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Schumer Floor Remarks on NDAA and President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding Democratic amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act and urging the President’s Election Integrity Commission be disbanded. Below are his remarks:

Once again, I want to thank my colleague from Illinois for both his passion and his intelligence in terms of his approach to the DREAM Act. We're getting closer to getting this done. It's hardly done yet, but without the Senator from Illinois, we would not be as close to as close, so to speak, as we are today.

Mr. President, let me start by saying that I hope that everyone in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina is staying safe as Hurricane Irma continues up the coast. 

Reports indicate that as many as 9 million Floridians have gone without power during the storm. Large parts of Miami and Jacksonville are underwater. The Florida Keys have in particular taken a beating.

As with Hurricane Harvey, the road to recovery will be long. And as I said yesterday, I am ready to work with the Administration and my Republican colleagues when the time comes to pass an aid package for the states dealing with Hurricane Irma.

Now, Mr. President, on NDAA.

As discussions continue on the NDAA, I’d highlight a few amendments that are important on the Democratic side. We’ll be offering two amendments as a part of our “Better Deal” agenda, including a Buy America provision and an amendment that would drastically cut down on outsourcing.

For too long, loopholes in our Buy America rules have allowed federal agencies to waive Buy America requirements and skirt the spirit of the law. A single loophole – the “overseas exemption,” which allows a federal agency to waive ‘Buy America’ rules if the product is intended for use overseas – accounts for 65% of the exemptions the Dept. of Defense issues in a given year.

Senator Baldwin has an amendment that would eliminate these loopholes and ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent by federal agencies to purchase products made here in the United States.

My friend Senator Stabenow has been a leading voice on this issue as well – she has an amendment that would also rollback the overseas exemption by requiring the DoD to identify and give consideration to domestically-sourced items before soliciting any offers for anything that isn’t Buy-America compliant.

Right now, there are several American companies with a record of outsourcing American jobs that are receiving defense contracts, and companies receive a tax credit for outsourcing expenses rather than incentives to bring jobs back to the US. We should put a stop to both, and Senator Donnelly’s amendment will do that. His amendment will give a tax Credit of up to 20% for the expenses companies make to bring jobs back to our shores.

And finally, another critical amendment is a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Graham and Klobuchar on the issue of election security. The consensus of 17 U.S. Intelligence agencies was that Russia, a foreign adversary, interfered in our elections.

Make no mistake: their success in 2016 will encourage them to try again. We have state elections in a couple of months and the 2018 election is a little more than a year away. We must improve our defenses now to ensure we’re prepared. The Graham-Klobuchar amendment would greatly strengthen our defenses, helping prepare states for the inevitable cyber-attacks that threaten the integrity of our elections. We should pass it as part of the NDAA.

As Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed continue discussions on this bill - and I know their relationship is a good and strong one - I’d hope that they strongly consider the inclusion of these three, critical amendments.

Finally, Mr. President, speaking of elections, a word on President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, which is meeting with the public for the first time today in New Hampshire.

I have three points.

First, I want to dispel the idea that this commission has anything to do with “election integrity.” It was borne out of the President’s baseless claim that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 elections. It’s just not true. The Commission will never find evidence to support that claim.

Second, the public officials on this commission must stop making similarly outrageous claims about voter fraud in elections. Recently, the Commission’s Vice Chair Kris Kobach claimed that the New Hampshire Senate election could have been swung by illegal votes, because they found a number of voters using out-of-state licenses. Of course, there are several legal, legitimate reasons why someone would vote in a state with a license from a different state, most likely being that you go to college in a different state than the one your family resides in.

In fact, when the Washington Post tried to identify some of these voters, the first four they found were all college students who lived in New Hampshire but went to school elsewhere. And yet, this Commission, and I would say particularly its Vice Chair Mr. Kobach, are so eager to prove their point, which is virtually unprovable, that there is a huge amount of voter fraud with these baseless claims and then they have to back off.

Throwing these kinds of deeply misleading, bogus claims around – about stolen elections and massive voter fraud without any actual evidence -- is extremely irresponsible and damaging to our democracy. They are so eager to prove their point about voter fraud which is demonstrably false they are resorting to these crazy claims, discrediting their commission, discrediting them.                   

And lastly, a broader point, Mr. President – the Election Integrity Committee is a punishment in search of a transgression that never happened, which shows that it likely has an ulterior motive.

Voter fraud is exceeding rare. A comprehensive study by the Washington Post in 2014 concluded that out of over 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 credible instances of voter fraud (and even some of those were debatable, according to the study). The Brennan Center for Justice concluded that an American has a better chance of getting struck by lightning than impersonating another voter at the polls.

So why the need for a Presidential Advisory Commission? Because the real target of the Election Integrity Commission is not voter fraud but voter suppression. And especially the suppression of African American voters, the poor, the elderly and Latino voters. Just like the campaigns for outrageous Voter ID laws in state after state – many that have been thrown out by the courts for being blatantly discriminatory – the Election Integrity Commission seems focused on throwing up barriers to voting: through intimidation, misleading claims, and controversial tactics like the widespread collection of sensitive, personal voter information.

I think this commission, what it's trying to do, flies in the face of what this country is all about. We want everyone to vote. We don't want to scare people, intimidate people, and make it harder for people to vote. If there were overwhelming evidence of fraud, obviously we would need to do something, but there isn't. As I said, the solution - a nasty solution - in search of a problem.

The Election Integrity Commission ought to be disbanded. And we will be looking at ways to do that legislatively.

The real threat to election integrity comes not from voter fraud, but from foreign meddling and cyber-attacks. We should pass the Graham-Klobuchar amendment rather than continue with the nonsense of this commission.

And moreover, with voter participation rates so low, we should be spending our time and energy encouraging more Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote rather than wasting taxpayer money on a Commission to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Mr. President, before I yield the floor, I’d like to ask UC that a statement be placed into the record for the 50th Anniversary of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, which does great work in my state combatting a very debilitating type of disease.