TRANSCRIPT: On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Schumer Remembers Congressman Elijah Cummings; Says “Greatest Insult” In White House Meeting Was President Trump’s Lack Of Policy To Contain ISIS Fighters In Syria; Marks 1,000 Days Of Broken Promises Under The Trump Presidency

October 17, 2019

Washington D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on MSNBC’s Morning Joe today remembered the life and mourned the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, said that the “greatest insult” in yesterday’s meeting at the White House was President Trump’s lack of policy to prevent ISIS fighters from returning to the battlefield in Syria and around the world, and marked the 1,000th day of broken promises to the American people under the Trump presidency. Leader Schumer also highlighted Senate Democrats’ plan today to use Congressional Review Act authority to force a vote to repeal the Trump administration’s so-called “Affordable Clean Energy Rule,” a rule which will significantly weaken important carbon emissions standards for power plants and exacerbate the climate crisis. Below is the interview:

Mika Brzezinski: And joining us now is the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Thank you so much for being on the show this morning. I think we should start with the tremendous loss that is being felt in Washington and I think across the country. Congressman Elijah Cummings passing away at the age of 68 at 2:45 this morning. Senator, your thoughts.

Sen. Schumer: Well, I read the paper this morning, first thing I saw was Elijah's passing and it was like a gut punch. He was an amazing man. He was not just a great congressman, he was a great man. And he had a combination of being strong when he had to be and had to be quite often, but also being kind and decent and caring and honorable. I talked to Elijah rather frequently, often we'd just talk about what's going on in the House and Senate. Sometimes we'd talk about Maryland politics. But he was revered by Maryland. No matter you were liberal or conservative, a Democrat or Republican, black or white, you went to Elijah Cummings for advice and for guidance. It's a huge, huge loss. So I pray for his family and you pray for the country when people like Elijah are not with us any longer.

Joe Scarborough: Senator, let's talk about the meeting yesterday. Obviously, the president under siege, a president alone. You had Lindsey Graham speaking out forcefully against his decision. Even members of that—in that meeting, Republican members in that meeting bowing their head in shame, regardless of what they say today, bowing their head in shame as you all were talking to the president. Take us inside of there. What happened?

Sen. Schumer: Well, the first thing I'd say is that the greatest insult that occurred in that room was simply the lack of policy on how to contain ISIS. There's a real danger to the American people. And a serious action has occurred, one of the most serious in a very long time. And when you go in there and the president has no policy—we asked him repeatedly what is the policy here spend that didn't have one. I reminded the president that a small group of—we were both from New York, I said. We better than anybody know the damage that terrorists can do. Small group, far away, 7,000 miles away, did such damage to our city. I know people who were lost, I'm sure he does, too. And so what is the plan to prevent this from happening again? And there was virtually no plan. Finally, finally after we pushed him they said, well, Turkey and Syria will guard the camps.

Who's going to guard these camps with high-level ISIS people in them and thousands of ISIS people in them? They said, well Turkey and Syria. I asked Secretary Esper, do we have any intelligence that the Turks and Syrians will do even a decent job at doing that? Because they have no interest. They don't have the same interest at curbing ISIS that we do. And he said there was no evidence of that. It was appalling. That's the greatest insult to the American people. Not the names that the president called people, but that he has no plan to deal with what could be a huge problem, not just in Syria, but here in America. Because ISIS can hurt us.

Willie Geist: Senator, it's Willie Geist. I want to ask you about some of the NBC reporting we have out of that meeting which says that you presented to the president of the United States, comments that General Mattis made on Sunday on Meet the Press to Chuck Todd, where you helped explain through Mattis's voice what might happen and what is happening now if we pulled away from Syria and let Turkey go in. The report is that Trump responded by saying, ‘General Mattis, the world's most overrated General.’ Did he say that?

Sen. Schumer: Yes, did he. He bragged that he was much better at this than Mattis. And Mattis is one of the most respected people here in Washington. Again, by all parties. I worked with him closely. And, you know, for the president to berate a man who has served the country, who is respected as a human being and as a General and as a Secretary of Defense, and not have a policy, I mean, what bothered Mattis was the same thing I think that bothers so many of us. And that is just the incoherence, the fecklessness of this White House, gets on his phone call with Erdogan.

And that's another thing here. He shows strength at all the wrong times, and then when he needs to show strength, he shows abject weakness. So when he got on the phone call with Erdogan, he was weak as  could be. He should have told Erdogan, you can't do this. America's not going to let you do this. Instead, he green lights Erdogan, and then a few hours later sends this ranting, rambling letter that shows ersatz toughness, and to show you the effect, Erdogan's ignored the letter.

Willie Geist: So, senator, in fact there's reporting just this morning out of the Middle East, a Turkish government official, when asked about the letter what was your response said, well, the letter's dated October 9th. At 4:00 that day we rolled into Syria. That was our response to the letter. They effectively threw it in the garbage.

Sen. Schumer: But to insult General Mattis. Again, I'm sure General Mattis would agree with what I'm saying here, that the greatest insult is that there's no policy. No policy when our soldiers might be in harm's way. No policy to deal with the Kurds who he knows fought shoulder to shoulder with our men and women over there. There are Kurds who died so Americans wouldn't. And maybe worst of all, no policy towards ISIS, which is a huge danger to America. That's the insult here. Mattis wouldn't care what the president said about him, but he'd care that this country is off track.

Mike Barnicle: Okay, Senator, with that in mind, with everything you've spelled out this morning, everything that we've read of the accounts that happened yesterday in the cabinet room, let me ask you about your Republican colleagues. Are they as aware of the danger of this presidential behavior, daily behavior, and the lack of policy, are they aware of the danger as much as you are and do they say anything about it?

Sen. Schumer: Yes, our Republican colleagues, I talked to a whole group of them on the floor of the Senate last night, are really appalled by this and have actually shown an ability to rebut the president. Something, most of the time our Republican colleagues mumble about the president and say he's doing this wrong, he's doing that wrong but are afraid to say anything. But in this case we have seen Republicans speak out. But more importantly, the House passed a resolution directly condemning the president's action. The majority of Republicans, including Leader McCarthy, one of Trump's closest allies, Scalise, Cheney, all voted for it.

But now there's a step that must be taken. We have the same resolution in the Senate. It is bipartisan, sponsored by Senator Menendez and Senator Young, one a Democrat, one a Republican, and Leader McConnell has an obligation to put that on the floor of the Senate.

Look, the only person who can reverse the damage that President Trump has done is President Trump. A joint resolution like this with overwhelming Democratic and Republican support—I would hope Leader McConnell would vote for it himself, I believe he would—is the only thing that can pressure the president to reverse course and come up with a policy that deals with the so many troubling issues we've talked about.

Mike Barnicle: So is there any Republican Senator, Mitch McConnell, any of them, who would have the courage to go to the White House and confront the president, not with something on the floor of the Senate for a vote, confront the president with commonsense about his ineptitude? Is there anyone who would do that?

Sen. Schumer: I would hope there would be a few. I would hope so. I'm not subject to what they say to him privately, but at least by their conversations on the floor of the Senate and by this resolution—the best thing Leader McConnell can do to show his resolve is this resolution. I believe that this would have more effect than any private conversation.

Richard Haass: Senator, it's Richard Haass here. Are there any thoughts about what the Senate might do, the Congress might do vis-a-vis Turkey? This is a country that on paper is a NATO ally, we're still pledged to defend it. Yet in so many ways Turkey is behaving as anything but an ally. Do you see anything coming out of that other than some symbolic sanctions that would influence this relationship?

Sen. Schumer: I think we have to rethink our relationship with Turkey, whether it's the nuclear weapons that we have at our Air Force base there, whether it's Turkey buying the Russian antiaircraft system against the strong administrations of our Defense Department and others. Turkey does not seem to be somebody, a country working in the spirit of NATO, and certainly Erdogan doesn't seem like that. I think we're going to rethink—we need to rethink our relationship with Turkey. If NATO stands for something, Turkey shouldn’t be doing what it’s doing.

Willie Geist:  Senator, so much of the time of Congress right now is occupied by the question of what's happening in Turkey and also the impeachment inquiry, rightly so on those. But there is other business of the country. There's gun safety, there’s immigration.

Sen. Schumer: Yes. Yes.

Willie Geist:  And I know you all are working on something right now on climate change.

Sen. Schumer: Well, let me just say this. This is the thousandth day of the Trump presidency, and if a phrase could sum it up, it would be broken promises to working people. The president promised a massive infrastructure bill. We have no real concrete plan before us. The president said everyone's going to get much better healthcare. All he's doing is destroying healthcare. The president promised he would clean the Swamp. This place is swampier than it's ever been with conflicts of interest galore. And cabinet people chosen because they're billionaires even though they have very little experience. The tax bill he said would help the middle class, it's helped the wealthy, it's helped corporate America.

You have pointed out on your show over and over again how much of it has gone to corporate buybacks which don't benefit working people a bit. Gun control, he said he was for background checks—broken promises. He doesn't—I hope the American people, particularly those who have not been supportive of or who have been supportive of Trump will look at this, it's promise after promise. Forget the tweeting. Bad as that is. He doesn't keep his promises.

In fact, he often does the opposite of them. So today, we don't have that much power as a minority in the Senate, the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the power to put things on the floor. But once in a while do. It's called a CRA, a Congressional Review Act. And we can undo a regulation this administration did. President Obama wisely put some real restraints on these power plants, coal burning power plants, that spew so much carbon and other noxious stuff in the air. So many of our lakes in the Adirondacks are dead because of it. And we now can undo, by a CRA, a Congressional Review Act Resolution, and it only needs 51 votes, to prevent the administration from undoing what the Obama folks did to keep our air clean and deal with climate. And that will be on the floor today and I hope we'll get some Republican votes. All we need is four.

Mika Brzezinski: All right. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, thank you so much for being on this morning.

Sen. Schumer: Thank you. And, again, my condolences to Joe, Mika, and everybody. I know how close you were to this great man Elijah Cummings, who we’ll all miss.

Joe Scarborough: Thank you. A great man.

Mika Brzezinski: Thank you.