Schumer Floor Remarks On President Trump’s Proposed Tariffs On Mexico, Democrats’ Legislation To Address the Root Causes of Migration from Central America, Bipartisan Legislation to Block Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, And The Need For The Chamber Of Commerce To Push For Real Action On the Climate Crisis

June 5, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding President Trump’s proposed tariffs on Mexico, the Democrat’s legislation to address the root causes of migration from Central America, bipartisan legislation to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the need for the Chamber of Commerce to push for real action on the climate crisis. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here: 

Now Mr. President, I said yesterday here on the floor that I don’t believe President Trump will follow through on his threat to impose tariffs on Mexico. Why?

First, because the president has a tendency for bluster. There are many examples of the president taking a maximalist position before eventually backing off and announcing some different “solution.” Nine times out of ten, after a few months, everyone realizes that the so-called solution isn’t real and doesn’t work. But the president needs a way out of his bluster. That may well be true with the tariff issue.

Second, because most Senate Republicans oppose the president’s idea of slapping tariffs on Mexico. They know how that could destabilize our economy and Mexico’s, and that could actually make the migration problem worse.

So publicly, the president has continued to talk tough on tariffs with Mexico. He responded to my statement on the floor with a tweet last night. But ultimately, I continue to believe that he’ll ultimately back off. That’s been his MO.

And when he does, I would urge him to consider a real solution to the border problem, not some fake solution that he and the Mexicans announce and then it does nothing—they don’t follow through, it doesn’t have an effect, whatever. Here is a commonsense policy that will actually reduce the problems at the border.

Many of the migrants that arrive at our southern border are fleeing untenable situations; gang violence and drug cartels, corruption, domestic abuse, and economic depravity. If you’re starving, if you’re worried that your child will be mugged, if you’re worried that your daughter will be raped, you aren’t staying there. The governments of those countries have failed to provide safety or security for people living within their borders—in Nicaragua, in Honduras, and in El Salvador. Their citizens—or some of them—feel compelled to embark on a dangerous, one-thousand-mile journey on foot rather than stay put because staying put is even worse for them. These are not evil people. The president would like to make them all out to be drug dealers or criminals—most of them are poor people who trying to escape and get some desperate relief created by the problems of gangs, violence, economic hardship, social oligarchy.

So we Democrats have crafted legislation that would help address the problems in those three Central American countries that are causing migrants to flee in the first place. First, we’d allow asylum seekers to apply for asylum within their own countries. That thousand-mile trek across Mexico is dangerous. It’s often expensive—you have to pay a coyote or buy off drug dealers or other criminals. Let them apply in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Guatemala, and not amass at the border.

Second, we’d provide significant security assistance to Central American countries to build their capacity to crack down on the gangs, drug cartels, and human trafficking that is endemic in those countries. And we’d increase the number of immigration judges and personnel to reduce the current backlog of cases at the border.

These policies make eminent sense. And unlike the president’s plan to impose tariffs on Mexico, our proposals do not threaten the U.S. economy. We urge our Republican colleagues to join us in this commonsense solution.

When the president inevitably retreats from his tariff threat—which may be as soon as this afternoon—we should proceed on these commonsense policies, not some fake thing that sounds good in an announcement and then goes away like we’ve seen over and over again when the president conducts foreign policy (North Korea being one of the most notorious examples).

On Saudi Arabia. Over the past year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, despite some positive domestic reforms, has too often acted like a brute in the Middle East rather than a stabilizing force. I understand that Saudi Arabia worries about Iran—I share those concerns about the Iranian government—but the Saudis have all too often reacted in the wrong way.

In Yemen, the Saudis are fighting a proxy war that has resulted in untold human suffering and the slaughter of innocents, many children. Internally, the Saudi government has conducted a widespread campaign of political repression, including the imprisonment of women’s rights campaigners. And we all know how the Saudis were responsible for the vicious torture and chilling murder of a journalist and American resident, Jamal Khashoggi. Despite these gross violations of international norms and values, the Trump Administration has just cozied up with Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman and offered almost no criticism.

We’ve just learned, according to reports, that the Trump Administration approved seven transfers of American nuclear technology to the Saudis, including two AFTER Khashoggi’s murder. Now, the administration is using its favorite tool, claiming “emergency powers,” to justify another twenty-two arms sales to the Saudis and others—including precision-guided munitions for Saudi’s operations in Yemen.

Has the Trump Administration has lost all perspective when it comes to Saudi Arabia? Providing excuses and cover for the brutal murder of a journalist, an American resident? Aiding and arming the Saudis in a human rights tragedy in Yemen, which will only come back to hurt them in the long run? What are we doing here?

Congress has already voted, in bipartisan majorities, to unwind America’s involvement in Yemen—which, of course, the president vetoed. And now we ought to vote to disapprove these arms sales. The Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Senator Graham, urged by our Ranking Member on Foreign Relations and our Leader on these issues, Senator Menendez, have thankfully announced a bipartisan effort to do just that. I strongly support that effort.

Let me say: my Republican friends over the last years of the Obama Administration, bitterly complained about the way President Obama used executive authority. The amount of executive authority used by President Obama could fit in a thimble compared to the abuse of executive authority by President Trump. And yet, it seems in the past our Republican colleagues who so criticized Obama for much less have been totally silent when President Trump abuses executive authority.

But now, maybe there are some green shoots. Maybe some of our Republican colleagues in the Senate are waking up to the idea that, in America, we have a three-branch government, not a one-branch government. Maybe some of our Republican colleagues are recognizing that and beginning to act.

The possible green shoots. Two instances. One is tariffs. A lot of Republicans don’t like these tariffs. Will they have the guts, if the president implements them, to oppose the president? We’ll see.

And now on arms sales to the Saudis, a number of Senate Republicans are beginning to say that we need to constrain the president, the way Congress has traditionally constrained the executive branch.

I’m hopeful, but I’m also skeptical. If past is prologue, my Republican friends will ultimately back down. Leader McConnell, his MO, will let a few of them off the hook so they can go home and say they supported it; but never enough to make sure Congress provides an effective check on the president. It’s sort of a wink and a nod. Well, let’s hope that this time it’s different. Let’s hope that these murmurings among Republicans about the Saudi arms sales and about the tariffs are real. And they will actually stand up to him, which is what a Congress should do, even when they’re of the same party as the president.

Climate. As I have said many times, no threat poses a greater danger to our planet than that of climate change. The last five years have been the warmest on record. There is more carbon dioxide in the air than any point in human history. Our children and grandchildren will live with the consequences of the decisions we make today.

We need all hands on deck (the federal government, local governments, municipalities, corporate leaders, global efforts) if we are to meet the challenges of climate change head-on. But for years, our government has been slow to act—and more often than not, done nothing or very little. Just yesterday, President Trump, not based on fact, based on whim, which he often does, voiced a dangerous skepticism about climate change while meeting with Prince Charles.

Now, one of the biggest reasons for the slow progress on climate policy has been the oppressive grip of Big Oil, Big Gas, and Big Coal on our political system. They’ve spent untold millions to debunk climate science and torpedo climate legislation. One of the largest perpetrators has been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which never reveals its donors and has acted, all too often, as a front for big oil.

Recently, as public support for action on climate change has grown even more overwhelming, the Chamber is starting to sing a different tune. They’ve launched “a campaign for cleaner energy sources.” They’ve added a new section to their website: “Addressing Climate Change.” They now even say that on this issue, “Inaction is not an option.”

Well, I couldn’t agree more--inaction is not an option—but color me skeptical about the Chamber. I hope to see the Chamber follow its public stance with real action, but until they do, I fear this change is merely cosmetic. All too often, big oil and big coal companies don’t act themselves—although some do—but they let the Chamber do their dirty work for them.

So today, Sen. Whitehouse and I, along with a number of our colleagues, will be sending a letter to the Chamber calling them to speak out against the administration’s effort to undermine the National Climate Assessment. It’s not enough to say ‘Oh, well, it’s a problem.’ Inaction is not an option. They must do something concrete. This is a concrete action we are proposing that will make a difference. And, I read in today’s New York Times that companies are now beginning to plan for how climate change will cost them more money in the next five years! They don’t think it’s not a problem, they don’t think it’s a thirty-year problem. These companies are interested in their profits, that’s how they should be interested. Well, I’d like to see them be a little more interested in workers, in communities, and climate. But these companies, for their own bottom lines, are saying climate change is real, and we’d better do something.

Well, one way the Chamber can move things along is to speak out against this administration and its efforts to undermine the National Climate Assessment. For years, this study has been the gold standard for climate research within our government—it’s not partisan, it’s factual! It’s based on science—and, it assesses the long-term threats of climate change. The president: on climate, is a member of the Flat Earth Society. Just denying the facts. It would be as if Columbus and Magellan sailed, and the president still said the Earth was still flat. That’s how he’s acting on climate. Well, the Chamber ought to break with that. They ought to let science and facts dictate how we act. This is a moment when the Chamber of Commerce could actually use its influence to convince the Administration to reverse course. If the business community said this, it would make a big difference. So, this is a moment. Let’s see if the Chamber really wants to prove that they’re for climate change.

Let’s see. Let’s see. And if they don’t, we ask their members who say they believe in climate, and who are even planning for the problems we face, to put pressure on them to do it. Let’s hope, let’s hope.

Now before I yield the floor, I just want to send a kudos—he reminded me that the word “kudos” is singular, not plural, which I didn’t know for all my years here. Mr. President, I see by your reaction you didn’t know that either. It’s “a kudos.” So let me give a kudos to Senator Whitehouse’s leadership on this issue. One of his many positive traits is he knows grammar, and all of that much better than most of us, but one of his greater traits is how he has been relentless in pushing forward on climate, and on pushing Corporate America to do more. I look forward to continuing to work with him to shed light on the role that big money plays in undermining climate policy. And I look forward to hearing from the Chamber of Commerce on what they have to say about the Administration’s latest attacks on climate science.