Schumer Floor Remarks On The Needed Bipartisan Funding Agreement To Combat Coronavirus And Calling On The Trump Administration To Improve Their Lacking Response To The Coronavirus CrisisMarch 4, 2020
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, urging Senators to support a bipartisan emergency funding agreement to combat the coronavirus. Senator Schumer also called on President Trump to stop spreading false and misleading information and to start show leadership in response to this public health crisis. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States continues to grow, Congress is taking swift action this week to provide our health experts, hospital, health care providers and state and local governments the funding they need. A bipartisan negotiation between appropriators in the House and Senate is very close to producing an emergency funding bill that would provide between $7 and $8 billion to respond to the coronavirus.
This is very close to the amount that I thought was appropriate when I requested it last week ($8.5 billion) and is more than four or five times what the administration originally requested. I believe if we hadn’t pushed them, they would have been totally inadequate to the crisis—as they have been in preparation and planning.
The administration requested $2.5 billion, which only half of that was new funding. The rest came from pulling it out of other things, like Ebola, that were very much needed as well. The bill we put together here in Congress is far more appropriate, and will actually address our country’s short-and-medium-term needs.
That is very, very good news. And I’d like to compliment Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, for making efforts to come together, for being the adults in the room while President Trump childishly exaggerates, underplays, points fingers of blame, latches onto conspiracy theories, and, most of all, doesn’t lead.
This is an example where American needs leadership, and President Trump’s lack of leadership is glaringly apparent to Americans.
The crucial legislation provides funding for very specific and timely needs.
There will be $350 million for “hot spots”—areas affected by the outbreak.
There will be $500 million to procure pharmaceuticals, masks, protective equipment and other medical supplies to distribute to states, local governments, and hospitals.
There will be $100 million for community health centers and funding for training and beds.
We are replenishing the CDC’s Infectious Disease Rapid Response Fund so that it can respond quickly to local areas that experience an outbreak.
In total, there is $950 million in funding for state and local governments to undertake the many activities they need to respond to the spread of the virus: surveillance for the coronavirus, laboratory testing, contact tracing to identify anyone who may have been infected by a person known to have the virus, infection control at the local level, and more.
And this is only one piece of the bill. The rest of the bill will give desperately-needed funds to the CDC, HHS, USAID, and FDA and others to do vaccine research and development and much more.
The funding levels in this bill and their specific uses very much reflect the needs of the country as health care professionals across America work to confront the spread of the virus. And I want to thank our appropriators on the front lines, Ranking Member Leahy and Chairman Shelby in the Senate, Chair Lowey and Ranking Member Granger in the House.
While the Trump administration’s response has been slow and halting, Congress has taken action. While President Trump is playing fast and loose with facts and blaming everyone not named Donald Trump—Congress is taking responsibility and acting like the adult in the room.
Democrats would like to see this emergency funding package passed through the Senate by the end of the week, and we will work with the majority to make sure that that happens. I urge all of my colleagues—in the interest of time, understanding the urgency of the matter—to help us achieve this goal.
Now, yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence and his team from CDC, FDA, and HHS met with the Democratic caucus to answer questions about the administration’s response to the coronavirus. We appreciated their willingness to come to our caucus; they stayed, unlike some of the previous briefings, stayed and addressed a lot of our questions. The only problem: they didn’t have as many answers as we needed—answers the American people would expect at this stage of the epidemic.
One of our top priorities at the moment is testing. We need to know who is infected in order to contain the spread of the virus and treat any American affected by the diseases. We asked the administration about the availability of testing kits but they could not answer how soon hospitals, medical labs, and public health centers would receive the tests, and if they would have enough of them to do the amount of testing required, fast enough. The best way to deal with testing is to let people do it on-site. Let them go to their local doctor, their local community health center and get the test and get an answer quickly.
Unfortunately, the vice president and his team had no answers to that. It is a real problem. Our questions at the meeting yesterday should give the administration an urgency to figure this out as soon as possible.
I would also plead with President Trump to begin showing some leadership on the coronavirus. So far, the president’s main concern has been to tamp down concern about the virus. He gives broad assurances that “everything is under control.” When you show up at your doctor’s office because you think you might have coronavirus and there’s no test and he doesn’t know what to do and he just says, “go home and don’t go to work”—that’s not everything under control, Mr. President.
If any member of his administration tells the president something optimistic, he repeats it and usually exaggerates it: the disease will magically “disappear” when the weather gets warmer. A vaccine will be ready “soon.” All misstatements from President Trump.
In a televised meeting with government health experts and pharmaceutical experts, the president repeatedly failed to comprehend that a vaccine would take over a year to develop and test. This is the President of the United States during a crisis. He doesn’t even understand the basic rudiments of what is going on. He suggested, blithely, that we could just use the influenza vaccine for the coronavirus, and he was quickly corrected by Dr. Fauci, one of our health experts.
Twenty-four hours later, the president was claiming that pharma executives would speed up the production of a vaccine as a favor to him. President Trump: people are sick. People are dying. The virus is wreaking havoc on the economy and you look at it as a favor to you? It’s not about you, Mr. President. It’s about America and the crisis and what our federal government is doing to help.
The president saying it was a favor to him, the president stating such blatant mistruths, was a shocking demonstration of just how little the president listens, how little the president learns, how little leadership he shows at a time when we desperately need leadership.
During a public health crisis of this magnitude, we need steady and competent leadership from President Trump. So far, it has been totally lacking, unfortunately for America.