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Schumer Floor Remarks On The Importance Of Quickly Reuniting Children With Their Families, Staying Tough On China, Health Care Rate Increases, And The Importance Of Civility In Politics

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the importance of quickly, efficiently reuniting children with their families, staying tough on China, health care rate increases, and the importance of civility in politics. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Madam President, as we are all aware, the Trump administration’s border policy has resulted in thousands of families separated at the border over the past few months.

Despite the administration’s recent executive order, thousands of young children remain separated from their parents in cities across the country – across America. According to the New York Times, right now there are at least 2,053 children stuck in limbo, waiting for various federal agencies to reunite them with their families. Some of the most basic questions about their whereabouts and the whereabouts of their families are unknown to federal officials.

Of the thousands of children taken away from their parents since the president’s family separation policy went into effect, only about 500 children in CBP custody have been united with their families. Now, that’s not good enough. Who will be held accountable if these children are not returned to their parents?  Some of these children are even too young to even know their own names.

This unprecedented situation demands a federal point person to manage the family reunification process and ensure it is resolved as quickly and transparently as possible. Multiple agencies have jurisdiction, including the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice. We need someone empowered to work across federal agencies, cut through their bureaucracy, and lead an accurate, humane, and timely reunification of every child separated by President Trump’s policies.

So I am urging President Trump to appoint a family reunification czar to manage this process. 

The administration needs to bring in an experienced and competent person to impose order on the chaos the president’s decision has caused; someone to be accountable so that this doesn’t go on for months or longer with different agencies pointing fingers at each other while children languish in detention alone.

When multiple federal agencies are involved in responding to a crisis, the response is often cumbersome and slow. Each agency has its different track, its different goals, its different paths. And without someone in the White House, bringing order and having them work in sync, nothing happens all too often. A czar – this is a good czar, not a bad czar – would help avoid that situation, when the agencies are across purposes and paralysis, inaction result.

We did this when Ebola occurred. There were many agencies involved. We were worried about the national threat to Ebola. President Obama wisely appointed a czar. I believe it was Ron Klain. And it worked, and the Ebola fear that we all had, thank God, didn’t materialize. Well, the same can happen here in the sense that a czar could help solve the problem.

It is agonizing – so agonizing – to see children, young children, anguished looks on their faces, separated from their parents. So this crisis demands a timely and efficient response. A family reunification czar would help get the job done. It’s not a political situation where it’s ideological. It’s simply getting the bureaucracies to work.

On China: this morning, the New York Times reports that in several industrial cities in China’s interior, Chinese manufacturers have been using incredibly dangerous chemicals known as CFCs, which destroy the planet’s ozone layer and are explicitly banned by an international agreement from the 1980s. The CFCs are even more dangerous to our atmosphere than CO2, than methane. And that’s why the world came together in a rare moment and successfully, for a long time, banned these CFCs. But now, it seems, that’s not occurring in China, and it comes as no surprise.

China cracks down so effectively on free speech, so one wonders why the state is unable to crack down on the use of environmentally toxic chemicals that have been banned for over thirty years. It took China’s government a matter of days to block online access to HBO after John Oliver poked fun at President Xi on the network. But when it comes to the use of toxic chemicals banned by international agreements, China’s government can’t get its act together? Please.

It’s a metaphor. What’s happening with CFCs is a metaphor for so many of China’s policies, most especially its trade policy. Many question if China will ever moderate its self-interested, mercantilist behavior and join the community of nations in fair trade – by lowering trade barriers, by abiding by international trade rules, by ending its practice of intellectual property theft. Well, this news shows that when push comes to shove, China always does what’s best for China – short-term profit of China – without regard to the well-being of its neighbors or the strictures of international agreements.

Whether it is lead in our children’s toys, cadmium in exported fish, or CFC’s in the atmosphere, time-and-time-again China flouts and skirts international laws, agreements, and vital environmental standards in ferocious pursuit of its economic interests.

We should not be accommodating when it comes to trade with China. We cannot appeal to its better angels and hope for the best, at least with President Xi in charge. We must recognize that China’s government will not retreat from its fundamentally self-interested posture until and unless we force it to, through tough penalties for misbehavior and strong incentives to abide by free-market principles.

On health care, Madam President. Late last week, insurers in Indiana and your state of Iowa requested an increase in 2019 rates. The addition of Indiana and Iowa asking for increasing rates adds to the growing list of states, including Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Oregon, who have raised rates as a result of Republican health care policies.

The CEO of one of the largest insurers in Indiana, Celtic, said that insurers could have potentially lowered rates in 2019 if the Trump administration had not attempted to sow mass uncertainty and undermine the market.

Let me repeat that: the CEO of one of the largest insurers in Indiana said that health insurance costs could have gone DOWN if not for President Trump and Congressional Republicans.

He went on to say that the rate increases were also a result of the uncertainty caused by the Republicans’ repeal of the coverage requirement and the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term, junk insurance plans.

Think about it for a moment. Middle-class families in Indiana could have saved on their health care next year if President Trump, aided and abetted by Republicans here in the Senate, hadn’t sabotaged the system. If Republicans and President Trump had simply left our health care system alone, things would have been much better. So many people in so many of our states will pay far more in premium increases than they will get benefit from a tax cut, particularly if you’re middle class and not rich. Is that right? Does that put more money in people’s pockets? No. Does that get the economy going? Absolutely not.

But sadly, because of a political vendetta against the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have undermined our health care system at every turn. They don’t have an answer as to what to do. They don’t have a new system to put in place – they’ve tried that for a year and a half and haven’t gotten anywhere. They just want to sabotage the existing law and make it worse for average Americans, because they’re so fixated on the fact – “kill the ACA bill” – even though they have nothing to put in its place. American families are paying the price in the form of higher premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and more expensive prescription drugs.

Finally, Madam President, a word on a different subject. Here in the Senate, we disagree with one another frequently, often fervently. Many of us disagree with the policies of the current administration. In a country as large and diverse as ours, politics has always been a noisy, raucous affair – probably even more so today. That’s ok. But we all have to remember to treat our fellow Americans – all of our fellow Americans – with the kind of civility and respect we expect will be afforded to us.

I strongly disagree with those who advocate harassing folks if they don’t agree with you. If you disagree with something or someone, stand up, make your voice heard. Explain why you think they’re wrong and why you’re right. Make the argument. Protest peacefully. If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action and vote them out of office. But no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.                                                          

Now, I understand those who look at the conduct of this president, a man who habitually engages in bullying, name-calling, slander and nastiness for its own sake, and think: we have to fight fire with fire. I know. I’ve felt those emotions myself. I think we all do. I understand those who are outraged at the hypocrisy of this president when he complains about bullying, harassment, and nastiness when it’s used against him or his allies, and he uses as a regular tool almost every day. I am outraged by that hypocrisy, the double-standard that we seem to let this president get away with.

But the president’s tactics and behavior should never be emulated, they should be repudiated – by organized, well-informed, and passionate advocacy. As Michelle Obama, a person who represents that same kind of fineness that we’ve always had in America – a complete contrast to the coarseness of this president – said, “When they go low, we go high.” That’s a contrast of civility, honor, and decency to President Trump’s coarseness and meanness, and it’s a contrast that will serve those of us who oppose what the president does so well.

To opponents of the president’s policies, the best way to limit what he can do, to show that America is not as coarse, as mean, as hypocritical as his behavior suggests, is to win elections. That is a far more productive way to channel the legitimate frustrations with this president’s policies than harassing members of his administration.