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TRANSCRIPT: Majority Leader Schumer Talks IRA And Democrats’ Economic Message On Pod Save America

New York, N.Y.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined Pod Save America to discuss the one year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act and how the Democrats’ agenda is lowering costs and growing the middle class. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Dan Pfeiffer: Joining me now to talk about the one year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act and everything else happening on Capitol Hill is the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer. Welcome back to Pod Save America.

Leader Schumer: Dan, it's great to be back.

Pfeiffer: It's great to talk to you, sir. We're gonna start with some real tough questions here. So, it's the one year anniversary of this historic piece of legislation you passed. Polls show a lot of people don't know much about the bill or even that it passed. What is your elevator pitch to someone when you see them about what you guys accomplished a year ago and why it matters?

Schumer: Great. I would say I just first sum it up in two words. We're going to lower your costs and we're going to grow the middle class with lots of good paying jobs. So let me elaborate. This bill was the most monumental piece of legislation probably in decades. The whole, you know, the seven bills we passed over the over the summer, is, people have said, it's the greatest Senate since the Great Society. What did we do? Well, we reduced the amount of carbon, it was the greatest bill on climate change that we have ever done. We reduced the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere by 40%. So people will live longer and cleaner, but at the same time that we did that we greatly created millions of new jobs, good paying jobs, because people are going to have to build the panels and install the panels, whether they be wind or solar people are going to have to lay the transmission lines, people are going to have to build the new cars. And these are jobs that have a future, when your son or daughter gets a job at one of these places, you say this industry is going for a long time. It's not going to be one of these things for a short amount of time. But climate is one of the greatest dangers we face, climate change, and we did something very real and very strong about it. I had a North Star. Of course there were compromises in there on climate. We had to deal with Joe Manchin, but we kept the North Star, 40% reduction of carbon into the atmosphere.

We also reduced people's costs in other ways. Prescription drugs— for the first time we went after Big Pharma, and insulin for people on Medicare will no longer be more than $35. And after we did that a lot of the private sector followed. For the first time Medicare can negotiate with the drug companies to lower costs. Vaccines are free [for those on Medicare]. And starting next year, it hasn't started yet, no one will pay more than $3,000 out of their pockets for prescription drugs instead of these huge costs. You have a kid with cancer and the drug costs $1,000 a month and you say, “I can't afford it. What do I do?” That isn't going to happen anymore. Third, we did something Republicans would never do. We closed some real tax loopholes. We made the rich pay. You all heard the stories of corporations paying no taxes. That's over. An amendment by Elizabeth Warren got in the bill that said if a corporation has a profit of over a billion dollars, they're going to pay a minimum of 15% tax and many of them will pay more. We put a 1% tax on the stock buybacks, which so many people dislike. And we put a number, a large number of new agents into the IRS to go after the very wealthy who hire all these lawyers and everybody else to close loopholes and at the same time, we did it in a way that was reducing inflation. Because we put money, some of that money, not all of it, but some of it into [deficit] reduction. So this bill is going to reduce your costs and create a middle class that is permanent and long standing. It's a great bill.

Pfeiffer: There's no question on the substance and the challenge on, as you know better anyone else, on the politics is that not enough people know about it, right? There's this one poll, Washington Post poll came out just earlier this week that showed that 7 in 10 Americans knew either very little or nothing about the Inflation Reduction Act. I know you've always prided yourself on someone who thinks very thoughtfully about how you communicate. How important is it for people to know what's in this bill? And what's your plan for changing those numbers by the time that votes come in 2024?

Schumer: The answer to the first question is yes, it's very important they know. And it's things that when they hear about it, they really like it. How are we going to get them to know? One word above all, persistence. It's going to take a while for this to sink in. But you may not see it out there where you are in California or me in New York, but in the battleground states every week, more than once a week, our senators are going there and they're opening up a new factory that's going to employ people in good-paying union jobs. They're cutting a ribbon on a new road or a new bridge. They're going to a pharmacy and talking about lower drug costs. And it's sinking in. It's going to take persistence, but we are spending a lot of time on implementation, particularly in the battleground states, but also in other areas as well. I mean, we put in that bill, in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, broadband to rural areas. Everywhere I go in the most rural parts of New York State — we have the third largest rural population in America, people don't remember that, because of New York City — the local officials are amazed that we're getting broadband to people for the first time. So it's gonna take a while, we're going to have to persist and persist and persist. But we're spending a huge amount of time on implementation. In fact, Jeff Zients has his Deputy Chief of Staff, a woman named Natalie Quillian, whose only job is implementing this and it's going to sink in.

Here's the analogy. I remember in 2017 and 18, the Republicans passed this big tax break for the wealthy, but it was hard to get through at the beginning. People said, well, the Republicans said, “See they’re against tax cuts.” They didn't say they were for the wealthy. But we crafted a message, Speaker Pelosi and I, and said we're going to keep at it for six months, we're going to stick with it. And guess what? It sunk in so that by 2018 elections, they weren't even going to use the tax issue and they had to try to use immigration to try and win, which fortunately failed. So we're going to have to persist. We're going to have to implement, but it will sink in because this is just what people want. And the same polling data says: Do you want your cost of prescription drugs low? Do you want to do something about climate change? Did you want to do something to rein in the NRA? Which we did in the gun safety act [Bipartisan Safer Communities Act]. People say, “Oh, yeah, I really care about that.” And not to mention the issue of choice, abortion, which is going to be a very important issue as well. In the 2022 campaigns many of our candidates, Catherine Cortez Masto, Mark Kelly, so many of the others used the things we did in the IRA and in the CHIPS and Science bill and in the infrastructure bill, with great success, and we picked up a seat in the Senate.

Pfeiffer: Just curious tactically, and this may be the former Senate Press Secretary in me, is that that when I was working in the Senate many, many years ago, you went around, you always were the person that Senators turn to for advice on how you get press, right. You were famous for that. You told many of my bosses to hold press conferences on Sunday, because that's the best way to get into the Monday papers. Obviously, we're in very different media environment. Is there any sort of - I know you have a lot on your agenda these days, but any sort of like tactical advice like that that you're giving you’re battleground senators?

Schumer: I still have my Sunday press conference and they’re very successful. 70% percent of them produce results, and you know what they're aimed at? This is what I tell people. Don't get into the fights in Washington. Talk about things people care about. I'll never forget my daughter, when she was in high school, had a concussion and went to the hospital and the nurse came over to her and there was her name, Allison Schumer. And they said, “Schumer, you related to the senator?” This was a nurse, you know, from Queens. And she said “yes, my father” and she said, “you tell that man I love him. All the other politicians are talking blabber but he's on TV every Sunday talking about something that matters to me.” Talk about things that matter to people. Don't get involved in the Washington fighting etc. They want to know that you can do something and the one other thing I'd say is that, you know, the social media is now much more important and has a much greater reach and you ignore it at your peril. You know, when I got to the Congress a while back, there were people who didn't believe in television, they just believed in newspapers. Anyone who gets into the Congress now and says it's just the regular media, the TV and the newspapers, is missing a point. The social is very important, but it works. And again, it's worked in our campaigns very well. We’ve spent more than half our campaign dollars, DSCC and super PAC, on the social media side.

Pfeiffer: I'm so glad you brought up the fights in Washington because now I'm gonna ask you about one. It's not even a Sunday, so I guess we can do it. But you know, Senator Tuberville’s blockade of military promotions is ongoing. It's causing huge problems. I know you've said it's not your job to get Republican senators in line and I agree with that. But people whose job it is are not doing a very good job of that and he continues to have this blockade. We also have other senators holding up State Department appointments and Pentagon appointments. If, and frankly, Senator Tuberville seems pretty immune to sort of traditional forms of political pressure, he seems like he really likes being this hero of the MAGA right. If the Republicans cannot get him in line, do you have tools at your disposal or things you can do to break this blockade?

Schumer: You know, Dan, to be honest, I'm not going to shift the onus to Democrats. This was done by a Republican senator. Let me tell you, if one of my senators did this, he'd be in my office and he’d change his mind because the leader, the Republican leader, has the power to do it. Now McConnell and Thune have said this is wrong. Well, let them take some action on it. Now the pressure on them is mounting. They know it's a terrible issue for them to be taking women who have volunteered for our armed forces and saying they can't get health care because they're in a state that doesn't allow them to get proper health care. And then hold up these people who have worked so hard and labored for so long in our military. This is an issue that is their responsibility, the pressure will mount on them and I believe that they will have to come to the conclusion they cannot let Tuberville persist.

Pfeiffer: By the standards of Washington these days, the Republicans and Democrats have been working relatively cooperatively around funding the government, less happening on the House side.

Schumer: That is an understatement.

Pfeiffer: Yes, I would say nothing is happening on the House side.

Schumer: Less is too strong a word.

Pfeiffer: What is your concern level about a possible shutdown when government funding runs out in a little over a month here?

Schumer: You know what, we've had a great last six weeks in the Senate as a whole. Bipartisan. First, we avoided default and I'm so proud of my Democratic caucus. 45 of the 50 took the tough but the responsible vote and said we are not going to default. The majority of the Republican Senators voted to allow us to default, but we held the line and that was great. But we also passed a defense bill. You know, if you look at the House, they put all kinds of poison pills in that bill, about things like, you know, anti-choice and what you're allowed to teach in the military and all that other stuff. We had none of that, none of that in the Senate, and we passed the defense bill overwhelmingly, but the most amazing thing of all is the one you mentioned. Under the great leadership of Patty Murray and Susan Collins, all 12 appropriations bills were passed out of the Appropriations Committee with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

So, the bottom line is, and I’ve told this to Speaker McCarthy, I’ve said you’ve got to follow the Senate. You can only keep the government open if you work in a bipartisan way. And if you're going to insist on doing it in a partisan way, you'll be responsible for shutting down the government. I hope they see that the cooperation between the Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans as a model and go forward. Now, you know, that means telling the Tea Party folks, the right wing MAGA folks, Freedom Caucus they call them now, that they're not going to be allowed to shut down the government and there'll have to be a bipartisan bill, with Democrats and Republicans in the House, like the Senate. We'll see which way McCarthy goes but I'll tell you this, in my history, the party that is demanding things before the government is funded and pushes the government into default almost always loses.

Pfeiffer: Yeah, that's exactly right. Pivoting back to the economy for a second, a shutdown will certainly hurt our economic growth, but, the economy's in a much better place right now than anyone expected. Inflation is down. Unemployment remains at a historic low. Fears of recession that were pretty widely expected by prognosticators have receded. But the polling does not show the American people agree with that. How do you plan to navigate that? Do we have to convince people that the economy is better? It's always hard to tell people to not believe what they're feeling. What's your sort of economic messaging strategy heading into 2024?

Schumer: The strategy is first as I've mentioned before, and I repeat it, to focus on what we're doing. The two things people want the most, our data shows, are get my costs down, they know that wages are going up. But when the costs go up and eat up the wage increase it doesn't do you much good. And make sure the middle class has a future in this country. Even if you're in the middle class now you doubt it. But the second thing that I would say about the economy is and I've talked to some of the experts on this, including some of the polling experts, it's often a lagging indicator. That people look at the economy six months ago and it's still in their heads today. Well if the economy continues in the good way it has, inflation lower, wages up, unemployment, particularly minority unemployment, down to record low levels, within a while, I think people's view of the economy will improve but it's not just going to happen like that. And we Democrats have to keep talking about it and talking about it. I read your article or column or whatever it was that calling it Bidenomics is a good idea because it forces people to focus on the differences between the two parties. I tend to agree with that.

Pfeiffer: Any lessons that you take from the victory in Ohio on Tuesday? And how much do you plan to make both the idea that if we were able to expand our majority in the Senate and keep the White House, and take back the House that we can pass a federal law on Roe and that Republicans, if they were to take all, could pass a national abortion ban?

Schumer: It's a very potent issue. And lots of people in the middle, who have tended to vote Republican in the past, this is influencing them. And it's interesting. It's not just college educated or more affluent or suburban people, a lot of poor women feel this very much themselves. So this is a very strong issue for us. McConnell has said they want a national abortion ban. They can't help themselves. Because the hard right has such power in the Republican Party, even though it's a real distinct minority of the American people, probably 20 or 25%, that they're walking themselves into a cul-de-sac and this is going to be a very important issue. It helped us in other states, but it's also something we believe, you know, women have a right to make their own decisions. And if you're a true libertarian, which these people profess to be on economic issues, where they don't want to pay taxes or see anything else. Well, if you’re true libertarian, you're pro-choice, let each woman make her own decision.

Pfeiffer: Senator, before I let you go, I have to ask you about UFOs. You've introduced a bill, you seem like you might know some stuff. I'm not going to ask you to reveal classified information, recent events have told us that can get you a little bit of hot water these days. If you know anything, wink twice. But what led you to introduce that bill? If you want to just tell us the truth right now, please do.

Schumer: I'll tell you, the truth is I have not I have not read the report. I have not gotten the briefing. But sunlight’s the greatest disinfectant. Lots of people say, “they're disclosing it because they know something that we don't know.” Well, let them disclose it and we'll all know the truth and we'll be better off with the truth. And then I think of my dear friend, Harry Reid. We would sit together and discuss this and he had a more view of UFOs and outer space intelligence being more likely than I did, but I loved talking to him about it.

Pfeiffer: All right, we’ll take that you are neither confirming or denying the existence UFOs.

Schumer: I'm for the sunlight. And let's see what happens.

Pfeiffer: Okay.

Schumer: By the way, that's another thing we passed in the defense bill. We passed a lot of good stuff. Don't forget, one other thing I forgot: we have this FEND Off Fentanyl bill. That's one of the biggest problems we face. And I made sure that it got into the NDAA bill and will allow the President to put tough sanctions on China and Mexico, which is allowing this evil drug to flow into our shores. So there was a lot we got done.

Pfeiffer: Senator Schumer, thank you so much for joining us. It's always great to talk to you.

Schumer: Thanks. Nice to talk to you, Dan. Thanks for having me on.

Pfeiffer: Absolutely. Thank you for doing this.