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TRANSCRIPT: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Joins ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos

New York, NY   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week to discuss the latest on the Chinese surveillance balloon, the threat to our economy if Republicans force a first-ever catastrophic default, and President Biden’s State of the Union. Below is a transcript of the interview:

George Stephanopoulos: We are joined now by the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator, thank you for coming in this morning.

Leader Schumer: Great to be here, George. First time in three years.

Stephanopoulos: Yeah, it's been awhile, since covid. I want to start with this question of the Chinese spy planes and other aerial objects. Three incidents in a week. President Biden took some heat from your Democratic colleagues for not shooting down the spy balloon sooner. What can you tell us about these last two incidents Friday and Saturday night? Are you confident in the overall Administration response?

Schumer: Yes. You know, I was briefed by Jake Sullivan last night so let me get right to it, and I'll give a little background and then get to your specific. The bottom line is until a few months ago, we didn't know of these balloons. Our intelligence and our military did not know. This went as far back as President Trump at least three times.

Stephanopoulos: It's wild that we didn't know, isn't it?

Schumer: It is wild that we didn't know. Absolutely, and I'll get to that in a minute. Now they are learning a lot more, and the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on first gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis of what went on before, what's going on now, and what could go on in the future. You can be sure that if any, any American interests or people are at risk, they'll take appropriate action. Until they get that comprehensive analysis, however, we have to look at each balloon individually.

Stephanopoulos: Were these balloons Friday and Saturday night?

Schumer: They believe they were, yes, but much smaller than the first one. Both of those, one over Canada, one over Alaska, were at 40,000 feet. Immediately it was determined that that's a danger to commercial aircraft which also fly at 40,000 feet, and so the second one, in cooperation with the Canadians, the first one with the Americans, took it down, and that's appropriate.

The first balloon, there was a much different rationale, which I think was the appropriate rationale. We got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon as it went over the United States.

Stephanopoulos: Didn't the Chinese as well?

Schumer: They could have been getting it anyway. But, we have to know what they're doing, and we don't know exactly, but we got a lot of that, and even more importantly, by shooting it down over water, U.S. waters, only six miles out from South Carolina, we're probably going to be able to piece together this whole, whole surveillance balloon, and know exactly what's going on. So that's a huge coup for the United States.

Stephanopoulos: This program is going to have to be shut down now, hasn’t it? The Chinese aren't going to be able to send balloons –

Schumer: Look, I think the Chinese were humiliated. I think the Chinese were caught lying, and I think it’s a real step back for them, yes. I think they're going to have to, I think they're probably going to have to get rid of it or do something because they look really bad. And they are not just doing the United States. This is a crew of balloons. We saw one in South America. They have probably been all over the world.

Stephanopoulos: So, what do we do now to counter China overall because they are clearly taking more provocative actions?

Schumer: That's a great question. One more point I would make on this, by the way. I do think Senator Tester is looking into why it took so long, for us, our military, our intelligence to know about these balloons. That's something I support. Congress should look at that. That's the question we have to answer. I think our military, our intelligence are doing a great job present and future. I feel a lot of confidence in what they're doing, but why as far back as the Trump administration did no one know about this?

Now on China in general, look. I have always been a China hawk, but China is the second biggest power in the world economically and geopolitically. We can't just have a cold war with them. We have to have a relationship with them, but China has taken advantage of us over and over again, and this Administration has been just about tougher than any other. The bill I passed, the Chips and Science bill is going to bring all of that semiconductor manufacturing back to America. Just the other day I was in East Fishkill, the old IBM plant. A new company, American Onsemi is taking plants out of Korea, out of Japan, and putting them here to make semiconductors.

The Administration did another thing on its own and said, we're not going to send any of the materials to used make semiconductors, that is the machinery to China. That’s a real blow. The Chinese are feeling that badly. We did a similar thing on a smaller basis, just with these balloons. Six Chinese companies that probably make the balloons.

So I think this Administration is strong and tough on China, but mindful of the fact that we just, you know, we can't stop talking to them. We have to try to have some kind of relationship.

Stephanopoulos: This won't make my daughters happy, but how about banning Tiktok?

Schumer: Well, that's a great question. It's something that should be looked at. We do know there's Chinese ownership of the company that owns Tiktoks, and there are some people in the Commerce Committee that are looking into that right now. We'll see where they come out.

Stephanopoulos: I want to get to the fallout from the State of the Union and the upcoming showdown over the debt ceiling. As you know, President Biden and your Democratic colleagues have ruled out negotiating with the GOP and that led your Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell to accuse you of hypocrisy, for saying in 2017 that the debt limit give you leverage in negotiations with the Trump White House.

Here it was.

Leader McConnell: He says, the debt ceiling “gives another ample opportunity for bipartisanship, not for one party jamming its choices down the throats of the other.” So I'll trust Democrats will be consistent with their past positions.

He's saying you should be consistent now with your past position where you said back in 2017, there is leverage.

Schumer: We were totally consistent. First, the bottom line is that we never did what McCarthy is doing. Brinksmanship, holding hostage, and saying I won't do the debt ceiling. I won't raise the debt ceiling and pay the debts that of course, we've incurred, unless I get certain things that I want. I'll make two points to that. Four times Democrats, even when Trump was in power, even two times when Trump and the Republicans had the House and Senate, we could have blocked it. We did not play brinksmanship. We have never played brinksmanship on this issue. In one instance, we did a budget proposal alongside a debt ceiling proposal, yes, but there was no brinksmanship, there was no, we won't, if you don't do this, we not going to –

Stephanopoulos: Your Democratic colleague, Senator Joe Manchin says now you should be engaged in negotiations like this.

Schumer: Let me say this. We have a position. We have a clear position. Do it clean. Do it without brinksmanship. Do it without this risk of hostage-taking where things could blow up because as you know, if we don't renew the debt ceiling, average American families will be clobbered. Their interest rates would go up. Their pension savings would go down. The cost of a house would go up to $100,000. So, it's risky. Now, McCarthy says he wants to attach certain spending cuts to do this. Where is your plan, Mr. McCarthy? He says he wants cuts. We ask him which ones. He won't say any. Is it social security and medicare? That would hurt the American people.

Stephanopoulos: He says it won't be.

Schumer: He says it won't, but a lot of other people in his caucus still say it will. Will it be police? Will it be the military? His job – we have a plan. Do it clean as we've done it four times. Three under trump, once under Biden. He will not even say what he wants to cut, and I'll tell you why. He can't pass a plan with cuts. His hard right will demand the kind of deepest cuts that his more mainstream Republicans won't vote for, and I'll tell you, my experience in this, the party that holds out with brinksmanship and says, I won't renew it unless you do what I want, loses. We're going to win this fight, and it's going to be a clean debt ceiling.

Stephanopoulos: Finally, before you go, I want to ask you about President Biden. Certainly, it does seems to be like he's gearing up for re-election, but our latest poll showed a majority of Democrats think he shouldn't run again. What do you say to them?

Schumer: First, I always like the poll that 36% of Republicans thought Reagan should run again back in 1983 and he had a landslide. Biden's in great shape. Look at the State of the Union. First, look at all the accomplishments that we did in the Senate with Joe Biden that really affected American people in terms of climate, in terms of jobs, in terms of veterans, in terms of guns, in terms of bringing things back from China. Second, you have unemployment down. You have jobs up. You have wages up. And third, and this is going to happen next year, all these great things we did in the Senate are going to be implemented. You know, when people just read about it, they say, hm, but when they actually feel it and see it in their communities, it matters.

So for instance, in the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, I made sure there's money for Gateway, you know, the big tunnel under the Hudson river. That’s a dream of mine. People said, okay, okay. Last week, President Biden came and the first part of gateway started to be built. ‘Wow. It's real!’ That's going to happen in bridges and road. Starting in January, people are going to realize they're only going to pay $35 for insulin. Shingles shots, most people don't know it, starting January 1st, are free.

So as these great things are implemented, and what this Congress, this Democratic Congress, Senate and the House have done is going to even rise further in the American people's eyes.

Stephanopoulos: Senator Schumer, thank you for your time.

Schumer: So, I'm optimistic.

Stephanopoulos: Okay, thank you for coming in today.

Schumer: Thank you.