Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the new phase of the House impeachment inquiry, urging Republicans to examine the facts and not pre-judge the results of the probe. Senator Schumer also criticized President Trump’s decision to reward Turkish President Erdogan with a meeting at the White House, detailed Senate Democrats’ new report detailing how the Trump administration mismanaged aid to farmers affected by the president’s turbulent trade agenda and favored foreign agribusiness over suffering small farmers, and demanded that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reverse course on his efforts to deny comprehensive health coverage to veterans who have suffered from Agent Orange because of their service in the Vietnam War. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:
As we speak, the House Intelligence Committee is conducting the first day of public hearings in its impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The list of witnesses this week includes several key figures with knowledge of the events in question. While most of the witness requests from House Republicans were non-sequiturs or individuals who would have no knowledge of the president’s actions nor the allegations against him, three of the individuals requested by the Republicans were agreed to and are slated to testify next week. The idea that Republicans and the president have no due process and can’t call witnesses or influence the process is simply inaccurate.
As the impeachment inquiry in the House begins a new phase today in its pursuit of the facts, we have a serious responsibility here in the Senate not to pre-judge the case but to examine the evidence impartially. We have a responsibility to let all the facts come out, and as they do, to keep an open mind and let ourselves be ruled by reason rather than by passion or partisanship. As public hearings in the House begin, we would all do well to remember our constitutional duty to act as judges and jurors in a potential trial, when and if it comes to one—not to say we won’t even read the transcript, not to say the vote would come out this way—but to be as dispassionate a juror as each of us can be.
On another matter. Today, President Trump will roll out the red carpet for President Erdogan of Turkey as he visits the White House.
After everything that has transpired over the last few months; after President Trump green-lit Turkey’s reckless and destabilizing invasion of northern Syria; after Turkish troops and their proxies have committed atrocities against civilians and the Syrian Kurds, our former partners in the fight against ISIS; after Erdogan cut a deal with our adversary President Putin and threatened our allies in Europe with the release of ISIS detainees. The fact that President Trump will reward President Erdogan with an Oval Office meeting today is mindboggling.
And the meeting will serve as a very public example of how President Trump has mismanaged the situation in Syria and—most importantly—complicated and slowed the effort to secure the enduring defeat of ISIS. It is ISIS that creates the greatest danger to our American homeland. They will try, as al-Qaeda did before them, to create huge damage. We in New York know that can sometimes, unfortunately, occur. God-forbid it happens again. But holy mackerel. The president has no plan for ISIS. Detainees are escaping. The Turks are far more upset with the Kurds who have been on our side of ISIS than they are with ISIS. Erdogan suppresses free speech, arrests opponents, and does so many other terribly things to his country which was once a much more shining example of Democracy. And inviting him here. Does the president have no sense of value? Does the president have no sense of morals? Does the president have no sense of what affects the American people’s security? It’s appalling.
Now yesterday, a report issued by the Democratic minority on the Agriculture Committee shed new light on troubling disparities in how the Trump administration has treated farmers through the Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation program. Farmers in need of federal aid have leaned on this program to offset losses caused by retaliatory foreign tariffs. In an industry where margins are sometimes very thin, this support makes a real difference for struggling farmers across the country. But rather than helping those farmers most in need, the Trump administration, through this program, is picking winners and losers, using a flawed methodology to favor certain regions over others and wealthy agricultural conglomerates over small farmers. The whole idea of the program was to help small farmers, particularly those with soybeans, and corn, and hogs. Throughout the Midwest. The bulk of the program went to five southern states.
Ninety-five percent of the top payments—defined as $100 or more per acre—all went to counties in southern states. And where the lowest payments go? To the counties in the Midwest even though the Midwest had suffered greater losses overall.
And instead of coming up with a strategy to help smaller and less established farms—which are often more vulnerable during tough economic times—the Trump administration has doubled the payment caps for row crops while leaving other caps in place. This will disproportionately funnel money to the largest farms in America while limiting aid to smaller farmers.
Most concerning, however, our study shows that the Trump administration has awarded tens of millions in purchase contracts to foreign-owned companies, including a large beef factory in Brazil. Instead of ensuring that aid goes to American farmers, the Trump administration has been handing millions of taxpayer dollars to foreign agribusinesses. This program was put together on the spur because the president was worried about political effects with soy bean farmers, particularly, but others to in the Midwest. But it was put together so poorly in such a slipshod and unthoughtful manner that cotton farmers do best of all even though their prices are not hurting the way soy bean or corn or hog prices are. For those, my friends on the other side of the aisle, the fiscal conservatives, we need your voices! This program, if it were going to urban areas or maybe to poorer people, we’d hear an outcry from certain members on the other side. But our farmers need the help too and when you waste money on an agriculture program, the people hurt the most are our smaller and family farmers, particular in this case, in the Midwest.
For years, my Republican friends in this chamber accused the Obama administration—unfairly in my mind—of picking winners and losers in the market. It was one of their favorite talking points. Here we have the Trump administration literally picking winners and losers among American farmers; sometimes, the winners are not even American, oftentimes the losers are the small family farmers who need assistance the most.
So I’m so glad that my Democratic colleagues on the Agriculture Committee—especially Ranking Member Stabenow—have worked to inject some transparency into this agricultural relief program. The Trump administration should be using the Market Facilitation Program to help those farmers most in need, period. The Trump administration needs to stop picking winners and losers and make sure all of America’s farmers get the help they deserve.
Finally on veterans. This is another, I mean when I look at what this administration is doing…if every American knew all these things, President Trump wouldn’t stand a chance. This one, I hope, will get out. I talked a little bit about it yesterday. We all know that so many of our young men and women, my generation, went to Vietnam and risked their lives- many of them gave their lives- for our country. One of the worst aspects of things were they were not treated as heroes when they came home. I think America’s made up for that now. But here’s a way we’re not treating them well at all: many of them were exposed to Agent Orange and it became clear that many got sick from exposure to Agent Orange while fighting in Vietnam.
Well, what the VA has found is that certain illnesses are caused by exposure to Agent Orange and they found that there were four more illnesses that had an Agent Orange link. But quietly and secretly, the Trump administration blocked funding for those new illnesses. The Trump administration also denied payments to over 60,000 veterans who received emergency care at non-VA facilities in 2017; it has missed deadlines to expand the VA caregivers program to Vietnam and Korean War veterans, and there are some reports that Trump VA hired doctors on probation. But what galling at the moment is this Agent Orange situation. Hiding the report. Mulvaney, evidently, the Chief of Staff, just said quietly we’re not funding it.
It took a Freedom of Information Act action to reveal that they were cutting the money off for these folks. They went to Vietnam, some of them volunteered, some of them were drafted, they got sick because of exposure to Agent Orange, and the administration, this Trump administration which loves to have rallies with veterans, cuts the money off from them saying Mulvaney said we couldn’t afford it. These veterans could afford to risk their lives for us. We can afford to help them in their hour of need. I hope the administration will reverse its decision. Yield the floor.