Schumer Floor Remarks on the Resolution To Terminate President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration, Legislation To Close Dangerous Loopholes In Firearm Background Checks, The Surge In Corporate Stock Buybacks, Climate Change, And Congressional Authority Over North Korea Sanctions

February 26, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the resolution to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration, legislation to close dangerous loopholes in firearm background checks, the surge in corporate stock buybacks, and Congressional authority over North Korea sanctions. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Madam President, today the House of Representatives will take up a motion to terminate the state of emergency proclaimed by President Trump.

For many reasons, the measure should pass with bipartisan support.

First, members of both parties know that there is no actual emergency at the border. Nearly 60 former national security advisors – Democrat and Republican, bipartisan, including former Secretaries of State and Defense, have written a statement saying there is “no factual evidence” of an emergency at the border. The president himself said, when announcing the state of emergency, that he “didn’t need to do this.” An emergency, by definition, is something you need to do. It’s an emergency. In the president’s own words, this is not a state of emergency. And if we let presidents – whomever they may be, Democrat or Republican – willy nilly because they want to get something done and just declare an emergency when it’s clear it’s been a long-term condition, a long-term issue – then this country is a different country.

And second – and it leads to my second point – members of both parties should be concerned about the president diverting money away from military construction projects in their districts. Again, President Trump doesn’t like you for some reason. He says there’s an emergency and takes money away from projects in your state that you have worked hard for. That’s no way to govern. But at the top of the list is this: it’s the Founding Fathers looking down upon this chamber and upon these United States of America set up an exquisite balance of power. They were worried about an overreaching executive. They knew what King George III was all about. And so they gave the Congress – they named the Congress, the House and Senate, Article I, not two, three or four – part of the government.

They also gave the Congress one of the greatest powers any government has, which is the power of the purse. President Trump is trying to take these powers away. He called for an emergency when he couldn’t get his way in Congress and not because some new facts came on the scene. It is a change in the fundamental, necessary, and often exquisite balance of power. I know many of my friends on the other side of the aisle understand that. In fact, true conservatism worries about too much power being centralized in any place because conservatism exalts the freedom of the individual. So to look the other way because President Trump wants this? Because he’s almost sometimes in a temper tantrum about this issue? It’s so shortsighted and so detrimental to the long-term health and stability – viability even – of how the balance of power works.

So I implore my friends on the other side of the aisle to contemplate what it might portend for our democracy to allow this emergency declaration to stand. What would stop any future president from claiming a national emergency every week and doing what they wanted? It would be a total subversion of the balance of powers, a derogation of huge power to the Executive, which has plenty of power already.

The National Emergencies Act has been used only once in its relatively short history to take military action – and that was after 9/11, clearly an emergency. Now, President Trump is trying to bend the law to his will – not to address a military emergency, not to address any real emergency. This has been an ongoing issue. He would say “problem.” That’s okay but he’s doing it for personal political gain; to accomplish something Congress rejected and the American people oppose. He’s tried several times to get this wall. Congress has resisted. Congress even resisted when Democrats didn’t have control of the House. Now they do – elections do matter. We are a democracy, President Trump.

So it is hard to imagine a more senseless and destructive use of emergency powers than what President Trump has proposed. So let us, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, rise to the occasion. This will be a moment in history, a point where things may turn a bit. If Congress stands up, it will be a reaffirmation of our democracy. It will be a reaffirmation of the democracy the Founding Fathers wanted. If Congress stands up, Democrats and Republicans – when the Founding Fathers look down on this chamber after the vote occurs – they will smile because this is the democracy they wanted. They did not want a democracy where the president could simply declare an emergency on a whim and overrule what Congress has done.

So let us, Congress, first the House and then the Senate, speak up with one bipartisan voice to remedy this injury that President Trump is trying to do to our constitutional order. Whatever you think about the best way to secure our southern border, this is not the way for a president – any president – to exercise his authority. This is not about whether you are for or against the wall – and I of course am against it – it is about what America is all about, whatever your view on the wall.

On gun safety: the House this week will also take up a measure to close the dangerous loopholes in the background check system used to certify firearm purchases. For years, Democrats have tried to address these loopholes – the gun show, online and private sales loopholes -- only to be met with lockstep resistance by a Republican Congress beholden to the NRA.

90% of Americans favor strengthening the background check system, Not 51 percent, not 52 percent – 90 percent. The majority of Republicans, the majority of gun owners, any way you slice it, Americans are for strengthening background checks. Americans believe felons or spousal abusers or those adjudicated mentally ill should not have guns. But Congress is paralyzed because of the other side’s obeisance to the NRA and has been unable to act, not even after Newtown, not even after Charleston, not even after Las Vegas, not even after Orlando, not after Parkland.

But on gun safety, the tide is turning. Make no mistake about it. A strong majority of the American people support these policies now. The NRA has been considerably weakened – they did not do very well in the last elections. Finally, they have a house in Congress that will listen to the American people and take actions on guns – thoughtful, moderate actions on background checks. With each measure that passes the House, the pressure will build on the Senate to take up these reasonable, commonsense gun safety measures. And I hope my colleagues will join us.

On another matter: buybacks. This morning, the New York Times reported on an interesting facet of the recent stock market rally. Many investors, according to the Times, are selling off stock: average investors sell of stock, pension and mutual funds, nonprofits, endowments, private equity firms and trusts - are all, in the aggregate, selling stock? So then why is it rallying? The laws of supply and demand should say the stock market should go down.

The Times reports that it is corporate self-investment. Companies are buying back their own stock at such a rapid clip that they propping up the market and to a great degree themselves.

It’s another clear example of how the recent explosion of stock buybacks in Corporate America is distorting the market – artificially, some would argue.

Some Democratic Senators, and even some Republican Senators, have begun to sound the alarm about the record-breaking scale of corporate stock buybacks. Over the last decade, based on an analysis America’s largest companies, 466 of S&P 500 companies, 92 cents out of every dollar of corporate profit has gone to share buybacks or dividends. Some say well, they’ve already before the profits put money into their workers, into their communities. We’re saying they should put some more for the good of the country. Stock price, when so much of it is pushed up by backpacks should not be the only measure of how well a country is doing, especially when 85% of the stocks are owned by the top 10% of Americans.

Most Americans would agree that there are more productive ways for corporations to allocate their capital than this borderline obsession with stock buybacks, with short-term rises in price to please investors while not doing much for workers or for communities. So, I hope Corporate America will wake up. Income inequality is one of the greatest, along with climate change, problems America faces and we need Corporate America to propose some solutions. Because when they say: let government do it – most of Corporate America, much of Corporate America then opposes government doing anything for workers or for communities. So let’s take a careful look at this and see what the right solutions are – the status quo is not acceptable.

On climate change. For decades, we’ve known that climate change is not only a major national challenge, but an existential threat to our planet, to our future. Despite the gravity and scale of this challenge, one political party in the United States has largely denied the problem even exists, denied the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, and denied most attempts in Congress to tackle climate change.

President Trump’s record on climate change is one of abject failure: denying the science, systematically rolling back environmental protections that reduce carbon emissions, and announcing withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords -- ostrich-like, if there ever was actions that can be described that way.

But recently we heard of a new effort from the Trump Administration to push back against efforts to address climate change.

You see, it was probably embarrassing to President Trump when his own administration released the National Climate Assessment last year, as required by law, which outlined the severe and immediate impacts of climate change.

So according to reports, the White House now has plans to set up a fake panel of cherry-picked scientists who question the severity of climate change in order to “counter” the scientific consensus on this terribly urgent problem, even within the administration. This new fake panel will reportedly be set up under the National Security Council, not the EPA or NOAA or any of the federal agencies where the real climate scientists still work.

This is maybe the most conspicuous symptom of the disease of climate denialism that has infected the Republican Party and the hard right. This is beyond willful ignorance. This is the intentional, deliberate sowing of disinformation about climate science -- by our own government.

This cannot stand. So this morning I’m announcing that if the Trump Administration moves forward with this fake climate panel, we will be introducing legislation to defund it. I will be doing it along with several of my colleagues

It is long past time for President Trump and Republican leaders to admit that climate change is real, human activity contributes to it, and Congress must take action to counter it. So far, Leader McConnell and Republicans: when we ask them do you believe climate change is real? Silence. Do you believe humans cause it? Silence. Do you believe Congress has to act, to deal with it? Silence. That will not stand and they will not be able to maintain that position over a period of time.

Finally, on North Korea and I appreciate the indulgence of my friend from Illinois. As the president continues negotiations in Hanoi with the North Koreans, I want to restate that his goal should be the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of Korea.

An agreement that includes significant US sanctions relief in exchange for something short of that would be woefully insufficient. It would make North Korea stronger and the world more dangerous, not safer. To simply say to North Korea: we’re going to let you continue to be nuclear in exchange for something else – a peace treaty, or some words, a photo op. That’s not protecting the security of the United States.

I’d remind my colleagues: Congress passed sanctions against the North Korean regime for its appalling record on human rights. Congress would need to repeal that law for President Trump to give North Korean reliable sanctions relief. The North Koreans themselves should realize many of us in Congress will not, will not, will not, no matter what President Trump does, many of us in Congress will not remove this sanction relief until North Korea denuclearizes, verifiable and irreversible.

So make no mistake, no matter what President Trump does in Vietnam this week: this chamber will have a significant role to play if President Trump decides to reduce sanctions as a part of any deal with North Korea.