Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need for a bipartisan appropriations process and blasted Senate Republicans for blocking critical funding for minority-serving institutions. Senator Schumer also spoke regarding the new Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that confirms President Trump’s precipitous withdrawal of troops from Syria has strengthened the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In addition, he urged Senate Republicans to work with Democrats to include election security sanctions and federal employee benefits provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here.
The House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution yesterday to fund the government through December 20th. With government funding set to expire tomorrow, it is now up to the Senate to pass the continuing resolution without much fuss and send it to the president’s desk before the deadline.
As the Republican Leader and I work to set the time for that vote, we must look ahead. The continuing resolution will give appropriators additional time to get a bipartisan appropriations process back on track before the end of the year. The Senate has been able to process several non-controversial appropriations bills, bipartisan, but several more can’t move forward until Democrats and Republicans both all agree on the allocations. Can’t do it with one party, that leads to trouble. In recent days, we’ve made some progress, and I hope the talks between both sets of appropriators—House and Senate, Democrat and Republican—will continue in good faith and in earnest after we finish the continuing resolution.
At the same time, there are some very important issues Democrats were trying to address in the continuing resolution that Senate Republicans refused to address. Most notably, Republicans objected to restoring expiring funding for minority-serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, and Predominantly Black Institutions. These are ladders up. Such a high percentage of people of color, of people in minority groups, use these colleges to create a great life for themselves. They work hard. They study. There’s no alternative for many of them, other than these institutions. To hold the money back, which is what the other side is doing, that is so wrong, that is so unfair. Democrats will not stop fighting the fight to help these institutions and we are committed to securing this funding any way we can. These are American dream institutions. If you believe in the American dream, you shouldn’t be holding this money back.
Now on Syria. Yesterday, the Defense Intelligence Agency—that’s like the CIA but for the Defense Department, it’s very well-respected, very nonpartisan, they’re great in many ways—released a new assessment that confirms, unfortunately, many of our worst fears. People haven’t seen this assessment. It’s really important. I would urge people to look at it.
What did the assessment say? That President Trump—this is his own Defense Department saying this—that President Trump, by precipitously withdrawing our troops from northern Syria, has given ISIS a lifeline. In the chaos that followed Erdogan’s military offensive—an offensive, unfortunately, that President Trump green-lit, much to the consternation of people on both sides of the aisle—ISIS has had room to rebuild.
Not only did the assessment suggest that the Islamic State is “postured to withstand” the recent death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but the assessment concluded that the Islamic State “exploited the Turkish excursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. Troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.” President Trump, by giving in to Erdogan, has “strengthened ISIS’ ability to plan attacks abroad.” Every American should hear that. Let me repeat: because President Trump abruptly withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria, ISIS has been able to “strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.”
That’s not an assessment from some outside group or agency—that’s the assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency, part of the Pentagon.
The Trump administration needs to get a handle on this situation, fast. But despite this new, damning assessment, we still have no idea what the president plans to do to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. President Trump has welcomed President Erdogan to the White House but hasn’t produced a plan to defeat ISIS. This is an administration run amok. This is security. This is vital to America. No plan about ISIS and greeting Erdogan, a dictator whose desire to go after ISIS isn’t close to ours. He’d much rather go after the Kurds, our main protector from ISIS, other than the United States itself.
Now, meanwhile, there are now reports that Russian forces have taken control of a former U.S. military base in northern Syria. The pictures of Russia entering that deserted base—because American soldiers were told they had to leave by the president—is not a picture Americans want to see.
It’s incredible: the president continues to demonstrate an uncanny ability to get steamrolled by autocrats like Erdogan, like Putin without getting a thing in return.
It has nearly been two months since the president announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and we still don’t know what comes next. We all know that a small band of terrorists far away are more than capable of inflicting great damages on our shores, and the intelligence assessments have now confirmed that ISIS has been able to strengthen its ability to do just that. President Trump, what is your plan to defeat ISIS and protect the United States?
On the NDAA, the defense authorization bill. The annual defense bill, which passed this chamber months ago, has been stalled in the process of reconciling the Senate version with the House version. One of the snags, it now appears, is the Republican Leader’s unwillingness to include a strong package of sanctions directed at any foreign nation that should try to interfere in our elections. That’s right—one of the reasons the national defense bill has not been sent to the president’s desk is because Majority Leader McConnell and his Republican colleagues do not want to include a strong deterrent to interfering in American elections.
Earlier this month, all leading US national security officials—Attorney General Barr, Secretary of Defense Esper, Acting Homeland Security Secretary McAleenan, Acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire, FBI Director Wray, and U.S. Cyber Commander Gen. Nakasone—released a statement that said the following, all of them: “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment, and affect government policies. Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process and influence voter perceptions.” That’s not my words, that’s the leaders of this administration including the secretaries of Defense, State, and the head of the NSA.
We know that Putin interfered in 2016 elections. We know he is trying to do it again. That’s clear. We need to send an unmistakable message to President Putin and other foreign actors—China, Iran—that we will not tolerate any interference in our elections.
But unfortunately, Leader McConnell seems to have missed that memo. How he could ignore a statement by the leaders of the administration he supports is beyond me. The Republican Leader has repeatedly downplayed the threat to our democracy from foreign actors like President Putin. He’s repeatedly blocked commonsense, bipartisan legislation to protect our elections, and is now blocking the inclusion of tough, mandatory sanctions on Russia or any other foreign country that seeks to interfere in our elections. I hope for the sake of the defense bill, for the sake of our elections, the Republican Leader will relent and allow a package of tough sanctions to be included.
Unfortunately, election security is not the only issue holding up the defense bill. The Republican Leader is blocking many other important provisions: Democrats want to extend family leave benefits to all federal employees –the Majority Leader and Republicans are blocking that. It’s a new world, family leave is necessary to everyone. Here we have a chance to do it for federal workers, our Republican friends are saying no. Democrats want to clean up our communities and military installations that have been poisoned by PFAS and other contaminants—but the Majority Leader and our friends, the Republicans here in the Senate, are blocking that. And Democrats want to send a signal to the Trump administration that it does not have a blank check to wage a war; that only Congress can approve major military operations—Majority Leader McConnell and Republicans are blocking that as well.
So there are a host of important issues that are holding up the final passage of the national defense bill, and these are just a few of them. I would strongly urge my Republican friends and especially the Republican Leader, Leader McConnell, to work with us to address these provisions, because Democrats want to see that this bill gets done, and gets done in a way that safeguards our elections, our troops, our communities, and advances America’s interests around the globe.