Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Senate’s effort to overturn the dangerous ZTE deal, judicial nominations, the repeal of net neutrality, and the Trump administration’s refusal to protect those with pre-existing conditions. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:
Mr. President, this week the Senate continues its consideration of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. Among important provisions related to our military readiness and operations abroad, the NDAA presents crucial opportunities to address other matters of national security.
In addition to the critical improvements to CFIUS we must make in this bill, one of the most concerning issues is the decision by the Trump administration last week to reduce the harsh penalties previously imposed and then provide relief to the Chinese telecom giant ZTE; lifting restrictions on the company and allowing it to continue to sell its products in the United States. ZTE was guilty of evading US sanctions on Iran and North Korea and then lying to US officials about it afterwards.
Asked about the decision to relax penalties, President Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro said: “It’s going to be three strikes you’re out on ZTE.” Why are we giving ZTE three strikes? If you purposefully evade US sanctions and then lie about it, that’s reason enough to bring the hammer down and leave it there. I have another expression for the Trump administration: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
It seems the administration was outmaneuvered by the Chinese on ZTE once again. Congress should reverse what the administration has done by reinstituting the hard penalties on ZTE, and we should do it on the NDAA bill that will be on the floor this week.
Now, you might ask: why is this related to the defense, this is the defense bill? Well, it’s precisely related.
Cybersecurity experts, national security experts, principle government agencies, the Republican-led FCC, the Republican-led FBI, and the Republican-led Pentagon, have all deemed the sale of ZTE products in the United States a national security threat. Even if they hadn’t violated sanctions, even if they hadn’t lied about it, they shouldn’t be here. This gives the Chinese government, which in many ways – many ways – takes advantage of the United States militarily, economically, and spying us by cybersecurity, it gives them a great opportunity to get right inside all of our communications.
Here’s what Director Christopher Wray, appointed by President Trump, had to say: “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments … to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks. That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.” Undetected espionage. The head of the FBI says that’s what allowing ZTE in America will do.
That’s the nation’s chief law enforcement officer – a Republican appointed by President Trump – testifying that ZTE’s technology is an espionage risk. What the heck are we doing cutting a deal with China – which is no friend of ours on economics, stealing our jobs, stealing our intellectual property – and letting them into the US so they can have a window on hearing what our companies, our defense department, and everyone else is doing? Does that make any sense? I don’t think so.
That’s why we’ve had bipartisan support and concern. I want to salute Senators Cornyn, and Rubio, and Senator Cotton. Their views and mine are not the same on a whole lot of issues, but on America’s security and letting China spy on us we are the same. I’d urge the Republican leader, and the leaders of the bill, to include a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Cotton and Van Hollen to reverse the agreement made by the administration and prevent it from being able to provide ZTE relief for at least a year.
We have to do this. You know, if they write a book – God forbids this country declines – and if they write a book, this will be one of the key points. We have a chance to stand up to China, protect our national security, to tell the Chinese they can’t keep taking advantage of us, and we’re going to back off? For no stated good reason? Because clearly Secretary Ross has said that the deal he’s put in is a good one? Forget about it. It’s weak as a wet noodle. Fining them a billion dollars? They don’t care, they’re backed by the Chinese government. Putting some outside observers on the board? C’mon, they won’t know what’s going on because the Chinese government controls just about all the big companies in China. So, I hope we’ll stop this.
Now, alongside the consideration of the NDAA, we are told that the Majority intends to see the confirmation of more judicial nominations during this work period. In the next few weeks, the Senate is likely to take up two highly controversial nominees: Thomas Farr for the Eastern District of North Carolina and Ryan Bounds for a Ninth Circuit seat in Oregon.
Thomas Farr has spent a lengthy legal career defending the interests of corporations against workers. That seems to be a trademark of so many of the nominees of this administration and this Republican Senate. He has not once but twice defended the gerrymandering of congressional districts by North Carolina’s Republicans. And probably worst of all, he defended North Carolina’s restrictive voter ID law, which “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” And that’s not some politician’s words, those are the judges of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, a rather conservative court. For somebody to target African-Americans, and say, “let’s make it less likely they vote, and give them less power,” is such a grand step backward in this country, no matter which state you come from – North Carolina, New York, Oregon – and we’re going to put this guy on the bench? Shame on us. Shame on us.
And by the way, the only reason Mr. Farr can be considered for this nomination is that an Obama nominee, Jennifer May-Parker, was blocked for nearly three years via the blue slip. Our Republican friends used the blue slip, kept this seat vacant, and now have undone the blue slip in an act of partisanship, narrowness, and enmity in this country, and now they’re going to fill it with someone like Mr. Farr. Again, shame.
Like Mr. Farr, Mr. Bounds is also controversial. Recently, we learned that Bounds had some rather offensive writings that he failed to disclose to the bipartisan Judicial Advisory Committee established by Senators Wyden and Merkley in Oregon. That certainly validates their decision to withhold a blue slip. But despite the opposition of BOTH home state senators, the Majority is moving forward with Mr. Bounds’ nomination. In doing so, they will further erode the century-old blue slip tradition that they themselves used to block an unprecedented number of nominees when Obama was president.
On another matter, net neutrality. The Republican-led FCC’s repeal of net neutrality goes into effect today. The rules enacted by the Obama administration to bar large internet service providers from charging customers more for certain content are gone. The rules to bar large internet providers from slowing down certain websites are gone. The rules ensuring an open and free internet with a level playing field for small businesses, public schools, rural Americans, people without a lot of money, and communities of color are gone.
Democrats tried to forestall this day by writing and then passing a Congressional Review Act through the Senate – bipartisan. Some Republicans helped us, couldn’t have passed it without them. And then, as a unified Senate caucus, Democrats sent a letter last week urging Speaker Ryan to schedule a vote, which I believe would’ve passed had it been put on the floor of the House of Representatives. But, Ryan refused to bring up the companion legislation to restore net neutrality. Once again – as our Republican friends in the Senate and House, and the administration have done over, and over again – siding with the big, powerful special interests – in this case internet service providers – over the average person, who is sort of powerless. How many of us rail against our cable bills? How many of us feels helpless when it comes to getting that cable bill? Well, this increases the power of the same people. Do our Republican friends really want to do that? I guess so.
Let me put it this way: by refusing to bring up the Senate-passed resolution to restore net neutrality, House Republican leaders gave a green light to the big ISPs to charge middle-class Americans, small business owners, schools, rural Americans, poorer people, and communities of color more to use the internet.
With the exception of three brave Republicans in the Senate, it should be crystal clear to the American people that Republicans in Congress chose to protect special interests.
Finally, I want to address a bit of news on health care. On Thursday evening, the Trump administration made a startling announcement: it would no longer defend the constitutionality of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
The decision is a shameful capstone in the Trump administration’s year’s long campaign of sabotaging our nation’s health care system. It is the most dangerous, most potent example of sabotage to date, even as premium increases hit double digits in state after state because of Republican actions.
If the Trump administration gets its way, our entire health care system will be thrown into chaos. Can you imagine a mom goes to a health insurance company, “My daughter has cancer.” We’re not going to fund you. She goes to another one, we’re not going to fund you. The mother suffers, the family suffers, their child is agonized, dying of cancer, and they can’t get insurance now because the Trump administration is no longer saying we’re going to protect people who apply with pre-existing conditions. What is going on here? What is going on? And our Republican friends do nothing.
The one thing I can tell you is that health care is going to be the biggest issue in 2018. It’s far more important to the vast majority of Americans than any other issue. It’s far more important than the tax cut they get because for most Americans, whatever they got back in tax cuts – or many, many Americans, my guess is most – the amount they got back in their tax cut is a lot less than their premiums are increasing. And it’s a killer for small businesses and others that want to insure their workers.
President Trump when he ran – explicitly and repeatedly – said he was going to protect folks with pre-existing conditions. He’s once again undone what he promised. He has dropped the ball on health care, letting middle-class Americans, average Americans, working families pay an awful, awful price.