TRANSCRIPT: On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Schumer Says The Senate Must Focus On Oversight & The Trump Admin Must Develop A Detailed National Testing Strategy

May 1, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night and discussed the dire need for a national testing strategy as well as the  need for the Senate to focus on oversight when it comes back next week. You can watch the interview here. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Stephen Colbert: Senator, how are you doing, how are you riding out your quarantine?

Sen. Schumer: Yes, I'm in my house in Brooklyn. We finished the COVID bill 3, five weeks ago Wednesday at 9:30, voted at 10:30, I couldn't wait to get home and be with my family, so I've been here ever since. I've only touched four human beings in the last five weeks. My wife, my daughter, my son-in-law - they came to live with us - and my 16 month old grandson. And I'm working, Stephen, I'm working 24/7. I sleep about three hours, there's so much to do. But my most exhausting hour is the hour I’m assigned to chase Noah around the house. We're not child proof anymore - he pulls the books off the bookshelves, he goes into the closet and bangs the pots and pans. I only got in trouble once;  I was on the phone, and he got into the china drawer and broke some plates. That was not a happy moment for me. 

Stephen Colbert: Oh well, oh well. We've all broken a few plates over the last six or seven weeks. 

Sen. Schumer: That's for sure. 

Stephen Colbert: You're known to be cheesecake-dependent. I hope your cheesecake dependency hasn't gotten out of control since you went into quarantine. What’s your comfort food?

Sen. Schumer: No, but I do think of it. One of the first things I'm gonna do when we're allowed to resume normal lives, I'm going to go to Junior's, sit at the table all by myself, down a few cheesecakes, and I'm going to wash it down with a Roma pizza, the best pizza in Brooklyn, on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. 

Stephen Colbert: But why wait? I mean, a cheesecake would make a nice face mask. Just scoop out enough.

Sen. Schumer: They're closed. Stephen, if you - most stores are closed, as are these. But I found out, they're both going to open up again, praise God. They're both great places.

Stephen Colbert: You don't have a stockpile of cheesecakes at a moment's notice?

Sen. Schumer: No, we've replaced it with Edy's - Ms. Edy's Swift Churned Ice Cream. The coffee and the vanilla bean - good. 

Stephen Colbert: Alright. Chuck Schumer, brought to you by sponsor Edy’s ice cream.

Sen. Schumer: Not getting any money from any of these places, I just think they're good.

Stephen Colbert: Yes sir. Today is the last day of President Trump's official stay at home guidelines. Do you think ending the federal guidelines now is a good idea? I mean, is it over? Can we go start licking doorknobs?

Sen. Schumer: No, it's a very, very bad idea. We should be listening to the medical experts, and they all tell us that we should not go too soon, because it'll come back with a vengeance. And we don't have enough testing, Stephen. This is one of the keys here, and it's one of the mysteries and huge shortfalls of the Trump administration. Every country that has overcome this quickly has done it with a whole lot of tests - Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany.

And even, you know, when New Rochelle, the first place was quarantined, I called up the mayor—a nice guy, Noam Bramson. I said, what's going on? What do you need? He said, if we had tests and we could test everybody we could see who has the virus, tell them to stay inside. See who doesn't have it, they could go to work, walk on the street, shop in the stores.

The amazing thing, we have asked the Trump administration to have a national plan for testing, to use something called the DPA, Defense Production Act, where they could commandeer the factories and supply chains and require enough tests be made for everybody. They just used for the meat factories, but why aren't they using it for testing? We could have enough tests if they did that. I've asked the president to do it on repeated occasions, and he hasn’t done it. I got a nasty letter back once. But no DPA, no real testing, manufacturing.

Stephen Colbert: Why do you think he's so resistant knowing the truth about this? Because you can't actually make good decisions unless you know the lay of the land is.

Sen. Schumer: Look, it hurts him. It hurts everybody. The sooner we can have testing, the safer people will be. You know, even if we open up stores, if everyone is afraid to go out, no one shopping at those stores, because we don't have adequate testing. What good is it going to do? And it is a mystery. I first thought it was some sort of an ideology, ‘I don’t want to command private industry what to do?’ Although Truman used this during the Korean War, and others have used it as well. But he was resistant. But now that he did it with the meat factories, why can't he do it for testing, which is essential? I don't get it. No one gets it.

Stephen Colbert: Well, Mitch McConnell's called the Senate back to vote on judicial nominations and I know that some Senators are saying they might not come back. Can you say you won’t come back or do you have to go back if the Senate gets called back to session?

Sen. Schumer: I’m going back as  Minority Leader. But let me just say this: if we're going to go back, let’s do something about COVID. We should have tough, strong hearings. I'd like to call Dr. Birx and Fauci before us without Trump hovering over them, correcting them and trying to keep them quiet, and ask them about the testing and why we're not doing it and what we can do to make it happen. I'd like to bring the head of the Small Business Administration before a hearing and say, why are the big shots getting it, not the little businesses? You know, the butcher, baker, candlestick maker. Why aren't they getting it? I'd like to call the Secretary of Labor and say how do we get the unemployment checks out quicker. Instead, you know what Mitch McConnell has called us back for? He has a protégé. A friend of his in Kentucky. He wants to make him [a circuit court] judge—a very conservative, very right-wing person—wants to put him on the second most important court on the land, the [D.C.] Court of Appeals. It has nothing to do with COVID. And this guy was rated unqualified by the Bar Association. That's why he's calling us back. If we're going to come back, we ought to be focusing on COVID and making things better.

Stephen Colbert: What's he like when the cameras are not on?

Sen. Schumer: Look, I try to get along with everybody but he is not very talkative. Let's put it like that.

Stephen Colbert: U-huh, okay. You want the next bill to be like the $2 trillion CARES Act. What should do the United States Congress—how should the United States Congress allocate the next $2 trillion?

Sen. Schumer: Right, there are a lot of things we should have in it. Let me mention a few. One, we’ve got to make sure our elections in November are fair and safe and free. A lot of people won’t want to go to the polls. We ought to have mail ballots for everyone, but we ought to allow people who want to go to the polls to be there. And we want to make sure some of these barriers—you know, the state of Alabama, as I understand it, to vote by mail, by absentee mail, you need a notary public to certify. Why is that done? To prevent minorities and poor people from voting. So we should do that.

A second thing. I got three things I mentioned to you—there are a lot. The second thing is we need a heroes fund. I love these frontline workers. My heart goes out to them. They are such amazing people, risking their lives going to work every day, and the burdens they have are amazing. You know, one of the great things—I don't know if you're seeing this in New York—every night at seven o'clock - got an hour we lean out our windows, and we cheer these workers. We're all isolated now. We hate being isolated as New Yorkers. We love to go to the parks and everyone and the subways and be near each other. But at least people are cheering. Who are we cheering?

Well, let me tell you a story of one guy I talked to on the phone, a home health care worker named Recto. Because he takes care of two elderly people, he gets paid next to nothing, a little bit above minimum wage, he should get more. He took a bus to take care of these two people every day, and he cared for them. But now with COVID, the bus isn't running. Recto pays for a cab to go take care of the people and come back—he hardly has any money. So we ought to give these heroes, these frontline workers, whether they be medical workers or grocery store workers or bus drivers—extra, something extra. We proposed extra hazard pay—a “Heroes Fund”—$13 an hour.

And the third thing we ought to do is make sure that our states and local governments have money. They're going broke. And you know, Mitch McConnell has said let them go bankrupt. This is not an abstract concept. These are people. They're going have to lay off firefighters who protect us, police officers, bus drivers, food safety workers, hospital workers. So we ought to get real money – the states and localities are spending a ton of money on COVID but they're also not getting revenues because no one's paying taxes. You knowthe federal government delayed the taxes till June 30, so that means most states don't get the taxes either because the two are done in sync. 

Stephen Colbert: I know that if the checks do go out the President's going to want his name on the next round of checks, and you've introduced the No PR Act—to remove the President's name for the checks. Don't you think that's gonna be a bit of a tough sell to get him to sign something saying he can’t sign things?

Sen. Schumer: Look, the point was to point out something, which is, President Trump, this is not about you. This is not about your reelection. This is about helping America. And if it takes some extra time to [add the signature and to] get these letters out if it costs some extra money, but it sends the wrong signal—this is not a political—this is not something to get political gain out of.

We should all be working together to solve this—one of the most awful problems the countries faced, you know, maybe one of the greatest problems since World War II. And instead he seems to be concerned with fighting his enemies, praising himself—that's a bad idea. So it was  sort of symbolic, but it was making a point.

Stephen Colbert: Now, I know you want to protect the elections as you said before. What do you think about New York canceling the Democratic presidential primaries? Do you think it was the right thing to do?

Sen. Schumer: Well, they didn't have much choice, I guess. But we should make sure the elections in November are really fair. And as I said, making sure everybody can do a vote by mail if they wish, making sure if they want to show up in person they can, making sure these barriers go away—that's going to be a big fight on the next bill. But preserving our democracy and not letting this evil Coronavirus get in the way of the fairness of our elections would be an important thing. Now, some of our Republican friends may resist this. I hope not. Many of them are for it. Governor DeWine’s been great. Governor Hogan’s been great, so it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Stephen Colbert: Just going back to the New York primary for a second, why not just postpone it? I understand right now we are in a state of crisis and the New York health system doesn’t want to risk it. Why postpone it? Doesn’t that make it harder for Joe Biden because I think its 340 delegates or something like that and right now he’s not at 9,991 and if he goes to the virtual convention in Narnia or wherever they’re holding it and without a first round victory, then the second round the delegates can vote for anybody they want. It could be Andrew Cuomo next round, oh my god! Is that what you people are playing at? Are you trying to get Andrew Cuomo nominated?

Sen. Schumer: Well, it’s the state board of elections, I don’t have any say over them.

Stephen Colbert: Oh, I am sure, I am sure. The Senator from New York has no say in what happens in the democratic primary in New York.

Sen. Schumer: Well, they did it, I don’t know exactly why they did it but they must have had good reason. I haven’t heard much of an outcry from the Biden campaign so I don’t think they’re too worried about it.

Stephen Colbert: Ok now before we go I just want to ask you one, I think, very important question which is, you’ve been in public life for decades, what does it say to you about this moment that the U.S. government last week released UFO footage and no one cares?

Sen. Schumer: Well probably Harry Reid cared, he was the leader before me, he would always show me-

Stephen Colbert: That’s what I understand, he was fascinated with this stuff.

Sen. Schumer: Well he’d always show me these articles and I’d read them and I’d say, “no, Harry” but you know what it shows, it shows how this crisis has so, so consumed us that no one would pay attention to this because we are all consumed by the crisis.

And I want to say just one more thing, Stephen: we will overcome this. You know, New York will overcome it. I so love New York and it is a horrible thing hearing of the deaths and the illnesses and it gets you down but you know, each time we bounce back. I remember after 9/11 they said New York is finished, no one will live south of Canal Street, no businesses will want to locate in New York. We came back bigger and stronger than ever. We New Yorkers are a tough breed, a resilient breed, we love New York, we will overcome this and we will be back. We will.

Stephen Colbert: That is the truth, thanks Senator.

Sen. Schumer: Thanks, Stephen.

Stephen Colbert:  Senator Chuck Schumer everybody, thanks for being here sir.

Sen. Schumer: Thank you.