TRANSCRIPT: On MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, Schumer Calls On President Trump To Demonstrate Leadership And Fully Invoke The Defense Production Act To Increase Supply Of Needed Ventilators And PPEApril 2, 2020
Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer appeared today on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, calling on President Trump to demonstrate leadership and entirely invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of desperately needed ventilators and PPE to combat the coronavirus. Below is a transcript of the interview:
Chris Hayes: Joining me now, someone who did call for early action, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York who back on January 26th called for the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency over the coronavirus. Senator, first, I want to start with your exchange with the president. The president had a lot of harsh words for you today. He wrote you a letter that was strange in the way that everything he writes is strange. Why was he so angry at you? What was this about?
Sen. Schumer: Well, let me give you a little background. I have heard for the last few weeks throughout New York and throughout America, the desperate shortage of the things our front line workers need, whether it be masks or ventilators or PPE or anything else. And so about two weeks ago, I called the president and said why don't you invoke the Defense Production Act? That's an act on the books from the Truman administration, and it says that the military can commandeer both manufacturing and distribution when there is a national emergency or a war. The president said he’d do it and then three hours later he said no. And now, he hasn't done it, and we sort of have this patch work where governors and mayors, my governor, my mayor, they are doing good jobs, but they are going around looking for ventilators, looking for masks. It's uncoordinated, and it's a patch work.
So this morning, I sent the president a letter, and said why don't you invoke the Defense Production Act and put in place a military person—somebody who knows command and control; someone who knows logistics; someone who knows a quartermastering to not only commandeer factories and supply chains to make the stuff that we need, desperately need, but also to distribute it in the places most needed, so not the 50 governors will be hunting and pecking, and then I spoke to the president late this afternoon and explained it, and the result is this letter. And so I'm just appalled.
You know, I’d say to the president: just stop the pettiness - people are dying - and so, President Trump, we need leadership. We need to get the job done. Stop the pettiness. Let get it done. Let's roll up our sleeves.
I sent a letter with the best of intentions trying to improve a very bad situation that Dr. Jah was talking about a few minutes ago.
Chris Hayes: You know, it's come up a lot in our reporting and people I've been talking to both on the show and elsewhere about how haywire and insane this market has gotten. There’s all this sketchy middlemen. There’s deliveries that state governors think they’re gonna get that then don't show up—they get rerouted at the last second because someone outbids them. So, what you’re saying is not only just the Defense Production Act, there should be some kind of essentially unified acquisition process for the whole of the country that is getting this material and distributing it in such a way so that you don't have this weird bidding war that's happened.
Sen. Schumer: Exactly. And it's a mystery to me why the president doesn't invoke this. It's desperately needed. Most experts agree that it's needed and lives are at stake. We have in New York, we have these nurses and doctors and health care workers risking their lives without the proper equipment. And this is gonna happen in other parts of the country, too. So you need this kind of command and control for not only manufacturing but for distribution so it goes to the places that it's most needed.
Chris Hayes: So there's a lot right now that Americans are sort of depending on the federal government for. It a strange situation. It’s unlike anyone has seen in their lifetime, frankly, in terms of that. The rescue bill that was just passed, there is a few different ways in which that help will to Americans, but there is some reporting about the $1200 cash assistance, different from unemployment insurance, when is that going to get to people. The IRS now estimating April 13th, I think, at the earliest for those who already have direct deposit information with the IRS, but that it could take as long as five months, five months to actually write the checks for the people who don’t have direct deposit. Is there any way that can be sped up? That seems insufficient.
Sen. Schumer: Chris, I just heard that this afternoon. It’s hard to believe that it would take five months, and on another front, you know, the most major infusion that people who are losing their jobs will get is from our unemployment insurance on steroids. Today we called on the administration to get those checks to the unemployment offices and in people's hands who have lost their jobs, have to pay the rent, buy the groceries in two weeks. I think that's doable if they do it right and put all the muscle behind it that they should.
Chris Hayes: Well, it just seems to me at a broader level, right, there is a real question here of competence and state capacity, right? So there is some conception soundness to a lot of things that are in that rescue bill, but it really does seem like devils in the details here particularly when you’re looking at the Small Business Administration overseeing $350 billion of loans. How confident are you that the help is going to get to who it needs to get to as quickly as it needs to get to them?
Sen. Schumer: Well, we’re going to have to watch them like hawks. Obviously, this is a huge enterprise—$2 trillion in this whole proposal is about as much as the whole federal budget. It’s done in a week, and it has to get out quickly. Jobs are at stake, businesses are at stake and whatever effort it takes. I’ve suggested to the Small Business Administration that they just hire whoever they need to get the money out quickly. I’ve suggested to Secretary Scalia at the Department of Labor, which is in charge of the unemployment insurance, that they do the same. We put over a billion dollars into the unemployment situation so they could hire people, get the computers going, and get those checks out ASAP. Now we'll have to watch them like hawks to see if they can do it, but as you said, there is some question—look at what we talked about with the DPA—of the competence of them getting it done. So we’re going to have to just watch and push and probe and prod.
Chris Hayes: Well, in terms of that oversight, the Speaker now saying the idea of a select committee today. I think she needs unanimous consent, so she can't call it into being unilaterally. But, A, do you support that? And, B, what do you make of Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin basically saying we don't need oversight, and the president signing a signing statement that essentially scraps a lot of the oversight that’s in the bill.
Sen. Schumer: Well, that's what they proposed originally. The bill that McConnell put on the floor that we Democrats resisted had three problems.
There was no real money. There wasn't enough money for our hospitals and health care systems. We called for a Marshall Plan for hospitals and clinics and community health centers, and we got $150 billion.
The second thing we said is instead of putting corporations first, put workers first. And that’s where we got the small business and most important, this huge expansion of unemployment where people will get their full sales through July 31st, most of them, and it affects people who have not been affected in the past: freelancers, part-timers, people, individual employees, people who need the work.
But the third thing we did is we put some real limits on these corporate loans. I worked closely with Elizabeth Warren. We put three levels of oversight, and we guaranteed transparency. So any one of these contracts, that is either approved or rejected, the whole contract has to be published within 14 days of the contract either being approved or disapproved.
In addition, to a smaller thing, but we put in a provision that said President Trump couldn’t get any of this money because left to his own devices, lord knows.
But there is some real oversight there. Two of the three levels of oversight don't depend only the president, and we're going to go at it. But I think what Speaker Pelosi has done is exactly right. When you have this much money with this administration, which seems to favor the wealthy, the powerful, who’s your friend, no level of oversight is too much. So to have this extra level of oversight is a very good thing.
Chris Hayes: Alright, Senator Chuck Schumer from what appears to be his Brooklyn home—
Sen. Schumer: It is. I have been in this house, Chris, I've only seen four people since I got back from Washington. My wife, my daughter, my son-in-law and my one and a half year old grandson. Let me tell you, I'm working almost 24/7, but the most exhausting time is the one hour I'm in charge of chasing him around the house.
Chris Hayes: I'm sure that's true. Well, come back. Keep giving us updates. I appreciate it. Thank you so much, Senator.
Sen. Schumer: Thank you, Chris.