Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the two new members of the Democratic Caucus –Tina Smith and Doug Jones, the upcoming legislative priorities for 2018 and President Trump’s handling of foreign policy. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:
Mr. President, as we begin the second session of the 115th Congress, I welcome all my colleagues back from the holiday break and wish them a Happy New Year and wish our country a wonderful 2018. I was also very gratified to see two of the best vice presidents that we have ever had on the floor today for the ceremonies. I’m glad to see former Senators Mondale and Biden, former Vice Presidents Mondale and Biden as feisty as ever, as strong as ever, and giving us their opinions as they have ever been. It’s also very exciting to welcome two new members of this body who will be joining the Democratic caucus: Tina Smith from Minnesota and Doug Jones from Alabama.
In joining this esteemed body, they bring a wealth of experience and individual passions.
Former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith brings with her several years of experience serving at the highest levels of state government, where she focused on economic development and expanding access to rural broadband and affordable health care – issues she will continue to fight for here in the Senate. In that work, Governor Dayton praised her as “extremely intelligent, quick to learn and always open to hearing others’ views.” She was also dubbed the “velvet hammer” by the Mayor of Minneapolis for her ability to work across the aisle but also get tough when she needs to be. Those are precisely the kind of qualities that make an effective Senator. The people of Minnesota are lucky to have Sen. Smith, and we look forward to welcoming her in our next caucus.
We also look forward to welcoming Sen. Doug Jones, the first Democrat from the state of Alabama in a quarter-century. He too represents the very best of public service, the very best of America, the things we aspire to in this country. One story from his biography stands out: As a second-year law student, Doug Jones skipped class to attend the trial of the Klansman ringleader of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church – an event that shook the conscience of our country and helped launch a mighty movement for civil rights. That day, a young Doug Jones was moved by the disposition of justice, but he was left with the impression that other members of the conspiracy had escaped the reach of the law. So twenty-four years later, when Doug Jones became the US Attorney for the state of Alabama, he pursued charges against two more Klan members involved in the bombing, winning their conviction, and delivering a long-delayed but righteous justice. With his work justice rolled down like a mighty stream.
He will continue that fight for civil rights and many other issues here in the Senate. I know he cares deeply about the CHIP program, which covers 150,000 young Alabamans. I hope we can get that done for his state, and his country, very soon. Doug Jones was an excellent candidate, like Sen. Smith, and he will make an outstanding Senator, she for the state of Minnesota, he for the state of Alabama.
The voices of Senators Jones and Smith will add to the diversity and energy of our caucus, and I predict that both will grow to become influential voices in this historic chamber. And each of their states had great football victories this weekend, I might add. I watched Alabama win over Clemson. I watched Minnesota, my favorite team outside of the three New York teams come in second in the whole NFC and got gain as we move to the playoffs. So it was a great day for these two states in a lot of ways this weekend and it’s very good so far for 2018 with the swearing in of these two senators.
Let their induction this afternoon be the beginning of a new direction for the Senate in the second half of this Congress.
The first half of the 115th Congress was not a year to be proud of. Partisan legislation emerged from the Majority Leader’s office and was dropped on the floor of the Senate, sometimes mere hours before we were asked to vote on its final passage. Procedural gimmicks were used to avoid the Senate’s long history of debate and bipartisanship. An economy wracked by unfairness and inequality was made even more unfair and un-equal by the Republican Majority – which almost delighted in revoking consumer protections, to help big business, installed a pro-corporate Supreme Court, drove up healthcare premiums, and passed a tax bill dramatically skewed to the benefit of big corporations and the very wealthy.
All in all, 2017 was a great year for wealthy Republican donors, but a lost year for the middle class and the working men and women of this country.
We Democrats hope that this year is different – focused on the middle class rather than the rich and powerful. Focused on helping them in the ways we’ve done in the last decades both Democratic and Republican presidents, rather than this trickle down, which benefits the few at the top and does not benefit the very many in the middle. And in these first few weeks, Mr. President, we have a chance to start off on the right foot.
We have two weeks to negotiate a budget deal that must also address a host of other items, including the CHIP, community health centers, disaster aid, and of course, the Dreamers. Democrats would also like our country to make a down payment on urgent domestic priorities like combatting the opioid epidemic, a scourge that for the first time helped our life expectancy to decline because of a higher death rate from opioids. We want to improve veterans’ health care -- we must serve them as they served us – and we want to shore up pension plans for millions of hardworking, middle-class Americans who put money in every month and because of the stock market crash and sometimes corporate misdeeds aren’t getting what they put in for.
These items are crucial to the middle class. Take opioids for example. In 2016, a record 63,000, this is so sad, Americans died of drug overdoses. Two-thirds (or more) of them were opioid-related. It’s a full-fledged epidemic, striking the rich, poor, and middle class alike. It strikes urban America, suburban America and rural America alike. I’ve had a father cry in my arms because his son decided to turn himself around and signed up for a treatment program, but the line is so long because the funding is so scarce that the young man died of an overdose before he could enter treatment.
The opioid crisis is stealing our youth. We’ve known about it for years. It’s not new. It’s heartbreaking how much we know about it but how little we’ve done. The American people sent us here to do the nation’s business, and that means addressing its greatest challenges. So let’s make a real investment in this budget deal to improve how we treat this scourge.
A few years ago, we made a promise to hundreds of thousands of children who were brought to the US through no fault of their own that, if they registered with the government, we wouldn’t deport them. We said, we want you to be Americans. Learn in our schools, work at our companies, and serve in our military. Almost 800,000 Dreamers came forward and did that because, above all else, they wanted to be Americans, they don’t know another country.
Now we are faced with a deadline. In a few months, protections for Dreamers will evaporate. Already, 1,000 Dreamers are losing protected status a week. It’s time that Congress pass DACA protections into law and fix this once and for all. Democrats, myself included, led by our great Senator from Illinois, a member of our leadership team, Senator Durban, have said several times that we’re ready to negotiate a reasonable border security package to pass alongside DACA. We believe in border security. We want to make it work, we want to make it real, not just symbolic. But we believe in it. If our Republican colleagues and the President engage in good faith in that negotiation – without unreasonable demands like the absurdly expensive and ineffective border wall, that publicly many Republicans oppose and privately many more do – I do not doubt that we can reach an agreement on DACA that’s acceptable to both sides. I’d like to thank our Senate pro-tem, acting senate pro-tem for his active involvement in this regard as well.
In contrast to a year of chaos and ineffectiveness, a year in which little was accomplished was done for the very wealthy, narrow special interests – I hope this year can be one of bipartisanship focused on improving the stock of the middle class. They’re the ones hurting in America. They’re the ones that need help. They’re the ones who worry about the future of this grand, wonderful country.
We can start on the budget, with opioids, and veterans’ health care and pensions. With Children’s Health Insurance and disaster aid. And we can resolve the fate of the Dreamers, and say to these hardworking kids that America has a place for them too.
Later today, the four Congressional Leaders will meet with Budget Director Mulvaney and representatives of the White House to begin all of these negotiations in earnest. I hope it will work for their success.
Finally, a word on our national security, Mr. President.
The Senate has a role in conducting the nation’s foreign policy, but as head of state, the President of the United States represents our country to the world.
That is a very serious and sober responsibility. It requires restraint, intelligence, sound judgement, and a respect for the moral authority that comes with the awesome responsibility of being the world’s sole remaining superpower.
Over the course of the past year, President Trump has unfortunately squandered the moral authority that comes with the Presidency of the United States -- a moral authority that has taken generations to carefully build, that helps us be a light to the world and helps us economically in every way as the world has always looked up to America and our ideals. But unfortunately that moral authority is declining under President Trump’s leadership and declining rapidly. It may have reached a new low point yesterday, when President Trump, in tweet after tweet after tweet, presented a very poor representation of the United States to the world. But more than that, President Trump’s foreign-policy-by-tweet is doing serious damage to the country.
Where we have serious issues to address abroad, President Trump seems happy with macho boasts and belligerent threats that will get us nowhere. If any one of us were in a classroom with someone with someone who behaved as President Trump has, we’d ostracize them. We’d straighten them out. We don’t hear a peep from our vast majority of Republican colleagues about this, so many of whom are hawks. We have serious issues to address abroad. President Trump’s foreign-policy-by-tweet will not advance our standing in the world. It will not reassure our allies or other nations that it’s better to work with us rather than against us.
What it will do – what it has in fact already done – is unsettle our allies and embolden our adversaries. What it will do is cede our leadership role in the world to China, which is eagerly waiting for every opportunity to drive a wedge between our country and other countries around the world.
Without a steady and reliable hand at the helm, our allies may be uncertain that they can continue to trust the United States to honor our commitments and maintain a steady course. China and Russia are rushing to fill the growing void left by an unsteady United States. President Xi of China aspired to this position of being the world’s leader in his new year’s speech when he said that China, not the United States, would be the "keeper of the international order" in 2018.
If President Trump continues snubbing our allies and recklessly threatening other nations, and showing leadership on the world stage that can only be described as puerile, the world may look to Beijing, rather than Washington, for international leadership.
And again I repeat, where are our friends, the Republican hawks who have been so concerned about America’s leadership role in the world? Who decried the fact that President Obama had not done enough for that leadership?
My dear friend if he were here, Sen. John McCain would typically stand up and speak about this; and hopefully he will be back soon to do so. But for the rest of my Republican friends, and I would say this with sincerity and not with partisanship but for that of love of the country and leadership we’ve shown for decades and decades, they should, please, our Republican friends, tell our President: stop tweeting and start leading.
We are almost through a calendar year of the Trump presidency. President Trump can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt that comes with learning one of the toughest jobs in the world. And my Republican colleagues should no longer be given a pass by the American people if they fail to speak out – or take action – against this behavior. Their silence -- unfortunately but I have to say it, I feel it sincerely -- is complicity in the degradation of the Presidency and the power of this country.
The American people expect our president to represent the United States with dignity and strength. That is not what we all saw yesterday. It’s time that we all start speaking out against it.