Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Senate Republicans To Stop Spreading Putin’s Propaganda, Urging Leader McConnell To Reverse Opposition To Inclusion Of Election Security In The NDAA, And On The Retirement Of Sen. Isakson

December 3, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today on the Senate floor called on Senate Republicans to stop spreading the unsupported and false narrative promoted by Russia that Ukraine was responsible for 2016 meddling and urged Leader McConnell to include bipartisan election security legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act.  Senator Schumer also spoke regarding the upcoming retirement of Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), for whom a bipartisan lunch will be held today. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

As the House of Representatives continues to hold hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, it is incumbent on all of here in the Senate to review the evidence, keep an open mind, and avoid prejudging the case. If impeachment articles are served to the Senate, Senators must act as judges and jurors, take an oath to do impartial justice, and see to it that the Senate conducts a fair trial.

So I have been hugely disappointed in the partisan conduct of some of my colleagues on the Republican side, who in their rush to defend the president, have attacked career public servants and former members of the armed services because they didn’t like their testimony, and then they spread baseless conspiracy theories, and used their powers of their congressional office to play defense for the president.

The Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for example, has attempted to send the State Department on a wild fishing expedition for documents to support an already debunked right-wing conspiracy theory. Meanwhile, the State Department is blocking or delaying the production of documents related to several legitimate and ongoing investigations, many of which were requested months ago.

I would expect that Senator Graham’s request, outlandish as it is, would go at the back of the line. It would be another total debasement to the process if Secretary Pompeo were to further politicize the production of documents to Congress and say, “It’s okay to release the documents that Senator Graham wants, but not the ones that the House committee wanted.” Privilege is privilege. I don’t believe it applies in each case, but it’s privilege. You can’t do it to one and not the other.

Also, it is appalling that, in recent days, certain members on the other side of the aisle have repeated the lie invented by Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services that Ukraine was somehow involved in 2016 election interference.

I have a simple message for my Republican colleagues: stop spreading Putin’s propaganda.

By spreading the false and unsupported narrative that Ukraine—not just Putin—was responsible for interfering in the 2016 elections, Republicans are endangering our democracy and empowering Vladimir Putin, at the same time. Even wondering aloud about the debunked Ukrainian interference theory helps Putin muddy the waters and deflect the blame away from his country, which our intelligence services have all agreed—I think it’s seventeen of them—that he interfered in the election. He’s trying to create a diversion and our Republican colleagues are going along.

Republicans need to stop putting the wind into the sails of Putin’s propaganda. More than that, Republicans need to forcefully and unequivocally refute the lie that Ukraine had anything to do with election interference in 2016.

Now on election security and the NDAA. Earlier this year, FBI Director Wray said, "The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections,” that’s what Director Wray said. And in response to a question from the senior senator from South Carolina, Director Wray went on to say: “My view is that until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough.”  As a reminder to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Director Wray is a Republican and a Trump appointee.

It is the testimony of Director Wray and many other national security leaders over the past three years that has reinforced our commitment on the Democratic side to secure passage of legislation that includes tough, mandatory, and deterrent sanctions against Putin and against any foreign adversary. This wasn’t a figment of our imagination. This came from our own intelligence and security agencies that Russia interfered and that they’re going to keep interfering until we stop them.

So it’s not a radical idea, it is a bipartisan idea, a part of bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Van Hollen, Menendez, Rubio, and Graham. The legislation needs to be included in the defense authorization bill. Defending our democracy is at the core of the nation’s defense. But at the moment, it is being blocked by Republican Leader McConnell and several Republican Committee Chairs. 

Now, I’m sure Leader McConnell and his colleagues, rather than explain their opposition, will do what they usually do. They try to point their finger of blame at Democrats and say we are holding up the defense bill. We’re not. That’s a time-honored Republican tradition to deflect blame. It just doesn’t hold water. Just this morning, we heard the Republican leader claim that Democrats are not supporting the defense programs needed to counter Russia. This is laughable coming from the other side, when it’s Leader McConnell who has fought so often to prevent dollars to protect us from Russian interference. My Republican counterparts are the ones who have green-lit the president to treat the Defense Department as a personal piggy bank, including raiding funds from European Deterrence Initiative—a program designed to counter Russia—to build the president’s wall. 

Democrats are ready to roll up their sleeves and work with our Republicans colleagues to clear any substantive objections they might have to election interference sanctions legislation, as well as any other issue they might have about the defense authorization bill. But we need to get serious soon about including these provisions. The annual defense bill might be our last chance to pass significant reforms to secure our elections. So Leader McConnell, are you for securing our elections against Russia or not? Because if you’re for it, we can move this defense bill much more quickly forward. What’s holding it up in good part is Leader McConnell’s opposition to spending the funds necessary and the legislation and sanctions necessary to stop Russia from interfering.

Finally on a happier note, or a bittersweet happy note: Johnny Isakson. What a fine man. Members of this chamber today will hold a bipartisan lunch to say goodbye to one of our most beloved colleagues, Johnny Isakson, who is retiring before the end of the year. Over the last few months, there have been numerous tributes to Johnny here on the Senate floor. He has been called “a real friend,” “a mentor,” “more than a colleague,” “humble and tenacious,” “they don’t come any better,”…and that’s just by Democrats. That’s one of the reasons I suggested to Leader McConnell we have a lunch for Johnny Isakson, which we’re having this afternoon.

Just like there’s good reason to praise Johnny Isakson in the ways Democrats did, there’s good reason that, during his chairmanship, Isakson’s committee passed so many bipartisan laws (fifty-seven to be exact) to help veterans: it’s because he treated everyone—Democrat, Republican, independent, newly elected or committee chair—with respect, and Johnny never let the cynicism of our political times dim his faith in our ability to get something done.

He didn’t have the loudest voice in the room, but it was often the most influential. That’s because he had built up years’ worth of trust. You never doubted his word. He was an honest broker. So whenever a chasm seemed to separate the parties on a certain issue, Isakson was often the one spanning the divide. I know that from experience over and over again, one example: when families in New York struggled to recover from disasters like Sandy—only to find flood insurance rates were crushing them with enormous debt—it was Sen. Isakson, whose state has suffered its fair share of disasters, who worked with my office to find a solution.

We made enormous progress together working to strengthen media shield laws, protecting fearless and independent journalism at a time when we need to stand up for a free and open press.

And in this most important appropriations process, we worked together to help the widows and children impacted by 9/11 gain access to a special terror victims' funding. I want to thank him, personally for that and more broadly I want to thank him for the example he set for many other Senators.

There are many fine adjectives that will be used to describe Sen. Isakson, and all of them will be well-deserved, but one word used to describe Sen. Isakson is not often found in the halls of Congress: “kind.” Johnny Isakson is one of the kindest, most thoughtful Senators I’ve known in my time here. A true statesman. That’s why I know that independent of any party or politics, everyone will miss Johnny.

I will have more to say about our friend at the bipartisan lunch this afternoon, but for now, I’d like to note for the record Sen. Isakson’s many years of faithful service to his beloved state of Georgia and his country. We wish him and Dianne the very best as he enters the next chapter of his life.

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