Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, calling for President Trump to appoint a single senior military official to lead the coordination of medical supplies and equipment to fight the coronavirus. Below is a transcript of the interview:
Anderson Cooper: The HHS was not President Trump's only target in that news conference. He attacked Senator Chuck Schumer multiple times well. In fact, last week in a letter, he said in a letter Senator Schumer was personally to blame for not being prepared for the virus. Joining me now is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer, President Trump this evening, you know, called you lightweight, a disgrace. He was also attacking the press, disputing facts, and lying and rewriting his own history. What does it tell you about where he is on this?
Sen. Schumer: Well, his attacks don't phase me, Anderson. I'm trying to get something done. I hear from so many different New Yorkers how they can't get the protective materials, the PPEs, the gloves, the masks, the tests even still, the ventilators that they need. I hear from hospital executives who are spending hours of their time hunting and pecking, calling private companies, calling foreign countries to try and get the stuff they need. So what I did two weeks ago, I called the president and I said, why don't you invoke the Defense Production Act. That's an act that was passed in the Truman administration during the Korean war to allow the president to invoke—have the military take over the factories and the supply chains and, even more important, distribute the materials where they’re needed. And I told the president we needed a strong military person to do that, someone with a lot of experience, the military knows command and control. They know logistics. They know quartermastering.
Anderson Cooper: He attacked you about that again today. Saying that you wanted a military person. He said he’s got plenty of military people around.
Sen. Schumer: Well, that's the point. It’s not plenty. You need one person in charge. Right now, in the White House, they're trying their best. You have many people in many different directions. Nobody knows who exactly to listen to. And Anderson, the proof of the pudding is on the ground. It’s not just me. The president said governors are happy with them. The front page of "The New York Times" had the governors criticizing him and calling for a national system. The Deputy Inspector General put out a report today that showed how bad it is. The facts are: it's bad. And all I'm trying to improve their system in a way that most experts who have looked at this say it will work. It will get the materials where they're needed on time, and, you know, as the crisis—in New York, we're in crisis now. But it's going to spread to other places. And the lack of a single command and control organization to get the materials where they're needed is going to make the situation even worse.
Anderson Cooper: I read that you reached out to the new Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but given the president's comments today, it doesn't seem like he's inclined to appoint somebody to be a czar on getting supplies.
Sen. Schumer: Well, Anderson, this is sort of life and death. And so I'm going to keep trying. I've spoken to the vice president. He was very respectful. I spoke to the chief of staff several times. He was respectful and listened to what I had to say. You know, hope springs eternal. Maybe in private moments in the White House they can convince the president that this is needed. Because, A, the present system isn't working. B, you have too many people in charge. And, C, most of the experts say this is just what's need. What they're doing is not working.
Anderson Cooper: Well, also I mean, testing, which the president now says is perfect and everything's great, that remains incredibly important. Not just testing to see who may have the virus, but also it's going to become, you know, testing to see who had the virus and that potentially may be able to go back to work, may have antibodies that can help other people.
Sen. Schumer: Antibodies, yeah.
Anderson Cooper: That whole system still needs to be ramped up.
Sen. Schumer: Exactly.
Anderson Cooper: And is going to be a part of a recovery just as much as it was supposed to be part of the early days of this.
Sen. Schumer: You can’t have a giant scavenger hunt where 5,000 different groups and people are looking for the same supplies and bidding against each other. You need command and control. You need a czar in charge—I think a military person would be the right person. In fact, I gave to Mark Meadows last night three names of people who had done this extremely well in the military. They're non-political people. And if the president would choose one of them and say, get this done, you have my full backing, I think the system would improve. But so far, all I can do is keep trying and keep going forward because I think it's so important and it's the right thing to do, as do many governors, as does the Inspector General, as do most of the experts.
Anderson Cooper: The other frustrating thing is nobody can give you a clear answer on, okay, fine, there is not enough masks. By this date there's going to be this number of masks done. By this date there's going to be this number of, you know, face shields available. There's no sense—they'll endlessly tell you details this factory is going to make 2,000 over here, and we talked to other people who are going to do this. Where's the time line? Where's the schedule?
Sen. Schumer: That's why you need a central figure in command and control because they don't have a time line. It's a little too much ad hoc. It's gotten a little better, but it's got a long way to go and the situation, as we get more crises, cities and centers in the country, it's going to get worse. So all I can do is try to get something done because I think it affects health. It affects lives. It affects the well-being of my 20 million New York constituents and 300 some odd million Americans.
Anderson Cooper: Senator Schumer, appreciate your time. Thank you.
Sen. Schumer: Thank you. Appreciate you very much.