Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor [at approx. 10:30 a.m.] regarding how Congress must respond to President Trump’s refusal to stand up to President Putin, and the Trump administration’s ongoing sabotage of our health care system. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:
Madame President, in the three days since the president returned from his humiliating display of obsequiousness in Helsinki, he has offered numerous explanations for his behavior. First, he said the media was too focused on the negative, and that his summit with Putin was a great success. Then admitting there was, in fact, a problem, he attempted to “walk back” some of his comments but couldn’t even commit to it, ad-libbing that “other people” could also be responsible for interfering in the 2016 elections. A mere twenty-four hours later, the president was back to claiming that it wasn’t his fault, the media was biased.
The president hadn’t learned his lesson, because, astoundingly, when he was asked yesterday whether Russia was still attacking our election system, the president replied, “No.” This was of course followed by yet another utterly implausible “clarification” in which – surprise! – his press secretary told reporters that’s not what the president meant. When you actually looked at the tape it was clear as a bell, it was clear what the president meant. He was saying that Russia was not still attacking our election system, once again disbelieving all of the fine men and women who labor quietly, diligently in our intelligence agencies who have reported this.
The constantly shifting, insincere and thoroughly unconvincing explanations for the president’s performance reveal that the president and his team do not understand the depth of President Trump’s blunders with Putin. And frankly, any post hoc clarification cannot substitute or repair the president’s failure to confront Putin face-to-face. All his walk-backs which then get undone, but all walk-backs are done in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where’s this man who prides himself on being strong? Afraid to say these things to Putin and he has to wait until he’s 6,000 miles away to say them. Unbelievable.
One of the most stunning things about the summit was the president’s openness to a request by President Putin to question former United States Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul and other Americans. In Helsinki, the president described the request as a part of “an incredible offer.” The president’s spokeswoman was asked about it yesterday, she confirmed the president and his team would discuss it.
That President Trump would even consider handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Putin and his cronies for interrogation is bewildering. No president, no president should have the power to gift wrap American citizens, let alone former ambassadors, to our known adversaries. How can President Trump and his team spend even a moment considering Putin’s request? How can they equate the democracy and rule of law and system of open and fair prosecution we have in this country with what Putin does? Just amazing. This president everyday demeans the United States. So many Americans are saying they’re ashamed to have him as their leader when he behaves like this.
Certainly, if the president agreed to such a request, Congress must do everything in its power to block it. There can be no room for debate, no room for discussion, we must be clear and clear quickly. So this morning, Senator Menendez, Senator Schatz, and I plan to offer a simple resolution that states: "it is the sense of Congress that the United States should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official, or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin." This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors. We should pass it today, not wait, not show any equivocation.
This “incredible offer,” as President Trump so casually and incorrectly called it, raises other serious questions. What else has President Trump agreed to behind closed doors? What else has he discussed with President Putin? President Trump and President Putin met for nearly two hours behind closed doors, no one else present but a translator, and hardly anyone knows what was said! Has Secretary Pompeo been briefed on that private, behind closed doors meeting? Nobody knows, he hasn’t said so. Does our military know if President Trump made commitments about our nuclear arsenal? Nobody knows. Defense Secretary Mattis hasn’t said whether he’s been briefed. Do we know if President Trump made commitments about the security of Israel, or Syria, or North Korea, or any of the other issues the president said he discussed with Putin? It is utterly amazing, utterly amazing, that no one knows what was said. This is a democracy. If our president makes agreements with one of our leading, if not our leading adversary, his cabinet has to know about it and so do the American people.
These questions – and more – need a full and complete accounting: before Congress, in an open setting, as soon as possible. That’s why I’ve called on the Republican Leadership to demand that Secretary of State Pompeo, Ambassador Huntsman and, crucially, the translator present at the closed-door session be made to testify before the Senate. They should come immediately. Now. What are our Republican friends waiting for?
Because, Madame President, the events of this week raise serious questions about the president’s ability to responsibly and safely conduct this nation’s foreign policy; about his ability and willingness to defend the United States and her citizens; about his very ability to govern in so many areas.
Confronted with these grave questions, I believe the Senate must act – to show our country’s resolve; to punish Putin for his interference and never allow such a thing to happen again; to ensure the president is doing what’s necessary to stand up for American interests.
I have proposed, many of my colleagues on this side of the aisle have proposed a bunch of things we could do – right now – to take action in the wake of President Trump’s indefensible summit with President Putin. Democrats are not in the majority, we don’t control the floor. We need our Republican colleagues, who control the Senate floor, to join us on these measures. The lack of action, action not just words, the lack of action by our Republican colleagues is stunning and deeply disappointing not just to Democrats but to all of the American people.
Since Monday – sadly – we haven’t seen movement from our colleagues in the majority. Just more slow walking. I understand that my friends Senators Coons and Flake are working on introducing a resolution to support the consensus of our intelligence agencies and to request congressional oversight. We’re all for it. I hope that it passes with the unanimous consent that it deserves. But my Republican friends can and must do more – actions, not just resolutions and statements of disapproval. We shouldn’t need this resolution. The things asked for in this resolution should have been happening already. And the burden of patriotism, of protecting American security, is on Leader McConnell’s shoulders. I know he has a difficult situation. I know he has a president who can sometimes be vindictive. But the bottom line is our country’s security, our country’s direction, our country’s honor, demands it.
We need to bring in Secretary of State Pompeo, Ambassador Huntsman, and the rest of President Trump’s national security team from Helsinki, including the translator who was present in the 1-on-1 meetings with Putin right here before the Congress in open session so we all know what happened.
We need to pass legislation to protect Special Counsel Mueller. There’s bipartisan legislation already passed out of the Judiciary Committee under Senator Grassley’s leadership and support. It’s on the floor. What is our leader, our Republican Leader waiting for?
We need to see the President’s tax returns, the common practice of all presidents in recent memory, but needed far more, now because one of the most logical explanations of the president’s obsequious and almost inexplicable actions towards President Putin is that Putin has something over on him. Maybe it would be revealed in the tax returns, and if nothing is there the president should have no problem releasing them.
We need to implement sanctions against Russia, not weaken them.
We need to demand that Putin hand over the 12 Russians indicted for election interference.
And we need to harden our election infrastructure so that what happened in 2016 never happens again.
These are commonsense measures, most of them have bipartisan support already, and they will accomplish for America what the president has been unwilling or unable to do. If my Republican colleagues refuse to pursue any, if not all, of these items, they are de facto consenting to the president’s capitulation in Helsinki. They cannot stand by, the American people won’t allow it.
Finally Madame President on health care. Ever since Republicans were handed the keys to both houses of Congress and the White House after the 2016 election, they have engaged in a protracted campaign of sabotage against our health care system. Premiums are going up, coverage is going down, and it’s all falling in the laps of our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate.
President Trump and Congressional Republicans proposed legislation that would have gutted Medicaid, allowed insurers to charge more and deny coverage just because a person got sick, and exclude critical benefits, imposing annual or lifetime limits on care. Under cover of night, Republicans dismantled the health care law’s coverage requirement without putting anything in its place. The Trump administration canceled a federal program that helped low-income customers afford insurance and expanded the availability of junk insurance plans that sucker Americans in with low premiums but then hardly cover anything, and people are saying when they have these plans, ‘why did I even buy insurance?’ but they were duped.
Now, worse yet, the administration has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of protections for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, turning its back on the most popular and humane advancement in our health care system over the decade. I’d say to my Republican friends here, go to your constituents, ask if someone has someone sick in their family, you’ll get a lot of hands, and then ask them if they should be excluded from gaining insurance, health insurance to help that sick member. See how many support these ideas. They try to do them in the dark of night, it’s not going to work. In August we Democrats are going to be talking about this over and over and over again. And believe me it will probably be the most important factor in the 2018 elections as the American people will rebel from the taking away of health care.
Imagine going back to the days when a mother with a child who has cancer can no longer find affordable care for her daughter, when hardworking Americans who fall on hard times are made to suffer, denied health care coverage precisely because they need it. How wrong, how backward, how immoral. Well that’s where President Trump wants to take us again, that’s where all of our Republican colleagues seem to be following.
Later this morning, actually right now, a group of Democrats are announcing about how we plan to fight back against this lawsuit that the Trump administration has put in place and preserve the protections for the up to 130 million non-elderly Americans with pre-existing conditions. The elderly, fortunately, since we still have Medicare despite the efforts by some on the other side to cut it back, are protected.
As millions of Americans watch their health care costs go up, as they read about the news about the latest Republican effort to undo health care protections, they fear for the future and wonder who in Washington will be fighting for them. In November, they’ll have a chance to vote for a party who will check the president’s dangerous health care sabotage; who will work to bring down costs, improve quality; who will never undermine the protections of Americans with pre-existing conditions. I look forward to the response to my colleagues’ announcement of our lawsuit.