Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need To Respond To The Ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic Through A Real, Comprehensive National Testing Strategy Instead Of Leader McConnell’s Focus On Right-Wing Nominations

May 5, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the nominations of Rep. Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence and Brian Miller to be the Special Inspector General of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. Senator Schumer also called on President Trump to immediately and significantly expand coronavirus testing and contact tracing as part of a national, comprehensive testing strategy. In addition, Senator Schumer announced that he and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) will urge the Senate to mandate new disclosure requirements for the Paycheck Protection Program and other disaster relief accounts. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The Republican Leader has called the Senate back into session during a time when there are significant risks to the health of the members of this chamber and the staff who make this place function.

Now, this is a time of national emergency. We should be working to provide our country the relief and support it direly needs. But this is only the second day of business since Leader McConnell called the Senate back into session and there will be no votes here on the floor. Not one vote. And so far there is no plan—no plan at all—to consider COVID-related legislation on the floor in the near future.

If we’re going to be here, in session, with an elevated risk to our health, why doesn’t Leader McConnell have us work on issues that are actually related to COVID-19?

Last night, we confirmed a non-controversial nominee to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The next nominee on the floor is for a counterintelligence post—no doubt important but unrelated to COVID—and his nomination has been delayed by a hold from a Republican Senator. So when the Republican leader reasons that we must process nominees on the floor this week because of a previous Democratic “obstruction,” he should check his notes and his facts first.

We could be using our time here to address a number of urgent priorities: whether it’s rescuing our ailing health system, increasing testing capacity, assisting small businesses, renters and homeowners. Providing vigorous oversight of legislation we’ve already passed would be a better use of the Senate’s time.

But instead of coming together to work on these pressing matters, we’re talking about nominations and right-wing judges, including a former protégé of the Republican leader who was rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association, a man who argued against the constitutionality of our health care law in the midst of a public health crisis. Someone who probably 80% or 90% of Americans would reject if they knew his views, but he is a protégé of the leader. We are rushing him through. We're not paying attention to COVID.

And today, two more hearings will take place on controversial nominees.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is holding a virtual hearing on the nomination of Rep. Ratcliffe to serve as the next Director of National Intelligence. This is an extremely important post that demands a candidate with deep experience, credibility on both sides of the aisle, and above all, the ability to speak truth to power.

Rep. Ratcliffe meets none of these criteria. He is a deeply partisan cheerleader for the president. A yes man in in the worst sense of the phrase. Someone who doesn't speak truth to power to the president of the United States. He tells the president what he wants to hear. Doesn't this sound familiar?

Right now, we are living with the consequences of a president who doesn’t want to hear the truth about the coronavirus; who doesn’t want to believe it’s as bad as it truly is; who wants to cling to quack medicines that won't work; and who runs away from the fact that his administration bears responsibility for the inadequacy of our national response.

The president doesn’t like hearing the truth. It's that simple. That has hurt us dearly when it comes to the coronavirus. This crisis is partly the result of an administration who did not take COVID-19 seriously enough, early enough, and refused to heed the warnings of public health officials and scientists.

The same phenomenon will hurt us dearly when it comes to national security as well. If the DNI can’t stand up and tell the president what’s really happening, even when the president doesn’t want to hear it, our country will be dramatically less safe. The same thing that has happened during the coronavirus crisis. If we move Rep. Radcliffe and pass him, we will repeat this same mistake that the president has made on COVID. Not hearing the truth, not acting on the truth, listening to flattery and not much else, that we did on COVID, we will repeat it on national security.

I think many of my Republican colleagues actually know this. This is not the first time that President Trump has floated Rep. Ratcliffe’s name, it’s the second. Because on the first time, Republicans balked. Many Republicans whispered he has no experience,. Some Republicans said to one another, to some of us,  you don’t need someone in the DNI who is just a cheerleader for the president. You need someone who knows intelligence and will speak the truth. There is no new evidence that Mr. Ratcliffe will act with the necessary independence. Nothing has changed about Ratcliffe’s qualifications since he was shot down by Republican senators saying he is the wrong man for the job. But sometimes, all too often in this Senate, to the detriment of this country, even when my Republican colleagues know the president is wrong, they go blindly along with him anyway. That happened with COVID, and will now happen with our intelligence agency.

I hope it’s not the case.  I hope Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination will be roundly rejected as it should.

The second hearing this morning is in the Senate Banking Committee, on Brian Miller to be the special inspector general of the pandemic relief efforts.

Having an independent, experienced and strong IG to oversee the administration’s use of taxpayer funds in this pandemic is critically important. Under President Trump who has been firing IGs left and right, simply because they tell the truth; under President Trump, who believes that he is accountable to no one, selecting a truly independent watchdog is essential and urgent.

As someone who currently works directly for President Trump as a member of his White House counsel’s office, Mr. Miller’s independence from the President is very much in doubt.  We need a strong, tough IG, billions of dollars are being spent, we don’t want someone who’s got in his mind, “I’ve got to please the president.”  Mr. Miller needs to explain why the Senate should confirm him to a position that requires genuine independence.

In particular, he must answer specific questions from the Banking Committee about his role in the White House Counsel’s office, and what issues he has worked on. It’s not acceptable to hide behind vague assertions that he can’t answer those questions. It’s too important. The burden on Miller is to demonstrate that he can be a truly strong independent inspector general. 

There are serious questions about the fitness of both of these nominees, Mr. Ratcliffe and Mr. Miller. But more broadly, the Republican leader has made a mistake by choosing to dedicate this session to nominations only instead of urgent legislative business. COVID-19.

We could, and should, be focused on issues like testing. The first diagnosed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the United States just over one hundred days ago and we still don’t have a national testing strategy that is adequate.

In early March, President Trump said that, “anybody who needs a test gets a test,” which should enter the pantheon of presidential lies alongside “I am not a crook” and “read my lips, no new taxes.”

It wasn’t true then. It isn’t true now. We don't have a situation now where everyone who needs a test and wants a test gets one. As nations around the world like South Korea and Canada flatten the curve with rigorous national testing programs, the United States—this great United States, usually the leader of the world—is lagging so far behind. So today, forty-two Senate Democrats are sending a letter demanding that the Trump Administration to fulfill its responsibility to produce a comprehensive national strategic plan of action by May 24.

Congress provided $25 billion in the last round of COVID legislation to help build up our testing capacity. The Administration needs to take those resources and produce results. We have given them the money and the wherewithal. Where are they? The strategy they must come up with must include a strategy for managing supply chains, for making sure resources are allocated equitably, and that we use all available tools—like the Defense Production Act—to make sure we reach the level of testing that will manage this disease and save lives, and get our economy moving again. 

Until we have a vaccine, the most important tool we have at our disposal for tracking the disease, limiting its spread, and understanding when we can safely re-open is testing, testing, testing. We await the president’s response to our letter and remain willing to work with the administration to make sure that we can end its embarrassment of inadequate testing, which frankly is far more than an embarrassment. It's crucial. It's life and death.

Finally, small business lending transparency. Over the past several months, Congress has provided historic levels of funding to help small businesses retain employees, meet payroll, and stay afloat during these turbulent times. Because of the depth of this crisis, we have dedicated trillions—not billions, but trillions—to this effort.

We absolutely must make sure that these relief programs are implemented properly. With so much taxpayer money at stake, oversight, transparency, and accountability is a must.

Now, issues with the small business lending programs cropped up almost as soon as the administration began implementing them. Truly small businesses had a difficult time securing a loan while larger businesses that had standing relationships with big banks had an easier time. Minority-owned business, women-owned businesses, and other unbanked businesses—the proverbial small restaurant owner, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker—they have been left out to a large degree. We’ve tried to rectify some of these problems already, particularly in COVID 3.5, but more just be done.

And as Justice Brandeis said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Transparency around these lending programs is the order of the day.

So, this afternoon, Sen. Cardin and I will ask the Senate to pass legislation to mandate new disclosure requirements for the Paycheck Protection Program and other disaster relief accounts.

Our bill is very simple. It would require daily and weekly reporting of the PPP, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and debt relief programs broken down by geography, demographics and industry. The data would need to be downloadable and would include the names of the entities and the loan or grant amounts. It also would need to detail whether the programs are reaching underserved communities.

This is hardly a controversial idea. There is nothing partisan about it. Our legislation would simply require the kind of basic transparency that we’d expect from any federal program of this size and importance.

It's my hope that my Republican colleagues don’t block our request simply because it comes from this side of the aisle.

I would hope that, on a day when the Republican leader has scheduled literally no business for the floor of the Senate, that we could come together to pass this very simple bill to make sure we know how taxpayer dollars are being spent.