Schumer Floor Remarks In Advance Of House Passage Of The Justice In Policing Act And Demanding A Serious And Bipartisan Response To The Spiking Coronavirus Pandemic

June 25, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today on the Senate floor spoke in advance of the House passage of the Justice in Policing Act and demanded a serious and bipartisan response to the spiking coronavirus pandemic. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Today, the House of Representatives will pass the Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive, strong bill to bring lasting change to police departments across America; and tackle the extremely large and difficult problem of police violence, racial bias, and the lack of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

Unlike the Republican policing bill, the Justice in Policing Act will fully ban chokeholds. The Justice in Policing Act will ban no-knock warrants in federal cases, not just study them like the Republican bill. And unlike the Republican bill, the Justice in Policing Act will bring sorely needed accountability to police officers who are guilty of misconduct: including qualified immunity reform, “use of force” standards, and policies to end racial profiling.

My Republican colleagues should look to the House today if they want to see what a serious attempt at policing reform looks like, and if they want to understand why their bill failed to earn enough votes to proceed yesterday.

The Republican policing reform bill failed because it wasn’t a serious enough effort at reform. The legislation itself was so threadbare, so weak, and so narrow it could hardly be considered a constructive starting point. That’s why more than 138 civil rights organizations—who want nothing more than to see progress on these issues—strongly urged Senators to oppose the Republican bill. That’s why the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights called the bill “deeply problematic” and a “menial, incremental approach.” That’s why the lawyer representing the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor said that he was “shocked”—shocked—that the Republican bill could even be “thought of as legislation.”

As I said the other day, I know my friend from South Carolina is trying to do the right thing. But the problem we have, and the problem so many civil rights groups have, is with the substance of the bill. And with the way the Republican leader—Leader McConnell—who controls the floor, set up the process.

The Republican majority drafted a bill on its own, and instead of putting it through committee where members from both parties could analyze and amend it, dropped it on the floor, and dared Democrats to block it.

Let me be very clear: the debate on policing reform is only over for those who want it be over. And maybe those who never truly wanted this debate in the first place.

Because the truth is, by the end of the day today, the House will pass the most serious policing reform bill in decades.

And here in the Senate, Senate Democrats have been clear that we want to sit down with our colleagues and try to negotiate a bipartisan product that can go through committee and come to the floor.

As I said a week ago, I know my friend from South Carolina is trying to do the right thing. But Leader McConnell decided to go about this the wrong way, the partisan way.

Let’s start over, the right way, the bipartisan way.

And I have no doubt that we can arrive at legislation that, unlike the bill that failed yesterday, would bring the comprehensive and lasting change that protesters, civil rights organizations, and the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery demand.

Now on COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and swell across the United States. Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times reported that new cases of COVID-19 are now at the highest levels in the United States since the month of April. Thirty-five thousand new cases were identified on Tuesday alone, the third worst single day of the entire pandemic. Hospitalization rates in Arizona and Texas have hit daily records, and Florida is not far behind. The rise in cases, scientists warn, are not explained by the current rate of testing in this country.

One of the main reasons our nation has struggled to contain the coronavirus is President Trump’s complete mismanagement of the government’s response. In the early days of the virus, the president’s lack of attention led to a shortage of PPE, ventilators, and a painfully, damagingly slow ramp-up of testing. Here again, four months into the virus, as case numbers continue to grow in so many places, the president’s lack of attention is causing a national failure to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president is gallivanting from state to state, holding political rallies in two of the most affected areas. The president joked—or perhaps didn’t joke—about instructing his administration to “slow down the testing, please” because the number of coronavirus cases might make him look bad.

Can you believe that? Again, the president urged the administration to slow down the testing. Please. because the number of cases might make him look bad? Whether it was a joke or not, it's not a joking matter. It's serious stuff. And throughout this struggle with coronavirus, the administration, at best, has been late to the debate or asleep at the switch, and, at worst, doing things that actually harm rather than help.

Yesterday, there were reports that the administration will, in fact, halt federal funding for a number of community-based COVID testing sites, many of which are in Texas, a state that’s getting hit hard. So the administration is actually preparing to “slow down the testing,” amazingly enough.

The lesson of so many countries is that good, strong testing and contact tracing is the key. But this president seems to be blithely dancing along, going to his little events, not paying attention to the crisis and not doing what's necessary to get a real handle on it.

We are witnessing the highest number of new cases since April, and the Trump administration is cutting funding for testing in some of the worst hot spots. A terrible decision at a terrible moment, but unfortunately not atypical of this administration's total ineptitude.

To cap it all off, today, the Trump administration is filing briefs in the Supreme Court in an attempt to invalidate the nation’s health care law, at a time when roughly 27 million Americans have lost job-based health coverage, and their only backstop are the exchanges in the health care law, and they are proposing get rid of it. It's sort of similar to yesterday with the nomination of somebody so anti-voting-rights, on the floor, to go to the Fifth Circuit. A total contradiction of what they say is what they do.

From the beginning, the president has downplayed the severity of the disease, spread misinformation about how to stay safe, and put his political interests—his desire for credit and avoidance of blame—above the medical needs and safety of the American people.

As a result, President Trump has helped put “America First” in the number of COVID-19 cases in the world.

And unfortunately, the situation is not much better in the Senate. It has been two months since the passage of the last COVID relief legislation. Democrats had hoped to continue the bipartisan work that produced the CARES Act in April, May, and now June, to no avail. The House passed the HEROES Act over a month ago, which includes hazard pay, housing assistance, extended unemployment insurance extended, and aid to state and local governments. But as the pandemic continued to spread, and unemployment skyrocketed, Senate Republicans have said that they feel no urgency to act immediately.

More than 40 million unemployment claims—another 1.5 million this week alone—and still Leader McConnell and the Republican Senate do not feel an urgency to act.

Leader McConnell originally said that another emergency relief bill was “likely” during June. Now, he’s saying late July. A few days ago, the Republican Leader said that “if there is something that's going to happen [on COVID], it will emerge in the Senate, it will be written beginning in my office.”

Once again, Leader McConnell seems to prefer partisan pronouncements to bipartisan legislating. That’s the same failed approach that delayed the CARES Act two months ago, and failed yesterday on policing reform. It will only delay another emergency relief bill—and such delays will be measured in hospital beds and deserted storefronts and pink slips.

And one other point on the lack of oversight. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) this morning announced that $1.4 billion of relief checks were sent to people who were dead. Where's the oversight? This is a $3 trillion package. And every small bit of oversight that the Republicans have done has had to be pushed by Democrats. We should be having far more robust oversight over what has happened, as well as moving forward on a new bill.

Democrats are not going to wait until late July to bring some attention to COVID-related issues. Next week on the floor, we will ask our colleagues to take up important legislation on housing and rental assistance, hazard pay for essential workers, small business relief, funding to help schools safely re-open, and aid to state, local, and tribal governments.

With rising cases in more than 20 states; with emergency unemployment insurance for American families set to expire; we cannot wait another month to act. 

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