Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Comprehensive And Not Piecemeal Racial Justice And Police Transparency Legislation And Calling For An Investigation Of Potential Voting Rights Violations In The Georgia Primary Elections

June 10, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor and demanded that Leader McConnell stop focusing the Senate’s time on discredited conspiracy theories and put comprehensive, not piecemeal, policing reform and COVID-relief legislation on the Senate floor. Senator Schumer also urged President Trump to apologize to a 75-year-old peaceful protester for his vicious attack on Twitter and called for an investigation of potential voting rights violations in the Georgia primary elections after reports of irregularities. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Yesterday, at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston Texas, a funeral service was held in honor of the life of George Floyd, whose death has moved hundreds of thousands of people across America and around the world to peacefully march against police violence.

Today, his brother Philonise Floyd will testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. It is hard to imagine the courage it takes, so soon after the tragic, awful, and brutal loss of a family member, to not only grieve in the national spotlight but to turn that pain into action. There have been many reasons for Americans to be shocked and outraged, angry and frustrated with the injustice they’ve seen in their country. But the entire Floyd family has given the nation reason to hope.

Now, Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed legislation that would directly respond to the issues of racial bias and excessive force in our police departments. The Justice in Policing Act would ban the use of chokeholds, limit the transfer of military equipment to local police departments, make it easier to hold police misconduct accountable and institute a whole lot of reforms to help prevent that misconduct in the first place.

It is a comprehensive proposal and many of the experts on racism, discrimination, and inequality in police departments have had large input into the bill.

So we need action on the Justice in Policing Act as soon as possible. And we Democrats in the Senate will work like hell to make it happen. The moment calls for bold and broad-scale change. We need wholesale reform, not piecemeal reform. We cannot approach this debate by cherry picking one or two reforms and calling the job complete. It's my worry that that’s what our Republican colleagues intend to do. We need a strong bill. The Justice in Policing Act is where we should begin.

The Senate is a collaborative institution—at least by design—but there is one person alone who decides what legislation reaches the floor, and that’s Leader McConnell. For two weeks, I have asked him to commit to a debate and a vote on a police reform bill by July 4th in an open debate and certainly an ability to vote on the Justice in Policing Act.  I still have not received an answer.

Is it too much to ask that--as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are in the streets, when the vast majority of Americans think we need reform—the Republican leader spend some floor time here so we can debate this issue and maybe move forward for the first time in a long time? I don't think so. But our Leader is silent, missing in action, as he is on so many different, major issues that face America.

After House and Senate Democrats released draft legislation on Monday, yesterday, Senate Republicans announced that they would put together a “working group” to prepare their own set of proposals. Working groups are all fine and well, but it’s critical that we pursue comprehensive reform, not seek the lowest common denominator.

And it’s critical that we get a real commitment to consider strong legislation on the floor. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of other recent moments of national strife—particularly mass shootings—President Trump, Leader McConnell, and Senate Republicans made the right noises—let's study it, let's consider it—but never followed through. Leader McConnell once promised that a debate on expanding background checks would be “front and center” on the Senate floor after shootings in Dayton and El Paso. “What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” he said.

And yet, there was no debate on expanding background checks, and the Republican majority in the Senate did exactly what Leader McConnell said that it could not: it failed to pass anything on gun safety.

So while I welcome ideas from our Republican colleagues, we need a hard-and-fast commitment from the Republican Leader to put real, broad-scale police reform on the Senate floor before July 4th.

Americans, please be watching the Senate, watch the Leader, watch the Republicans. Is this going to be another situation just like with gun control? Just like with background checks where they talked a good game, tried to make the issue fade away and did nothing? The nation--the nation--will not let this issue fade away. I assure my Republican friends.

There is another major crisis in our country at the moment as well. COVID-19 continues to infect and kill Americans, with case numbers rising in Western states—Arizona, New Mexico, California and Oregon. The massive disruption to economic activity initially left more than 40 million--40 million--Americans without work. This week, it became official that the United States has been in a recession, the first one in many years, since February.

And, in truth, the issues of racial justice and COVID-19 are not unrelated. The COVID pandemic disproportionately kills Black Americans. Communities of color have less access to quality health care, greater food insecurity, greater percentages of poverty, and a disproportionate number of our frontline, essential workers (41.2%) are African American and Latino.

And yet you’re starting to hear my friends on the other side, you’re starting to hear them begin to strum sunny chords because one jobs report wasn’t quite so awful as it might have been, awful as it was. The president made a revolting comment that the recent jobs report was a “great day” for George Floyd and equality, even though it showed African American unemployment continuing to rise. What a horrible comment.

Everyone is rooting for our country to return to normal as quickly and as safely as possible, and for our economy to rebound with similar speed. But unemployment still exceeds 13%, higher than at any point since the Great Recession, and the president and my Republican colleagues are ready to declare victory.

After saying that another COVID-relief bill was “likely” in June, Leader McConnell has told the Republican caucus not to expect another relief bill until late July at the earliest. Late July at the earliest, as millions are out of work, millions risk being removed from their homes, millions can't feed their families.

Racial justice, civil rights, a global pandemic and an economic disaster. This is truly a time of historic challenge. And Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate, Republicans are missing in action. No commitment to consider comprehensive police reform; no urgency to provide our country desperately needed relief from COVID-19.

Instead, Leader McConnell is likely to schedule votes next week on two Circuit Court nominees—Justin Walker and Cory Wilson—both of whom have expressed deep-seated antipathy towards our health care law. And I'm not aware of any of them embracing civil rights, voting rights so desperately needed in this country.

That’s right: in the middle of a public health crisis, the Republican majority is planning to confirm right-wing judges who have spoken out against our health care law.

Watch what they do, not what they say. And what they're doing is regressing us. It's not even a lack of moving us forward. They attempt to move us backward with right-wing judges who want to turn the clock back.

And even more shocking—if you think it can get worse, it does with this Republican majority—the Judiciary Committee tomorrow will hold a hearing, and the Republican Chairman will continue his pursuit of President Trump’s wild conspiracy theories about the 2016 election—asking for scores of subpoenas to chase down alleged misconduct by the FBI.

Let me get this straight: the Republican Party will eagerly focus on law enforcement if it affects President Trump, but they aren’t ready to commit a focus on law enforcement, on racial equality, when Americans demand it?

I don't hear anyone, other than the President and his acolytes, demanding a re-investigation on a largely discredited conspiracy theory. But that's what our Republican Senate friends are doing, showing how removed they are from the national needs and the national sentiment.

Senate Republicans are ready to issue nearly 100 subpoenas to trash the FBI to protect President Trump, but they can’t commit to a debate on 1 bill to reform police departments to protect African Americans?

Instead of addressing the real challenges African Americans face, the Republican conspiracy caucus is obsessed with viciously attacking the FBI for protecting our national security while Putin interfered in our democracy.

What a bizarre and outrageous inversion of the nation’s priorities. And now I'm glad my friend from Illinois is here because it was his leadership that will cause Senate Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee to request subpoenas for Trump campaign associates like Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Flynn, among others. These men at one time or another pled guilty to offenses related to Putin’s interference in the 2016 election.

If the Republican conspiracy caucus wants to waste the Senate’s time dredging up old conspiracy theories, we’re at least going to try and get the story straight and not just call a list of witnesses that they want. It's just crazy. A kangaroo court, a kangaroo hearing. Let's see if the Republicans have any, any strength of conviction about what they're doing. If they would, they would allow witnesses that Senator Durbin and the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have proposed to come forward and tell their side of the story. Quite contradictory to the witnesses that the Republican majority and the Republican Chairman are calling.

So that's one crazy conspiracy theory, but yesterday the country was treated to another one. We've seen Trumpland, Trumpworld, to be a world of conspiracy theories. Some crazy, discredited right-wing blogger, sometimes with Russian information, tweets to write something—and then President Trump goes right ahead and tweets it and talks about it.

I’m not in the habit of responding to every Presidential tweet, something I’m sure my Republican colleagues are familiar with, but yesterday morning the President tweeted a vicious attack on a 75-year-old constituent of mine who was seriously injured in Buffalo, New York. The President said that he might have belonged to a radical group and that the event might have been a “set up” because the man “fell harder than was pushed.” It was disgusting, even for a president known for disgusting attacks.

How small of a man do you have to be to slander a 75-year-old protester recovering in a hospital? This is the President of the United States. You just have to remind yourself from time to time. This is what the President of the United States is doing, acting like a little 12-year-old school yard bully.

Apparently, the conspiracy theory the President repeated on twitter was originally posted on an anonymous blog, and then amplified by a reporter who used to work for a Russian state media organization.

It feels like it shouldn’t need to be said, but it has to be in a democracy where we believe in facts and truth: the President has an obligation to check out information before giving a platform to crazy conspiracy theories. He’s the president, not just some guy. He can’t shrug his shoulders and say “hey I’m just asking questions.” He has access to national intelligence!

I call on the President to apologize but I don’t expect he will. He never does. So I would just say to my Republican colleagues: you know this behavior is wrong. Say so. Say so. Say something. How much do you let this president get away with? How long will you grimace inside, or whisper to each other how crazy he is, but not say a thing? You, my Republican Senate colleagues, may be the one check left on this president. Where are you? Where are you?

I applaud the few Republicans who have spoken out, but too many danced the familiar “hear-no-evil, see-no-evil” routine. Leader McConnell was asked directly and couldn’t conjure a word of criticism for the president.

If Republicans can’t call out the President for this, then what the heck are they doing here? If we can’t do legislation on the floor, even during one of the greatest national crisis, then what the heck are our Republican friends doing here?

On COVID, on police reform, and all too often when the time comes to place a check on the president, the Republican majority is simply missing in action.

One final word on the Georgia primary. Yesterday, the state of Georgia held its primary election. Across numerous counties and dozens of polling locations, Georgians waited three, four, and in some cases up to seven hours to cast a ballot. I saw the pictures of the long lines. Numerous polling places failed to open on time. New voting machines may have malfunctioned.

Most disgracefully, many of the problems we saw yesterday occurred in precincts with high populations of people of color.

Of course, in years past, the Voting Rights Act would have empowered the federal government to oversee and approve the changes that the state of Georgia made to its election process—changes that may well have caused this election disaster. But the Roberts Court, in one of the most misguided decisions in recent Supreme Court history, gutted the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County decision and opened the door for the confusion we saw yesterday. The idea that seemed to be in the court's mind, at least the majority of the court—that the need for section 5 pre-clearance had passed—is clearly refuted by what happened in Georgia yesterday.

We have legislation, passed by the House, that would fix this problem and protect voters against racial discrimination and disenfranchisement. But it’s been gathering dust here in the Senate, condemned to Leader McConnell’s all-too-full legislative graveyard. Once again, once again, the Senate Republican majority is missing in action, this time on voting rights.

The right to vote in a free and fair election is sacrosanct in this country. Yesterday Georgia failed miserably, for the second election in a row. There ought to be an immediate investigation, and the errors must be corrected before the general election. The Senate should take up H.R. 4. And at the very least, deliver the necessary resources to election officials in the next COVID-relief bill.

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