Schumer Floor Remarks On The Trump Administration’s Response To The Coronavirus, The Nomination Of Rep. Ratcliffe For DNI, And The Energy Bill The Senate Will Consider This Week

March 2, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding President Trump’s inadequate response to spread of coronavirus and the nomination of Rep. Ratcliffe to be the Director of National Intelligence. He also spoke about the energy bill that the Senate will consider this week. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Over the weekend, cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in New York, Rhode Island, Florida. Officials in Washington State have also reported that now six Americans have died from coronavirus, the first fatalities from the coronavirus in the U.S.

At this critical moment, we need an administration that acts with persistent and unrelenting transparency, decisiveness, and leans on the expertise of our scientists and doctors.

But this administration, unfortunately, has spent years hollowing out the domestic and global health security teams in the executive branch. It has proposed cutting funding from the infectious disease rapid response fund, the emerging infectious disease account, and public health preparedness and response programs. Undoubtedly, the Trump administration would have been better prepared to respond to the coronavirus if the president had prioritized these programs rather than urge them to be cut.

The administration’s early response efforts have not instilled much confidence either. Testing kits were not promptly sent to the hospitals and medical labs around the country, political personnel has overruled the recommendations of the CDC, and the administration was slow to appoint any single official with public health expertise to coordinate our government’s response.

Even now, President Trump seems to be spending more of his time blaming the media, and blaming the Democrats, than being constructive. In fact, he blames everyone not named Donald Trump. The president is downplaying—he is downplaying—the threat of coronavirus to a dangerous degree, and his Chief of Staff, amazingly, said to Americans “turn off your televisions.”

We know the history of how these viruses spread and work. When you deny them, when you don’t let people know what’s happening and what to do about it, things get worse. And yet, the president, being as self-centered as he is—only cares about himself and his image—and he tries, as usual, instead of solving the problem, to blame somebody else.

The deflection and finger-pointing—the denial—must stop. President Trump must take responsibility to ensure that everyone in the public health community has the authority and the resources needed. We need the president and his team to level with the American people and get a handle on the situation.

Now, later this week, appropriators will put together an emergency supplemental package to surge resources into the domestic and global response and help local communities quickly prepare for the coronavirus. I have said that we need about $8.5 billion, and from all reports, the appropriators are very close to that number, rather than the $2.5 billion the president talked about early on. And that’s good, because when it comes to Americans’ health, when it comes to our safety, when it comes to dealing with this problem head-on, skimping doesn’t make any sense at all. If there was ever something that’s pennywise and pound-foolish, that’s it.

I’m going to have more to say as this package comes together, but at a minimum, any package needs to have provisions that ensure that:

  • The president cannot transfer these new funds to anything other than the coronavirus and American and global preparedness to combat epidemics and infectious diseases;
  • Vaccines must be affordable and available to all who need them. Yesterday I called for vaccines, when developed, to be fully covered by Medicare because seniors, who need the vaccines most, should not have to worry if they can afford it once it’s available.  
  • There should be interest-free loans made available for small businesses impacted by the outbreak; and
  • State and local governments should be reimbursed and provided new grants for virus response activities.

In the meantime, the administration needs to keep working with local communities—including schools, universities, and local agencies—on the steps they must take to prepare for an increase in coronavirus cases. Specifically, the administration needs to do the following:

  1. Issue coherent guidance on what school districts should do in the event the virus is detected in a community
  2. Establish a uniform screening policy for airports and ports of entry.  Our front line transportation professionals at TSA and CBP need clear guidance on the coronavirus.
  3. Make it clear that our federal scientists and medical experts can speak out freely and be heard by the American people. No gag rule. No downplaying this because that makes things worse, when people don’t know the facts.

Now, Democrats are ready to work on a bipartisan basis to make sure federal, state, and local officials are ready for whatever scenario coronavirus presents. The president and his administration, and our colleagues in the Senate, must be ready to do the same.

Now, on the energy bill. Tonight, the Senate will vote on the motion to proceed on a bill that would make changes to our nation’s energy policy. Ranking Member Manchin and I have had several discussions with Chairwoman Murkowski and the Republican Leader about having a fair amendment process on this legislation. As a result of these conversations, I will be voting YES on the motion tonight as a show of good faith.

Democrats want amendments to the energy bill so we can make real progress on climate change. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve this week. Few pieces of legislation offer more opportunity for progress on climate than those that concern our energy policy. We cannot miss this opportunity to make real, substantive progress on climate change.

And I am hopeful that our amendments this week—that the potential progress we can make on climate change this week—can be bipartisan.

For months, Republicans have been trying to adjust their posture on the most pressing issue facing our planet: the climate crisis. This bill provides a real test for Senate Republicans. Will they join Senate Democrats in fighting for and passing bipartisan legislation that will address climate change in a significant way?

Or will our Republican friends continue to do what they have done for the last several years: do the bidding of corporate polluters and big oil and block amendments with bipartisan support?

Finally, on DNI. On Friday, after dismissing Acting Director of National Intelligence McGuire and replacing him with a partisan loyalist with no experience, Rick Grenell, President Trump proposed installing as a permanent Director of National Intelligence Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas.

Replacing one highly partisan operative with another does nothing to keep our country safe. At a time when Vladimir Putin is once again interfering in our elections, we need a nonpartisan leader, with a high level of expertise and trust on both sides of the aisle, someone who sees the world objectively and speaks truth to power at the helm of the Intelligence Community. Neither Acting Director Grenell nor Rep. Ratcliffe comes close to that standard. Rep. Ratcliffe, in particular, falls short of that high bar.

John Negroponte became DNI after decades of working in the Foreign Service. Former directors Dennis Blair, James Clapper, and Mike McConnell—whatever you think of them individually, and they came from both parties—all had decades of experience in and working with the intelligence community. Dan Coats, the president’s last nominee to this position, served as a diplomat, Senator, and Sergeant in the Army before assuming the post.

Rep. Ratcliffe, on the other hand, is a three-term Tea Party congressman. He has shown extreme partisanship in the House. He lacks the experience required to lead a community of 17 intelligence agencies.

Because the experience Mr. Ratcliffe does have in Congress has been alarmingly partisan. He was a fierce critic of the Mueller investigation; earned praise from deep-state conspiracy theorists. During the Mueller hearings, Rep. Ratcliffe badgered the former Special Counsel with baseless lines of questioning. Highly partisan. Not at all related to fact. He didn’t seem to care. He showed little regard for the seriousness of Putin’s interference in our elections and the need for election security. The intelligence agencies, since World War II, since OSS, since the formation of the CIA, have been immune from politics, by-and-large. This president, like he does with everything else, seeks to make them the arm of his likes and dislikes—of what’s good for him and what’s not good for him.

Even if he denigrates these fine men and women, he doesn’t seem to care that we need intelligence agencies who find the truth and tell the Congress and the American people the truth. And now he appoints a rank partisan to this agency, who he probably sees on Fox News mouthing the conspiracy theories that only the president and his avid supporters seem to believe.

It is such a decline in America when this great agency, where people have risked their lives for America, quietly, is made into a political football to serve one man, President Trump, who we all know doesn’t really have a penchant for truth, for honor, for decency.

With this nomination, President Trump has shown again a lack of respect for the rule of law, for the intelligence community that Republican and Democratic presidents have all shown in the past. Republicans must join Democrats in swiftly rejecting the nomination of the partisan Mr. Ratcliffe.

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