Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Republicans To Help Avoid A Trump Shutdown, The U.S. District Court Ruling On The Affordable Care Act, And Sen. Alexander’s Decision Not To Run For Re-Election

December 17, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor (at approximately 4:30 p.m.) regarding the need for Republicans to help to avoid a Trump shutdown, the U.S. District Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, and Sen. Alexander’s decision not to run for re-election. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Madam President, we are now just five days from a lapse in appropriations, and President Trump still doesn’t have a plan to keep the government open. In fact, the only indication he has given is that he wants a government shutdown.   

At the moment, the situation should be clear to everyone. President Trump does not have the votes for his wall. He certainly doesn’t have the votes in the Senate. And it doesn’t seem that he has the votes even in the House, where he needs only Republicans votes. Tellingly, the House is on recess until Wednesday night, just two days before the Trump shutdown would start. It is because the House leadership has no idea what to do, where the votes are, or where their people are. Many of them don’t want to come back.

So everyone knows the situation: even with a Republican Congress, no threat or temper tantrum will get the president his wall.

On the other hand, Democrats are all together. We have given two alternatives to President Trump that could easily pass both the House and the Senate. We could pass the six bipartisan appropriations bills and a one-year CR for homeland security, or a one-year CR for all of the remaining agencies. President Trump should support one of these options and spare innocent, hardworking Americans the pain of an unnecessary Trump shutdown. His temper tantrum will get him a shutdown, but it will not get him the wall. It’s futile.

Unfortunately, since our meeting last Tuesday, Leader Pelosi and I still have not heard from the White House whether they will accept either of these options. Nor have we heard from our Republican colleagues in the Senate or House about what they might support to avoid a shutdown. Not a peep. They are nowhere to be found. A reporter told me, ‘Republicans are asking, what’s the Democrats plan?’ We gave them two. The real question is: what is the Republicans plan? They don’t have one, they don’t know what to do.

In the scuttlebutt where we talk to one another, Senate Republican leadership has no idea what President Trump wants. Neither does House Republican leadership. And they don’t have the courage and strength, and in my judgement, the wisdom, to tell the president he is wrong on this, let’s move forward. That amazes me in the House more than anywhere else. In the House, Republicans lost forty seats by just clinging to President Trump, even when they knew he was wrong. Are they continuing this pattern of behavior? And are our Senate colleagues going to do the same? Makes no sense.

My friends on the other side of the aisle know that the president’s wall is wrong, ineffective, and it cannot pass. The president’s daily Twitter outbursts can’t alter that reality. My Republican friends need to step up and convince the president to pick one of the two sensible offers we’ve made. But right now nobody seems to know what Republicans want to do. It is shocking that Republicans haven’t engaged yet in this process, considering they control the presidency, the House, and the Senate. What a symbol. What evidence of disarray.

Once again, I’d remind my Republican colleagues going along with a Trump shutdown is a futile act. When Democrats take control of the House on January 3rd, they will pass one of our two options to fund the government, and then Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans will be left holding the bag for a Trump shutdown. The onus for reopening the government will wind up in their lap. That is not what they should want. I don’t think they do want it. They are just so fearful of departing from President Trump. And I’d remind them, when the president wasn’t mixing in, we did two good budget seasons; we did two good appropriation bills, which got large majorities from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. You can’t let the president interfere, particularly when he does it in a pound-the-table, temper-tantrum-like way, without any plan or knowledge on how to get things done.

If President Trump decides to shut down the government, there is no endgame in which President Trump gets the wall; there is no endgame for Republicans in which they can avoid their own share of the responsibility overwhelming share for a shutdown. The time to solve this problem is now.

Now, on health care, Madam President.  On Friday, in response to a suit brought by Republican Attorneys General, a district court judge in Texas issued a bizarre and dreadful ruling that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional because of changes to the law made by Congressional Republicans.

If the ruling is ultimately upheld, the consequences would be disastrous for the American people.

It would jeopardize health insurance for more than 20 million Americans who gained insurance on the exchanges or through expanded Medicaid.

It would end protections for the 133 million Americans living with pre-existing conditions. Can you imagine? A mom and dad have a daughter or son with cancer, and now would allow the insurance companies to cut them off and not give them new insurance as they watch their child suffer. That’s not America. That’s not frankly the situation now because of what we all did in 2009 with the ACA. Are our Republican colleagues going to allow that to happen? 

Americans under the age of 26 could no longer stay on their parent's health insurance. That’s been a sigh of relief, a breath of fresh air for millions who get out of college, try to get a job, but can’t take the job they want because there isn’t adequate health insurance. It would reopen the prescription drug donut hole in Medicare that would mean seniors on Medicare, tens of millions, would pay more for prescription drugs.

And essential health benefits would be gone, these are not just trivial things, they include guaranteed access to maternity care, free preventative cancer screenings, and treatment for opioid addiction. Crucial things that Americans need that allow them to go away.

So you can see, the extent to the disaster if this court case prevails. Hundreds of millions of Americans would be hurt. Our health care system would be thrown into chaos, including for families that get health insurance from their employer.

Now, we Democrats believe the ruling is based on such faulty premises that it will not be upheld by a higher court once it is appealed. But given the potential consequences of the ruling, we cannot twiddle our thumbs and hope for the right result. The court, I would remind my colleagues base a good portion on its decision on what Congress intended, we we can clear that up in a minute.

My friend Senator Manchin has a resolution, which every Democrat in this body has signed onto to petition Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in the lawsuit and defend the Affordable Care Act on behalf of the Senate. Because the Trump administration refuses to defend the law, and is in favor of it being overturned. President Trump was almost gleeful when this court case came out. Is he going to be gleeful to those parents with cancer; to that college graduate who needs healthcare; to a family who has a father on opioids and needs help? Is he going to be gleeful that they won’t get it? I don’t get him sometimes, much of the time.

So, I hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in this petition. Because if a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate tell the appeals courts that our intention was not to overthrow healthcare, it will have a great deal of weight. Now some say, ‘let’s do legislation.’ We all have been through that before, with both Republicans and Democrats in charge -- very hard, takes a long time to get healthcare. And, by the way – the president and a lot of my Republican friends want to cut back on healthcare, that’s their goal. They’ll never come to an agreement with us, Democrats in the Senate or the House, which will be Democratically controlled in a few weeks, if they stick with that. So legislation is not the first and best way to go. A court intervention is.

And, the American people will be watching. Many of my Republican colleagues said, “I am for pre-existing conditions.” We’re going to let them know that this idea, “let’s do legislation,” won’t work. Where were they on the petition? That will determine whether they are hypocrites, saying they want to protect preexisting conditions, but not doing the best thing for it or whether they really care about the people that will lose health insurance. 

The American people spoke loudly and clearly in the midterms: they want their health care protections, and they don’t want Republicans to take them away.

I believe Republicans will eventually have no choice but to join us. To not do so would be to jeopardize healthcare for hundreds of millions of Americans and risk a complete disaster for Republicans in future elections.

Now, on Lamar Alexander, my dear friend. We received news today that our friend the Senior Senator from Tennessee will not be running for re-election in 2020.There will be time to reflect on his life and career at a later date, but upon hearing the news this afternoon as I was taking the Amtrak down from New York, I felt a pang of sadness. Lamar and I have been dear friends, we have worked so hard on many things together, so I just wanted to say a few words now.

When Senator Alexander eventually does leave this body, the Senate will lose an incredibly capable legislator and statesman. He cares so much about legislating, he reminded me when I talked to him this afternoon he said he will still be around for two years and wants to work together to get things done, and Alexanderian statement if there ever was one.

Senator Alexander has been in the mist of things for much of his 16 years here in the Senate. That’s because he is not some ideologue who stood all alone in his own corner and made a lot of speeches and didn’t get things done. No, Senator Alexander seeks compromise almost reflexively, and he gets things done – the recent higher education bill and legislation dealing with opioids, which he was so passionate for and talked to me every day for about a month. And he gets things done because of his passion, his intelligence as a legislator and his persistence.

So both sides of the aisle trust him and respect him. I know I do, and we’ve worked together a great many times in my years here. Hopefully, as he said on the phone, there will be a few more opportunities in the next two years, his last two years in the Senate to work together, successfully, hopefully, and god willing again.

Even though he’s not here at the moment, I salute my friend from Tennessee and look forward to seeing him in the gym tomorrow morning, we always see each other in the gym, where I can convey these sentiments personally.