TRANSCRIPT: On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Schumer Says Congress Must Put Workers First In Any Economic Stimulus Legislation; Says US Needs Marshall Plan For Hospitals, Health Care System To Ensure Testing & Treatment To All Who Need It Due To Coronavirus Outbreak

March 19, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and discussed the need for a Marshall Plan to combat the growing coronavirus crisis. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Mika Brzezinski: Let's bring in Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. We have a lot to talk to you about, senator. Let's start with the numbers in New York. How do they relate to the number of tests that are out there? Do you have enough tests —

Sen. Schumer: No.

Mika Brzezinski: — To test everybody in the state of New York?

Sen. Schumer: We do not have enough tests. One other thing, Mika, and one of the things we'll be pushing in this new bill that we're doing, it is not just the testing, and that's bad enough. We need a Marshall Plan for all of the health care industry, particularly our hospitals. There are not enough ventilators. And I don't know, the president finally—we asked him to do this several days ago—invoked the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to command the factories to make more. Is someone implementing that? We don't have enough beds. Getting the Army Corps of Engineers to build some temporary hospital buildings with beds is very important, as well. We should probably use some of the veterans administration beds that are not being used right now. They don't even have enough swabs.

And then there are all kinds of other problems. In New York City, the health care workers use the subways to get there, but if they close the subways—I'm not saying they made a decision that'll up to the governor and the mayor—how are you going to get people to work? This happens in lots of other places, as well. We need a Marshall Plan on the whole health care system. Just as three weeks ago, you and I and many others were talking about tests and now its upon us, we will be talking about the dire situation in the hospitals in a few weeks if we don't act now. So this is all very, very important. I agree with Joe, the president—everyone can judge the job he's done. You've done a very good job talking about it. We have to go forward in a bipartisan way here in the House and Senate and do what needs to be done in bold, quick action and that's what we're trying to do here.

Willie Geist: Senator Schumer, it's Willie Geist. Thanks for coming in this morning I know how busy a time it is for you. I want to ask you about the people in your state, the workers in your state, this is the front page of the New York Post: "Mass layoffs begin." Thousands of New York City restaurant workers fired.” We know the National Restaurant Association said yesterday they expect 5 million to 7 million jobs to be lost in that industry alone. What is your message this morning? People are hearing a lot about bailouts of the airlines and things like that. To the waiter, to the bartender, to the person who runs the dry cleaner?

Sen. Schumer: Okay. My message, two words, workers first. And here's what we're going to be proposing. This morning, I hope, when Leader McConnell and I meet to work out this package. That we massively expand Unemployment Insurance. Right now, Unemployment Insurance is hard to get, takes a long time to get, you get paid only a fraction of the wages you were paid, and it is not available to large numbers of workers. What we Democrats in the Senate are proposing, and I know House Speaker Pelosi is for this because we're consulting on everything, is that we get unemployment insurance where you get paid if you get laid off. No fault of your own, of course, all these restaurant workers. You get full salary. You get it quickly. The application process is very, very simple, and it goes for a long period of time. You know, we need to have the workers being paid during this huge crisis where no one is showing up at the restaurants, so they're not working. We need them to be paid, and everyone to be paid. This unemployment provision is very important. I spoke to Mr. Mnuchin last night. I told him we needed this probably more importantly than anything else on the economic front. Because it is targeted and goes to the people who need it and he seemed very open to it, I was very glad about that.

Willie Geist: Senator, the money that has been talked about, directly into Americans' pockets, $1,000, $2,000, will get people through a month but if the little business you work for shuts down, you're done after a month. What about this idea that's being talked about, Steve Rattner was talking about it this morning, about these bridge loans? That's the federal government, obviously a very expensive idea, but something that might be needed to prop up the economy, to give small businesses across the country a loan over the duration of this crisis? No interest to be paid back over five years or whatever you decide it is.

Sen. Schumer: With one caveat. I'm all for it with one caveat. That loan can be forgiven if, and only if, they keep all their employees.

Willie Geist: All employees.

Sen. Schumer: Yes. You don't want to give them a loan and they fire half the employees and they're out of work. Again, it is something we're working on. Mark Warner on our side of the aisle doing a good job coming up with a plan. We've been talking to not only Mnuchin on this but Powell, but it’s a very good idea. Again, our motto in this is workers first. The bailout in 2008 helped people at the top, didn't help average folks. That is not going to happen on our watch. We're going to fight as hard as we can, and we hope our Republican friends will join us in putting workers first. And I'd say that also in terms of the airlines industry and the hospitality industry. We don't want to give them money. We know we have to keep them going and we know that they have lots of workers who are innocent and we want to keep them working. But we don't want to give them money unless they keep all their employees, they don't cut salaries of their employees, and these bailouts, which I know, Joe, these buybacks, they infuriate me. We should not be allowing them to do buybacks, raise corporate salaries. And they did [$13] billion, the airlines industry alone did [$13] billion of buybacks over the last [two years]. That money could have been there to help the workers, to help the airlines out of this. We have to find a way to claw back that money. Buybacks are a menace. 70% of this tax break that we did two years ago didn't go to workers, didn't go to productivity, it went to buybacks. It is a disgrace.

Joe Scarborough: You know, Republicans will say, well, it's their money. They get the tax cuts. They can do what they want to do with it. These the same Republicans who sold the tax cut by saying they would use it to help workers. They'd use it to expand operations. They'd use it for cash reserves. They didn't do that. I want to ask you something about something that was on NPR's morning edition this morning. Richard Burr, good friend of mine from way back, the Intel chief of the United States Senate. There was a recording of Richard Burr that Tim Mak at NPR got his hands on, talking to a North Carolina business group three weeks ago, warning them not to travel to Europe three weeks ago. That was, by the way, 15 days before the State Department issued the same warning and compared the coronavirus, three weeks ago—excuse me for being upset—three weeks ago to the 1918 Spanish flu and warned them of everything that has unfolded over the past three weeks. How could it be a Republican senator could warn his constituents on Capitol Hill about this three weeks ago, and this administration is still flat-footed today? 

Sen. Schumer: Well, that's the big question. That's the big problem. But our number one job, Joe, is to try and -- with people in the White House, who seem at least to understand some of the magnitude here, Mnuchin, he has a Wall Street point of view. I don't, and we’re going to have to make sure that has curbed his view in what we propose, but we have to come together and move forward.

Joe Scarborough: I agree.

Sen. Schumer: You said it very well, this will be a very valid theme in November. I think the American people know when the president says he's always thought it's a crisis, they heard his words a week ago when he was downplaying it. Now, we have to be all hands on deck. This is one of the most serious crises we've faced in the history of the county.

Joe Scarborough: I agree.

Sen. Schumer:  I know you do.

Joe Scarborough: My question is this though, how do we ensure—because, again, I don't want to talk about what happened in the past. I want to talk about what's happening now.

Sen. Schumer: Yes.

Joe Scarborough: How do we ensure that every New Yorker, every person from Ohio, every person from Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, California, everybody that needs a test gets a test? How do we get there from here?

Sen. Schumer: Well, there are a couple of things that can be done. Last week, I was on the phone, our governor, our mayor were all on the phone with the Vice President saying, let New York approve its own testing. We have labs in New York. We have hospitals in New York who are eager to go. Finally, they did that. and I think New York, you'll see many more tests in the near future. Every state should be allowed to go forward. One of the big problems is that the FDA and the CDC take so long to approve a test. They not looking at it at the level of crisis that we have now, that many more people will die if we don't approve these tests quickly. As you said, they're essential. When they imposed the quarantine on the mayor in New Rochelle, he was begging the White House for tests. The governor was begging them for tests. He said, if I could test everyone in New Rochelle—this is one of the first places that imposed semi-quarantine—I could test them, if you had the virus, you'd stay in your house, if you didn't, you could go to the stores, go to the shops, and we wouldn't have this crisis.

Your anger is totally justified. I share it. I speak to New Yorkers all the time. You know, this crisis, it's devastating in a different way. What do New Yorkers like to do, what do Americans like to do in a time of crisis? Same thing we did after 9/11, come together, all as one people, no matter our backgrounds, everything. Now, we're isolated. I mean, I love being out with my constituents all the time and they tell me things. I'm on the phone all day, but it is not the same. We can't be near each other. That makes it even more—the uncertainty of what's going on, the lack of leadership, which you so aptly pointed out, and the inability of us to be together makes this crisis even more vexing.

But that demands real, strong action. So what we're going to propose is the Marshall Plan for the hospitals. We're going to propose this large increase in unemployment benefits. It is almost employment benefits because the people will be employed again and they're just furloughed. We're going to propose large increases in pay, in paid sick leave, and in paid family leave. The bill we passed yesterday, and it was a good sign, 90 votes, both sides of the aisle, but it didn't go far enough and didn't cover enough people. It will. Finally, in the bailouts, we're going to propose workers first. Dealing with the buybacks, dealing with corporate salaries, making sure the workers are kept and paid full. And if we can do these four things, and many others, Elizabeth Warren and I want to see student loans forgiven during the period of the crisis. We're going to call for that. We've got to call for some help with senior citizens. We need the National Guard to be involved because who is going to deliver meals to the senior citizens or the kids at school who used to get their best meal during the day? So there's so, so much to do. We're going to try in this Covid 3 legislation to cover a whole lot of it. We hope we get the cooperation, Nancy and I do, of the administration and of our Senate Republican friends.
Mika Brzezinski: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, thank you.