Schumer Floor Remarks On The Passing Of Senator Fritz Hollings; The Need To Approve Disaster Relief Funding For Puerto Rico And Other Hard-Hit Regions Across U.S.; And The Departure Of DHS Secretary Nielsen And The Secret Service Director

April 8, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the passing of Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC); the need to approve disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico and other hard-hit regions across the United States; and the departure of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Today I wish to start off by sharing a few words about our former colleague, Senator “Fritz” Hollings – Senator Ernest F. Hollings to be precise – of South Carolina. He passed away this weekend at his home in Isle of Palms.

Well, with Fritz Hollings, the people of South Carolina, the Senate, have lost a giant. Senator Hollings was the longest-serving Junior Senator in American history – behind, of course, Strom Thurmond – representing his constituents for thirty-eight years in the Senate. Before that, he was a Governor, a state legislator, and a World War II veteran. Public service was his life’s calling.

He championed education reform, increases in teachers’ pay, and was a national voice in the fights against hunger and poverty. He was brought up in the old Jim Crow days with a great deal of segregation, but as he went through South Carolina he realized how terrible that was – and began to move in the opposite direction.

And he was an original. You could always go over to Fritz Hollings – even when I was a younger legislator, he’d pay attention – and he’d have something very interesting to say. Everyone talks about the days of blow-dried, lookalike, all-the-same Senators. Fritz Hollings certainly wasn’t one of them. He was an original, and we were all much better for it.

So Fritz, to you and your family, we will miss you and our thoughts go with your family, as do our prayers and well wishes.

Now on another matter: Puerto Rico. Last week, Senator Leahy and I offered this Chamber a chance to pass a natural disaster funding package that would have addressed everyone’s concerns here in the Senate.

The all-of-the-above solution we presented contained $16.7 billion in relief for all Americans affected by natural disasters. And I would add – I see my two friends from Iowa on the floor today, one in the president’s chair, one ready to speak – that it would have included far more money for the Midwest than the Republican bill. Because the Republican bill that was on the floor – while it added $219 million to disaster relief, it didn’t add in any more money despite the devastation in Iowa and Missouri and Nebraska.

Well our bill added an additional – an additional – $2.5 billion in funding for the disasters of 2019, and the vast majority of that would go to Iowa, to Missouri, and to Nebraska. But it also provided much needed aid for the people of Puerto Rico and other territories. And they need the help too. And they are American citizens, as well.

And let’s face the music folks. Everyone knows what’s going on here. Democrats and Republicans had agreed, as we always do – when there’s a disaster, we help. And the original bill that was put together had aid for Puerto Rico, as well as aid for the other parts of disaster. The original bill that occurred before, was put together before the Midwest so it didn’t have that.

And what happened? Is it that somehow, our Republican friends from the Midwest and elsewhere thought that Puerto Rico didn’t deserve the aid? No. President Trump went to a Tuesday lunch, banged his fist on the table – figuratively, I suppose – and said, “I don’t think any aid should go Puerto Rico.” Did our Republican friends, especially those from states with disasters and who needed the aid say, “No, no, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to let you divide us”? No. They went gainfully along with it, hurting their states.

We all know that if there’s no real aid for Puerto Rico, the House will not pass the bill. We here in the Senate on the Democratic side, do not want to hold Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and the other states – Florida, Texas, Alabama – that are getting the aid, hostage for what we want. And our Republican friends shouldn’t do the same, shouldn’t hold Puerto Rico hostage for what they want.

This grand tradition – traditions seem to crumble here – day by day, minute by minute – of helping states that needed help, that when one American is hurt in one area, Americans in every other area come together and say, “We’re going to help.” That’s why we have disaster aid. Because the enormity of a tornado or a wildfire or a hurricane – the taxpayers of that state can’t afford to do it all themselves.

So citizens throughout America have in effect, had a compact, that says when one area is hurt we all come together. Look, I suffered a little from that one. When New York had Sandy, we had some of our Senators from the very states that now are requesting aid, say “Don’t give aid to New York for Sandy.” I’ve never done that. I’ve always been for aid to states that are far away from New York and just have Republican representation. We don’t do that here – until now. Until now.

And so I would say to all of my friends on the other side of the aisle: there’s a way out of this. Provide the aid that originally Senators Shelby, Republican, Leahy, Democrat, agreed on. Don’t let Donald Trump’s nasty temper tantrums – somehow about Puerto Rico – get in the way. Do the right thing and he’ll sign the bill. We know he’ll sign the bill. He’s not going to stop aid for Texas or Florida or Iowa, or any other state, because this body in the Senate and the House have put in aid for Puerto Rico.

And let me just mention, just as the people in the Midwest are suffering, people in Puerto Rico are suffering. That island has had a slower recovery from a storm of greater magnitude than any others that we’re talking about.

So we need to vote on this legislation: this is not an either/or situation. And to say you’re putting $600 million in food stamps for Puerto Rico so people won’t starve, when they’re not getting the same aid as everybody else gets – CDBG, FEMA – that is not right, that is not fair, and that fig leaf will not, not cover up the real motivation of President Trump, which unfortunately I don’t think most of our Republican colleagues agree with but they go along with. Everyone’s afraid on the other side of anything President Trump does – right or wrong. Unfortunately, it’s wrong far too often.

Puerto Rico needs access so they can rebuild. They need the food aid, but they need more than that. Trump wanted to cut out all of it. Someone on this Republican side said, “Well you at least have to do food aid.” He said, “Well I’ll do that and nothing more.” That’s not right. Should we do just food aid for every state? Should we do food aid just for Texas, or just for Florida, or just for Iowa? No rebuilding of all those houses and homes and factories and stores and let them suffer? No. You wouldn’t do it for those states. We shouldn’t. And we shouldn’t do it for Puerto Rico.

So then we decided even more to compromise… there’s $20 billion of aid already for Puerto Rico that hasn’t been allocated. The president in his nastiness to the people of Puerto Rico – citizens, they’re American citizens – refused to allocate that money. All we then said, Senator Leahy, was let’s just take $3 billion of that and free it up. Our colleagues won’t even do that.

So when the American people want to know what’s holding up this bill, when the people in the flooded areas and the areas that have been hit by wildfires and hurricanes, want to know what’s holding it up – it’s Donald Trump picking one part of the country and saying I don’t want to give aid to them. And too many – just about every one – of our colleagues at least thus far, go along.

Elections have consequences. The House is now Democratic. It’s their view, strongly, that we ought to give aid to Puerto Rico. It’s a view that I share. But if we don’t do the right thing in this body, where we have a tradition of coming together, and we say and you say President Trump won’t sign something when he originally had nothing to do with putting together this bill – we’re all going to be stuck for quite a while. We’re all going to be stuck for quite a while.

Let us in this body, in the Senate, come to a compromise that satisfies the Middle West; that satisfies the hurricane states of Florida and Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama; that satisfies Texas and get moving. That’s what we should be doing. But this idea that we are holding up this bill when the House wouldn’t pass it anyway; the idea that we are holding up this bill when we know the history that President Trump went into that lunch and changed everything around in a nasty way that he can’t even explain. That’s not going to fly. That’s not going to fly.

Now on Secretary Nielsen. Well, Kirstjen Nielsen submitted her resignation as the Secretary of Homeland Security.

And when we look back at this moment, I think we’re going to remember Secretary Nielsen’s tenure as a cruel chapter in which the agency followed through on President Trump’s worst impulses.

Among those include advocacy for President Trump’s ineffective and expensive wall, her support for the longest government shutdown in history – didn’t produce anything for President Trump – and most regrettably, her full embrace of the child separation policy, leading to thousands of children being ripped away from their families.

Now some say Sec. Nielsen argued inwardly against some these – well, she should’ve left a long time ago, she shouldn’t have advocated for policies that are so, so wrong. And maybe it’s better, maybe it’s worse if she knew they were wrong, but it’s not good no matter what.

Through it all, in fact, she continuously misled the American public – even insisting once that, and I quote, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

Well, that was just absolutely false and Americans from every part of the country were just appalled by that. In fact, some people say one of the reasons the House went Democratic  is  a lot of  suburban Republican women didn’t like that policy, as they shouldn’t have. So it wasn’t politically smart as maybe President Trump thought it was.

Despite Secretary Nielsen’s advocacy for the wall, for her support of the shutdown, for embracing the child separation policy – which she always misled Americans about, she still wasn’t radical enough for President Trump. As NBC News reported this morning, President Trump has urged for months that his administration reauthorize the awful practice of separating little, tiny children and babies from their parents.

This is further proof that the president is kowtowing to the worst instincts of people and to the conservative, hard-right and extreme voices in the Republican Party – with no or little regard for our national security or the ability to function efficiently. And what he’s done by these constant firings and constant change of policies simply created chaos at the border. Nobody knows what the policy will be from day to day, week to week, and month to month. He doesn’t tell the top people in his departments that he’s changed his plans. He fired evidently Mr. Vitiello, without not even Secretary Nielsen knowing about it. This erratic, nasty style of governing is not solving any problems at the border. And the more problems and chaos there is, the more people are going to see President Trump can’t solve this problem despite his rhetoric where he appears tough, but doesn’t solve the problem.

Finally Madam President, on the Secret Service Director’s dismissal, this brings me to my final point: just a few hours ago, the White House confirmed that it has now also asked its Secret Service Director, Randolph Alles, to step aside.  His departure comes in the midst of recent reports about potentially serious security vulnerabilities surrounding President Trump, particularly at Mar-a-Lago.

That is why the outgoing Secret Service Director must testify before Congress as soon as possible about the potential security vulnerabilities at Mar-a-Lago, vulnerabilities that involve a Chinese national arrested with malware on her person, and other threats.

The public and Congress need to know the extent to which adversarial governments like China are attempting to infiltrate and conduct electronic surveillance on classified conversations or other information regarding national security at President Trump’s properties.

The president and White House Staff may like to treat hiring and firing in the administration as some kind of a reality TV show or parlor game – but for the American people, this has real life consequences. This is about national security, including security at our airports, responding to national disasters, including our efforts to fight against international cargo carrying drugs like fentanyl.

That is why it’s urgent to get the bottom of this, and why the outgoing Secret Service Director must testify as soon as possible.

Now all three of these comments: what’s happening in Puerto Rico, what’s happening with the Department of Homeland Security, and now Secret Service – it indicates the chaos that seems to be overwhelming this administration. President Trump’s policies – if he has them – switch from day to day. He’s erratic, he seems to get emotional, he pushes out whatever is on his mind that day no matter its consequences, and this country is floundering. There’s a lot of rhetoric and not much else. All these people leaving in very important positions, the president undercutting them, not calling them into the office and having a discussion, but tweeting – ranting. America, I’ve never seen America governed like this. Never. And I don’t care what your political affiliation is. I don’t care if you’re a liberal, moderate, or conservative. What is happening in this White House as it fails to lead this country – and instead it does seem something like a T.V. reality show – it’s hurting us, it’s hurting us, and hurting us badly. And I hope we can get some bipartisan efforts to do things about this and to speak up about it. I yield the floor.