Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Big, Bold Senate Action On Coronavirus Pandemic Including Nationwide Expansion Of Testing And Demanding Secretary DeVos Reverse Course On Restricting COVID Aid To Dreamers

May 11, 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. He also demanded that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos immediately end her efforts to restrict COVID aid from Dreamers. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The United States has well over a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and we are quickly, unfortunately approaching 80,000 fatalities. Alongside this great crisis of public health, this shocking and heartbreaking loss of life, there is a looming economic catastrophe. There are now more than 30 million newly unemployed Americans, over a tenth of the population of the entire United States, the highest recorded number since the Great Depression. Many believe this number underestimates the real total.

Once this crisis is over, there is no guarantee that these millions of newly unemployed Americans will be able to resume their old jobs. How many people will find new jobs? At what salary? Even the most optimistic scenarios predict a period of extended high unemployment. Others suggest we are looking at the kernels of a Second Great Depression.

Here on the Senate floor, for the second week in a row, we are living in an alternative reality of Leader McConnell’s making. He has scheduled no legislative business related to COVID-19. None. No measures for the unemployed. No relief for renters or homeowners. No legislation to increase testing capacity. No proposals to help state and local governments retain teachers and firefighters, bus drivers and police officers.

Looking at the Senate calendar, you’d never know that we’re working in the midst of a national crisis. It looks like any other session. A few executive nominations. Hearings on right-wing judges. Legislation from previous months that the leader should not have delayed. It’s just totally, totally divorced from reality.

Despite the obvious health risks, Senators are ready to do our jobs. Why don’t we actually do our jobs and focus on COVID-19? For the sake of common sense and the good of the nation, the Senate should be focused on COVID-19.

We should be holding multiple, serious oversight hearings every week. Several of my colleagues on the other side, including the Republican Leader, have said they want to see how the legislation we’ve already passed is working before doing anything else.

At the same time, the Republican majority is slow-walking the hearing process. Finally, after a lot of Democratic pressure from myself and many others, the Leader is sort of eking out week-by-week hearings. We’ve just heard we’ll hear from Chairman Powell and Secretary Mnuchin on the 19th. That will be almost 2 months after a bill that let $4 trillion of lending authority be released before there’s a hearing. Why didn’t we hold a hearing 3 weeks ago? 5 weeks ago? Last week? It’s just outrageous. How can the Republican Senators say we want to see how this is working, and not have a whole bunch of hearings to examine how it’s working, instead of squeezing them out under direct pressure from we, Democrats?  

Now, tomorrow in the HELP Committee, there will be a hearing conducted remotely with Dr. Fauci. This is the kind of hearing we need. Not once a week, but several a day. The American people need to hear from these experts in a fair, open, and truthful setting.

Until now, we’ve mostly heard from members of the Coronavirus task force through the distorted lens of the White House press conference, where the president often prevents them from answering fully, interrupts their response, or even contradicts their fact-based advice.

This will be one of the first opportunities for Dr. Fauci to tell the American people the unvarnished truth without the president lurking over his shoulder. Dr. Fauci: let it rip.

But it shouldn’t just be this one committee hearing tomorrow. And it shouldn’t just be Dr. Fauci alone testifying, or even with the two he’s testifying with. This is the routine oversight business of Congress and we’re now in a crisis. It should occur in every committee, every week. There should be testimony from administration officials ranging from Dr. Birx to Secretary Mnuchin to Secretary DeVos and others.

We should also be debating another major emergency relief bill. As we speak, more and more businesses are going under. More and more people are losing their jobs. More and more families don’t have food to feed their children, or are sitting for hours in car lines to get to food banks. Speaker Pelosi and I completely agree: the new bill should be big. And it should be bold. And that’s what the House is working on right now while the Senate under Leader McConnell’s leadership dithers.

Already, however, Congressional Republicans are telling everyone that they want to slow down. Leader McConnell said he wants to hit “the pause button.” President Trump and administration officials are saying we might not need to do anything more to help the country.

This would be a catastrophic mistake. At the outset of the Great Depression, President Hoover was also reluctant to use national resources to attack the problem. He, too, was ideologically opposed to a vigorous and strong response from the federal government. President Hoover’s failure was likely responsible for extending the length and deepening the severity of the Depression. If President Trump and our Republican colleagues go the way of Herbert Hoover, if they oppose government intervention to save the economy, I fear the nation could suffer a similar fate, a second depression. We must avoid that at all costs.

Now is not the time for timidity. Now is not the time for small thinking. Now is a time for action, big, bold, continued action.

There are so many issues that deserve our attention. On a daily basis, President Trump talks about the need to re-open our country. Well, President Trump: the only way that we can safely re-open the country is if we have testing!

To finally beat this disease, we need testing. To reopen businesses safely, we need testing. To re-open schools and sporting events, we need testing. To contain a possible resurgence in the fall, or early next year, we need testing. Testing is by far the number one priority from a public health standpoint, and maybe from an economic standpoint as well.

For many countries, mastering the challenge of testing its population was its first priority. Here in the United States, unfortunately, the Trump administration is still struggling to catch up. [Two] months ago, President Trump said: “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That’s still not even close to being true.

Americans have gotten sick, and because they could not get tested, they never knew if they contracted COVID, never knew if they passed it on to loved ones, colleagues, workers, or friends. For many that could get tested, they had to wait weeks for an answer, long after the disease had run its course and potentially spread to others. We may never know the full extent of the human consequences that resulted from President Trump’s administration’s failure to rapidly develop a testing plan in the early days of the coronavirus. But we do know that countries who did it successfully—such as South Korea, Germany, Australia and New Zealand—were able to deal with the virus much better than we have. And to think the United States, always the leader in public health, is lagging behind these other countries because of the president's denial and ineptitude. It should bother every single American no matter what your politics.

Congress provided $25 billion in the most recent relief legislation to increase testing capacity and contact tracing. And we’re going to need more. If President Trump is so keen on speeding up the process of re-opening the country, he should endorse what Democrats have urged him to do: create a national testing regime, immediately.

One final matter: education. In the CARES Act, Congress provided a little over $30 billion to help states, school districts, and higher education systems respond to the coronavirus after many schools were forced to close to move to remote learning. We need more money than that, of course, and I think Democrats in both houses agree.

It has come to our attention that Secretary DeVos has been using a portion of that funding not to help states or localities cope with the crisis, but to augment her push for voucher-like programs (a prior initiative that has nothing to do with COVID-19). We’ve also learned that Secretary DeVos has added restrictions to the fund that weren’t included in the law, including guidance that DACA recipients cannot receive aid.

Shameful. There’s no other word for it. Secretary DeVos is exploiting emergency relief funding to further her own rigid ideological agenda and deprive students of desperately needed federal assistance.

The Secretary of Education should reverse course immediately. Subsequently, she should testify in Congress as soon as possible. As someone who has habitually skipped Congressional hearings, Secretary DeVos has much to answer for. If our students had the same attendance record as Secretary DeVos, they would’ve flunked out of school.

Secretary DeVos needs to come clean about how her department is exploiting Congressional relief efforts intended to help schools recover and reopen.