Schumer Floor Remarks On Need For Bipartisan Funding Agreement To Combat Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor on his expectation that a bipartisan funding agreement on emergency funding to combat the coronavirus will pass this week. He also called on the Trump administration to be transparent with the American people and decisive in response to the spread of coronavirus. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States has recently surpassed 100. As more Americans are tested in the days and weeks to come, that number is expected to increase. Just this morning, we learned that a second New Yorker—from New Rochelle in Westchester County—has contracted the virus and is in serious condition and currently in a New York hospital. Our prayers are with him and his family. This only underlines the urgent need to respond to the coronavirus, on a national scale.

The only appropriate response in Congress is to come together, quickly and in a bipartisan fashion, to deliver the resources and authorities our federal agencies need to track and combat the virus, treat Americans with the disease, and develop vaccine and additional treatments. We also must aid the states and localities in their efforts to deal with the disease because they are on the front lines.

I’m glad that Congress is headed in that direction. I expect that today, appropriators will announce an agreement on an emergency, bipartisan funding package to deal with the coronavirus. The agreement is expected to include between $7 and $8 billion of funding, very close to the $8.5 billion in funding that we Senate Democrats requested last week, and over four or five times the amount of new funding initially proposed by the administration.

That’s good news. When it comes to Americans’ health and safety, there is no reason to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If the bean counters at OMB unnecessarily cut the money we need, it will cost us more in the long run. It is far better to get our public health professionals, experts, and agencies the funding they need upfront and altogether rather than be forced to pass additional appropriations in the coming months—we may have to, but we ought not skimp now. Left to its own devices that’s what the administration would have done. So I’m glad we pushed them early, despite the fact that President Trump didn’t want to hear anything contrary to what he was proposing. 

So I am pleased that both parties in Congress, in both Houses of Congress, are coming together to do the responsible thing. I hope and expect we can pass the emergency appropriation through the Senate before the end of the week.

As Congress does what is necessary to respond to the coronavirus, unfortunately, the Trump administration’s efforts leave much to be desired. While the Trump administration’s response is slow, halting, and loose with the facts—and President Trump blames everyone but himself—Congress, the Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, are acting like the adults in the room. We’re not letting President Trump’s accusations and nastiness, his false statements and his inability to really grapple with the problem and instead try to brush it away, get in our way of doing what America really needs to have done and done immediately.

Congressional appropriators have had to include provisions in the emergency bill to prevent the administration from stealing funds from other public health and disease programs to fight the coronavirus—that’s what the White House wanted to do.

Test kits weren’t as widely available or as accurate as they should have been in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Politico reported this morning that the administration was very slow to develop an accurate test for coronavirus and slow to allow hospitals and public health labs to develop that on their own. The emergency funding bill seeks to deal with these two issues. It explicitly funds laboratory testing. We may have to do even more in the weeks to come, but that is no reason not to immediately give a generous appropriation so that testing can be done. Every day we delay testing, every time a person who needs a test doesn’t get one, is a day, a time, where the virus gets worse and worse and worse and can spread.

There are still major issues with the lack of testing infrastructure that is being provided by the administration. States and cities still don’t have enough tests. And yesterday, we heard from the National Indian Health Board that Indian Health Service and Tribal health facilities are largely being left behind in the coronavirus response and have received few, if any, resources. This is unacceptable.

And meanwhile, as Congress works—Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, to come up with a strong, comprehensive bill with the necessary dollars—President Trump continues to spread rumor, loose speculation, and happy talk. If any member of the administration tells the president something optimistic, he repeats and exaggerates it to the point of absurdity. The president has said the disease might magically “disappear” once the weather gets warmer and promised that the vaccine would arrive “soon,” his words.  Only yesterday were a group of government health experts and pharmaceutical executives able to convince the president that a vaccine won’t be ready in a matter of months, as the president believed and said, and in fact, could take a year to develop.

We need leadership in this country, we need serious leadership at a time of crisis like this. We don’t need the facts being brushed under the rug. We don’t need executives being told, ‘Just do happy talk. Don’t tell the American people the truth.’ We don’t need a president who doesn’t know the facts and blithely states whatever pops into his head that he thinks will benefit him for the moment.

This is a crisis. There is no substitute for credibility and honesty from our political leaders. We need the president and his team to level with the American people and tell the truth, more during a health crisis than ever before. Our public health professionals must tell the president the facts, and the president and his team must tell the American public the facts. Just the facts.

Now, the vice president and Ambassador Debbie Birx will speak to both Senate caucuses at lunch today. I am disappointed that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was originally slated to join us, is no longer coming. But Senate Democrats have many questions for the vice president about his administration’s response to this outbreak, and, even more importantly, what they are doing now to help deal with the problem as it gets worse and worse.

We look forward to pressing them on the need for transparency and decisiveness and, hopefully, getting useful answers, because the health and safety of the American people are at stake.