TRANSCRIPT: On Press Call, Schumer Urges President Trump To Fully Invoke DPA And Appoint A Senior Military Official To Oversee Both Production And Distribution Of Medical Supplies & Equipment; Announces Appointment Of Bharat Ramamurti To Serve On New Congressional Oversight Commission For Pandemic ResponseApril 6, 2020
Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today held a press call, calling on President Trump to fully invoke the Defense Production Act and appoint a senior military official to oversee both production and distribution of medical supplies and equipment. He also announced the appointment of Bharat Ramamurti to serve on the new congressional oversight commission, a transparency and accountability mechanism built into the bipartisan CARE Act. Below is a transcript of Leader Schumer’s opening remarks:
Sen. Schumer: I'm going to talk on two subjects today—first, to call on the president to use the DPA, and the need for a czar for the manufacture and distribution of needed materials and personnel, and then second, I will announce my nomination to the Congressional Oversight Commission for the Pandemic Response that was established in COVID-3.
So first, I want to thank all of the workers in New York and across the country who are on the front lines. The doctors and nurses, the grocery store workers, building cleaners, letter carriers, transit workers, and more. Every one of them puts themselves in danger every single day to help others. My doctor, my personal physician, was in the emergency room for days, and now has just gotten COVID.
These are very brave people, and they are our heroes, and we love them and support them, and I believe that the federal government has to do its part to support them, as well. And that means making sure that they have all of the supplies and equipment they need to keep safe. Congress has approved the funds, but it’s now on the Trump administration—it's the Trump administration's responsibility—to get them to them.
And you're probably like me; every day you read news reports about bidding wars breaking out amongst governors across the country to get the medical supplies and equipment and frontline workers to help fight the coronavirus. The White House has tried to paint a rosy picture, but here in New York, at the epicenter of the crisis, so many people on the frontlines tell me they don’t have what they need. Nurses don’t have PPE. Police officers may not have the equipment they need. Hospitals don’t have ventilators. People need more personnel. And we’re sending our people into the battles—or rather hospitals and other health care institutions need more personnel—so we're sending our folks into battle with the coronavirus without the armor and equipment they need to defeat the enemy.
Everyone I’ve talked to, from the heads of the largest hospitals in New York to the first responders on the frontlines, everyone's hunting and pecking for the equipment and supplies they need. Why should the heads of the largest New York hospitals spend hours on the day calling different suppliers? Why do our governors and our mayors have to call foreign countries and companies to get what they need? It's just not working. It’s like a scavenger hunt for their lives and it's really infuriating.
Two more pieces of evidence: if you read the front pages of the New York Times today, the lead story is about governors saying that they need a national system, that this hunting and pecking isn't working. And, today, the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General released a report that showed hospitals around the country are facing the challenges I mentioned. Ann Maxwell—she's the Assistant Inspector General for HHS—said the following: “Hospitals report that they felt there could be more of a role for the federal government to help intervene and coordinate the supplies that they needed and the distribution of those supplies." So both the governors and local officials, as well as the health care officials, the hospitals, and I'm sure this is true of nursing homes and clinics and CHCs—all are saying there has to be much more coordination. Can't be helter-skelter, can't be catch-as-catch-can.
And yet meanwhile, while all these reports are coming in, it was reported that this week the administration started asking hospitals - just this week, rather—they started asking hospitals for a daily inventory of ventilators and PPE. That should have been happening months ago! Additionally, there is one person who the administration announced last week was in charge of production, Mr. Navarro. I’ve spoken to him—he's a very nice man, he's very erudite about trade with China. He's never done anything like this, and frankly, he's not up to the job. There are also reports that Navarro stepped out of his lane to recommend untested treatments, untested medicines based on anecdotal evidence.
Now, there's another person who's supposed to be in charge of distribution - they called him Admiral P, he's a one star admiral. But when he took the job, he told Axios, “I am blind to where all the product is.” Now I don't know him, and I don't know his capability, but I know one thing—he's not in charge of manufacturing, supply line, and distribution. There are multiple people at the White House who seem to be doing that job.
So, I am calling on the president immediately to do two things.
First, to fully invoke the Defense Production Act. We can’t have governors bidding against each other like it’s eBay. The federal government needs to take control of the situation. Not partial control, not some control of some items on some days. But control of all of it.
Second, President Trump needs to appoint a senior military official as “czar” to oversee both production and distribution of desperately-needed medical supplies and equipment to the workers on the ground and even of how personnel are distributed. This is a massive undertaking, and the country needs an undisputed person who is organizing all facets of it, someone with experience, someone with strength, someone who will have the full authority of the president behind them. And the best place to find somebody like this is the military.
As everyone knows, I sent a letter to the President Trump about this last week, and I've spoken to him on the phone several times. I have also spoken—I feel so passionately that this is what's needed—that I spoke with Vice President Pence and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about this this weekend, and both of them told me that they are taking a serious look at what I'm proposing.
So last night, I spoke again with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who's very accessible, and we worked well together, he was involved in helping put together “Corona Three.” And I talked to him about several topics. First, I told him that the administration needs to make sure they are getting the $150 billion we provided for hospitals in the phase 3 legislation out the door to the hospitals immediately, and he said it would be happening soon. So that is a good bit of news.
But, the main reason I called Meadows last night, was I gave him the names of three people, three military people, who fit the mold of a top military person with experience in logistics on the scale of this kind. It doesn’t have to be these people, but it should be someone of their experience, background, stature. The three I recommended were General Paul Selva. He's the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he's the former Transportation Command Commander—that's the person who makes sure all the supplies get to where they are in a huge operation like our military, and he served under President Trump where he was the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The second is Admiral Sandy Winnefeld.He’s also a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He’s the former NORTHCOM Commander, which means he worked extensively with FEMA and the National Guard, and he’s had other senior positions. And the third is Vice Admiral Harnitchek. He’s former director of the Defense Logistics Agency. He’s the former vice director of logistics for the Joint Chiefs. Former senior officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation Command.
Now, it doesn’t have to be these three, and because we’re waging a war against the coronavirus we have to make sure the equipment, medical supplies, materials, personnel, medicines, gloves, and masks are getting to the frontlines. And incidentally, in my latest calls to hospitals and doctors, one of the things they are running out of is basic medicine. And again, it should be allocated to the places that need them the most. There’s medicines not just for corona but medicines they use as a part of for everything else, in terms of anesthetics and other kinds of medicines. So we need to get all of these things to the frontlines quickly and efficiently. The military knows how to do these things—they know logistics; they know quartermastering; they know command and control. They know how to get thousands of thousands of materials to the right place at the right time because that’s what they do and they do it well.
So in conclusion, we need one person, a leading military figure with the president's full backing who can say to the manufacturers you make this and then he says we have to send it here—this is the place of the greatest need are.
Now, on the announcement of the question of oversight permission for pandemic response, I will be sending a formal announcement of my selection today for my nomination for the congressional oversight panel.
As you know, Democrats fought to get multiple layers of oversight included in the COVID-3 bill. And this is one of the three layers. This is a congressional oversight commission, where each of the four leaders, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, get a choice and the Speaker Pelosi and Leader McConnell choose a person together.
So today I'm pleased to announce I will appoint Bharat Ramamurti to the congressional oversight commission for pandemic response. Throughout his career, Bharat has shown that he's ferocious in his desire to protect the public from abuse. He's so strong on these issues, and it had—the second thing is— he's had a great deal of experience in these areas.
He understands how finance works. He understands the nuts and bolts of how people put documents together, and he knows for figuring out when and when companies are trying to take advantage of the government. He served as the senior counsel for banking and economic policy to Senator Elizabeth Warren. He was also the top economic adviser during her campaign. He helped to execute plans to protect Dodd-Frank rules and authored legislation on corporate responsibility and prioritized worker rights. He was central in her efforts to reform key components of the Federal Reserve policies, including Senator Warren's push to strengthen and improve the banking system to prevent another collapse that would hurt consumers. And he’s shown a willingness to hold big companies like Wells Fargo accountable. So I'm confident that Bharat’s experience and his desire to protect the public will ensure robust accountability, oversight transparency of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve's loan programs.