Schumer Floor Remarks On President Trump’s Failure To Address Testing Problems In His Remarks On Coronavirus And The Need To Pass The House Legislation To Help The American People

March 12, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding President Trump’s address to the nation on the coronavirus outbreak and his administration’s failure to adequately make coronavirus test kits available across the United States. Senator Schumer urged the Senate to act as soon as possible to pass legislation to help the American people dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, which the House is set to vote on today. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Yesterday, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, a pandemic, saying that it was “deeply concerned both by the alarming spread and severity, and alarming levels of inaction” by the nations of the world. Let me repeat that: they were “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and the alarming levels of inaction” by the nations of the world.

In my home state of New York, members of the National Guard have arrived in New Rochelle this morning to clean institutions and deliver food to the more than 120 sick residents within the three-mile containment area. Here in the Capitol, public tours will be suspended and, by the end of the week, the Capitol complex will be restricted to official business only.

And, today, the House of Representatives will take up and pass several measures that the Speaker and I called for earlier this week to alleviate the economic pain felt by Americans workers and families that are impacted by the coronavirus, including extension of paid sick leave, food security assistance, and an expansion of unemployment insurance.

The legislation will also provide much-needed help to states like New York that are overburdened by Medicaid costs. By temporarily modifying the FMAP formula, it gives the states the flexibility and money they need to fight this problem. I’ve long fought for an increase in FMAP funding, and this is welcome and needed from New York. I’m glad it’s in the bill that Democrats in the House and Senate put together.

Now, many of the policies that I’ve mentioned have been enacted by other countries dealing with the coronavirus. The policies are targeted at workers and families that are directly impacted by the virus, which is exactly where the focus needs to be. Not on bailing out oil and gas companies or the cruise industry or deregulating banks—some of the ideas under discussion at the White House, by all reports—but on helping the American people cope with the crisis. That is job number one. We can come back and pass additional, targeted measures that deal with other economic problems at a later date, but in the immediacy of today, the policies that the House will pass will provide much needed help to those who need help. It will provide significant economic relief by pumping money into the economy. And it will provide some flexibility to the localities, the states, and to the American people.

The Senate should pass this bill immediately following the House, before the end of the day. I plead—I plead—with my Republican Senate colleagues to pass this bill today. It has been carefully thought out. Its programs are directly aimed at people—they’re not ideological. And it is desperately needed to show the American people that we can do things that actually benefit the people who are in trouble, and actually help move the American economy.

To not pass this bill today would be a dereliction of duty. And I plead with Senator McConnell: put the bill on the floor. Let there be a vote. It will pass, in my judgment. Put the bill on the floor. Do not let this legislation that the House passes—at a time of crisis—be just another tombstone in your legislative graveyard.

Now, of course, the central problem remains: contending with the spread of the coronavirus itself. Our testing regime has been completely inadequate. We still lag far behind other countries in both the number and percentage of the population we are testing for the virus. There are still not enough kits distributed to hospitals and medical labs, and the results of those tests are not processed fast enough. From one end of the country to the other, those on the frontlines—whether they be healthcare workers, mayors, county executives, governors—are crying out for more testing, more speed in bringing the results of the test back immediately. The president didn’t mention it in his speech.

Now, I heard from the Mayor of New Rochelle, now overseeing a three-mile containment area. I said, “What is the number one thing you need?” He said, “Testing.” He told me that one of the reasons the State of New York had to impose the containment area was that it couldn’t be determined who was safe to walk on the street and who wasn’t, because of lack of testing. If they had the tests, they’d know who had the virus. They could quarantine at home, and others could go out and about with their lives, and shop in the stores, go down the streets, and go through their normal activities. The lack of testing has forced many in containment areas to quarantine themselves when they may not have the virus at all.

The administration must expedite the approval of labs who are ready to provide testing, it must support the use of automatic testing to increase the speed and volume, and it must do a better job of communicating to hospitals and localities about the number of testing kits available. The Administration needs to get a handle on this now. It has been well over a month since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed on our soil and, in most places around the country were not able to test for the coronavirus at the necessary capacity or speed. The most glaring omission in this administration’s long list of problems, in the way they approach the coronavirus, is the lack of testing. We need it now.

The failure of the Trump Administration to anticipate the problems with testing has put us weeks and weeks behind.

And last night, President Trump gave his national address about the coronavirus and testing was not included. It was amazing to me. The number one problem was ignored. I welcome that the president stressed the need for hygiene. He instructed Americans to stay home if they felt sick, something he questioned in the past. I was glad he is no longer calling this a hoax, and at least in his speech, not blaming the press or the Democrats or somebody else for the problem. Blame isn’t going to solve anything.

But sadly, and regrettably, the president’s speech fell far short of what Americans needed to hear. The speech was almost robotic, lacking any empathy. The president seemed to show little concern for Americans impacted by the virus or for our allies around the world fighting it. The president did not say how his administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits, nor did he call for a national emergency to free up federal resources to fight the virus. Calling for a national emergency under the Stafford Act would free up lots of FEMA’s resources to help states and localities. Why he hasn’t done it is a mystery. We need him to do it, and do it now.

And so many of the president’s statements in the speech were inaccurate, and required no fewer than three corrections by the White House in the hours after. The president was not clear or accurate in describing the ban on travel from Europe to the U.S.—that it did not apply to U.S. citizens or to cargo. The president’s claim that health insurers have agreed to “waive all copayments for coronavirus treatment” was also, apparently, inaccurate.

At a time of crisis, one would think that the president could give a speech that at least had the facts right. That there would be that care and focus.

But, unfortunately, it wasn’t so. And I don’t bring this up to play “gotcha.” This is very serious. There are many Americans who watched the president but may not have seen the White House correct his error-laden speech. And as a result, many Americans got bad and confusing information. This is very, very unfortunate.

At all times, but especially during a time of crisis, the president must be clear and accurate about his policies and guidance. We need leadership that is steady and above all else, competent. These weren’t off-the-cuff remarks, this was a prepared speech. 

In this moment, with lives in the balance. Americans must have confidence that their president knows what he is doing and knows what he is talking about. To his detriment and to the nation’s, sadly, President Trump failed to inspire that confidence last night. 

I had hoped that the fact that the president delivered a national address was a sign that the administration was finally beginning to treat the coronavirus with the seriousness it needs. That’s why it was so discouraging that only a few hours later the president was back to his old tricks, attacking Democrats when we all know that’s not going to solve the problem and we all know it is a time to bring us together.

Congress has already passed major, emergency appropriations to ramp up our response to the virus. The president’s early number, $2 billion, was fortunately increased significantly by Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, to $8.3 billion. Congress is now working quickly and competently on a second package. It should get the same quick response from our Republican Senators and pass.