TRANSCRIPT: On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Schumer Discusses Senate Democrats’ Proposal For $30 Billion Plan To Dramatically Expand Coronavirus Testing Nationwide

April 17, 2020

Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe  and discussed the proposed  $30 billion comprehensive national coronavirus testing plan and the importance of dramatically expanded coronavirus testing in moving our nation forward. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Mika Brzezinski: Senator Schumer, I would like to start by asking you about the president's comments last night, revealing this multi-phased plan to reopen the country. He said, "We're starting our lives back again." How do you see that plan playing out realistically in your state of New York?

Sen. Schumer: Well, you know, the plan is a little more measured than what the president said in the past, which is good, but there's a key thing missing in all of this and the business leaders he talked to, the political leaders, Democrat and Republican he talked to, all said it. It’s called testing. If we don't have a strong adequate testing regime we are going to have real trouble. You have to know who has the illness, who is immune from the illness and who could get the illness before we can determine who can go back to work and who can't. That's why we Senate Democrats have proposed, and now with Speaker Pelosi we are pushing it in the interim COVID3, a $30 billion plan to have an immediate regime on testing, figure out the best test, use the DPA—the Defense Production Act—to take over the factories and their supply chains and make it and distribute it across the country where it is needed. You know, we want to open small businesses up, but if small business is open and there are no customers on the streets because everyone is afraid to go out because they don't know who has the virus and who doesn't, what good is it going to be? Right now as you know—and you pointed this out over and over again Mika, the testing regime is scatter shot and totally inadequate for the job needed to get the country back to work.

Mika Brzezinski: But, senator, the president says time and time again, he said it last night, the government can't do testing, we can't be on street corners. That's not our job to do the testing, that this is something better to be done -- he literally said last night, it is much better to do that on the local level.

Sen. Schumer: Well, we agree, but not—each state can't come up with its own test, many of the states are inadequate to come up with their own test. We need a national program distributed to the local governments, but one of the reasons—what we have called for in this—you know, as we are debating what to do about small businesses, we want to help small business, although there are a lot of problems with the program. Smaller businesses don't seem to be able to get it. You know, if you are a business with 400 people and a good connection with a banker, you are going to get it. If you are a restaurant you are having real trouble. If you’re a minority business, inner city, rural, they're all having trouble. But we have also proposed hand in hand with that $100 billion for health care for our hospitals which are the front line here, and $30 billion for a testing program, national, the way I have mentioned briefly, and money for local governments. If we don't have the people who help out on the streets, the contact tracing, if we don't have the police and fire and EMT’s who are needed here, it is not going to work. So you need it to be a little more comprehensive than just giving money to one small business program. Now, the good news, Mika, we are having discussions—Speaker Pelosi's staff, my staff –with Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin. We have had constructive talks. They're going to continue through the weekend, and I don't see any reason why we can't come to an agreement soon. The president even was more positive about coming to an agreement last night in his press conference. It is vital we do this. It is vital we help small business, but if we don't deal with the testing and health care problems, if we don't deal with the local government problems, small business may have enough money to get back—although we have to fix that program—but people won't go out on the streets.

Willie Geist: Senator Schumer, as you just laid out that PPP program has run out of its $350 billion worth of funds. There's that $250 billion legislation proposed to get that money to small businesses right now. It looks to a lot of small business owners who are waiting for those checks, who actually have had loans approved but are now hearing from their banks there's no money left in the fund, like you all, the Democrats, are standing in the way of that…

Sen. Schumer: That's not true.

Willie Geist: Because you want to negotiate another piece for hospitals and state and local governments, so why not do it as a separate piece of legislation, senator, and get the new PPP funding directly to small business owners today?

Sen. Schumer: First of all, to give the money to the PPP program without correcting it would make no sense. You would still have more than half of the businesses left out and getting no money. Don't just ask Democrats. Eight Republican senators said that in a letter to Mitch McConnell. The Chamber of Commerce, hardly a Democratic organization, also agreed. So we have to fix that program as we give it more money. Number two, as I mentioned, Willie, if we don't deal with the health care—that's just as immediate as small business. The testing, which you have talked about all morning—correctly so—the lack of money for hospitals, the fact that small governments, local governments and state governments are so lacking money is also vital. When they lay off hundreds of thousands of people, which they will before May 4th when we come back, that's just as bad as the small business person not being able to employ people. So we need—we don't want to do a whole COVID4, there are lots of things there, but these immediate things are needed. There's a consensus in the business community, even among some Republicans—Marco Rubio, the head of the small business program, said we had to do local governments and health care as well and we're making progress. Mnuchin and I are having good conversations with Speaker Pelosi. We are making progress. We can get this all done hopefully very, very soon. That will do a lot more than just renewing one program of small business, which we should do. We want to do that.

Willie Geist: And there are some members now of your own caucus even, senator, Senator Sinema of Arizona, saying, hey, Democrats, let's get moving, let’s get this small business money out and negotiate the other elements later.

Sen. Schumer: Yes, but I spoke to —

Willie Geist: What did she say to you, senator?

Sen. Schumer: Wait, Willie. I spoke to Senator Sinema. Look at her Twitter. She’s very smart. She said both sides ought to come together and come to an agreement. That's what we think.

Willie Geist: Sure. How quickly will the money get out to small businesses waiting for it right now? 

Sen. Schumer: Right away. First of all, they're still sending the existing money out. There are contracts signed but not all of the money has come out, a lot of businesses aren't getting it. But as I mentioned to you, I have spoken to thousands of businesses, you know, on these web things, webcam—web—I forgot what they're called. Web things  [webinars].

Willie Geist: Zoom, yeah.

Sen. Schumer: Across New York state, and large numbers are turned down. Large numbers can't get the emergency loan program which gives them a $10,000 infusion, because the emergency loan program, which is the quickest way to mainstream money into the smaller businesses has run out. They're giving them $1,000 instead of $10,000. So we want to—we have said put more money in, but do it in a way so it works for all businesses, not just the larger ones.

Mike Barnicle: Senator, all of our lives we have been hearing the phrase "America is the greatest country in the world." So this gets to testing. There aren't enough tests. People cannot get tested whenever they want to get tested. But more importantly, I want to ask you, what has happened to the underpinnings of the testing process? In many cases there aren't enough chemicals to give you the equivalent answer of how the test came out. There aren't enough testing sticks. How is it that that happens in this country at this time during this crisis?

Sen. Schumer:  There was not enough vigilance ahead of time as you know. The CDC and the FDA were sort of hollowed out. The National Security Council, which is supposed to be sort of looking down the road at what our big problems are, the unit that was supposed to prepare and make sure the country was prepared for some kind of pandemic—this was before corona—was disbanded a year and a half ago. So you can't let your guard down and you can't let this view, government is no good of—of govern. Because government is the only place that can do certain things such as preparing the country in advance for future problems. That's not business's job. That's not each individual's job. That is government's job. I think that this will be a lesson that we cannot just hollow out government and think we're not going to pay the consequences.

Mika Brzezinski: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Thank you so much. We look forward to talking to you again very soon.