Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need to Protect Deputy AG Rosenstein And Special Counsel Mueller, And The Increase In Stock Buybacks As A Result Of The GOP Tax Law

April 12, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need to pass the bipartisan legislation protecting Deputy AG Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller, and the stock buybacks that have resulted from the GOP Tax Law. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, over the past two weeks, we’ve seen increasingly worrisome signs that President Trump is willing to fire the Special Counsel in charge of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Equally as troubling is the possibility of the president firing the Deputy Attorney General, who oversees that investigation, in order to install someone who will dismiss Mr. Mueller or otherwise impede or shut down the investigation.

Let me be clear: firing Mr. Rosenstein would be as great an injury to our democracy as firing Mr. Mueller. Mr. Rosenstein, by all accounts, since being appointed by President Trump, has followed the letter of the law. There is no conduct the president nor anyone else can point to that would suggest Mr. Rosenstein went beyond DOJ regulations or otherwise abused his position. He has dutifully done his job. When he approved Mr. Mueller’s referral to the US Attorney in the Southern District, it was because he was provided sufficient evidence that Mr. Mueller had uncovered a potential crime. It doesn’t matter if it upsets President Trump, Mr. Rosenstein was following the facts and the law.

It’s the obligation of a Justice Department official, when he or sees evidence of a crime, to pursue it without fear and without favor. That’s what Rosenstein was doing. Somehow President Trump doesn’t grasp the rudiments of our democracy and our system of laws. President Trump seems to have a view that the Justice Department exists to protect his interests and prosecute his enemies. But in the long history of this country -- God’s noble experiment as the founding fathers called it -- that’s never been what the Justice Department has stood for. It is an independent federal agency tasked with following the law, wherever it leads, free of considerations of politics or power. Mr. Rosenstein has acted in line with that long tradition. And it’s no reason for the president to fire him.

Now, my friends on the other side of the aisle know, just as well as we do, that firing Mr. Rosenstein or Mr. Mueller would precipitate a constitutional crisis. Our constitutional order is built upon a bedrock faith in the rule of law, of equality under the law. No person, not even the president, can subvert that principle for his or her political interests or needs.

Let me remind everyone, the investigation is not a “witch hunt” as the president keeps tweeting it is. It has resulted in multiple indictments and guilty pleas. By definition that’s not a witch hunt. The Trump administration itself leveled sanctions against Russians based on information obtained as a result of the Russia probe. So if the president’s own administration, separate from Mueller, leveled sanctions against the Russians, using information that Mueller has gotten, how can he then proceed to call it a witch hunt? It just doesn’t add up. This investigation concerns the national security of the United States. If the president were to try to shut it down for personal political reasons, there is no doubt we would face a constitutional crisis.

So let’s make this simple. The consequences of firing Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Mueller, or issuing political pardons would be dire for our democracy. We have clear evidence, from the president himself, that each of those things is a real possibility. President Trump basically mused about it on national television.

Every Democrat and Republican, regardless of politics, party or ideology, should stand up and say that what the president is considering is not only wrong, but a real threat to the constitutional order of this government.

Once they admit that, what rational person would not want to take steps to prevent a constitutional crisis? Before the president acts precipitously and against the whole meaning of our democracy?

We in Congress have that power to prevent that constitutional crisis and to do it right away. We have the power to protect the Special Counsel’s investigation. Only the Deputy Attorney General can fire the Special Counsel, and only for cause.

So a bipartisan group of senators including Senators Graham and Tillis on the Republican side, Booker and Coons on the Democratic side, have come up with legislation that would allow the Special Counsel to appeal a firing to a panel of independent judges, under an expedited procedure, to determine if he was fired for cause. If he wasn’t fired for cause, the Special Counsel would be reinstituted immediately.

That makes eminent sense; the bipartisan legislation would simply provide a legal avenue to reinforce existing procedures and assure that the grand tradition of rule of law is maintained.

Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein have agreed to hold a hearing and markup this legislation. I applaud them both for it and urge the members of the Judiciary Committee to approve this legislation without watering it down or weakening it with amendments.

We should pass it out of committee. Leader McConnell should bring it to the floor of the Senate, where I believe it would pass with a significant majority. And we should pressure our colleagues in the House to do the same. It’s my view that if the bill came to the floor and passed with a significant majority, the House would follow because the pressure would be enormous.

The rule of law should not be a partisan issue, must not be a partisan issue, we cannot ever let it become a partisan issue. The last time it was at risk under President Nixon’s administration, the Republicans stepped up to the plate, and they went down in history as very admirable. I hope they will do it again.

The Congress should speak loudly, and soon, by passing this legislation through both chambers.

Now, since the beginning of the tax debate, Republicans have insisted their bill is about cutting taxes for working Americans.

Despite the fact that the bill would direct 83% of the benefits to the top 1%, despite the fact that they made corporate tax cuts permanent but let the individual tax cuts expire – Republicans said middle-class workers were the focus.

Democrats warned that if you gave big corporations and the wealthiest Americans the lion’s share of the tax cuts, corporations would do what they always do when they have higher profits – distribute them amongst themselves.

Unfortunately, our warnings proved prescient.

Almost every day, we hear a new story about a corporation using the savings from the Republican tax bill to purchase its own stock, called a stock buyback and what does it do? It boosts the corporation's stock price to provide a reward for wealthy CEOs and top executives who have the shares and shareholders, the vast majority of whom are wealthy Americans, a third of whom aren’t even Americans. They get the breaks. Stock buyback is designed to feather the nest, increase the power and support among shareholders of the CEO. Because when you buy back stock you use that money—instead of investing it in workers, instead of investing it in a new plant or training, you use that money to decrease the number of shares, which raises the value of the other shares. So who benefits? The shareholders. And who are the shareholders? The CEOs and major officers of the corporations so they’re not doing this without self-interest and as I said, 80 percent of the stocks in America are owned by the top ten percent of the wealthy.

It’s not very good, let me give you an example. These are the kinds of things that are happening daily. Devon Energy, who announced a billion dollar stock buyback in March, announced two days ago that they’re laying off 9% of their workers “to streamline operations and boost the shale oil producer’s sagging profits and stock price.” And they’re not atypical. According to Just Capital rather, 60% of the money in the Republican tax break went to shareholders who tend to be the wealthiest. Only 6% went to workers.

So much for all the talk that when we gave the corporations all this money the workers would gain the most of the benefits. It has not happened. Stock buybacks are a big reason why workers no longer see the benefits of record corporate profits. Why? Because instead of investing corporate profits in things that benefit the long-term health of the economy and its workers – like higher wages, new equipment, research, and development, or new hires – corporations spend the money on share buybacks.

In fact, Mr. President, stock buybacks were illegal because they feathered the nest of the very few and because when corporate CEOs and their board did it, they were not objective observers because they would make so much money from them… stock buybacks were illegal until 1982, which is about the same time that wages stopped increasing with corporate profits. Senator Baldwin has led the charge in our caucus to go back to the days before 1982 so when corporations had a lot of profits whether through earnings, revenues or tax breaks they couldn’t use these stock buybacks and almost certainly a larger percent of the money would go to the workers and the middle class.

The theory behind the Republican tax bill was to allow corporations and the richest Americans to keep more of their already very great wealth, and maybe the benefits will trickle down to everyone else. As we’re already seeing, that idea was a folly, and the American middle class will eventually pay the price.

Because of the enormous cost of the Republican tax bill, $1.9 trillion according to the most recent CBO projection, the number keeps going up, all our little deficit hawks on the other side of the aisle somehow forgot about that when it came to giving breaks to the wealthiest American sand the big corporations. The deficit and debt will grow over the next several years and Republicans are already talking about targeting Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for cuts to make up the difference.

So on top of a tax bill that mostly goes to the folks who need it the least, the Republican tax bill is an excuse for Republicans to come after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It was a huge mistake and could’ve been crafted better if our Republican colleagues decided to work with us Democrats.