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TRANSCRIPT: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Talks AI Legislation, Election Concerns, National Security, And The Global AI Race At SCSP’s AI Expo For National Competitiveness

Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke at SCSP’s AI Expo for National Competitiveness with Washington AI Network Founder Tammy Haddad in a wide-ranging interview on artificial intelligence legislation, competition with the Chinese Communist Party, election concerns, and other challenges posed by AI. The entire interview can be seen here. A transcript is below:

Leader Schumer: I want to thank Ylli [Bajraktari] not only for his introduction, but for hosting this first ever AI Expo. The SCSP has done a great work under Al and under Eric Schmidt's leadership.He's done a great job, too, on AI. We thank them both to keep America competitive on the global stage. And I want to thank Tammy for moderating.Over the past year, Tammy has leveraged her media experience and savvy to become a leader in the AI discourse here in Washington. Her group, the Washington AI Network, is helping make sure everyone has a seat at the table as we address the challenges and the opportunities of AI.

Now, it's good to be in the room with so many global leaders and innovators from government, business, academia and more. I spoke to a crowd similar to this one, or nearly similar last year when I unveiled my Safe Innovation Framework for Artificial Intelligence with innovation as our North Star. What I said a year ago is true today too. We're going to need all of you if America is going to win the race for AI, the most important technological race of our time. The age of AI is here. It's changing the world, as we all know, in dramatic and comprehensive ways, changing the way we live and we work and we learn and we interact with each other. I'm here to say that as Majority Leader of the United States Senate, it's one of my highest priorities to make sure that Congress is ready to do its part to keep and advance America as the global leader in AI. We can't let another country get ahead of us. We know this won't be an easy task. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things Congress has ever done because AI is so complex, so rapidly evolving, so broad in its impact, touching almost every aspect of society. And AI is unlike anything Congress has ever dealt with before. You know, if it's health care or defense, we have a long track record. We know what's happened. We know how we've interacted. But this is all brand new.

In many ways, we're starting from scratch. One of the key words of what we're doing is bipartisan. That's the only way you get things done these days in the Congress. And so I reached out to Senator Heinrich, a fellow Democrat, and two great Republican Senators, Rounds and Young, last year to form the bipartisan Senate AI Working Group. And I knew if we were going to make real progress on AI, it had to be bipartisan. I also knew Congress didn't do it alone. We needed lots of help. So last fall, our group convened a series of bipartisan AI Insight Forums, the first of its kind settings, to gather the top minds in AI. Very soon our group is going to release a policy roadmap highlighting many of the findings and areas of consensus from these forums. But one thing is clear: something I've said from the beginning. Innovation must be our North Star. Everyone's agreed we need some kinds of guardrails, but those guardrails cannot stand in the way of innovation. Everyone agreed that any action we take on AI must encourage, not stifle, innovation. But at the same time, as I mentioned, everyone agreed on the need to balance innovation with proper guardrails. If people don't trust that AI is safe and reliable, or if innovation comes at the cost of America's economic security or civil rights or liberties, it's going to limit AI's potential. So there's no question about it. This is exceedingly ambitious. And if there are a few words, if I had to pick three words that we focus on, one is innovation, right? One is bipartisan and one is humility. This is such an enormous task that we have to approach it with a good degree of humility. Those of you who know me, though, know I am the ultimate optimist. America has led the way in some of the greatest innovations of our time. I believe we can do it again. So thanks for being here. Thanks for caring. I look forward to our discussion. Thank you.

Tammy Haddad: Thank you so much. So appreciate it. Well, welcome again to the AI Expo. How about all the folks here, here to see you? Let's thank Senator Schumer for bringing AI front and center to all of the Senate. But, you know, this session has already been incredibly ambitious. You've got the Infrastructure Act, you've got CHIPS. There are so many monumental bills. Why focus on AI in this election year, where it is a divided Congress? Why do that?

Schumer: Yeah, look, we did accomplish a great deal. Our Congress two years ago was the most ambitious in 30 years. Robert Caro, when he wrote his book, Master the Senate, said to me, “You're the Jewish LBJ.” So why do AI? Well, because AI is the most important development in our time. It's broad-based. It touches every aspect of society. It could have so much positive effect. The idea of curing cancer, that's going to make billions of people around the world happy, or curing world hunger, or prevent us from being attacked. These are amazing things. So to not deal with this issue would be a dereliction of our responsibility. I think it was really important. You know, Teddy Roosevelt said he was the man in the arena and he had no choice but to move forward. That's in a sense, how I feel. And we feel in the Senate: we’re the people in the arena. And if we don't do anything, China could get ahead of us. You know, they're spending much more money right now on investing in science and AI than we are. Now, make no mistake about it. Americans person for person and dollar for dollar, we're a lot better because of the great innovative qualities in our society and because we have so many immigrants come to this country with great ideas. But, if we do nothing, China with the whole different system, their AI is interested in things like facial recognition and surveillance and stuff like that. They could get ahead of us. So we had to do it that way. And similarly, if we didn't look at certain guardrails, it might be the case where the people who would cut corners would gain advantage over those who didn't. So we needed to look at all of this. And the moment came to me. We had a model, which is, you mentioned it Tammy,  the CHIPS and Science bill. You know, we knew we were not investing enough in science. We knew that semiconductor manufacturing had gone overseas. One morning--this is a little anecdote--Todd Young and I go to the Senate gym. I used to play basketball. I wasn't very good. Our team's motto at Madison High School was, “We may be small, but we're slow.” But, I had to, I started riding a bike. And Todd and I were in the gym. And, you know, when you're a 60 year old or so panting away on your bicycle, inhibitions fall away. And we said, Why don't we do something together and bring chip manufacturing back and invest heavily in NIH and NSF and things like that? And we put together a bipartisan bill that passed the House, passed the Senate and is now bringing chip manufacturing back, investing more heavily in NSF and NIH and the labs. Why can't we do that for something like AI? So that was our model. We said we could have success using that model going forward.

Haddad: Why did you use Insight Forums? How did you come up with that format?

Schumer: Yeah, it was a it was a very novel idea, but we knew that this was such a, the area is so broad, so rapidly changing, and so important and with so little roadmap that to just have a typical Congressional hearing where one senator gets up and talks for 5 minutes and then a Republican and rebuts him… So what we decided to do was have a novel approach. We had 20 leaders in nine different forums, and they talked to each other like senators.

Haddad: You had Elon Musk and Liz Schuler, the president of the AFL-CIO. I'm sure everyone agrees they were never in the room together before.

Schumer: Yeah they were never. We also had Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg within three seats of each other, and they didn't fight or anything like that. They were both very well behaved. But each of these forums, and I will take a minute on this because it’s so important, each of these forums, the first forum had all the leaders of industry, people who were, people who were not in the industry.

We had Liz Schuler, we had Maya Wiley, the head of the Civil Rights Commission, but they were the overview. The first question is, “Should government get at all involved?” The unanimous consensus was, yes, we had to, we had to do it in a careful way. We had to thread that needle between what we call transformational innovation, curing cancer, and innovation that would allow us to have guardrails that didn't interfere with that. We called that sustainable innovation. And, we also came to a consensus that the U.S. government had to put in a whole lot of money into things like NAIRR and NIST, and the labs, $32 billion. Pretty good to get a bipartisan consensus on that. But then we had forums on each of the individual areas. So, one on intellectual property, with companies that used A.I. and used intellectual property, but with the creative community, we had one on labor, where we had labor leaders as well as others coming together. We had one on doomsday scenarios. We had one on healthcare, We had one on liability. And in each case, people with varying points of view sat around the table and didn't just yell at each other or make an opening statement. They interacted and as a result, in this roadmap, which will come out within a few weeks, you will see there are a lot of good guidelines and ideas of how Congress should pursue this.

Haddad: Well that's my question. What are the next steps for the Senate?

Schumer: Okay, so as I said, in a few weeks, we'll come out with this road map and it'll give the public, those in the community, those in the industry, an idea of what our broad framework and our broad thrusts will be.

Haddad: You don't want to give us s hint now to all these folks? Do you guys want a hit? Come on.

Schumer: Stay tuned.

Haddad: Stay tuned.

Schumer: Okay. Let me give you a hint. It's going to be very, very good. But in any case, after that, our committees will go to work. Some committees are a little further along than others. We're not going to wait to have one huge comprehensive plan that touches on everything when there are certain things, elections. Amy Klobuchar, is almost ready to go with elections, with some kinds of rules on elections. You know, if we have these deep fakes and no one believes that democracy worked in 2024, it could really stint growth of A.I. and even state growth of democracy. So, some of them will come out soon or some of them will come out later, but you will see different committees taking our roadmap and translating that, concretizing that into legislation.

Haddad: Can Congress do anything proactively to protect the American workforce?

Schumer: That's a great question. Look, the model on workforce, the model we shouldn't follow is globalization. Now, you know, back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, all these great thinkers came up, correctly, with the idea that if we increased world trade, we'd increase world wealth. And it worked. World wealth went up, and lots of people, billions probably, were brought out of poverty, but no one paid attention to the people who would pay a price. So, for instance, the steelworker who lost his job and is now working at a minimum wage job would be angry and no one cared about him. That's why we're having everyone at the table. That's why we have an all hands on deck approach. We had some great discussions about labor. We had Microsoft interacting with Communication Workers of America, a great union, as to how when certain people lost their jobs because of A.I., they might be trained into new jobs that A.I. would create. And, you know, having labor, having a seat at the table in unions, having a seat at the table was important. There was one instance that was sort of funny. So, a Labor leader in the Hotel Workers Union from Las Vegas said that a big hotel chain that had like six or seven hotel towers about, you know, quarter of a miles apart, used A.I. to determine the most efficient way the people who were cleaning the rooms could clean them. But they had someone cleaning a room and tower on the 23rd floor from 9 a.m. to 9:20am, and then at 9:30am they were in tower six, half a mile away at 9:30am. It just didn't work. But until the people from who were doing the working, who were doing the cleaning, came to the table with them, they didn't correct it because AI doesn't always get it right. That's the kinds of interactions we need.

Haddad: And you're getting a lot of cooperation, it sounds like, from companies, unions, civil rights groups?

Schumer: Everyone wants to make this work.

Haddad: Is that the first time in your career you've seen that?

Schumer: No, it happens occasionally. It's more difficult now with the centripetal forces in politics. But, one of my specialties is trying to get bipartisan legislation done. As I said, the Chips and Science Bill, the Infrastructure Bill, the Guns Bill, the PACT Act, the Gay Marriage legislation, we got a lot done. You still can get things done in a bipartisan way if you ignore the extremes on each side, and the middle doesn't write each other off.

Haddad: Well, you're talking about innovation a lot. It's your North Star. What do you mean by innovation?

Schumer: Well, as I said, that's a great question. She's very good at this. Two types, as I said, transformational innovation, that's the beauty, the glory of most AI – to cure cancer, end world hunger, protect us from other people going after us, you know, on terms of defense. You could list 100 of these positive things that could advance society, more dramatically than we've seen advances in a very long time. But, that's why I came out with a few months ago, something I call, safe innovation. We didn't want to rule out every one of the people participating, even some of the most conservative, you know, generally anti-government people agreed. We had to have also some kind of innovation. We call it sustainable. How do you make sure AI is sustainable, given the problems that people might see in labor, in civil rights? We had one on doomsday scenarios, because some people fear, well, they say if there's only a 10% chance they could create a virus that would wipe out humanity, we ought to stop it. Well, how do we deal with those issues?

Haddad: Do you think there's too much talk about doomsday?

Schumer: And I think we have to talk about it, because to not talk about it, the fears get worse. I have a bill to allow the Defense Department in in a way that doesn't interfere with intelligence to disclose what we found out by UFOs by whatever the other three letters they use for those are now but people - knowledge is better. So having discussions about this can actually allay people's fears that we're looking at it and maybe there's something we can do.

Haddad: And how do you keep fairness in innovation?

Schumer: By having all hands on deck, by bringing people from all different parts of society to come and discuss this and make it work. Because again, if God forbid, and I wouldn't want it to happen because I so believe in innovation and transformational innovation, but if, God forbid, there becomes a crescendo in society, this is unfair. This is going to throw millions out of work and hurt our economy or doomsday. The whole enterprise could be squashed.

Haddad: Now, you've been all over the world recently, and I have to ask you on the geopolitical side of AI, how does the US stay ahead of everyone else?

Schumer: That's another place where our little motto of all hands on deck applies. We should, you know, the Europeans in many ways are hostile in certain ways to our tech industry. Some may call it jealousy, some may call it something else. Whatever. We want to avoid that mistake with A.I.. So we should be reaching out, not so much to China, which probably has a whole different view, but to everybody else. When I went to India and met with Modi and met with some of the business leaders there, we talked about working together on A.I., reaching out to UAE and Saudi Arabia and getting them involved and using some of their resources to deal with the costs of setting up computer models and things like that.

Haddad: So you’re for all these kinds of partnerships, it's been so many discussed most recently UAE.

Schumer: Yes, I love these partnerships, Tammy, and this is, again, just to repeat myself, it's so pervasive and so deep you can't be on an island and just try to figure out one part of that little island.

Haddad: So let's go to elections. You've mentioned briefly that you're concerned about it. All Americans are concerned about people around the world and concerned about it. What is the Senate going to do on that?

Schumer: Well, we have certain legislation which, I’ve said, Senator Klobuchar has put together. She's head of our Rules Committee, which deals with elections, and she's put together some good bipartisan legislation that will deal with the most egregious and easy to deal with parts of election problems like deepfakes, identity, making sure when someone's used, you have a marker to identify them and things like that. And I think it won't solve all the problems we face in elections. A lot of them are just not A.I. related, but it'll solve a lot of them.

Haddad: Okay, so what's the road ahead for legislation very specifically? I mean, nine months ago you started this, and you've said, look, you said you're going to get something done in months, not years. Right. So what are we looking at?

Schumer: Well, we're still in the months category. But yes, we hope to do our road map very shortly. We hope our committees will start draft, having some hearings marking up and drafting legislation. Some are already. Maria Cantwell in the Commerce Committee is pretty well along on this. Gary. Gary Peters and HSGAC is along, as I mentioned, Amy Klobuchar is our Health Committee's and our housing and our education committees are a little further back, but we hope to have legislation come out starting, you know, within a few weeks throughout the summer and fall. And hopefully some of it can get passed. People would say, well, what about the House? The Senate is a little less chaotic, shall we say, than the House. But we have been having real discussions with House members. The four person bipartisan little group that I put together is now they're doing the same thing in the House. Our staffs have talked to Speaker Johnson and Hakeem Jeffries. So I think that we're trying to work in sync. So if we do something in the Senate, the House might take it up and, you know, hopefully some things can get done. Not everything, maybe not most, but [progress] by the end of the year.

Haddad: And the Biden administration is helpful? They're supporting all this?

Schumer: Yes, they put out their EO. It has some good things in it, some things people disagree with. So we're working with them, but they can't, a lot of things they can't do by executive order. One of the broadest consensuses we had among Democrats and Republicans, we need to spend some money on NAIRR (National AI Research Resource) and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and the labs, on things like that to help foster innovation. Because, you know, companies most companies don't have the ability to do this on their own. You know, the days of Bell Labs are over. And so there,  legislation is the only way. So there are some places we can dovetail. There are some places we’ll disagree, but there are a lot of places where legislation is definitely needed.

Haddad: When you see all of these folks here and you're around a lot of people all the time, are you inspired? Are you nervous? You feel the weight of responsibility on this when you yourself have said, well, it's one of the biggest issues you've ever dealt with?

Schumer: Yes. And that's why humility has to be a word here for all of us in every aspect of this world. But I'm inspired. Look, America has been the technological leader because we have this great nutrient agar. We encourage people to think on their own, to come up with new ideas and then to go make money or do whatever they have to do to make those ideas better for America. So it's exciting. Overall, it's exciting. You have to be humble, but at the same time you have to be excited about the possibilities and not let the problems make you walk out of the arena. We are the people in the arena. Teddy Roosevelt. We have to do it. So we will. And I'm an optimist and I love to legislate. Max Weber, the great German sociologist, By the way, when I was in college, I thought there were two German sociologists, Weber and Vaber, and I didn't realize I'd only heard of one and read about the other. But he said politics is a noble profession. It's based, I'm paraphrasing it. It's the screwing of hard boards together. That's our job. There are probably no harder boards to school together than AI, but there's nothing more important to do, so we're all gung ho to get it done.

Haddad: Well, thank you so much for this interview. Let's thank Senator Schumer, our majority leader. Appreciate your time. Thanks for everything you're doing in AI

Schumer: And I thank you for the good work you have done.