Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Sen. Schumer called on the Trump administration to appoint a military official as czar for production and distribution of desperately needed medical equipment. He also demanded that the administration move heaven and earth to get unemployment checks out to Americans. Below is a transcript of the interview:
Mika Brzezinski: Joining us now, the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Joe Scarborough: Senator Schumer, thanks for being with us, let's begin by asking for an update. I know you are staying in touch with people running the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, people on the front lines of this epidemic who have been hit by it worse in New York state than any other region in the world. Tell us how things are going.
Sen. Schumer: Well, New Yorkers, you know, we love to be together. The fact that there's so much uncertainty in so much, what are the exact symptoms? How long do you get it? I just heard today that if you are on a respirator the chances of you surviving are small from one of the leading heads of one of our hospitals. I asked doctors a question for instance, can you get it again or you get immune? They don't even know. The other thing that plagues New Yorkers maybe more than anybody else is isolation. We like to be together. We like to touch each other, feel each other, be close. We love riding the subways and seeing the whole diversity of our city spread before us in one subway car, so that hurts too. But New Yorkers are tough. I've been on the phone with just about everybody and we'll get through this. Before 9/11 they said New York was finished as a city. It will never be finished as a city.
Can I make two quick points here that are important for New York and for the country? That is we need to do two things immediately, today the unemployment numbers will probably be staggering, very bad, we need those unemployment checks to start going out in the next two weeks. As you mentioned, Mika, we passed a very good, strong bill aimed at workers first, creating the Marshall Plan for hospitals. Now the administration has to get the money out quickly to those unemployed people or they're going to really be stuck and their businesses will be stuck as well, their small businesses and others.
second thing we need, this is terrible, my governor, who is doing a great job,
my mayor, I think he is doing a very fine job, they're calling all over the
place for equipment, for ventilators or for masks or for PPE, and that's
because the system that the administration has put in place is horrible. I am
sending a letter to the president. We need him to put in charge a czar of the
whole production and distribution of these materials under the DPA. That should
be a military man. The military knows how to get lots of materials in lots of
different places quickly. Somebody who knows quarter mastering, who knows
logistics, who knows command and control. I have to tell you, I spoke to Mr.
Navarro who is in charge. I was very disappointed. He is a good man, he’s a
professor, he knows a lot about China, he knows nothing about this. I'm calling
on the administration to put in charge of both production and distribution of
materials a military man as czar under the DPA. As you may remember, I called
the president two weeks ago. I said, enact the DPA. He said, I would. And
then three hours later he changed his mind. We need someone unpolitical to
produce the materials more quickly including supply chains and to distribute
them to the places that they are most needed. To not have my governor have to
call up California and compete with other states. My mayor told me he called
Sweden to try and get some ventilators, that is not how this should be run.
So we need the unemployment checks to go out very fast and we need a real czar, a military person, to be in charge of both production and distribution of desperately needed medical supplies immediately.
Joe Scarborough: So you had a conference call with the president a week or so ago where you encouraged him to implement the Defense Production Act, and he acted on your request. I talked about New York, how it is the worst -- if it is not the worst right now hit region, it will be if you look at projections very soon across the world. But could you give the president a call again and talk to him about the need to have a military man or woman in charge of this production effort, and do you think the president might be open to that?
Sen. Schumer: Well, I hope so because we desperately need it. I will call him again. I am sending him a letter this morning and he has taken my calls, I'll give him credit. Look, the president was way behind the eight ball in so much of this. He didn't see the need, we were way behind in testing. This idea that Mitch McConnell said that impeachment was diverting us, ridiculous. I called for a national emergency on January 26th, you know, while impeachment was going on. We can do two things at once, and this virus was already raging in China. So the president on testing and now on distribution and production, behind the eight ball. But let's hope he has seen now finally -- you know, sometimes he thinks if he says something it becomes true, so he says it is a hoax, he says it is not much, he thinks it is true. This virus is stronger than anybody and we have to all be together and try to solve this problem and I will demand that of the president. I'm sending him a letter right now this morning on this.
Willie Geist: Senator Schumer, its Willie Geist. It has been said that you speak New York in a way that Donald Trump can understand and sometimes your messages get through better than anybody, so let's hope he does listen to you. We just had James O'Neill on the show, the former police commissioner of New York City. He has been brought in by the mayor of New York City to effectively do the job you are talking about just in New York, to get this chain, the supply chain in New York City. You are talking about a military leader, it could be a business leader, somebody like Fred Smith who, of course, is a marine himself and founded FedEx and knows better than anybody how to get things where they need to be. I guess the question for Americans is -- and I guess I sound like a broken record -- they're aware of the needs in the hospital for all of this equipment. They say it is the United States of America, we have great companies who can move quickly. Why aren't they getting into the hospitals right now? What is the problem? What's the hold up?
Sen. Schumer: And the two problems are, one, still production is not ramped up enough because production isn’t that easy. You can't go to one place and say, make this, you have to make sure their suppliers are there as well. But even worse is distribution. I don't know who is in charge of distribution. You have this spectacle where governors and mayors are reaching out and hunting and pecking for things. A military man, it could be a business leader, but someone who knows logistics. Professor Navarro in all due respect is a professor, he hasn't done this before. I don't have anything against him but they ought to replace him with somebody that knows how to do this and then the distribution would work. Today it might be New York that gets all of the stuff they need, the PPEs. Tomorrow it might be somewhere else if New York, praise God, we manage to, by social distancing, reduce the rate. But we need someone in charge and it is not just going to be just PPEs and masks. We are going to find we are going to need other things as well.
Secondly, those unemployment checks have to get out quickly. The administration has got to move heaven and earth to get those checks out. I was glad to hear last night in response to our letter—we had 41 Dems—they’re going to send their $1,000 checks to Social Security people and others who haven't filed tax returns. But the unemployment checks are the most important thing, they augment and are larger over the period of time than the one $1,200 check.
Willie Geist: Joe and Mika, to both of you, the number we've been looking for just crossed and you will forgive me if my jaw on the ground. U.S. weekly jobless claims total 6.6 million vs. 3.1 million expected. 6.6 million in unemployment claims were made in this country last week.
Sen. Schumer: Think of that in human terms, of each individual most of them have worked hard and long at their companies. They have pride in their work and they're gone, through no fault of their own. At least, you know, our unemployment on steroids which we passed, we had to force the Republicans to do it, says you will get your full pay or close to it from the federal government for four months and you can be furloughed by your company, not, you know, kicked off. That means that when, God willing, we beat this virus, the company can reconstitute. Companies, you know, big and little are organic, a restaurant, it has a chef, it has a maître d’, it has some waiters, they're a team, and if we can bring them back together because the federal government is paying for their salaries, but at the same time they're only furloughed by their employees and stay on the books, we can recover much more quickly. So we got to get this plan up and running.
Mika Brzezinski: All right again, U.S. weekly jobless claims hit 6.65 million. Senator, I want to go back to the president using the full force of the DPA. I know that you want him to appoint a czar who perhaps could do that, but the bottom line is it stands with him. Is there any logical reason why he would not be using that? My understanding is it streamlines, you know, testing and supplies getting directly to the American people, would make it go faster which literally amounts to people's lives being saved. What's the logical reason to not use it?
Sen. Schumer: I have no idea because, you know, I called him about two weeks ago and I said, use it, he said, that's a great idea and he hollered. He must have been in the Oval Office. I was on the phone, I was still in Washington. He said, get the DPA enacted, get it going, and they said yes. Then three, four hours later he said no, I don't know who whispered in his ear or what got into his head. I do not know a single reason during this emergency crisis why we shouldn't invoke the DPA. It will work. We put 1 billion dollars in COVID-3 just to help implement that, you know, for this military man or it could be a Fred Smith, military and business, but someone who knows logistics, someone who knows nonpolitical how to get from place to place and thing to thing, why he hasn't done it, I don't have any good reason.
Joe Scarborough: So, Senator Schumer, will you be speaking to Mitch McConnell today, who obviously is dragging his feet on moving towards another relief bill and attacking Nancy Pelosi for whatever reason? In light of the new number, the 6.6 million, the shocking number, will you be talking to Mitch McConnell today?
Sen. Schumer: Well, I could talk to him. Look, I think we need a COVID-4 for a lot of reasons. One reason is we have to deal with the immediate, we're not going to solve the economic crisis until we solve the health crisis but we haven't solved that and there are lots of holes we will have to fill we may not know today, so we need it. But then we do have to get our economy going long-range. I have spoken to a lot of these economic experts and they think even after, God willing, we have erased COVID-19 for the time being, the economy is going to take a long time to recover so you know when you look at something like an infrastructure bill, that's for the long term. But in COVID-4, we still will have to focus on the health crisis. You know, I hope we can get, for instance, hazard pay enacted retroactively for all of the brave nurses and doctors and health workers who are going and risking their lives and make that mandatory in the COVID-4. But there are also going to be long-term things. I think we have to do it, and I hope that Leader McConnell will see the light. He's been reluctant across the board. When we wanted unemployment on steroids he said no initially. When we wanted to have oversight of this $400 billion slush fund he said no. When we wanted to have state and local relief to the governments, he said no. But, you know, we pushed. We didn't let him have his way when we voted no, and then it passed 96 to nothing, which showed the Congress, Democrats and Republicans, the American people coming together. I hope that will happen again and he will see the light.
Joe Scarborough: All right. Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you so much.