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Schumer Floor Remarks on the Release of North Korea’s American Hostages, the Need to Respect the Tradition of Blue Slips, and Net Neutrality

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor regarding the return of American hostages from North Korea, the need to respect the bipartisan tradition of blue slips, and restoring net neutrality. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Thank you, Mr. President. Now first, I want to spend a moment in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week.

I’m sure everyone here remembers a teacher who inspired them, challenged them, and propelled them to greater heights. I’ll never forget Mrs. Roberts, in Cunningham Junior High School, who opened my eyes to science. And Mrs. Riley, who inspired a love of literature. And I’ll never forget Mrs. Wagman, who kindled my interest in government and politics – an interest that’s never died.

That’s what great teachers do; they open up doors previously thought closed; they work day and night to give every one of us the opportunity to succeed. What a noble calling.

In my view, teaching in the 21st Century should be the same kind of exalted profession that law and medicine was in the 20th century. It is such an important job. In terms of our future, our economy, competing with China, education of our young people is number one, and often around here we forget that. In many of the states, they’ve forgotten it. Teachers enjoy their jobs. They make huge financial sacrifices, many of them could make much more money in another profession. And so, I think we should appreciate teachers, not only in thanking them – I thank the three that changed my life, and there are many more – but we should thank them by rewarding them financially, because it’s such an important profession.

Second, I’d also like to address the news this morning that Secretary of State Pompeo will be returning from North Korea with the three Americans who were held there against their will. We are all glad to see them returning home. Their families are delighted, we are all delighted.

But let’s not forget this is not some great give on North Korea’s part. We cannot forget that no regime has the right to hold Americans citizens in captivity without cause, and under no circumstances should American citizens be viewed as bargaining chips by foreign capitals. I hope that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo are clear about that, because the same goes for the other countries around the world that are wrongly detaining Americans – Iran and China – countries in the world think they can detain Americans, and get something in return? We’ll see many more hostages.

So, we are all rooting for the diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, and in that respect, I urge the Trump administration to work with our allies, with a coordinated and considered strategy, to see if we can denuclearized the Korean Peninsula, but the hostages shouldn’t be part of it. We are happy they’ve returned, but North Korea shouldn’t gain by taking Americans and then releasing them.

Next, in a few hours, the Senate will vote to proceed to the nomination of Michael Brennan to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Brennan has not received a blue slip – that’s a notice of approval, that’s been a tradition here in the Senate – from one of his home-town senators, Senator Baldwin. So, the vote today will be a slap-in-the-face of the custom of Senatorial courtesy, it’ll be a slap in the face to the bipartisanship that we hear so many on the other side of the aisle and so many more Americans talk about. It is blatant disrespect to every senator who wants to withhold his or her judgement on a judge, a tradition that’s been respected by Democrats and Republicans until Leader McConnell abruptly changed this earlier this year for circuit court judges.

What makes this even more galling is the history of this vacancy on the 7th Circuit. Mr. Brennan will fill a seat that’s been held open by Wisconsin’s other senator for six years during the Obama administration. Well, how was Senator Johnson able to withhold? He didn’t return his blue slip, and Senator Leahy, the Democratic chair, respected it. The same should prove true for Senator Baldwin, she should get the same respect from Senator McConnell and Chairman Grassley that Senator Johnson got for this same seat from then-Leader Reid and Senator Leahy, then-Chairman of Judiciary, but no. Our Republican colleagues keep changing the rules. Senator Johnson’s right to refuse a judge from his home state – as I’ve said -- was respected, by then-Chairman Leahy, and it was defended, publicly, in an op-ed, by guess who? Mr. Brennan himself! He wrote an op-ed, he was not a nominee for judge then, saying Johnson’s right to hold the seat open should be respected, and now he’s here on the floor with the blue slip being ignored for the first time since I’ve been here, and that’s since 1998.

How is Senator Baldwin’s right to consult on judges for her state any less important than Senator Johnson’s? It’s mind-bending hypocrisy. It’s an appalling double standard. And it’s another erosion of minority rights and the tradition of comity that I know so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle wish played a greater role here in the Senate. Furthermore, Senator Baldwin has talked about that they’ve always had a bipartisan commission recommending judges in Wisconsin, and there were several nominees that got through that bipartisan commission. You need Democratic and Republican support to get through that commission, as I understand it. They were ignored by the White House, and here Mr. Brennan, a hard-right nominee – who I believe either did not pass the committee, or wouldn’t have passed the committee, the bipartisan committee of Wisconsin – is here on the floor.

Now, this is the second time that we are voting on a judge who didn’t receive both blue slips. There will be another hearing today in the Judiciary Committee on Ryan Bounds, for the 9th Circuit in Oregon, even though he didn’t receive a blue slip from either Senators Wyden or Merkley.

I’d admonish my friends on the other side of the aisle: this is a very dangerous road you’re treading. As everyone knows, the winds of political change blow swiftly in America. The minority one day is the majority the next. There will come a day when the shoe will be on the other foot once again, and I don’t think my friends will be too happy if they are not afforded the courtesy of consulting on home-state judges. I like the tradition of bipartisanship when it comes to judges. I argued privately with Leader Reid that we shouldn’t remove the sixty votes. I was successful on the Supreme Court, he didn’t include that, but not on district and circuit court judges. So, in a tit-for-tat, I understand that Leader McConnell said we’re doing it for Supreme Court too, but the blue-slips are a whole new world, and I believe – I’ve always had three standards for the judges I have a participation in choosing in New York: excellence, they should be legally excellent, not political hacks. Diversity, I like diversity on the bench when we can get it, and I always try and we’ve had a lot of success in New York. But I also like moderation. I don’t like judges far right, that’s obvious, but I also don’t like judges far left because judges who are ideologues tend to believe they can make law, rather than interpret law. And week by week, month by month, year by year the bounds – both sides of the aisle are somewhat to blame, but this blue slip goes way beyond – but that tradition of bipartisanship that has kept judges more in the center, that has kept judges who tend to interpret the law rather than make it, is evaporating.

Once the blue slips are gone, there will be little incentive for a majority to consult the minority on judicial nominations. That’s objectively not a good thing. We want judges who are qualified, even-handed, not partisan instruments. A Senate that acts only as a rubber stamp for the president’s nominees is not doing its job. We may not as well have had “advise and consent” if the party in power, even by one vote as it is here today, just rubber stamps every one of the president’s judges.

So, I’d urge my Republican friends to consider the larger implications to the vote on Michael Brennan, a seat that was vacant for six years in response to the blue slip. And by the way, Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley signed a letter to not get rid of the blue slip. So, if you want to talk about tit-for-tat, this one doesn’t belong. Leader Reid kept the blue slip, even though lots of vacancies stayed for a lot longer than a year. Leader McConnell is getting rid of it for circuit court judges, and it’s a move away from impartial, nonpolitical judiciary.

Every senator -- if he or she were facing what Senator Baldwin is facing today -- would want the body to defend their rights. I would urge at least one or two of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle not to vote in lockstep, but for the sake of the Senate and for the sake of the country to vote no Brennan, whether you agree with his views or not, as a protest to the way this has happened.

Now, one final topic: net neutrality. Later today, Democrats will take the Senate another step towards the consideration of a bill to restore net neutrality.

When the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December, they handed the large Internet Service Providers all the cards. They said do what you will with the internet. Charge consumers more for faster service if you like, or segment the internet into packages, forcing the average family to purchase faster times for their favorite websites. Let big corporations purchase faster internet service while startups, and small businesses, and consumers are left in the dust. Public schools, rural Americans, communities of color or anyone in a remote area or without substantial resources could be at a significant disadvantage if the ISPs start charging more for decent internet. You know people say, “Well, let a private company do whatever it wants, let them charge whatever they want,” but in certain goods which are essential, we don’t do that. Utilities, highways -- the same thing now applies to the internet. It’s a necessity, and we have to have protections for average folks, for small business, for working families.

That’s why Democrats are so concerned about net neutrality and why we’re trying to restore it. Because we believe that the internet should be kept free and open like our highways, accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of ability to pay. It’s not that you don’t pay, it’s that if you’re a little guy or gal, you shouldn’t pay a lot more than the bigshots. We don’t do that on highways, we don’t do that with utilities, and we shouldn’t do that on the internet, another modern, 21st century highway that’s a necessity.

Every Democrat supports our net neutrality CRA, and one Republican, Senator Collins. And unlike most legislation, Democrats can force a vote on the floor of the Senate on our proposal. Today, Senator Markey will take the first step in that process. He’s going to discharge the CRA from the Commerce Committee to the Senate calendar. That means we’ll have a vote on this ability to preserve net neutrality, and help the little guy as they pay for services on the internet, and that will make that vote available next week. So, I would urge Americans, average Americans, young people, old people, everyone in between, small businesses, email, call, write, visit your senator on the Republican side, and urge them to protect net neutrality. It’s only right, it’s only fair, and it makes economic sense.

No matter what, my friends on the other side are going to have to put themselves on the record on this issue. Whose side are you on? The big internet and cable providers? Or the average consumer who depends on the internet? This vote can be summed up in one phrase: whose side are you on? So I urge all Americans, and particularly younger Americans -- who get this better than my generation because they’ve lived with the internet their whole life – I urge all Americans to contact their senators this week and next week before the vote and demand that their senator restore net neutrality. Contact your senators, Americans, please. Your wallets and well-being, in ways far more significant than most things we do here, depend on it.