Schumer Floor Remarks Urging Leader McConnell To Stop Blocking Efforts To Pass Bipartisan Election Security Legislation, Opposing The Nomination Of Rep. Ratcliffe To Be Director Of National Intelligence, Supporting Continued Pressure On China And The Need To Pass Commonsense Gun Safety Legislation

July 29, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Leader McConnell’s continued resistance to pass bipartisan election security legislation, opposition to the nomination of President Trump’s blind supporter Rep. Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence, the importance of maintaining pressure on China and the need for commonsense gun safety legislation. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

Now, a few minutes ago, the majority leader came to the floor to express his frustration at being accused of blocking election security legislation. 

I would make three factual points: first, Russia did interfere in our 2016 elections. Every intelligence agency, everyone who’s looked at this is one hundred percent clear Russia interfered. Two: Russia will attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections, and is already doing it. That is not only what Special Counsel Mueller said, but FBI Director Wray and many others appointees in the intelligence and counterintelligence agencies appointed by President Trump. Three: the Republican majority has done nothing to deal with this problem. 

So here’s an easy way for Leader McConnell to silence the critics who accuse him of blocking election security: stop blocking it. Leader McConnell doesn’t have to put the bills that we have proposed, Democrats, or the bill the House has passed, there are bipartisan bills—and we can debate the issue. America’s democracy is at risk when a foreign power interferes. 

And so, if Leader McConnell doesn’t like being criticized on election security, I challenge him: let’s debate it on the floor with amendments. I challenge him: support additional appropriations for states to harden their election systems. In both cases, Leader McConnell has not done that. In fact, he has said he opposes more money to the states, even though they say—I believe it is twenty-one attorneys general have said they need more money—Leader McConnell, despite our requests, has not only blocked unanimous consent requests, but has not put any other legislation on the floor to deal with this. 

Again, I repeat: this should not be a political issue. This should not be a political issue. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, whether you’re a liberal, conservative, in-between—you should despise the fact that Russia has interfered in our elections and is attempting to do so again. Putin wants to disrupt our democracy. He resents that we’re a free and open and wonderful democratic society. And for us to sit here with our arms folded, and do nothing… unheard of in previous years. 

I still don’t have a really clear idea why Leader McConnell is so adamantly opposed to doing anything on election security. Maybe it’s because President Trump, in his childlike way, resents the fact that people point out that Russia interfered. He thinks it delegitimizes his presidential election.

But that’s not a good enough reason, if that’s the case. 

We have an obligation. You know who we have an obligation to, Mr. President? We have an obligation to the hundreds of thousands of Americans, the millions of Americans, who laid down their lives to defend our right to vote, our free and open democracy, throughout the centuries. If we’re going to let a foreign power interfere and not do anything about it, for some kind of political reason, shame on us! Shame on this body! And it’s Leader McConnell who is the majority leader, who can determine what is put on the floor—and he has put nothing on the floor on elections.

When last year we attempted in the appropriations bill to add more money to help the states harden their systems against cyberattack, to make sure they have paper ballots in case someone tampers with the ballots, Leader McConnell opposed it. He said it’s not needed. Just recently I heard him say it’s not needed. That’s not true! That is absolutely not true. Twenty-one attorneys general say they need it. Nine states don’t have protections, backup systems with complete paper balloting. 

So if Leader McConnell takes such umbrage at his election security critics, I challenge him: prove them wrong. Support our amendment to the appropriations bill. Bring election security legislation to the floor. Because as the Senate Intelligence Committee—chaired by a Republican—the FBI Director—appointed by President Trump—and Former Special Counsel Mueller, who did an extensive investigation, have all made clear: when it comes to Russian interference in our elections, the case is certainly not closed.

On DNI. Yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a former member of this chamber, who was renowned for his integrity and his bipartisanship, announced his resignation. With his departure, the circle of advisors who are unafraid to speak truth to President Trump continues to shrink. It seems that if you’re going to speak truth, and tell the President something he doesn’t want to hear, you’re fired, or, at least frozen out so that you quit. Director Coats is one of the many in a long line to whom this has been done. 

Now, making matters worse, the president has proposed replacing this longtime fair, decent, and honorable public servant with a partisan shill, Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas.

The DNI, The Director of National intelligence handles some of the most sensitive responsibilities in the federal government. It requires a high level of expertise, it requires trust from the intelligence community, and it requires a track record of independence. An ability, in the closed confines of the White House, to speak truth to power and tell the president what’s happening, not just what the president wants to hear. On all these measures, it seems Rep. Ratcliffe falls far short of that high bar.

John Negroponte became the DNI after decades of working in the Foreign Service. Dennis Blair, James Clapper and Mike McConnell all had decades of military experience. Dan Coats served as a diplomat, Senator, and Sergeant in the Army before assuming the post. 

Rep. Ratcliffe, on the other hand, is a three-term Tea Party congressman, who when he goes on television, appeals to the president’s sense of stridency and partisanship. Rep. Ratcliffe lacks the experience required to lead an intelligence agency, much less the entire intelligence community. 

His time in Congress, particularly over the past several weeks since it was rumored he might be picked for the post, has been alarmingly partisan. He’s been a fierce critic of the Russia investigation. He’s earned praise from deep-state conspiracy theorists. During the Mueller hearings, Rep. Ratcliffe badgered, harassed the former Special Counsel with a baseless line of questioning and repeatedly interrupted him when he was trying to respond. He showed little regard for the seriousness of Putin’s interference in our election and the need for election security in the future. 

Watching Rep. Ratcliffe’s performance in the Mueller hearing, I was reminded of how I felt watching General Flynn. In the summer of 2016, I saw this three-star general leading chants of people yelling “lock her up” at the Republican convention and at rallies. I said who is this guy? How did this guy become a three-star and do something like this? At the time I thought: there is something seriously wrong with General Flynn here. Well, I have the same feeling watching Mr. Ratcliffe at the Mueller hearing. The same twisting and subversion and flat-out-ignorance, the same partisan demagoguery to appeal to the worst instincts of Americans—all seem to be his MO. There is something wrong here.

The DNI is supposed to be the least partisan member of the president’s cabinet. It would be a grave mistake for the Senate to elevate this partisan warrior to that position.

I have to wonder: are my Republican colleagues comfortable with their party’s direction on national security? Are they comfortable going along with Leader McConnell as he blocks legislation to protect our elections and deter foreign adversaries from interfering? Are they comfortable with a polarizing, partisan candidate taking charge of our national intelligence community? Are they comfortable knowing that this nominee may well not tell the president the truth when there’s evidence from our brave intelligence operatives around the world that something we’re doing is wrong?

I would hope that my Republican colleagues would be deeply uncomfortable with these developments. Ten years ago, I have no doubt Mr. Ratcliffe would not have even been nominated, let alone approved by this body. So I hope that’s the case today. I hope we haven’t gone so far away—and in such obeisance to a president who only likes to hear what he wants to hear—that we would nominate someone like this. It would be a shame and it would weaken America because if we don’t know the truth, we can’t act on the truth.

So will our Republican colleagues start speaking up and doing something about this?

When Mr. Ratcliffe comes before the Senate, he’ll have to answer for his long history of partisan statements and blind fealty in President Trump. Mr. Ratcliffe will have to answer tough questions about Russia’s meddling in our election, about his apparent disinterest in election security, and about his inability or unwillingness to show independence from the President. If he sounds anything like he did while questioning Mueller, Senate Republicans would be making a grave, grave mistake by advancing his nomination—a mistake for the country that we love. 

Finally, on China. Starting today, the United States will resume trade negotiations with China, which have recently stalled over China’s equivocation on a number of issues. Anyone who has viewed China’s behavior over the last past year of negotiations, or for that matter, the past decade of its behavior—knows China is always reluctant to make concessions that would put its businesses on a level playing field. China will resist, delay, offer bare-bones concessions and then retract them in hopes that it can avoid meaningfully reforming its economy and playing fair on trade.

So as negotiations begin again, I urge President Trump and his team not to back down, but to put unrelenting pressure on China to make significant, concrete, and enduring commitments to trade fairly. 

I don’t agree with President Trump on much. But he’s been tougher on China than any of the previous administrations, and that’s needed. But to be tough on China and then surrender our leverage at the last minute for nothing in return, would be terrible. 

And one of our greatest leverage points against China is Huawei, a state-supported Chinese telecom giant that our intelligence agencies have labeled nothing less than a national security threat. The Trump Administration has correctly sought restrictions on Huawei, even while they’ve sometimes waved on their severity. Now, as negotiations are set to resume, the president must not give up leverage on Huawei in exchange for anything less than concrete commitments on market access, intellectual property theft, and forced technology transfers. 

These are issues paramount to the competitiveness of American businesses. And, it will cause us to lose millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in the future, as we’ve lost in the past, as the president correctly points out to China’s rapaciousness. 

I am concerned now about the possibility that the Administration will sell out, particularly in the wake of reports that President Trump has agreed to soft-peddle criticism of China over its Hong Kong policy, hoping for smoother trade talks. The administration is wrong on two fronts. First, it is always crucial for the United States to stand up for democracy, human rights, and civil liberties—everywhere. The idea that the president of the United States would sell the democratic aspirations of the brave people of Hong Kong down the river in exchange for possible progress on trade is shocking. But second, the idea of going easy on China’s human rights record will ease trade talks is backward. China responds to strength, not flattery or capitulation.

The best way to get China to do something fair is to stand tough on Huawei. Don’t sell out or give Huawei half or three-quarters of what it wants, hold tough. And the Chinese in a few months will come to us with real concessions. It’s the game of who’s stronger and who can last longer. Hope it’s us. If it’s not, all of the President’s previous actions on China will be wasted and go down the drain.  

Well there’s some good things that happened in the last week in Washington. People think nothing good comes out of Washington. Once in a while we do something good. Once in a while our Republican colleagues will go along with something that needs to be done, instead of blocking everything and putting it in a graveyard which they usually do.  

Well that happened last week when this body passed the bipartisan 9/11 Victim’s Compensation bill. And today the president signed it into law, closing the book on nearly two decades of advocacy to provide the care and compensation that 9/11 first responders deserved.

Nothing should or can get in the way of our first responders getting their due. Finally, at last, these brave first responders had to spend too much time here in Washington, often in their wheelchairs, often dying of cancer, begging Senators to give them the help they need, the same help we give to veterans who like our first responders after 9/11 at a time of war rushed to danger and suffer injury, we help them. We help our veterans and our soldiers, our armed forces, same way we should be helping 9/11. Well at long last we’re doing that. It’s been a long struggle but because of the courage of the many who joined the cause the memory of people like James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, Luis Alvarez and so many others will live on in this law. Their parents, and I know Mrs. Pfeifer, and I know some of the Alvarez family, I’ve met them, can know despite the pain in their hearts, their grave losses, that the deaths of their loved ones will not be in vain. 

Finally. My heart is filled with sadness and anger today after reports of deadly shootings at festivals on opposite coastlines, one in my hometown of Brooklyn and another across the country in Gilroy, California. There are no words for the senselessness of these tragedies, which continue, unabated, while the Majority Leader once again refuses to even debate commonsense gun safety laws. Put the bill the House passed on the floor. We’ve had bipartisan efforts in this body to close the gun show loophole. Close the loopholes and have universal background checks. Almost no Americans object to preventing felons, or spousal abusers, or those who are adjudicated mentally incompetent from getting guns. But Leader McConnell and the Republican majority do and we’ve made no progress in these awful events continue.