Schumer Floor Remarks On The Passing Of Justice John Paul Stevens And Leader McConnell’s Refusal To Act On Climate Change, Health Care, Voting Rights, And Other Important Legislation, Turning The Senate Into A Legislative Graveyard

July 17, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the passing and legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens and Leader McConnell’s refusal to act on climate change, health care, voting rights, and other critical legislation, turning the Senate into a legislative graveyard. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

Last night we received the news, the sad news, that Justice John Paul Stevens passed away at the age of ninety-nine. A son of the greatest generation, a code breaker in the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, and Shakespearean scholar. What a combination. John Paul Stevens was the third longest-serving Justice on the United States Supreme Court in our nation’s history.

The length of his tenure meant that the jurisprudence of Justice Stevens left a mark on nearly every area of the law. And just as remarkable as the length of his tenure was its quality.

Justice John Paul Stevens was a champion for civil rights, equality, accountability, who devoted his life to the ideal of equal justice under the law. He worked to constrain the use of the death penalty, defend abortion rights, articulate the bounds of presidential power—very needed today—and believed that unraveling the limits on corporate campaign spending “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.” He was so right. And the fact that Leader McConnell and all our Republican friends lead the charge in allowing so much corporate money, money of the very wealthy, to cascade into our system… well, Justice Stevens is in heaven reminding them what they’re doing to faith in our democratic institutions.

Stevens was at times an iconoclast. He was willing to buck conventional approaches and have his own views evolve. One constant, however, was his courtesy. During oral arguments, he’d begin with the preface, “May I ask a question,” as if the counsel were doing him a favor. And out of respect for the respect he paid to everyone who came before the Court, on his last day on the bench, lawyers and spectators throughout the Supreme Court chamber wore his signature bow tie in his honor. A more fitting tribute than anything I could say here on the Senate floor.

Justice Stevens was a great man, a model jurist: wise, fair, compassionate, caring about the little guy and gal. Our judiciary today needs more like him. There are too many on the Supreme Court who are virtually the opposite of what Stevens stood for. He will be sorely missed.

On a different subject: It is certainly abhorrent that Leader McConnell said that we should move on from the president’s comments this weekend without him even pausing to condemn them. But that’s not the only subject that Leader McConnell is stifling debate on in this chamber.

The size of Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard grows each session. Leader McConnell has stood in the way of progress on a multitude of issues. Health care: in his legislative graveyard. Climate change: in his legislative graveyard. Voting rights: in his legislative graveyard. Gun safety: in his legislative graveyard. Paycheck fairness: in his legislative graveyard. When Leader McConnell refuses to even debate these issues and allow them to be amended, he hurts average Americans. He hurts Americans of all colors and all creeds. He hurts American whether their families have been in this country for twelve generations, or they are new immigrants, new Americans in this country.

So many issues—health care costs, going through the roof. Drug costs, going through the roof. Leader McConnell doesn’t let us vote on them. Pre-existing conditions, and the right to be protected if you have one, so if your son or daughter has cancer, the insurance company can’t say “I’m cutting you off,” and you watch that child suffer. You can’t give them the health care they need? McConnell: no debate, no change. In fact, so many Republicans are silent on the lawsuit that President Trump and nineteen Republican attorneys general filed that would get rid of pre-existing conditions.

Climate change. We know what’s happening to our planet. Ask Senators from anywhere on the coasts, anywhere where we’ve had disasters. Talk to our farmers, in terms of temperatures and predators, natural pests. The world’s changing. We’re doing nothing about it. He won’t let a single bill on that.

Voting rights, where people are being deprived. Gun safety, where thousands lose their lives. We could close loopholes—that, ninety percent of Americans support.

So many issues. Let me dwell on one of them: health care, where Leader McConnell’s graveyard hurts every American. Immigrant, non-immigrant. Black, white, brown. Every religion, every creed.

Health care’s the number one issue in the minds of most American families. Millions of families across the country are still struggling with how to afford health care, how to afford prescription drugs. But at the moment, the Trump Administration, as I mentioned, is actively supporting a lawsuit that would dismantle the health care protections we have today. The consequences of the lawsuit are mind-boggling: tens of millions, tens of millions would lose coverage and see premiums rise, up to 133 million Americans—close to half of us—who have pre-existing conditions would see their protections vanish.

And yet Leader McConnell has not allowed this chamber to vote on whether the Senate can intervene in that lawsuit, let alone on any legislation that would improve our health care system. Astonishingly, many Republicans, many Senate Republicans are publicly rooting for the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to succeed, even if it means plunging our country into a health care crisis.

And as I mentioned, health care is far from the only subject that Leader McConnell has prevented the Senate from debating. Later today, my friend from Hawaii, Senator Schatz, will host the first hearing of the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, bringing in mayors from across the country to talk about how their cities are combatting climate change. This Senate, because of Senator McConnell’s graveyard, may sit on its hands and do nothing. But, our cities and states have no choice but to do something. They’re closer to the people. They’re doing stuff. We’ll hear about it today.

Climate change is the greatest threat to our planet, and Leader McConnell won’t even let the Senate debate the issue. This will go down in history poorly for our Republican friends who back that up—which is just about everyone. We had to form our own committee because Republicans wouldn’t join a bipartisan committee to discuss this. In his time as majority leader, Senator McConnell has brought forward exactly one bill to address climate change, and it was so that his party and he could vote against it. A sham, a ruse, a trick… which flopped.

Maybe Republicans don’t support every Democratic idea to address climate change. I understand that. But, Leader McConnell has provided no way for the Senate to even debate the matter. How are we supposed to compromise, or make progress, if the Senate leader refuses to allow us to debate any legislation? How can America make progress, even when the House moves forward, when the Senate has become a legislative graveyard on so many issues?

On climate change, health care, and so many other issues, Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard is standing in the way of progress for average American families.