Schumer Floor Remarks On The Nomination Of Secretary-Designate Lloyd Austin To Lead The Defense Department And The Need To Confirm President-Elect Biden’s Well-Qualified Nominees

December 9, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding President-elect Biden’s selection of Lloyd Austin to be the next Secretary of Defense and on his meeting with leading members of President-elect Biden’s economic team. Senator Schumer also laid out the double standard Republican Senators are showing with their stated concerns regarding the qualifications of President-elect Biden’s nominees for various Cabinet positions. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

President-elect Biden continues to roll out an impressive slate of Secretaries-designate to lead cabinet agencies in his administration.

Yesterday, he selected Lloyd Austin to be the next Secretary of Defense, another groundbreaking selection. Mr. Austin would be the first African American to lead the largest cabinet agency in our government.

Secretary-designate Austin is a familiar face to many of us on Capitol Hill, and I’m also pleased to say that he’s a familiar face to many in the North Country in New York.

He is the former commander of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum—the pride of Jefferson County.

Like all of President-elect Biden’s national security nominees, Secretary-designate Austin is deeply experienced and familiar with our nation’s national security, as well as the many issues that face our service members and their families each and every day.

Lloyd Austin served our nation for more than four decades, and his willingness to serve his country once again is admirable. He will make an excellent Secretary of Defense.

Now, an hour ago I met with President-elect Biden’s economic team by teleconference, including Secretary of Treasury-designate Janet Yellen to discuss priorities for the incoming administration and how to get our economy back on track.

I urged them, once President-elect Biden becomes president, to go bold and that austerity is not what America needs right now, but rather a bold program to stimulate our economy and get things moving, to help people get jobs—good paying jobs—because our economy is suffering. And I look forward to our continued conversations.

A few weeks ago, I predicted that we’d see some crocodile tears from the Republican majority about President-elect Biden’s cabinet nominees. I just didn’t think it would happen as fast as it has.

It began when several Republican Senators raised some objections over Neera Tanden’s twitter feed. After four years pretending that they didn’t see President Trump’s latest online outburst, it seems that Senate Republicans have rediscovered their Twitter passwords now that Joe Biden is the president-elect.

This week, after President-elect Biden announced that Xavier Becerra is his pick to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services, Republican Senators raised concerns, in their minds, about Mr. Becerra’s qualifications. The Senior Senator from Texas said: “I’m not sure what his Health and Human Services credentials are. It’s not like Alex Azar who used to work for pharma.”

With all due respect to the Senior Senator from Texas, working for the pharmaceutical industry is not the only way to get experience in health care. Some might argue it is exactly the wrong kind of experience for an HHS Secretary.

The truth is, Xavier Becerra is eminently qualified. He worked in the House of Representatives for two decades, always very involved in advancing the health care of his constituents, and he has a particularly long track record as an advocate of women’s health. As Attorney General of California, he became one of the foremost legal experts on our nation’s health care laws.

I must say, it’s particularly rich for this Republican majority to raise “concerns” about whether Biden’s cabinet nominees have every last pristine qualification for their posts.

Not so long ago, nearly every Republican in this chamber lined up to make an oil executive the Secretary of State. I don’t remember too many Republican “concerns” when President Trump nominated a retired neurosurgeon to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, or when he put Rick Perry in charge of the Department of Energy…an agency he wanted to abolish before learning it maintained the nation’s nuclear stockpile, and that he would be in charge of it.

If memory serves, this Senate Republican majority confirmed a Secretary of Education whose only qualification for the job was that she used her inherited fortune to try to privatize American schooling.

Look, the country needs to move on from the past four years, but Senate Republicans can’t pretend like they never happened. After the sordid caliber of nominees that this Republican majority confirmed over the past four years, it will be impossible—impossible—to take these complains about President-elect Biden’s nominees very seriously.