained pressure from Senate Democrats to force our Republican colleagues to conduct even the routine business of holding hearings on the coronavirus. We have had a few hearings now but not many. Where's the SBA Administrator to talk about the problems in PPP? Where's Secretary Scalia to talk about the problems in unemployment insurance? Where are the OSHA executives to talk about how we protect workers from this pandemic, particularly when they are required to go to work? They are not around and even the hearings we are having are slow. They are sort of eked out like toothpaste from a tube. The word is we're hearing from Secretary Mnuchin and Chairman Powell on the 19th. That's close to two months after we passed COVID-3. That's not oversight. That's not Congress' job at any time, made even worse because we're in a crisis.

And then, last night, amazingly, the Republican leader explained that Republicans have “not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately.” Let me repeat that. With millions of Americans sick and tens of thousands dying, with depression levels of unemployment, the Republican Leader said that Republicans have “not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately.”

We live in a divided nation, but one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on is there is a great deal of urgency right now.

Leader McConnell: there is nothing more urgent to a family that is struggling to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads.

Leader McConnell: there is nothing more urgent to a small business owner who is inches away from closing the doors of his life's work.

Republican leadership needs to wake up—wake up—to the dire economic reality tens of millions of Americans are facing.

We must pass big, bold legislation to confront the crisis before us. That’s just what the House of Representatives is working on right now. We don’t believe that our two parties will agree on everything we must do, but at the very least—at the very least—we should agree that there is an urgency here to provide a relief to our citizens who are suffering and struggling.

President Hoover lacked the urgency to get the federal government involved at the outset of the Great Depression. Every history book teaches us that his error prolonged and likely deepened the suffering of American workers. When Republican leaders look at the unemployment numbers and say we don’t need to act immediately, that the government has done enough already, they’re the latter day Herbert Hoovers. And I fear it could lead to similar results: a deeper and longer recession and, God forbid but not out of the question, a second Great Depression because of the inaction and incompetence of the president being followed obediently, wrongly, by the Republican Senators.

The lack of urgency in the Republican Party extends down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Oval Office. From almost the very beginning of this crisis, President Trump has downplayed its severity and tried to wish it out of existence. The President said the coronavirus might disappear miraculously, his word. He said it was a hoax. He said the warm weather might take care of it for us. He pitched quack medicines and speculated that a vaccine could be ready within months. Two months ago, the president said that “anybody who wants a test can get a test,” which is still not even close to being true.

The president's words are reckless: constant belittling of the crisis, ignoring the crisis, burying the truth and burying his head in the sand. And it has prolonged and made the crisis worse and the American people know it. That's why he lashes out, the president does, at reporters who ask him fair questions. That's why. He knows he's to blame for a good part of the depth and prolongation of this crisis. He knows that.

And yet he can't bring himself to face the truth. He can't bring himself to tell the American people the truth. Pitching quack medicines, telling people it's going to go away, saying yesterday, that “we have met the moment and we have prevailed”—what planet is he on?

More than 30 million unemployed and “we have prevailed?” Over 1.3 million infected 80,000 American fatalities—those numbers still growing—and “we have prevailed?”

The president’s comments show a stunning disregard for the truth and it hurts every American. I don’t care what your politics is, no one should tolerate a president who ignores the truth, says whatever pops into his head whether it’s true or false or dangerous, and then who is on his merry way to speak the next untruth, talk about the next quack cure.

It may have been in the Rose Garden and not on the deck of a battleship, but President Trump saying “we have prevailed” is akin to declaring “mission accomplished” long before the battles are over and the war is won.

Now Later on, the president as usual, tries to correct what he said or his advisors do, he said he only meant testing– that we had prevailed on testing. But that’s false too, even the corrections are false. The United States is testing about 300,000 people a day. Most experts, believe that number is inadequate to stop this outbreak and ensure that when we re-open, we do so safely. “We have prevailed” on testing? Not remotely.

And here is what’s so ironic about the president hiding his head in the sand and not tackling the testing issue in a real way. He’s desperate that we get back to work, but the only way to get back to work is when we have enough tests, not just for those who are very ill but for anyone who wants it. You know the White House, they all test, anyone who walks in the White House is tested, why isn’t that good enough for all the American people?

And why is it that even states that have opened up, like Georgia, the stores are still empty? Because people are worried, justifiably. The way to remove that worry, or at least greatly reduce it, is to get people tested.

When New Rochelle quarantined, I called the mayor and said, “What do you need to get rid of this quarantine?” He said, “Enough testing so I can test everyone in New Rochelle. And those who tested positive they would have to quarantine and stay home and those didn’t could go to work, shop in the stores, and keep our community going.” Most of the countries, I think just about every one of the countries that has dealt successfully with the corona[virus] has had far more testing at the right times and the right places than we have.

So maybe Dr. Fauci can set things right this morning. Dr. Fauci and a few other administration officials are testifying before the HELP committee, remotely. It will be one of the first times that they have appeared publicly without the president lurking over their shoulder, modifying their answers or directly contradicting their advice.

Dr. Fauci, please don't pull any punches, particularly when you're asked questions. We know the White House may have to approve the statement you make and they'll mute it—and it was muted this morning and very technical. But you don't have to do that when questions are asked. Don’t pull punches; tell the American people the truth. Dr. Fauci, you have an obligation to tell the American people the truth because only that will save lives and reduce the economic length of this crisis.

And Dr. Fauci, maybe if you tell the truth in this opportunity, a hearing, without the president looking over their shoulder—maybe your testimony, Dr. Fauci, I hope your testimony Dr. Fauci, reaches not only the American people, but also a president who is ready to throw caution to the wind in order to re-open the country. Please, Dr. Fauci, don't pull punches.

One final matter today. Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine if the president can block access to his tax returns and other financial documents. You may not think this is related to COVID but in a certain sense it is. In a sense, the case about the president’s tax returns has something in common with the president’s response to the coronavirus: President Trump wants to hide the truth. He wants to hide the truth about coronavirus and the depth of the problem and how we deal with it. He wants to hide the truth and not release his tax returns.

For forty years, every president has disclosed their personal financial information to avoid even the perception of impropriety or self-dealing, but this president has used every avenue to deny such transparency. What is President Trump hiding in his taxes? The president is not an ordinary citizen anymore, he’s the president of the United States. The American people have a right to see how he’s dealt with his taxes. President Trump has an obligation to show it. Why has President Trump fought so hard to deny the American people this information?

And if this Court wants to prove—at least in one step—that they are not highly political and don't always side with President Trump, I hope that they will step up to the plate and rule that the president does not have the unilateral power to shield his tax returns from the American people. On this issue, like on so many others, we deserve the truth. Not what the president wants us to believe, but the truth.