On MSNBC Live, Sen. Schumer Says Sen. McConnell’s Suggestion That States Declare Bankruptcy Are So Far Out Of Mainstream That He’ll Have To Walk Them Back

April 23, 2020

Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on MSNBC Live, explaining why states require aid from the federal government and predicting that Leader McConnell will walk back his assertion that states should be able to declare bankruptcy because of the coronavirus pandemic. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Nicole Wallace: We are joined now by the Minority Leader in the United States Senate, New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer, can you imagine the scenario where after 9/11 anyone in any party had looked at New York and said, we're not going to flood any resources to help New York protect itself against the new face of terrorism, we'll let them declare bankruptcy? I mean what is wrong with Mitch McConnell? 

Sen. Schumer: Well, Mitch McConnell’s remarks are so far out of mainstream he's going to have to walk them back. This is not an abstract concept. What he's dealing with is the firing, the furloughing, of police officers and firefighters; ambulance drivers and bus drivers; people who keep our food safe. These state workers and city workers are vital and the cities—this is not something that came out of the blue that someone's manufacturing for a blue state or a red state. The cities and states have huge COVID-related expenses, and they're not getting any revenues—no one's paying any taxes.

So there are two choices: the federal government meets its responsibility and helps them out like we're helping small businesses, like we're helping hospitals, and like we’re helping other groups or there's huge mayhem and our economy will get much worse. I will say this: McConnell has become more and more isolated in his position we shouldn't help the states and localities, the police officers, firefighters, teachers, and so many others. The Republican governors are all overwhelmed and in need of help. Most of the Republican senators have broken with McConnell when asked and said they need help. So this is just an absurd position, and I would remind Senator McConnell, this is not blue states or red states—a police officer, a teacher, a firefighter, a bus driver in any state is a hard working person who through no fault of their own could be furloughed unless the federal government acts.

Nicole Wallace: What does it say that he would say something like that? I mean—I was in the White House on 9/11. I know you were representing New York. So I keep going back to that as just a touchstone for a national emergency. Are you surprised that someone like Mitch McConnell is talking—

Sen. Schumer: Yes, George W. Bush would have never said this. In fact, he came to New York and felt our pain. I was there when he stood on the pile and made that speech. Ronald Reagan never would have done this. It's just so beyond imagination. It's so mean-spirited to simply try to make this into a political argument when it's people's lives and livelihood and safety that is at stake. As I mentioned, state workers, city workers are not abstract concepts. They're not just people sitting at a desk, and some of them have to sit at desks, but they are also teachers in the classroom and they’re firefighters on the fire trucks and they’re food safety inspectors risking their lives to see that the food that's produced is safe and so many others that are vital and to just sort of give them the back of your hand and say, ‘go bankrupt,’ which is huge pain to millions of families across America. It's a position that is hard to imagine, it is mean spirited, and Senator McConnell, as I said, he will have to walk this back. It is so far removed from the mainstream, so far removed from any party's thinking.

Nicole Wallace: Have you reached out to the White House to make sure this isn't Donald Trump's position?

Sen. Schumer: Donald Trump on numerous occasions, by himself and through Steve Mnuchin, when we were negotiating the COVID 3.5 bill said I want to do state and local. He said it to the governors when they called him on the phone, 50 governors, Democrats and Republicans. He wanted do it in phase four. We wanted to do it in three-five. But no, I believe that McConnell is isolated here, and I hope, I hope that the Republican Senators will understand that and not follow this awful lead. I don't think they will. I don't think their states can afford to. I wonder how many Republicans would like to call up their governor and say—or how many Democrats either—would like to call up their governor and say ‘go bankrupt.’ I don't think anybody would.                      

Nicole Wallace: Yesterday, The New York Times was first with a story about a top vaccine doctor who was ousted from his position. He was demoted—he's still in the federal government—because he didn't champion the unproven drug treatments that Donald Trump and his allies on Fox News were so enthused about, calling them game changers. Is there a more robust oversight role for science right now in the executive branch that you would advocate?

Sen. Schumer: There has to be. This is science and because so many in the administration haven't listened to science is one of the reasons we're in trouble here. And it says another thing, Nicole. Everyone has seen how Donald Trump has behaved during coronavirus, so much of a concern about himself rather than helping people, pushing it under the rug, calling it a hoax, saying it will go away, delaying the activities we need. But what people may not realize is there's a problem just about as bad. There's almost no one in the White House who speaks truth to power, who says the truth to the president and says you have to listen to this. In fact, anybody who does that, like this gentleman from BARDA, ends up getting fired or, like so many others we know, big names, generals, they get exasperated and leave. When truth doesn't prevail, that's the American way, truth and facts and science. When they don't prevail, we run into real trouble. And in this administration there are just too few people who will speak that truth to power, who will let the president know what the real facts are and say, Mr. President, you're wrong, chloroquine doesn't work.

Nicole Wallace: What you just described happened yesterday in real time on live TV. It was at best, awkward. Frightening, at worse. The head of the CDC was obviously asked by Donald Trump to pull back a statement he made about the winter potentially being more difficult than what we're dealing with now. Do you see a role—is there anything you can do to help bolster the role of science as the country navigates the public information scene?

Sen. Schumer: Well, for instance, we called for—in the just passed 3.5 which the House will vote for today – we called for a robust plan on testing, and we outlined what needs to be done. We need to make the tests available by bolstering the manufacturing supply lines, but we also said we have to help the states with contact tracing. We have to make the tests be free. That was on the advice of scientists and we are forcing the president to go along with that in this legislation because he's not doing it on his own.

Nicole Wallace: Can you talk a little bit about what New York state needs in terms of both fronts, contact tracing and testing?

Sen. Schumer: Yeah, we need real dollars. Our state, I think, is doing a good job, and we're prepared, I think, to do the contact tracing. We are prepared to implement the testing once we get the tests, but no state can do the tests alone. If you make one part of the testing device or of the swabs in one state, you can't have 49 states bidding for that factory to give it to them. You need the federal government to be in charge, to say we're going to manufacture them here. This supplier is going to give it to this manufacturer. That supplier is going to give it to this manufacturer, and then we will distribute, the federal government, the tests. Then the states can help. It is a partnership, but without the federal government it just won't happen and we, in New York, need this. You know, right after the first town was quarantined, the city, New Rochelle, I called the mayor and said what do you need to prevent this? He said tests. If I had tests, he said, I could test every person. Those who have the disease stay home, that who didn't have the disease, go to work, walk on the streets, shop. But because I have no testing, I have to quarantine everybody. We need the tests desperately. This administration has been derelict. But the good news is by not just passing the bill McConnell wanted us to pass but by adding things to it, we did give the money to small business, but adding things like a national regime on testing, a national program on testing, a national strategy on testing, and giving money to the states to do it, $11 billion, we maybe can get something good done.

Nicole Wallace: Well, as a New Yorker, we're all counting on all of you. And frankly, I talked to Governor Cuomo as he left his White House meeting, and it sounds like state leaders and the delegation are pulling in the same direction. I wonder if any of you though have received any commitment from Donald Trump to implement the Defense Production Act to make some of those things a reality. I know what you've asked for but are there any outputs, is there any tangible results?

Sen. Schumer: They're feeling the pressure so he now is trying to say he's going to put some, one or two people in charge. It's constant pressure, not just from us, not just from Democrats and Republicans and the governors of both parties have done this, but from the business people. He called up the business people, you know, his business leadership, and they stressed testing. He had to called a bipartisan group of Senators Democrats and Republicans alike stressed testing. So we're hitting home, hitting home, hitting home, and I think we're making some progress with the White House. I hope it's quick progress because in the past it hasn't been.

Nicole Wallace: Senator Schumer, thank you so much for jumping on and spending some time with us. We're grateful.

Sen. Schumer: Good to see you, Nicole. Thank you.