Schumer Floor Remarks Urging A Bipartisan Appropriations Process, For Leader McConnell To Bring The House-Passed Bipartisan Universal Background Checks Legislation To The Senate Floor, And For The Trump Administration To Stay Tough On Huawei In Negotiations With China, And Commending The FDA For Its Plan To Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes

September 12, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor calling for a fair, bipartisan appropriations process, for Leader McConnell to move forward with a debate on H.R. 8, the bipartisan, House-passed universal background checks bill, and for the Trump administration to stay tough on Huawei in negotiations with China, and commending the FDA for its plan to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

There are two possible paths when it comes to the appropriations process here in Congress. There is a bipartisan path, where both parties work together, in good faith, to pass all twelve appropriations bills. Then there is the partisan path, where one party breaks faith with the other, and we end up traveling down a road of brinksmanship. Continuing resolutions become the order of the day and the risk of a government shutdown increases.

We all know the bipartisan path is far preferable. It both avoids the possibility of another damaging government shutdown and, when we legislate the appropriations bills, we can intelligently allocate our resources for the future. Continuing resolutions, on the other hand, are blunt objects that simply recycle last year’s priorities. It hurts our military and it hurts the middle class. It hurts the American people.

We are at an important crossroads between these two paths right now.

After successfully negotiating the broad outlines of a budget deal earlier this year, we now must agree on the allocations to the twelve appropriations subcommittees, these are known as the 302(b) allocations. This process was completely bipartisan in 2018; these allocations passed the appropriations committee unanimously, 31-0.

But this year, the Republican majority, without consulting Democrats, proposed taking $12 billion from urgent domestic priorities and from urgent military priorities and wasting it, wasting it on President Trump’s ineffective and expensive border wall. This is the very wall that President Trump promised over and over again that Mexico would pay for when he ran for office and garnered support for it from his constituency.

No Republican, certainly not the Republican leader who knows this place well, could seriously believe that Democrats would agree to that. $12 billion dollars for the wall? Stolen from health care programs to fight opioid addiction and encourage cancer research? Stolen from military families? No Republican could expect Democrats to support that, nor should they; it’s terrible policy.

This morning, in the appropriations markup, every single Republican on the committee, including Leader McConnell, voted to move forward on this idea. Republican Senators who opposed the president’s emergency declaration voted for it; Republican Senators whose states would lose tens of millions of dollars in military funding voted for it. This is the clearest indication yet that Republicans may well be abandoning a bipartisan appropriations process. They do so at their peril, as well as the peril of the nation.

Republicans have started off here on a very wrong foot, repeating the exact same mistakes they made at the end of 2018, which resulted in the longest government shutdown in American history—a shutdown that President Trump and Republicans rightly shouldered the blame for.

There’s only one bit of good news in this maneuver. There’s still time for Republicans to reverse course. The Republican majority should sit down with Democrats on the committee and start over on the 302(b) allocations, figure out an order to bring each bill to the floor, and get a bipartisan process back on track. That’s how we Democrats want to do it. That’s how we have always gotten appropriations bills done. No one wants to resort to a continuing resolution or, God forbid, another Republican, President Trump inspired, government shutdown. But it takes two to tango.

My Republican colleagues must know that what happens in the next few days and weeks will determine whether we can proceed with a bipartisan appropriations process this fall or not. I urge Leader McConnell. I urge every single Republican to reverse course. It’s certainly not too late. Work with us and get it done.

I spoke to Leader McConnell yesterday, right here in the well, and suggested just that. He seemed open to it. Let’s hope that our request is heeded.

Now on guns. Yesterday, in an open letter to the Senate, the leaders of 145 of companies—some of the most recognizable in our country—added their voices to the millions of Americans who want action on gun violence. Here are the words of these corporate leaders, hardly left-wing radicals, “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable…the Senate must follow the House’s lead by passing bipartisan legislation that would update the background checks law, helping to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

They are correct. And the people who shouldn’t have them, almost no one thinks they should. Felons, should they have guns? Spousal abusers, should they have guns? People who adjudicated mentally-ill, should they have guns? Yet the enormous loopholes in the law allow them to have guns. Forty percent of the guns sold in America now are sold without background checks because they’re sold either online or at gun shows. So these corporate leaders are exactly right. They’re not asking for anything radical. They’re asking for something that 93% of the American people support.

When it comes to gun safety legislation, no policy is a better starting point than universal background checks. We are certainly open to debating the finer points of legislation with our Republican colleagues, but we certainly will not settle for anything less than meaningful action to address gun violence. And we know that meaningful action begins with closing the loopholes in our background check system so that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands in the first place.

After saying that the issue of gun safety would be “front and center” when Congress returned, Leader McConnell has given no indication of when the Senate might have a debate. Instead, he’s suggested that it’s up to the White House, a mercurial, inconsistent White House, to determine what—if any—legislation reaches the floor. Meanwhile, after Republicans met with President Trump at the White House this week, a few said that President Trump was liable to let Congress take the lead.

Well Leader McConnell, President Trump, Republican Senators: it’s the old Abbott and Costello again. The Congressional Republicans point at the White House, the White House points at Congressional Republicans and nothing gets done.

And we know why nothing gets done. The public overwhelmingly, the vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of Republicans, the vast majority of gun owners, the majority of NRA members want to close the loopholes. But the NRA has our Republican colleagues quaking in their boots. And almost always they bow down in obeisance to the NRA. The NRA says, ‘let us look at the legislation.’ And then it is so weakened that it virtually does nothing.

That’s not going to happen this time. We need a vote on H.R. 8, the modest, bipartisan universal background checks legislation. Our Republican colleagues should realize this game they are playing of Pennsylvania-Avenue-hot-potato has become a shopworn strategy to delay and kick responsibility around so that Republicans can avoid addressing the tough issue. The issue that American people sent us here to take on.

When Leader McConnell says he’s just going to do what President Trump wants—how unreliable. President Trump has been all over the lot on gun safety with no real results for the two and a half years that he’s been in office. What lack of leadership. Let’s just do it. The public wants us to do it. And what’s different this time my colleagues on the Republican side, the public is so strongly on the side of what we want to do, closing the loopholes, that people will begin to pay a political price for not doing it. It used to be the equation was the other way: a small, dedicated core of advocates, quite extreme, on the pro-gun side, had more weight than the vast majority of the American people who cared about this issue but didn’t make it high up on their list.

But what’s changed is this: it’s one of the most important issues in the country. And that’s not me saying it, that’s what the average citizen’s saying. So the idea now of bowing down to the NRA, of not doing anything they don’t want you to do, is a political loser.

I urge my Republican colleagues for the sake of our country, for the sake of lives to change their minds and behave differently.

The fact of the matter is this: the issue of gun violence is not going away. And the American people are not going to settle for half-measures or half-baked solutions that the NRA crafts. While we continue to press the White House to make its position public, we urge Leader McConnell to do something very simple. Let us debate H.R. 8, the bipartisan, House-passed universal background checks bill, on the floor ASAP.

And now, on China. A report in the Wall Street Journal this morning describes how China will seek to narrow the scope of ongoing negotiations with the United States, hoping to focus on trade alone, leaving national security issues for a separate conversation. Of course, in many cases, these two issues are intertwined and indissoluble. And, of course, China and the United States will invariably disagree about which issue is a trade issue and which issue is a national security issue.

Regardless, this transparent attempt by China to dodge a conversation about its predatory economic actions against American companies should not stand.  China has stolen an entire generation of innovation from the United States. Of course they don’t want talk about this topic. Of course they want to defer this conversation to a day in the future that will never come. And make no mistake about it, what the Chinese are doing is another effort to protect Huawei and similarly large Chinese corporations from further action by the United States. They don’t let our best and biggest corporations sell goods in China. Why should we let them sell goods here, particularly when there’s a national security risk, as there is in Huawei? My late father-in-law, a New York city cab driver who used colorful language, said ‘you know what? When it comes to China, we’re not Uncle Sam, we’re Uncle Sap.’ Let’s stop that already.

President Trump has shown some strength on this issue. But then he often backs off. We’ve got to be tough on Huawei, very tough on Huawei. That’s the best way to teach China that they can’t sell whatever they want here in America and not let us sell in China.

I have a concise and pointed request to the White House this morning: tell China—forget about it. Don’t let China exclude our nation’s security and Huawei from the negotiations.

Let me remind President Trump and his advisors that over the past several years, China has endeavored to keep our blue-chip technology companies out of its markets. When it does allow American companies access, it makes the transfer of proprietary intellectual property and technology to Chinese companies a precondition. When American companies don’t play by their rules, Chinese companies steal the technology.

President Trump, you’ve been tougher on China than President Bush or Obama. I give you some credit for that. But it will all come to naught unless we actually take action. Don’t let Huawei sell here. Don’t let Huawei get the components, made in America, that they need to continue to threaten both our economic and national security. If China keeps American companies out, we should keep important Chinese companies out, particularly those like Huawei, until China relents. And they will, if we stay strong and if we stay tough. President Trump, stay strong on China and on Huawei.

Finally, Mr. President, some praise for the Trump administration. I don’t do it that often, but when it’s due, it’s due. Yesterday, the Federal Drug Administration announced that it plans to pull most flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

I have been concerned about the possible dangers of e-cigarettes for a long time. I have been one of the first to bring attention to the fact that e-cigarette manufacturers aim at kids with both flavors and advertising. I have called for greater scrutiny, asked for companies to recall brands of e-cigarettes where the pods are exploding, and I have been particularly focused on getting the FDA to ban e-cigarettes with flavors that are designed to appeal to teenagers and young kids.

I had several conversations with the former FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, about this issue. In fact, I brought him some kids from a high school in Westchester, who said that e-cigarettes were hurting their school, that so many kids were involved. I think it made a good impression, a strong impression, on former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

We take wide-ranging steps to prevent tobacco companies from targeting underage children in their marketing, but so far have done little to prevent e-cigarettes from executing basically the same strategy. It’s past time the FDA moves to take these kid-friendly products off the shelves and I commend the FDA’s announcement that it plans to take action.