Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today appeared on CNN’s New Day and discussed President Biden’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, today’s Senate vote on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to combat the rising violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and the upcoming legislative agenda in the Senate. Below is a transcript of the interview:
John Berman: Joining me now is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator, thank you so much for being with us. You were critical last year of President Trump's decision to reduce the troop levels in Afghanistan because you said it was an incoherent policy. How do you feel now about President Biden's decision?
Schumer: I think President Biden has come up with a careful and thought-out plan. Look, John, the president doesn't want endless wars. I don't want endless wars. And neither do the American people. And it's refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the president waking up one morning, getting out of bed and saying what just pops into his head and then the generals having walked it back. So I think this is a careful, thought-out plan. Now, there are questions that remain. I am happy to let you know that the administration has agreed to a classified briefing for all Senators, which we'll have shortly so questions can be answered. But I think the president's plan is a very good one. You want to make sure the September 11th date is stuck, is a date that sticks. That it's not kicking the can down the road. I've spoken to administration people and they believe just that as well.
John Berman: Can I ask you about that date? As a New Yorker yourself, September 11th, are you comfortable with giving that date as a withdrawal? That will be the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
Schumer: Well, I think, again, endless wars have not – it’s 20 years. Endless. The terrorist attack was terrible. We're much, much better at fighting terrorism today than we were. And Obama took out Bin Laden and so I have a great deal of respect for what we have done to fight terrorism. Praise God there hasn't been the kind of incident that we saw that horrible, horrible day, which we all still live with in New York and in America on 9/11. And so getting the troops out of this endless war is a good thing.
John Berman: You're not worried about the symbolism that may be taken by terrorists around the world saying, hey, the 20th anniversary, look, the U.S. is on the run?
Schumer: Terrorists take all kinds of things into symbolism. The key issue is having the ability to stop them, to penetrate them. We've done a very good job of that thus far.
John Berman: A lot going on in the U.S. Senate that you are central to, needless to say, as the Senate Majority Leader, including today a vote on an anti-Asian hate crime bill that we understand there is some bipartisan support for.
John Berman: But that might depend on what exactly is voted on today. What can you tell us on what will be voted on today and how much support there is?
Schumer: Well first, the bill is a very good bill. It's modest, but it's important. It sets up a person in the Justice Department who will make sure that anti-Asian violence is gone after and prosecuted whenever that's appropriate. It also sends a signal in two ways. To the Asian-American community that this country is paying attention to this. The rash of Asian-American violence is just awful. I went to five or six rallies throughout New York State. An Asian-American senior gentleman told me he is afraid to go out on the streets because he might be ridiculed, spat upon, cursed at. We've had violence. A young lady told me she wouldn't take the subway in New York because everyone is just staring at her with fierce, harsh stares. So sending the signal to America that this is wrong. So different than the previous president who at times encouraged bigotry and never or almost never did enough to push it down. It's a very important symbol.
And I say one other thing related to what you said, John. I was very gratified that Leader McConnell said he wanted to move forward. This was not intended when we put it on the floor as gotcha. It's led by our two Asian-American women Senators, Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth. It was intended to be bipartisan. And the fact that Leader McConnell indicates that they want to be constructive is a good thing. And we welcome some bipartisan amendments. I know Senator Moran, a Republican of Kansas, is working with Dick Blumenthal to strengthen it. We welcome that kind of approach.
John Berman: One policy item in terms of the administration. President Biden had promised to lift the refugee cap that had been in place during the Trump administration. Raise the number of refugees that could come to the United States. He needs to sign the determination. He has not done so and as a result that number has not been raised and Democratic Senators, including Tim Kaine, have been critical. He says, “Team Biden said they were going to return to a more normal posture in the U.S. with respect to refugees and they haven’t yet done it.”
Schumer: Well, they haven't yet done it and yet is the key word.
John Berman: What's the wait?
Schumer: I think we should admit more refugees. Well, I think they have to take a careful look at—again, the last administration so screwed up immigration in every different way that looking at this in a thoughtful, careful way and then coming up with a policy which I believe— I can't imagine that they won't move the refugee cap considerably higher, it's something I'm for, it's the right way to go. And so, you know, we know that it's been totally turned on its head. Generally, the pro-immigration policies of America, the Statue of Liberty and everything else, my middle name is Ellis. And we have to reverse it, but it's got to be done in a thoughtful, careful way. Competence and facts are beginning to matter.
John Berman: How long are you willing to wait on this?
Schumer: I'll give them a chance. Let's see. I have faith that they will be far more pro-immigration on refugees than the previous administration.
John Berman: On the issue of timing, let's talk about the infrastructure bill. And you have a tremendous amount to say on how this timing will play out. There was a meeting yesterday and Chris Coons, Senator from Delaware, came out of that meeting saying, you know I have a sense that we’re not going to wait forever before we try to pass this bill with what could be only Democratic votes. What does that mean? How long are you willing to wait for Republicans, to talk to Republicans, to see if they will vote for this bill before you start the procedure to pass this with just Democratic votes?
Schumer: Certainly our preference is to work in a bipartisan way and there are parts of the bill that might be bipartisan, that can be bipartisan. On water resources, which is a significant, not the largest, but a significant part of the bill. Senator Carper, our Chairman of our EPW Committee, Environmental and Public Works Committee and Senator Capito, the ranking Republican, reported out a bill that would be—that is part of the Biden plan. Not the largest, but still a part. Unanimously.
I'm going to, provided we get through the anti-Asian hate bill this week, I'd like to put that on the floor next week and begin on a bipartisan note. There are a few other areas that might be bipartisan. Our competition bill. Strengthening America's competitive position in the world and making sure the Chinese government doesn't take advantage of us is possibly bipartisan.
Debbie Stabenow has done some good things with regenerative agriculture working with Republicans on her committee. We're going to focus at the beginning on some of the bipartisan parts of the bill. But make no mistake about it, if our Republican colleagues—we welcome them on amendments throughout the bill—but if they don't see the big, bold need for change in infrastructure and climate that the nation sees and wants and that we see and want, we will have to move forward without them. But our first preference, let's see if they can work in a bipartisan way.
John Berman: My question is when.
Schumer: Well, you know, we're going to work on the bipartisan parts of the bill first and then we'll move forward, but we're not going to repeat the mistake of 2009 and '10, John, where for a year and a half they negotiated and then nothing came of it. We're not doing that. The two big things—two of the biggest things we have to get done in the next several months are Build Back Better and S-1.
John Berman: When was the last time you talked to Senator Joe Manchin about reconciliation, about passing this with the Democrats?
Schumer: Oh, about 10:00 last night on the phone.
John Berman: And he said to you?
Schumer: This was on one part of the bill that he had some input into, which was the competitiveness part. I said to work actually with Todd Young, a Republican, in a bipartisan way on it, and they are talking to each other.
John Berman: Did he say he would support reconciliation if push comes to shove?
Schumer: Joe Biden—sorry, Joe Manchin. Got a lot of Joes around here. But Joe Manchin, you know, you know what his views are. I treat him with respect, but we have to move forward in a big, bold way, and we will.
John Berman: Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you for being with us. Senate Majority Leader. We appreciate your time.
Schumer: Thank you.