Nov 17, 2020
Chuck Schumer Press Conference Transcript November 17: On Transition of Power
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held a press conference on November 17 with other Senate Democrats about the transition of presidential power. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Senator Schumer: (00:00)
We’re going to try to move a little quickly because of the next vote where I may have to be on the floor, but we’re waiting for Senator Duckworth. And here she is, the lady of the hour. Okay, good afternoon everyone, and I want to thank both senators, Kaine and Duckworth for joining me. Now, we know this is a moment of great national challenge. COVID-19 is surging. People are dying. More people are getting sick than ever before. Families are struggling. Businesses are shuttering. People lose jobs. It’s awful. Everywhere you go in this country it’s awful. The election’s over and the country is ready, eager, to get us to move so that we can begin healing the process. The country wants us to come together and get something done to deal with this COVID crisis.
Senator Schumer: (00:57)
But Senate Republicans have continued denying the election results, and they are holding America back. The classic example today was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee calling around to states to try and interfere with the process. That was reckless, inappropriate. Instead of meddling with the vote counting in states that Trump lost, Lindsey Graham ought to be calling Senator McConnell and telling him to stop blocking COVID relief for small businesses, working families, state and local governments, hospitals, you name it.
Senator Schumer: (01:37)
After the election, Americans expect us to put aside our partisan differences and do the job they sent us to do. So how to Senate Republicans respond? Instead of working to pull the country back together so that we can fight our common enemy, COVID-19, Senate Republicans continue to push debunked conspiracy theories, denying reality, poisoning the well of our democracy. The Republican shenanigans include indulging the president’s temper tantrum, and it endangers our national security as you’ll hear about, makes it harder for us to fight COVID. Everyone, regardless of party, should want President-elect Biden to be successful in vanquishing the pandemic.
Senator Schumer: (02:19)
But delaying the start of an orderly transition makes that a lot harder to do. It’s outrageous that the Trump Administration has refused to provide the president-elect with high-level intelligence briefings or brief the transition on the vaccine distribution plan. These are essential to ensuring that our country remains safe and the COVID vaccine is distributed quickly, and effectively, and efficiently. That’s how we can get our country back to normal. Americans want us to have a smooth process. They want us to put politics aside and get something done. But Senate Republicans are distracted by an angry, petulant president. They’re afraid of his wrath.
Senator Schumer: (03:01)
They’re afraid of what he might tweet about them. His refusal to accept the results of the election make it harder for Congress to move forward. So the bottom line is very simple. We know that Donald Trump will never act like an adult, but what about the Senate Republicans? Do they have to mimic him in his childish and infantile behavior? They need to get the message to the president that it’s over, for the good of the country he should transition appropriately with the Biden team, and help us get some real COVID relief in a bipartisan bill. Senator Kaine.
Senator Kaine: (03:37)
Well, I want to think the leader for the chance to appear together with him and my friend, Senator Duckworth on this. If you look at inaugurations in American history, I would argue that the inauguration that will take place in January is probably the toughest for our country since March of 1933, the FDR first term. A pandemic that has caused unprecedented and unnecessary death, economic challenges, challenging global health situation, challenging global security situation. So what President-elect Biden is walking into is one of the toughest first days in office probably in the last 90 years. That makes the need for this transition so important. And what is the Trump administration doing?
Senator Kaine: (04:24)
I won’t repeat the comments that the majority leader made, but one in particular, the refusal of the GSA to give this ascertainment. To say, “Okay. Congress has put monies together for the transition. We can start spending them to let the Biden team work.” Who would it harm if they did that? If they wanted to fight court battles, they could still fight court battles. Who would it harm allowing the Biden transition team in this most challenging time to start working on these really significant issues? It would harm nobody, but it’s harming everybody that they are just giving in to the whims of this petulant president, and I’m so disappointed. I’m not surprised at the president, but as Senator Schumer said, I’m disappointed in my Republican colleagues.
Senator Kaine: (05:04)
This is hurting national security. Senator Duckworth and I are both on the Armed Services Committee. When you see a president ignoring the advice of everyone in the Pentagon and deciding, “Hey. We got to do a troop withdrawal for political reasons five days before I leave.” We’ve always said that withdrawals should be conditions based and not arbitrary, but this is worse than an arbitrary date. It’s a purely political date, and that is leading our Republican colleagues to call out the president and Pentagon leaders to call out the president because it will make the world less safe for us and others.
Senator Kaine: (05:39)
Then the second is in the area of the vaccine. Having been a governor during H1N1, the vaccine development is great, and thank goodness for seeing some good news about that. But the distribution of a vaccine of this complexity to try to get to 70% of the American population, to have a phasing, and a staging, and to do it for people who don’t have the money, is extremely challenging. The logistics of it are really, really hard, and not interacting with the incoming team or letting the Biden transition have the full resources at their disposal will make that distribution challenge much worse.
Senator Kaine: (06:14)
Last thing I’ll say, matter of kind of personal privilege, if I can. I stood on the stage in a hotel room in New York City the morning after the 2016 election with a former Senate colleague, Secretary of State. The polls had only been closed for 10 hours. The race had only been called for eight hours. She had won the popular vote by 3 million votes. She was behind in the three key states by 77,000 votes.
Senator Kaine: (06:43)
I saw how hard it was for her to deal with her own feelings that day, but I saw what she did was, “But I got to think of the country first.” And she stepped to the mic and she said, “I know we’re not going to change that many votes. We’ve got to start a transition, help President Trump be a successful president.” Now that’s what we should expect of any president, and we know we can’t expect it of this president, that kind of courage, that kind of putting country first, but we ought to be able to expect it of Republican senators. That’s what I’m finding just very disappointing at this moment.
Senator Duckworth: (07:28)
Thank you. Thank you, Tim. Thank you, Leader. You know, at the height of a global pandemic and in the depths of a national recession, Donald Trump has endangered our national security by forcing the Pentagon into this latest culture war. Since the moment that it was clear that he was going to lose, he has been spewing baseless conspiracy theories, and using these lies as a rationale to refuse to accept the results and make the first steps towards a peaceful transition of power. These lies would lead to more Americans dying from COVID-19 because they cannot be vaccinated quickly enough, but they could also have serious national security implications.
Senator Duckworth: (08:06)
Over the past week. President Trump has upended any sense of stability in the Department of Defense. Aside from reports that he literally wants to attack Iran, and has plans to weaken our military, betray our allies, and arm our enemies with a rapid unsafe troop drawdown in the Middle East, he also fired Secretary Esper and replaced him and other top Pentagon officials with a series of unqualified loyalists who seem to have been chosen for their loyalty to this one man in the White House rather than their own competence. This upheaval represents a dangerous escalation at one of the most fraught moments possible. Let me just give you a little historical reference here.
Senator Duckworth: (08:48)
Our enemies historically have tested us within the first year of each new administration. Less than six weeks into Bill Clinton’s term a truck laden with explosives detonated in the basement of the World Trade Center. Within six months of Barack Obama taking the oath of office North Korea had rattled its sabers twice, launching a rocket over the Pacific, and then conducting a nuclear test. Four months after Trump was sworn in Syria’s Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 90 people and tested American commitment against the use of chemical weapons. And of course, nine months into George W. Bush’s presidency we had the 911 attacks.
Senator Duckworth: (09:28)
You know, our troops will always do everything in their power to keep us safe. I have every confidence in their tactical and technical proficiency and their professionalism. Unfortunately, the commander-in-chief is making it harder for them to do their jobs. Looking at the history, the value of ensuring a smooth, stable transition between administrations becomes obvious. So too does the necessity of ensuring that the next commander-in-chief is fully briefed on the gravest national security threats at the moment that they step into the oval office.
Senator Duckworth: (09:59)
And that’s one reason why incoming administrations are typically given access to Defense Department building and personnel prior to taking office. Yet instead of following precedent, Trump’s White House has barred administration officials from cooperating with Biden’s transition team, prevented President-elect Biden from having access to the all-important President’s Daily Briefs, and that he himself has ignored, and he’s refused to provide the president-elect a secure government line to speak with world leaders.
Senator Duckworth: (10:28)
Rogue states, terrorist groups, and adversaries like Russia, they are all watching us right now, and they’re all aware of the opportunity this transition period presents for their own strategic goals. They will see that we now have lackeys instead of experts in crucial Pentagon positions, and Trump is once again putting his own self-interest ahead of our national interest. He is sowing chaos, and we most need stability and exposing his weaknesses to those who would do us harm. With all that is at stake it is on my colleagues in this GOP, to say enough and prove that they care more about protecting our national security than protecting one man’s ego. We need to do better, and our national security is at stake. Thank you.
Senator Schumer: (11:18)
Thank you. Both excellent statements, my two fair senators. All right. We’ll take a few questions. I have to get down to the floor when the vote starts. Yes.
Speaker 4: (11:28)
Thank you, sir. We know that over the past few months we’ve seen a lot of violence in the streets. Whether it’s protests, or whether it’s people that are out looting and causing some trouble in some of our major cities. This last weekend, we actually saw protestors supporting both political parties coming out and causing issues amongst each other. What would you suggest that Vice president or President-elect Biden [crosstalk 00:11:49]?
Senator Schumer: (11:51)
Well, all I can say is this, violence wherever it comes from is wrong and should be condemned.
Speaker 4: (11:55)
Senator Schumer: (11:57)
Speaker 5: (11:58)
Leader Schumer, it seems like Judy Shelton’s nomination is on the rocks. When did you contact Senator Harris to come to the Senate to vote today?
Senator Schumer: (12:05)
Senator Harris knows this is an important vote, and she’s here for it. She didn’t need contacting.
Speaker 6: (12:11)
Senator Schumer, knowing how critical you’ve been of the Trump Administration for its entire handling of the coronavirus, we now have two highly effective vaccines right on the horizon. Do you give the Trump Administration and its program, Warp Speed, any credit for where we are now with the vaccine?
Senator Schumer: (12:28)
Well, I’ve talked to the heads of some of these companies and they’ve done a great job, and there’s times when the private sector is good and the public sector is good. This was a good combination of both, but I really give a lot of credit to the private sector for developing. The test is out on the Trump Administration because their main goal is to get the vaccine distributed fairly and equitably, and so far they’ve behaved poorly on that. Yes.
Speaker 7: (12:57)
Leader Schumer, we’ve been hearing for months now from Democrats and Republicans that it’s their priority to get a COVID deal done. That it’s the top priority. We’re going to get it done. We’re going to get it done. Leader McConnell just a few minutes ago told all of us reporters that he still has not had a single private conversation with Speaker Pelosi about a negotiation. What do you say to people who-
Senator Schumer: (13:13)
I’ve said to-
Speaker 7: (13:15)
… say this is a complete failure of the Congress?
Senator Schumer: (13:16)
Well, it’s Leader McConnell. I have asked Leader McConnell three times, and on the floor yesterday and today to sit down and negotiate with us. According to some of his own members, they don’t even know what he’s doing, so this idea … Democrats are eager to sit down and get a bipartisan bill. It’s only the Democratic House that has passed a bill. If you want to get something done, we need our Republican senators to tell Leader McConnell to sit down and come up with a fair, comprehensive, bipartisan negotiation.
Speaker 8: (13:46)
Senator Schumer: (13:46)
Speaker 8: (13:48)
Senator Schumer, some of your Democratic colleagues are disappointed they didn’t win more races, Senate races, on election day. Can you talk a little bit about the feedback you’ve heard from the caucus?
Senator Schumer: (13:55)
Yeah. We’ve had great feedback. Look, we are all very … We won. We did job number one. No Donald Trump as president, and Joe Biden is the next president, and we’re all very happy with that. We’re working very hard on Georgia, and we’re going to examine the races that we didn’t win and try to figure out why. Next.
Speaker 9: (14:16)
Senator Schumer, on this troop, draw-down from 4,500 to 2,500 in Iraq and Afghanistan, do you think that this is sort of in line with the public sentiment? You know, aren’t Americans weary of war?
Senator Schumer: (14:27)
Well, you know what I say? I just learned about this. The Trump policy has been so erratic, almost based on whim, what happens when the president rolls out of bed each morning and how he feels, so I don’t have a strategy. The American people don’t have a strategy. I don’t even know if the military has a strategy in terms of what he’s done.
Senator Duckworth: (14:47)
Senator Schumer: (14:47)
Please. Please, Tammy.
Senator Duckworth: (14:53)
Senator Schumer: (14:54)
Vote started? Okay, good. But this is the last answer. Sorry.
Senator Duckworth: (14:57)
No one wants the troops home more than I do. But frankly, to bring the troops home in a chaotic way like he is doing with very few weeks, I mean literally … Excuse me. To bring the troops home with just literally weeks of planning, actually no planning at all, sets up a logistical impossibility. How do we bring all those troops back? And we actually will leave the remainder of the troops there in a dangerous situation, because we are going to have to leave behind our military equipment. There’ll be caches of military equipment left behind because we lack the logistic capability to bring all that equipment back.
Senator Duckworth: (15:30)
So we bring back half the troops by the beginning of January. That means that we’re leaving equipment behind that the Taliban and our enemies can fall in on to use it to then attack the remaining troops that are still in theater. This is the wrong way. This is why all of the military commanders have spoken up and say, “This is the wrong thing to do.” We want our troops home, but let’s not bring them home in body bags. That’s potentially what’s going to happen if this president gets his way and puts his own political timeline ahead of our national security.
It seems though that [crosstalk 00:16:03] never a good time for them.
Senator Schumer: (16:03)
Thank you everybody. That’s it. Thank you folks. I’m sorry. I’m going to hurry ahead of you guys.
Senator Duckworth: (16:04)
Yeah. No. No. I got to go vote too. Thanks a lot.
I’m going to take this off.
And so what you see here is that the Biden transition team is-