Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in an intelligence committee hearing, legislation imposing sanctions on Iran and the push to include an amendment imposing further sanctions on Russia, as well as Senate Republicans’ effort to repeal the ACA. Below are his remarks:
This morning, the Intelligence Committee is hearing testimony from former FBI Director James Comey.
I hope and expect him to be as forthright and straightforward as he can be. The U.S. Senate, and by extension the American people, deserve to know the truth about Mr. Comey’s interactions with the President.
Based on the opening statement Mr. Comey submitted to the committee, we know that he will confirm much of what we already have learned about the events of the past few months through the press.
That’s important in and of itself. Until now, we read these reports with a healthy dose of skepticism – waiting for Mr. Comey to confirm or refute their veracity. It appears the bulk of what we learned from the reports about Mr. Comey’s memos is true. The President asked Mr. Comey to pledge “loyalty” to the President and asked him if he could “let go” of an investigation into one of the presidents close associates, former National Security Advisor General Flynn. That conversation took place in a meeting during which the President raised the prospect of Mr. Comey not continuing in his job.
The Senate appreciates this testimony; and I’m sure members of the Senate Intelligence Committee will seek answers to the many remaining and new questions the testimony raises.
There are so many questions that Mr. Comey’s testimony leaves hanging out there. Every single lead should be pursued.
Let’s not lose sight of the very heart of this matter: a foreign adversary interfered with our democracy. There is an open counterintelligence investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign worked with that foreign adversary to help that campaign win the White House.
This issue gets at the very foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections and the rule of law. There is no process more sacred in a democracy than the people exercising their voice at the ballot box. There is no principle more enshrined in our legal system than the principle that no one – no one – is above the law. Members of both parties should care deeply about getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I hope that spirit will direct Senators in their questioning today.
Now, on Russia and Iran sanctions and the pending legislation thereof.
Senators from both parties are negotiating the content of an amendment to the bill for tough, bipartisan Russia sanctions legislation. We on the Democratic side feel very strongly that we need a tough, effective package of Russia sanctions to move alongside Iran sanctions. I believe many of my Republican colleagues do as well, so there is very likely an agreement to be reached.
President Putin has violated the sovereignty of Ukraine by annexing Crimea; he has committed human rights abuses, including the propping up of the brutal Assad regime in Syria; of stifling political dissent and the rights of his own people; and our intelligence community has concluded that Russia made a direct assault on our democracy by conducting a campaign to interfere in our elections.
That’s why, principally, I proposed a vote on a bill put forward by my friend the Republican Senator from South Carolina, Senator Graham. That’s a bill that includes as its cosponsors Senators Rubio and McCain on the Republican side, and Senators Cardin, Brown and McCaskill on the Democratic side. It’s a strong bipartisan bill.
That bill would establish a process for Congress to review any Russia-related sanctions relief. The President and Administration officials have demonstrated that they’re willing to consider lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for vague, yet-to-be-articulated concessions, if any concessions at all.
Congress ought to have the power to review any decisions made by this Administration before sanctions on Russia are lifted.
Senator McCain has also introduced an amendment that would impose new sanctions on Russia. Given the revelations of Russian interference in our elections, new sanctions are warranted in addition to the existing sanctions. In addition to the Graham-Cardin bill – which should definitely be included – I hope Senator McCain’s proposal is part of our consideration of Russian-related sanctions as well.
Chairman Corker, Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Brown, and Ranking Member Cardin are in ongoing discussions, as are the Majority Leader and I, about the content of the Russia sanctions amendment.
I am hopeful that we can resolve the issue and vote to advance both measures.
And Mr. President, a final note on healthcare.
My friends on the other side of the aisle continue to work on their healthcare bill behind closed doors. They haven’t made public a shred of bill text or even considered holding a committee hearing to debate the topic.
And yesterday, my friend the Majority Leader filed a motion to bring Trumpcare directly to the floor, skipping the committee process.
This is a party that screamed from the rafters “read the bill” when Democrats were putting together the Affordable Care Act. We spent one year debating that bill, over a year debating that bill. We tried with a bipartisan group of six to come up with a solution. Republicans, meanwhile, are putting together their bill in secret with no Democratic input, and then will rush their bill to the floor without a single committee hearing – all in the span of three short weeks.
This is a bill that will alter one sixth of the American economy and affect tens of millions of American lives. For many, it will have life-and-death consequences. The way Republicans are crafting this legislation is pulling the wool over the eyes of the American people on one of the most crucial issues affecting their lives.
Why? It’s only one explanation, Mr. President.
They don’t want the American people to see their bill. They don’t want the American people to see their bill. They don’t want to go home to town hall meetings and let people give their opinions. Keep it under wraps, rush it through. Only one good reason: they are not very proud of the product that they have put together.
The Republicans know that even if they make some changes to the bill that came over from the House – they may increase subsidies a bit or lower the amount of tax breaks they give to millionaires -- they will still wind up with a bill that is far worse than the status quo. Higher costs, less care.
And that is because they are working from a fundamentally flawed premise: which is to take support away from healthcare programs like Medicaid to give a tax break to the wealthiest Americans.
Senate Republicans can nibble around the edges, but they won’t be able to excise the rotten core of their healthcare plan. The House bill has the support of approximately 18% of Americans. A majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans don’t like it.
Don’t you get the message, my Republican friends? We understand the ideologues are telling you, you must repeal. But now that you people have actually looked at repeal, they realize that this is not the way to go.
The right approach is not to move backwards; not to undo all of the progress we’ve made in healthcare over the past eight years and start from scratch.
The American people don’t want to go back to the days when an insurance company could discriminate against you because you have a pre-existing condition, or jack up your rates simply because you’re older. That’s not the kind of healthcare system the American people want. But that seems to be what our Republican colleagues in the dark of night are considering.
The right approach is to keep all the good things and work in a bipartisan way to make more progress on lowering the cost for consumers and improving the quality of care.
Again, I urge my Republican colleagues to drop their repeal efforts, and instead work with Democrats on actually improving our healthcare system.
And one other point, Mr. President. I heard our President, President Trump, talk about Democrats being obstructionists out in Ohio, Kentucky. The healthcare bill, they’re not asking for Democratic help or input. They’re tied in a knot because their own party can’t agree on the tax bill.
There, again, not asking for Democratic input. They are tied in a knot because their own party can’t agree. And now it looks like they’re doing the same thing on infrastructure.
The President is in an alternate reality world. He blames Democrats, but then his Republican colleagues, often at his instruction, are told not to work with Democrats. What is going on here?
What the President tweets and talks about at his rallies and what’s actually happening are two different worlds, two different worlds, that’s no good. No good for America, no good for the American people, and frankly no good for the President.