Schumer Floor Remarks on the Special Counsel’s Investigation, Circuit Court Nominations, and the GOP Tax Plan

October 30, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the special counsel’s investigation, circuit court nominations, and the GOP tax plan:

This morning, Mr. President, the former Chairman of the Trump Campaign for President and a close associate turned themselves in to federal authorities on a dozen charges, including acting as unregistered agents of a foreign power and conspiracy against the United States.

The indictments of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates show that Special Counsel Mueller’s probe is progressing in a very serious way. Mr. Mueller is moving forward.

What we now know is that an alleged unregistered foreign agent, who is charged with laundering tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments on behalf of their agenda, was given the chairmanship of a campaign for the Presidency of the United States – and with it, untold influence on a future president and his party. And we know that Mr. Manafort has had continuing contact with the President since his resignation from the campaign.

Just as shocking was the admission by a Trump campaign adviser that he met with a Kremlin contact to discuss so-called “dirt” on Secretary Clinton. While we know that Mr. Papodopolous had extensive email exchanges with other Trump officials regarding his outreach to Russian officials, his admission -- released today -- raises many more questions than it answers. Mr. Mueller and his team should be allowed to seek answers to those questions without interference from the President or anyone else.      

The stakes could not be higher. We are talking about the pride and wellspring of our grand democracy – free and fair elections which have been doing on for more than two centuries – which were disturbed and adulterated by a hostile foreign power with no good intent for the people of this country.

It’s critical that we get to the bottom of this. That is Special Counsel Mueller’s job, and he must be allowed to perform it without interference.

The rule of law is paramount in America. We pride ourselves on it. The investigation must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The President must not, under any circumstances and in any way, interfere with the special counsel’s work. If he does, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues and the truth – the whole truth – comes out.

Now on judges. Mr. President, this week, the Majority Leader has scheduled votes on four circuit court nominations. It is the first time in my memory that the Senate is being asked to process four circuit court judges in a single week.

The circuit courts have an immense influence on our country, adjudicating some of the thorniest legal issues. Only the rarest and most vexing circuit court decisions are appealed to and taken up by the Supreme Court. For this reason, we typically don’t sandwich circuit court nominees back to back to back to back, only a week after they’ve emerged from committee because members who aren’t on the Judiciary committee usually need time – always need time - to review these candidates for such important, powerful, and far-reaching positions.

Why has the Majority Leader departed from this practice?

One can argue it’s because the Republican agenda has been such a failure this Congress, the Leader has chosen to try to accomplish through the courts what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the legislative process. The Republican agenda has been so unpopular with the American people that it has stalled at every juncture. So now they’ve made a brazen move to pack the courts with activist judges and remake them in their conservative, ideological image.

Why has the Majority Leader done it? The hard right, frustrated by the failure of repeal and replace, has for months been pressuring Senator McConnell to do something aggressive. Senator McConnell, once again despite his desire to make the Senate work, and I believe that is sincere, is bending to the hard right of his party by jamming through these judges, breaking the norms and traditions of the Senate in the process.

I intend to oppose these extremist nominees.

Finally, Mr. President, on taxes.

The Republicans have promised to release the details of their tax plan this week. After months of talking about a plan with very few specifics, we’ll finally get to see how the Republican leadership plan to rewrite the tax code.

From all indications so far, those details of the Republican tax plan will be cheered by those in country clubs and corporate boardrooms. Working Americans, on the other hand, might not have much to cheer about.

The top 1%, law firms, and hedge fund managers can celebrate a lower top rate and an enormous new tax loophole in the form of a lower rate on pass-throughs. People who will most take advantage of these pass-throughs are not small businesses. They can’t afford all the lawyers and stuff. It will be the biggest, the most powerful, the richest. The wealthiest 5,200 families in America with estates over $5 million can celebrate the absurd repeal of the estate tax. Corporate America can celebrate hundreds of billions in tax cuts, which large corporations usually spend not on new jobs, that’s not what the history shows, but on CEO bonuses, stock buybacks, and dividends.

While the wealthy and well-off are busy celebrating their new tax breaks they might get if the Republican plan passes, Working America will be looking over their shoulder at some real tax hikes.

Republicans are debating how to reduce or eliminate state and local deductibility, a bedrock middle-class deduction claimed by nearly a third of all taxpayers, the vast majority of whom make less than $200,000 a year. The Republican framework says they are going to eliminate the deduction, which totals tens of thousands of dollars a year for many working families. That’s why removing state and local raises $1.3 trillion in revenue that the GOP plans to spend – that tax increase that they plan to get from the middle-class - on tax cuts for big corporations and the superrich. To be clear, that’s a $1.3 trillion tax hike on middle-class families.

The compromise on state and local deductibility that has been floated in the press is hardly much better. The Republicans are talking about continuing to allow state and local deductibility for property taxes, but not income and sales tax. That “compromise” raises $900 billion, meaning the Republicans – even with the compromise - are still going to institute a nearly trillion dollar tax hike on working families to pay for tax breaks for those at the very top.

No matter how they construct a “compromise,” Republicans are still socking it to the middle class and the upper middle-class, but this time picking winners and losers. Sales taxes hit consumers the hardest. Ending state and local deductibility for sales taxes would fall on the backs of working-class and middle-class Americans, particularly in states like Tennessee, Florida, and Nevada, which don’t have an income tax but have a large sales tax. States like Chairman Brady’s Texas, on the other hand, which have high property taxes, would be much better off.

Worse still, the tax hike from this so-called SALT “compromise” would heap pressure on state and local governments across the country to make an agonizing decision about whether to raise taxes or cut spending for services –  ranging from education and law enforcement funding to hospitals and highway investment – on which their constituents, their middle-class constituents, rely.

A warning to my Republican colleagues in high sales-tax states like Tennessee, Florida, and Nevada, and high income-tax states – a lot of Republican congressmen in those states - like New York, New Jersey, California, Minnesota, Virginia, Colorado, this state and local “compromise” will not solve your problem. The compromise does not solve your problem, it will still hit your constituents right in their wallets.

Another debate on the other side of the aisle is how to cap Americans pre-tax contributions to their 401(k) plans. Can you believe it? Here in America, where we want to help the middle class save, where we want to encourage savings, we’re making it harder? In layman’s terms here’s what our Republican colleagues want to do, they want to tax your 401ks. I cannot believe my Republican friends are even considering such a bad idea.

We had bipartisan support on expanding the ability to retire, particularly now that so many companies are no longer giving pensions. Giving Americans the ability to put away pre-tax dollars for their retirement is one of the few provisions in our tax code that encourages early saving. Capping the amount Americans can contribute pre-tax, or in other words, turning every 401(k) into something more like a Roth IRA will discourage Americans from saving and handicap their ability to retire with dignity and security, now that defined benefit plans are declining.

For years, we Democrats, often joined by Republican colleagues, have fought for policies that would make 401(k)s more attractive and provide greater benefits – in other words, the exact opposite of what the Republican leadership is considering. We’ve put forward proposals on auto-enrollment, increasing incentives for businesses that enroll workers and match contributions, and letting small businesses pool together to offer plans. Each of these ideas would encourage more Americans – particularly younger families who have great burdens on them - to start saving early for retirement, which everyone agrees is essential to building up enough of a nest egg to live out your golden years in some degree of dignity and comfort.

The Republican proposals say to every future retiree that they don’t care about your ability to retire, they just want to get your tax revenue into federal coffers as soon as possible so they can give a tax break to the very wealthy, that top 1%.

The contrast could not be clearer: Democrats want to expand and enhance 401k plans, not cut and cap them -- that’s a better deal for American workers and middle-class families.

Instead of this one-party, secretive approach, Democrats and Republicans should be meeting with each other and talking about tax reform in a bipartisan setting to forge a bipartisan proposal. That’s what committees were designed to do. That’s what regular order was designed to produce. Just like on healthcare, the Republicans are straining the legislative traditions of this body and risking their ability to govern effectively - we saw what happened with healthcare - by going it alone.

The American people expect more of their elected officials that an assembly line of partisan legislation, crafted in secret, and considered with such haste.

I know why our Republican colleagues want to rush this through. They know the more the American people learn about this bill, the more it favors the wealthy, the more they will not like it. Just like with healthcare, once this bill is unveiled, the American people, now only 30% of whom support it, even fewer will. And maybe our Republican colleagues will see the light and work with us to get good tax reform that focuses on the middle class and not the top 1%.