Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today joined on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and discussed the release of excerpts from interviews by Bob Woodward with President Trump that show the president knew how deadly the coronavirus was in February but refused to take the necessary actions to respond, instead misleading the American people and downplaying the threat of the virus. Senator Schumer also outlined how Senate Republicans’ partisan COVID-response bill is laden with poison pills like corporate immunity and falls far short of the needs of the American people. A transcript can be found below:
Mika Brzezinski: Joining us now, Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Senator Schumer, thank you for joining us.
Sen. Schumer: Good morning.
Mika Brzezinski: Your response, sir, to the Trump tapes.
Sen. Schumer: They're just awful. Look, when the house is on fire and there's a five alarm fire, you have an obligation to let people know. If not, they're going to burn and they're going to die.
And this awful, awful incident, tragedy, can be summed up in four words: Trump lied, people died.
When we look at the rest of the world and we see why are they doing better than we are in fighting this awful COVID rage, the reason is very simple. They had some leadership. We’ve had none. We've had dishonest, lying leadership. The president seems to care only about his own ego and not about himself. He's always good at coming up with excuses for his perfidious lies, his mistakes.
This time he said he didn't want to panic people. Really? Is this the same president who is busy panicking America right now telling women in the suburbs that your safety is at risk when the suburbs are not at any risk at all in that way? He doesn't mind panicking people when it serves his interests.
But what is worse is he will not tell the truth when it serves his interest and then people are so badly hurt. It's a despicable incident and I hope it wakes up some of those Trump supporters to realize what this man is. That they cannot have him be president again because it will get worse. He will tell more and worse lies.
Mika Brzezinski: I mean, if you look at it this way, if he didn't want to panic people and he didn't give them honest information about how deadly this virus is and he knew that in real time in January, February, March. He was told by national security advisers, by scientific experts, by doctors. He knew children were getting it and passing it along. He knew all these things and then told Bob Woodward he was going to downplay it. Other options to downplaying it would have been mobilizing the Defense Production Act and getting a national effort on testing. We don't even have testing in some areas that comes back right away. Some people can't even get tests without symptoms. We would be in such a different place if the president took what he knew seriously.
Sen. Schumer: Mika, there are thousands of my fellow New Yorkers who are dead right now and it can be directly attributed to the president's lack of action, lying about this crisis. No question about it. That's why we don't have testing. That’s why we are not on top of this because he swept it under the rug. On January 26th, I called for the president to make it a national emergency. January 26th. He did nothing for a month.
Willie Geist: Senator Schumer, it’s Willie Geist. So obviously, we have cataloged this morning all the failures of the president and the appalling confessions he’s made on tape. But also, governors across the country had responsibility. They knew a lot of this information. So now with benefit of hindsight, do you look back and say, well maybe Governor Cuomo and governors of other states should have acted quicker as well?
Sen. Schumer: No. The bottom line is you needed federal action. It was the federal authorities. The governors don't have people in China, in foreign counties.
They don't have access to the intelligence the president does. I think the governors did their best. You couldn't put together—they tried with testing, which Mika mentioned, but you couldn't do it without the DPA and a national regime.
I think the governors are going to come off quite well, but under very difficult circumstances with a president and national government that did nothing. And there’s one other point here—well there’s two really.
One is, where were the people around Trump? They should have blown the whistle. The people in the administration have far more blame than governors or anybody like that. They should have said something. This was a national crisis. The house was on fire. It was burning. But people didn't know that because Trump was covering it up.
He lives—you know this Mr. Geist, Mr. great Willie Geist—you know he lives in his own bubble. He think that by saying something, he can make it true. And this crisis was so big, was so enormous, that the usual Trump tactics of belittling it, ignoring it, lying about it, diverting attention to something else just didn't work. And that's why he is sweating it out right now.
Willie Geist: So let's talk about all the suffering that has come from that. People losing their jobs, people losing their loved ones. You right now are working and will vote today on a package that would offer some economic relief that would help put in place now what six, seven months later some of the things that obviously should have happened much earlier. Where are you with Mitch McConnell on getting relief to people whose checks ran out many months ago and who need it badly?
Sen. Schumer: Well, we're trying to get a bill that deals with the issues here. McConnell has become more and more cynical. His bill is a cynical bill. It’s cynical in what it’s left out.
No money for state and local governments, not even the ability—which Trump had said he might have been for—to allow people to use the money for lost revenues.
No money for kids who are not fed.
No money for people being kicked out of their houses.
No money for broadband—rural areas are desperate for broadband.
No money for restaurants.
No money for performance spaces.
No money for all these things.
Why? Because 20 people in his caucus…first, let's look at what McConnell did.
First he said he wanted to assess the situation. That's not lying, but it's a little like Trump. The house is on fire, he's ignoring it.
Then he said “pause.” Then, because there was such public pressure—particularly on the 12 Senators up for re-election—they tried to put together a $1 trillion bill. They couldn’t get the votes for it because 20 Republican Senators, by McConnell’s own admission, said they're not for any bill.
So now he puts together as the crisis gets bigger and bigger, Republicans think smaller and smaller. They’re moving backwards. This isn't a “skinny” bill. It's “emaciated.” And if you had any doubts about McConnell’s intentions, Willie, he put two poison pills in the bill.
The DeVos education proposal, which takes money out of public schools and puts its into private and religious schools and his liability provisions, which are so broad that it would make it hard to even file medical malpractice suits unrelated to COVID until 2024. He knows Democrats won't go for it. It's a cynical exercise to try and check a box without getting anything done. But we know it won't work.
The American people want action. We Democrats have said, as you know, we'll meet them in the middle. We'll come down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion. They're going backwards. They're even lower than what President Trump has said he would do.
Mika Brzezinski: Yeah. Senator, I want to go back to the Trump tapes with the conversations with Bob Woodward because a lot of people would call on a president to resign for a lot less. So I ask you to speak directly to your Republican counterparts. We had Senator John Kennedy on the air somewhere yesterday, calling this a “gotcha” book and that he's not reading it.
Sen. Schumer: You know what I say to my Republican colleagues, Mika? I'm sorry. I'm so aggravated. Where the hell are you? This is a national crisis. This man lies about everything. We found out he's lying about Russian interference, the sacredness of our elections, and they are mum. Where are they at this time of national crisis? I saw Joe Madison on your show earlier. Difference between Nixon and Trump: you had a Republican Senate who had some Senators who had some degree of courage. We have seen none of that and McConnell as leader sets an awful example. As I said, he is totally cynical now, totally political. People need help. They're losing their jobs, they're losing money, they're losing their homes, they can't feed their kids. No more school lunches are going to the kids who are stuck home and he plays this political game. Meet us in the middle. We'll come compromise. Come on.
Mika Brzezinski: But even on speaking out about lying to the American people, your Republican counterparts are literally mute. Those that do speak out on TV say they won't look at it or say it's the media when it was Trump's words and Trump supporters in the media—and there are many, especially on Fox—they have examples like, well, he didn't want people to panic or it’s Lindsey Graham's fault because he set up the interviews. To your Republican counterparts, what should they be doing right now?
Sen. Schumer: They should be condemning Trump. They should be telling him to speak the truth. And they should be telling people in that administration to stop going along with this liar because his lies are having awful consequences for America. They are showing no courage, no strength.
History is going to record this as a dark moment for the Republican Senate, where you had a president who did this and they just bowed down in obeisance. They're scared to death of him because they know he's vindictive and frankly he has a base in each of their states. And if the base goes away, the base isn't enough to get him elected.
That's why they're in such a pickle. They need to move to the middle and they can't. But that base whenever there's any deviation from Trump—led by all these news media people who don’t tell them the truth either— say, we're going to get you if you have one bit of deviation from Trump.
Mika Brzezinski: But might you, Senator, explain to them that he's killing his base. He's actually killing his base by inviting them to Tulsa to sit squished together in a huge building where they're all breathing all over each other and they're squished together. They're not allowed to socially distance. And the COVID numbers shot up. There was rally, after rally, after rally where the base shows up and this president is killing the base by not giving them the information they need on this virus, by calling it a hoax, by making fun of wearing masks. I mean, at this point, the campaign—we all saw—made people click on a legal waiver, if you die, you can't sue us. At what point are your Republican counterparts going to explain to the base that it is not worth this?
Sen. Schumer: I would have hoped a long time ago, but they are shown no, zero, courage. They are cover-up artists for President Trump. And I say two things about what you said about Trump and his base. First, he doesn't care about anyone but himself. You could have been the loyalest Trump supporter for years and if he thinks it serves his momentary egotistical interest to throw you under the bus, to trash you, to hurt you, to even harm you with illness, he'll do it. But second—
Mika Brzezinski: Herman Cain!
Sen. Schumer: Right. But Trump is in his own bubble. He doesn't even know what’s good for him because he lies to himself. That's the problem here. So even though it hurts his base, he'll say, well, it didn't hurt him. Even though a big, robust bill that we're trying to get would actually benefit him. He even doesn't get that and understand it because he just follows what the stock market does and not what actually happens to people.
He's only concerned about himself and his lack of truth has put him in a bubble. He's gotten away with it, as you point out, for far too long. But this COVID crisis is too big, even for his lies, even for his deception, even for his tactics of trying to divert attention.
Look, he tried to divert attention yesterday. They called that emergency press conference on the Supreme Court. He thought that would take the Woodward book off the front pages and off the news. Well, it was buried on page 20-something. It didn't work. This is too big.
Willie Geist: Senator, before we let you go. As we talk about this national trauma, tomorrow, September 11th marks the 19th Anniversary. Hard to believe it's been 19 years. We've been so consumed by coronavirus and everything else in the country, it sneaks up on you. Firefighters and first responders still dying every day, it seems, from 9/11-related illnesses. Soon the number who died from that will surpass the number on who died on that terrible day. What are your thoughts here as we approach the 19th Anniversary of the day that shook your state?
Sen. Schumer: Oh, I think of the firefighters I knew and who’ve lost their lives both on that day and later. The police officers and the other brave citizens. I think of that every day. You know, I look out my window in Brooklyn. We live in an apartment. We're not on the water, but we're close enough you can see the harbor. And every day I look out that window and I see Freedom Tower, but no Twin Towers and I think of the people who were lost. A guy I played basketball with in high school, a businessman who helped me on the way up, a firefighter I used to go around the city with him asking people to donate blood. He was such a good man, Stackpole. I think of them all the time, and I'll be thinking of them tomorrow and I'll be there tomorrow.
Mika Brzezinski: Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you very much for being on the show this morning.
Sen. Schumer: Thank you.