Schumer Floor Remarks Urging The Trump Administration To Dramatically Improve Their Response To Coronavirus, Prioritize The Health & Safety Of The American People Above Corporate Interests

March 9, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor urging the Trump administration to seriously address the health and safety concerns of American workers and families above corporate interests. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The coronavirus continues to spread, with more than five hundred confirmed cases in the United States, in two-thirds of the fifty states. Given the inconsistency and delay in testing, we don’t know if the number of confirmed cases accurately reflects the number of actual cases in the United States.

We now know that when the coronavirus first appeared on our soil, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) produced test kits that did not work properly—and sent many of these tests to our hospitals and medical labs. The administration turned down tests from the World Health Organization, even though 60 countries accepted it, and we have no answer as to why.

It took weeks to get an accurate test out. And it took weeks for the federal government to approve certain sites to run those tests, like the Northwell facility on Long Island that I recently visited.

It took weeks to ramp up the number of Americans tested. And we are still far behind other countries like South Korea in the number and percentage of the population we are able to test for coronavirus.

The most powerful tool in responding to a virus is to know precisely where it is and how it is spreading. But because we still don’t have a complete handle on testing, many of our hospitals, doctors, researchers, and public health officials are flying blind. And we are still far behind where we ought to be in understanding how far the virus has already spread.

Now, instead of taking responsibility and working quickly to rectify the early errors, the Trump administration and especially the president himself, downplayed concerns about the virus.

The president falsely said that a vaccine would be ready “soon” and implied that it was ok for Americans to go to work even if they had the virus. The president falsely blamed the Obama Administration for a policy change that slowed testing. It was regarded as totally false, what he said.

And rather than spend the weekend in Washington to get a grip on the crisis, the president was once again golfing at Mar-a-Lago. I don’t want to guess at the number of times this president has criticized other presidents for doing the same thing.

The federal government’s initial response to the coronavirus was slipshod at best. It has greatly hurt the country. And it falls at the feet of the president. The buck stops with him.

Now, I know, President Trump will dismiss these criticisms and accuse Democrats of playing politics. That’s what he always does when there’s legitimate criticism. Because in President Trump’s world, there is no such thing as a legitimate criticism of his administration. But, I would tell President Trump: we don’t criticize your administration for the sake of it. We criticize because we want the administration’s response to get better. And we are afraid that if we don’t speak up, if we don’t point out the problems publicly and push the administration to change its method of operation, it won’t change at all. And the crisis will continue to worsen.

Now more than ever, we need President Trump to lead our government’s response to the coronavirus: competently and consistently. We are all rooting for that.

Now, as the economic effects of the coronavirus are beginning to worsen, there have been rumors that the Trump administration may pursue policies to stimulate the economy. Let me be very clear: the best way to ensure economic security for the American people right now is to deal with the coronavirus itself, competently and full-on—something we haven’t yet seen.

Getting a handle on the crisis and containing the spread of the virus is by far the best way to address any effects on the economy.

If anything, the administration must prioritize the health and safety of American workers and families certainly before corporate interests. In that respect, Speaker Pelosi and I have suggested several policies that the administration should pursue to help American workers and families:

  • Paid sick leave for workers impacted by quarantine orders or responsible for caring for children impacted by school closures;
  • Enhanced Unemployment Insurance for workers who may lose their jobs from the economic impacts of the epidemic;
  • Food security to ensure vulnerable populations do not lose access to food during this epidemic; 
  • Clear protections for frontline workers like our health care professionals and workers who are responsible for cleaning public facilities;
  • Widespread and free coronavirus testing, as well as affordable treatment for any non-covered coronavirus-related costs;
  • Protections against price gouging; and
  • Increased capacity of our medical systems.

The administration must move, quickly and seriously to address the expanding threat to the health of the American people and the severe impacts of the coronavirus on the financial security of American families. Again, the best way to deal with the problem here—health and economic—is to address the problem head-on. And deal with the kinds of problems we have seen the administration—in its slipshod and erratic response—that must vanish.