Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor on the need for the president to not act above the law regarding the Russia investigation, the importance of steering clear of partisan judicial nominees, and the impact the Trump administration’s policies are having on American families. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:
Over the past few weeks, Madam President, we’ve all endured the increasingly novel legal theories dreamt up by the president and his lawyers regarding the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Over the weekend, we learned that the president’s lawyers wrote a memo that asserted unfettered authority over all federal investigations. Rudy Giuliani actually suggested the president could have “shot James Comey” and not been indicted or prosecuted, because, according to him, “in no case can [the president] be subpoenaed or indicted.” Is that incredible? Is that incredible?
The president himself tweeted yesterday that he has the absolute right to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel was unconstitutional, despite the fact that he regularly called for a special counsel to look into Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. The two-facedness, the hypocrisy of saying Hillary should have it, but now it’s unconstitutional when it applies to him. How can the American people tolerate that kind of thinking in a president?
This morning again, President Trump again faulted Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the probe instead of helping to end it. The president’s tweet regarding Attorney General Sessions this morning is part of a pattern, where the president admits out loud and shamelessly that he was trying to take steps to end the Russia probe. First, in a television interview, the president admitted that stopping the Russia probe was his motivation for firing Director Comey. Now, he says he would never have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to recuse himself – even though recusal was required by Department of Justice rules. This latest, stunning admission is just more evidence that the president may have something to hide. If he did nothing wrong, President Trump should welcome a thorough investigation to exonerate him.
And each of the claims I have mentioned has the same theme: that the president believes he is above the law. Of course, we know that the idea that anyone in America is above the law is antithetical to the very idea of America; antithetical to the very idea of democracy, antithetical to what millions of Americans have fought for, and for what millions have died for in the course of our grand history. We don’t have a king. We have a president, bound by the same constitution and the same laws that govern the average American citizen.
The Founding Fathers didn’t set out to create a monarchy; they set out to construct a system of government entirely distinct from the monarchies of their time. That’s why they installed checks and balances, and devolved power between three branches, to ensure the liberty of the people and guard against the encroach of tyranny. That was their great gift to us, and their ideas have kept American democracy alive for two and half centuries, and the admiration of the world for an equal period of time. Trump is besmirching all of that with his recent activities.
So despite what the president and his allies may feel about his authority or his absolution from legal repercussions, the Constitution and the founding principles of our country tell us he’s dead wrong.
President Trump – we are not a monarchy; you are not a king; we are a constitutional democracy, so act like it.
On another matter, this week the Senate is processing a number of judges. Some of these judges are non-controversial. As I’ve said in the past, Democrats are committed to working with the majority to process these non-controversial nominees. But there are several highly controversial nominees after this slate that bear attention.
Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the nomination of David Porter for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the fact that Senator Casey has not returned a blue slip on Mr. Porter who was nominated by the White House over the home-state senator’s repeated objections. Mr. Porter, like so many of the nominees submitted by this president, is far outside the judicial mainstream. Throughout his career he has maintained affiliations with anti-LGBT organizations and expressed personal views that are contrary to the interests of American workers, the very people President Trump defends, American working people. He appoints judges that undo their rights, their opportunities, their ladders up. This is an example. Unfortunately, the majority is once again bucking a century-old Senate tradition of respecting the opposition of home-state senators and moving forward with the consideration of yet another hard-right, anti-working class ideologue.
On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will consider the nomination of Ryan Bounds for a Circuit Court seat in Oregon, although neither Senator Wyden nor Senator Merkley – the two senators from Oregon – has returned a blue slip on his nomination. Recently, we learned that Mr. Bounds had some rather offensive writings that he failed to disclose to the bipartisan Federal Judicial Selection Advisory Committee established by the two Oregon senators to recommend potential nominees. Nonetheless, of course, the Republican majority, prodded on by the hard-right ideologues, is moving ahead with his nomination, over the tradition of the blue slips, over these recent revelations.
And next week, the Senate will likely move to the pending nomination of Thomas Farr to the Eastern District of North Carolina, currently the longest vacancy in the United States. Part of the reason why the seat has remained open so long is because Republican senators blocked an Obama nominee, Jennifer May-Parker for nearly three years. With Mr. Farr’s nomination, we have another example of a vacancy that only exists because Democrats recognized and respected the blue slip tradition, a tradition the Republicans have so unceremoniously discarded.
Not only has Mr. Farr spent his long legal career working against the rights of unions and the right of workers to organize, Farr has demonstrated himself to be a partisan. After challenging multiple congressional maps drawn by North Carolina’s Democrats, Mr. Farr vigorously defended the most recent maps drawn by North Carolina’s Republicans, which, in fact, were overturned by the Supreme Court for discrimination. Mr. Farr also defended North Carolina’s restrictive voter ID law passed by Republicans, arguing that a voter ID was a “minor inconvenience” for voters. Might I remind you this is the same voter ID law that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals determined was passed with "discriminatory intent" and which "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision." Those are the Fourth Circuit’s words, not mine. And that’s who we are putting on the bench, people who support laws that blatantly discriminate against people of color? Where are we going to in this country? Where are our ideals when it comes to picking people to the bench? I’m sure they can find conservative folks who don’t have these egregious kinds of behavior.
I’ve long argued that we should judge our judges on three metrics: excellence, moderation, diversity. By dint of his legal career in defense of partisan Republican issues, Farr has shown that he lacks moderation; that he’s willing to defend even the most strident attempts by North Carolina’s Republicans to game the congressional maps and make it more difficult for minorities to vote.
I will strongly, strongly oppose his nomination and urge my colleagues to do the same.
Finally, Madam President, on the economy. During the eight years of President Obama’s term, Democrats worked to turn the economy around: to dig our country out of the recession and get back to growing the economy and the middle class.
Now that Republicans are in charge, their policies are almost the reverse: instead of focusing on the middle class and those struggling to get there, Republicans have elected to turn over the keys over to big corporations and the super wealthy – their benefactors. Instead of trying to bring down the cost of everyday items, Republican economic policies have driven up the cost of things like health care and gasoline.
By sabotaging our current health care system, President Trump and Republicans have caused insurance rates to increase by double digits across several states. Yesterday, insurers in the states of Washington and New York both announced an average rate increase of about 20%, similar to double-digit increases in Virginia and Maryland. Americans were already struggling with the high cost of health care before these increases. Republican policies have only made these problems worse.
What about gas prices? By pulling out the Iran deal and failing to get tough with OPEC, President Trump has contributed to the increase in gas prices. He hangs out, seems to be friendly with the crown prince, the head of the UAE, even President Putin. Why isn’t he jawboning them, his so-called friends, to help the average American family not pay increases in the high price of gas? President Trump was quick to blame President Obama when gas prices went up. Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. American families are now paying over $3 for a gallon of gas in many places, and the prices are expected to continue to rise over the summer.
Meanwhile, as costs go up for the middle class in many, many cases, far outweighing any break they got in the tax bill, corporations and the rich are reaping a windfall from the Republican tax bill. So far – listen to this – so far in 2018, corporations have announced plans to spend more than $450 billion in corporate stock buybacks, a maneuver that directs profits into the pockets of wealthy executives and shareholders but does little for workers. Even Republican Senator Marco Rubio has said: “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the corporate tax cut Republicans passed last year is overwhelmingly benefiting workers.”
In a nutshell, this new Republican economy: bonanza for corporations and the rich, higher costs for everybody else.
And in November, the American people will get to decide if they want a government that works on their behalf or more of the same top-down, trickle-down policies that have failed, time and time again, and are failing once again.