Schumer Floor Remarks on Gun Safety Legislation, President Putin’s Efforts to Interfere in American Elections, and Judicial NominationsFebruary 28, 2018
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding gun safety legislation, President Putin’s efforts to interfere in American elections, and judicial nominations. Below are his remarks which can also be viewedHere:
As I was sitting with them, I remembered meeting with the young people who survived the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I remembered sitting with the parents of the kindergarteners and first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary; I still ache for them and their parents. Parents who had presents stashed under Christmas trees that were never opened. Photos of their beautiful children still sit on my desk.
All of them – the students of Stoneman Douglas, the parents from Newtown, the families of the victims in Orlando, Las Vegas, Columbine and Charleston, and everyday gun violence in cities and towns all across our country – all of them are calling on us to act.
The slow-motion massacre of American children must end. The time has come to make meaningful changes, meaningful changes to our laws to keep Americans safe from the epidemic of gun violence.
And let me tell you, the students from Stoneman Douglas won’t stop until we achieve meaningful change. They know that small measures won’t get the job done. That’s why they told me, every one of them that the Fix NICS bill is not close to enough of what we need to do. Fix NICS has wide support in this chamber, I am a cosponsor but it is just the first, tiny step that addresses one specific issue. We have a whole host of issues to address. It is true the records of NICS need to be fixed, but it’s also true we need to close the gun show loophole. It’s also true that we’ve got to make sure that online sales go through background checks so that felons or those adjudicated mentally ill or spousal abusers, can’t get guns. Over 90 percent of America agrees with that. But our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are so afraid of the NRA that they can’t even embrace universal background checks, which 90 percent of America addresses. Special interest lobbying, the kind of thing President Trump campaigned against, well the NRA is doing it. The NRA is doing it. We need to stop writing bills that only address the last shooting and start making laws prevent the next one. When you have a sick patient, you don’t just treat one symptom; you try to cure the disease. That’s what universal background checks do.
Fix NICS would be a good thing to do, but it’s a tiny step when we need a giant leap. It cannot be the only thing we do. In fact, the only reason it didn’t clear this chamber already was because the Republican Senator from Utah objected to it. Such is the vice grip that the ideologues of the gun lobby have on the entire Republican Party. They’re so against what America wants, they’re so against what rank and file Republicans want. Even on something as limited as Fix NICS, the gun groups find a way to get in the way.
Now, I believe the priority of this chamber should be to pass universal background checks. That would accomplish what Fix NICS does and a lot more. President Trump has said that he would push “strongly comprehensive background checks” in the wake of Parkland. Well, we Democrats are calling on him today to keep his word, we’ve sent him a letter, asking him to support existing legislation, bipartisan legislation that close the loopholes that allow anyone to purchase a gun at a gun show or on the internet without a background check. These loopholes make no sense. Leaving these loopholes unclosed would be as if we checked someone’s ID at a liquor store but not at a bar. That’s what you could say about Fix NICS. It would be as if we checked someone’s ID at the liquor store, but not at the bar. You should have the same checks across the board.
So today, I call on President Trump to come out in support of legislation that would close dangerous loopholes in our background check system. The NRA vehemently opposes that, but I say to President Trump: show some leadership, buck the NRA, they’re way out of touch with the American people, with gun owners, and with rank and file Republicans. I say to the president show some leadership, buck the NRA, endorse these policies, and you can finally break the gridlock and get something meaningful done.
Now, one another matter, because I know my colleagues from North Carolina are waiting and I solute them for being here in praise of a member, a former member who just passed from their state, Billy Graham. But on another matter, one other matter, the Commander of US Cyber Command, Admiral Michael Rogers, yesterday, testified that Putin’s efforts to interfere with American democracy have not abated since the 2016 election, and likely have intensified. According to several reports, Kremlin-linked bots continue to stoke political divisions in the US via misinformation on social media. Here’s what Admiral Rogers said: “President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore he thinks ‘I can continue this activity.’ Clearly what we have, done hasn’t been enough.”
He is absolutely right. It is extraordinary, confounding, and dangerous, how little the Trump Administration is doing about Putin’s campaign to undermine our grand democracy.
President Trump refused to punish Putin after he took office, despite the consensus view of 17 American Intelligence Agencies that Putin interfered in our elections. President Trump has still refused to fully implement the package of sanctions that passed by this Congress with only five dissenting votes combined between both House and Senate, two here,, three there! And yesterday, when my friend the Senator from Rhode Island asked Admiral Rogers, the Director of the NSA, if the Trump Administration had directed him to counter Russian meddling, he replied, “No, I have not [been directed].”
That, Madame President, is astonishing. A hostile foreign power interfered in our elections, continues to interfere with our democracy, and is planning to interfere in our next elections -- and the President of the United States is hardly lifting a finger. It’s as if they were preparing for war and tanks were lining up or planes and we decided to do nothing. Cyberattacks, manipulation of news media is another way that hostile powers attack us.
People have to wonder why President Trump is so soft on Russia, so unwilling to criticize President Putin, and so slow to stand up for America and protect our democracy.
Finally, a word on the pending judicial nomination – Marvin Quattlebaum.
First, for the benefit of the Senate, I would like to note that the current nomination is up, the nomination of Quattlebaum is up, because the two Republican Senators from South Carolina refused to return a blue slip for two judges nominated for the same vacancy by President Obama. Their right as the home-state senators to not return a blue slip was respected by the Democratic Majority, Chairman Leahy, in 2013, unlike the Republican Majority, which has already twice ignored the blue slip precedent and confirmed circuit judges* without the approval of both home-state Senators. I want my colleagues on the other side to remember that their blue slips were respected during the Obama administration and to think long and hard about continuing to ignore them now that their party is in the White House.
Second, the nomination of Marvin Quattlebaum speaks to the overall lack of diversity in President Trump’s selections for the federal judiciary. Mr. Quattlebaum replaces not one, but two scuttled Obama nominees who were African Americans. As of February 14th, 83% of President Trump’s confirmed nominees were male, and almost 92% were white. That represents the lowest share of non-white candidates in three decades.
It is long past time that the judiciary starts looking a lot more like the America it represents. Having a diversity of views and experience on the federal bench is necessary for the equal administration of justice. After years of improvement, the Trump Administration, like in so many other areas, is taking a giant step backward this time, when it comes to the diversity of their nominations.
I will be voting no on the Quattlebaum nomination.
*Note: the Record was corrected to reflect that the current Republican Majority has only once confirmed a nominee without the approval of both home-state senators. Another judge has been reported out of the Judiciary Committee without the approval of both home-state Senators, but that nominee has not yet been confirmed by the full Senate.