Mar 23, 2021
Chuck Schumer, Senate Democrats Press Conference Transcript March 23
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senators held a press conference on March 23, 2021. They discussed the Boulder, CO mass shooting and gun reform. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Senator Schumer: (00:00)
First I want to thank my colleagues, Senators Murray, Cardin, Durbin for being here today. Now first, we grieve for the people of Boulder, especially the families of the lost ones. When you think somebody kissed someone goodbye on the way to work, someone sends someone off to school, and they didn’t even know it and they’d never see them again. It’s a horrible, horrible thought and worse, of course. So bad for them. We also think of brave police officer Eric Talley, who died. To honor the victims of this horrific shooting, the flags at the US Capitol are being lowered to half staff today. It’s just another awful tragedy. It’s less than a week after eight people were killed in a series of shootings in Georgia. It’s a sad reminder, COVID is not the only epidemic in our country. We have to confront the devastating unrelenting epidemic of gun violence that steals thousands of innocent lives across this country.
Senator Schumer: (01:08)
We have a lot of work to do. I’ve already committed to bringing universal background checks legislation to the floor of the Senate. The Senate judiciary committee under Chairman Durbin held a hearing to examine several common sense proposals to reduce gun violence this morning. Make no mistake, the Senate legislative graveyard is over. Two summers ago, after another horrific shooting, the Republican leader, then Majority Leader McConnell promised that there’d be a debate in the Senate floor on gun violence. It never happened. Republicans seem adverse to even wanting to talk about the epidemic of gun violence. Like the start of the COVID epidemic their strategy is to downplay and hope the problem goes away. This democratic led Senate will be different. The Senate is not going to hide. We’re going to debate and address the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
Senator Schumer: (02:12)
The last month has shown now how exactly different the Senate is. We’ve confirmed now all of Biden’s cabinet secretaries, we’ve held an impeachment trial, and we passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation to pass in decades that will help and will bring relief to Americans.
Senator Schumer: (02:31)
The Senate has another important piece of legislative business on the agenda this week. That’s the extension of the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program, which is set to expire on March 31st. Our small business committee chairman Senator Cardin is here to talk about the importance of extending PPP and all of his work to get this done quickly. There’s no reason to let this program expire while there are scores of small businesses still in line and billions of dollars left in the program to provide desperately needed help. The House passed the extension 415 to three, only three negative votes. We hope the Senate will move the bill quickly, that no one will stand in the way, that no one will block it. The Senate must pass another extension of the PPP program, the Paycheck Protection Program before the end of the week, to make sure that the nation’s small businesses can access this vital lifeline as we all begin to recover from the crisis. Let me be clear, we are not going to end this week without passing an extension. I’m confident that once again, we will get the job done. Senator Durbin.
Senator Durbin: (03:52)
Thanks, Senator Schumer. Last week, one week ago today, I announced that I’d be holding today’s judiciary committee hearing on gun violence. The same day, before the sun set, there was a horrific string of shootings in Atlanta, Georgia that took the lives of eight victims. Last night, as I was preparing for today’s hearings, there was another unspeakable mass shooting. This time at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. 10 people killed yesterday, including Boulder police officer, Eric Talley, 51 years old, father of seven. It’s a devastating loss. These victims and their loved ones are worthy not only of our thoughts, they’re worthy of our prayers and they’re worthy of our actions. Enough thoughts and prayers, now let’s do something.
Senator Durbin: (04:39)
This morning, one of the Republican senators, the junior Senator from Texas, came in and called the hearing ridiculous theater. Well, I don’t believe that there’s any part of it that was ridiculous. It was dead serious. As we consider these victims, and so many more, 40,000 each year who die across America. Theater? Theater is a departure from reality. We’re in reality, and it’s called the Judiciary Committee in the United States Senate in the Congress of the United States. With the authority, and I hope the opportunity, to use that authority to make America safer.
Senator Durbin: (05:12)
I thank Senator Schumer for what he said about bringing this bill to the floor. I hope that we can compliment whatever your effort might be in the committee. I don’t know if we’ll get a bipartisan vote, but I want to make it clear through this hearing today, the door is open for conversation, but universal background checks are not only supported by 90% of Americans, but a majority of gun owners. They trust that if we have a law and people follow it, we’ll be safer as a result of it. It’s only the gun lobby and some people on the other side of the aisle who don’t see it that way. We owe it to the families across America to make this country a little safer. What we learned both in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, is that there’s a lot of work to be done and innocent people will continue to die until we do it.
Senator Schumer: (05:59)
Senator Murray: (06:11)
My heart goes out to the families who are mourning in Boulder today, including the family of officer Eric Talley. According to reports, the first officer who arrived to respond. To those reeling after eight lives were lost in Georgia one week ago, including six Asian-American women, and to every worker, parent, student, and every person in our country who lives each day with the preventable, unacceptable, and deadly threat of gun violence in their workplace, at school, or when they’re out in their community, or even when they’re home. In our state, in my state, families will never be the same after Marysville, after Mukilteo, after the Seattle Jewish Federation, and so many others. According to the Giffords Law Center, there are 753 gun deaths in Washington state each year. That amounts to one every 12 hours.
Senator Murray: (07:06)
For years, Democrats have pushed for action to stop this killing with common sense reform that will save lives. For years, we’ve been blocked by Republican leaders and their special interests. Now we can act and we will. People across the country and across the political spectrum want these tragedies to end. They know no matter how you vote, the threat of gun violence is real. They want this to stop and Democrats are committed to making sure that it does. Thank you.
Senator Schumer: (07:37)
Thank you, Senator Murray. Senator Cardin.
Seantor Cardin: (07:41)
Well Senator Schumer, Senator Durbin, Senator Murray, thank you very much for your leadership on this issue. Make no mistake about it, universal background checks will save lives. Make no mistake about it, outlawing high capacity magazines will save lives. Make no mistake about it, getting the military style weapons off of our street and private ownership will save lives. As Senator Schumer said, we have not only a COVID pandemic, we have a gun violence pandemic in this country. I thank our leadership for bringing these issues forward.
Seantor Cardin: (08:18)
I just want to spend a moment on a bill that will be coming up later this week, and that is the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program. The House passed this legislation, as Senator Schumer pointed out, by a 415 to three vote, strong bipartisan vote that would extend the program from the end of this month, two months for applications and an additional month for processing those applications.
Seantor Cardin: (08:41)
This extension is desperately needed. Let me just give you an example. The Biden administration reached out to the more difficult small businesses to get help. The smaller small businesses had an exclusive opportunity for 14 days. As a result of that opportunity for those companies, 20 employees or less, during that 14 day period, 400,000 signed up for the forgivable PPP loans. Here’s the point, almost 200,000 were first-time PPP recipients. They needed help in reaching out. We have changed the eligibility in the American Rescue Plan. The Biden administration has made it more available for those who do not have employees, the self-employed. This requires time to get these applications not only filed, but processed. As a result, if we do not extend the program, there are going to be a lot of small businesses that are going to be left out. We know that. That’s why there’s bipartisan legislation to extend the date. Senator Collins has filed the bill in the Senate, along with Senator Shaheen and myself. It’s bi-partisan, we’ve always worked together on these issues. We need to get it done.
Seantor Cardin: (09:51)
Now here’s an important point. We’ll have a hearing on this tomorrow. We’ll get the exact numbers, but we’re estimating that at the end of March there’s going to be about $50 billion still remaining in the PPP allocated funds. The funds are there, but we need to extend the law in order for this to work. I know some of my colleagues say, well, can’t we change things around here and there. Our committee is open any time to look at changes in the PPP program. The first order of business is to make sure the program is still there, and that requires the passage of this bill, unamended, by the end of this week. I thank Senator Schumer for giving us the opportunity to extend the PPP program.
Senator Schumer: (10:31)
Thank you. Go ahead, Chuck.
Speaker 5: (10:32)
Nothing. Thank you. I’ve been in this room many times the day after a mass shooting. Each time Democrats have said, “This is going to be the time.” Gabby Giffords, Steve Scalise, Sandy Hook. Why? None of these mass shootings have happened in an environment when there was a serious conversation about turning off the filibuster rule. Why would this not be the occasion, if you really want to get gun control done?
Senator Schumer: (10:59)
I am going to meet with Senator Murphy and other Democrats this week. That had been set up already, and we will figure out the best path forward. Next.
Speaker 6: (11:10)
Senator Schumer, Senator Manchin has said that he doesn’t support the gun legislation that came out of the House. I’m curious what your reaction is to that. Also would Democrats, and would you, be supportive of a more tailored bill, like Manchin just-
Senator Schumer: (11:21)
As I said, I’m going to sit down with Murphy and others and we’re going to figure out the best path forward, but we will put these bills on the floor. I have said that and it will happen.
Senator Schumer: (11:30)
Speaker 7: (11:32)
Have you spoken to the White House about an assault weapons ban. President Biden has called for something like that.
Senator Schumer: (11:36)
I haven’t. Not yet.
Speaker 8: (11:39)
Senator Schumer, later this week the House will advance a bill that repeals the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force in Iraq. What is your view of how the Senate should address that issue?
Senator Schumer: (11:51)
Yeah, it’s something that I would be sympathetic to. I think a large number of our caucus would be sympathetic to it. We’re going to discuss the way to go forward on that as well.
Senator Schumer: (12:00)
Speaker 9: (12:01)
Senator Durbin, Senator Feinstein today asked for a hearing on her assault weapons ban bill. I wondered if you’re going to have one in your committee.
Senator Durbin: (12:11)
I’m sorry. I didn’t hear her request. No, I know what she’s interested in, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. I stepped out of the room.
Speaker 9: (12:19)
This was in her opening statement. She noted that she had 35 co-sponsors on the bill to renew the assault weapons ban. She said she’d like to have a hearing. Would like you to have a hearing on it.
Senator Durbin: (12:25)
I don’t want to slow down the efforts on the floor. Bringing this matter to the floor is the highest priority because that’s where we have an opportunity to enact it, pass it. I’m also hoping that we can do something consistently with that to make sure that the judiciary committee has a hearing and considers even specific amendments that get into these areas. I’m not ruling that out, but I think it’s time, over time that we go on the record for some of these common sense constitutional responses.
Speaker 9: (12:56)
You’re not ruling out that an assault weapons ban might be part of=
Senator Durbin: (12:59)
I want to speak to Senator Feinstein, make sure I understand exactly what she’s looking for, okay?
Speaker 10: (13:03)
Can I follow up on that?
Senator Schumer: (13:03)
In the back.
Speaker 11: (13:06)
Senator Schumer, thanks. Can you just give us a little bit of a preview of the next work session? You all are going to finish your work this week. Do you think that the gun issue will come forward in April?
Senator Schumer: (13:16)
Look, there’s a whole lot of things that we want to do. We still have a lot of cabinet or sub-cabinet people to confirm. We have judges to confirm. We have a lot of bipartisan legislation that’s that’s being talked about and looking at. The China legislation, China government legislation, water legislation, things like that, and we have a lot of bills that came over from the House that we want to put on the floor and get votes on and hopefully pass them. We have a whole lot of things that we’re going to be doing in the next month.
Senator Schumer: (13:51)
Senator Schumer: (13:53)
Yelling out doesn’t get you to be called first.
Speaker 12: (13:55)
Several Republican senators-
Senator Schumer: (13:57)
But I will call on you.
Speaker 13: (13:57)
Speaker 12: (14:01)
Several Republican senators have said today that they’re supportive of expanding background checks to commercial gun sales. Are you planning or open to conversation-
Senator Schumer: (14:09)
As I said, we’re having a discussion about the best way to move forward, but we will have the House bills put on the floor for a vote.
Speaker 14: (14:18)
Today, Postmaster General DeJoy laid out his ten-year plan for the post office, which appears to include raising postal prices, slowing down mail service, as well as looking for pension reform and other efficiencies. Thoughts on… anyone who wants to weigh in, thoughts on the changes to the post office.
Senator Schumer: (14:37)
Look, I’ve been disappointed in Mr. DeJoy since he came in. He doesn’t seem to want to keep the post office as robust as 90% of America wants the post office kept strong. I haven’t seen his exact plan, but we’re going to look at things, pension reform and things like that. The problem that the post office has, that they have to put aside money for health insurance long before any other private or public company does is something we want to look at. We believe in a robust post office. We do not like DeJoy cutting back.
Speaker 15: (15:10)
What do you think about some reports that White House advisors are talking about breaking up the infrastructure package, moving a smaller, maybe bipartisan one first. Chris Coons has endorsed that idea. What’s your reaction to that?
Senator Schumer: (15:21)
We’re talking to the White House regularly. We had a lengthy discussion this weekend and we’re going to… Look, the one thing we’re united on, Speaker Pelosi, President Biden, myself, we want a big, bold, strong package. As we’ve always said, we’d prefer to work with Republicans to attain that package. If we can’t we’ll move forward other ways, but there are various different options that we’re exploring.
Speaker 16: (15:44)
Back on guns. In September, 2019, after the Dayton and El Paso shootings, then Attorney General Barr was up here negotiating. Is that something that you picked up on and work off those as a template, or is it different now because you folks are in charge and it’s not [crosstalk 00:16:04].
Senator Schumer: (16:03)
As I said, it’s different that we’re in charge. We’re not going to do what McConnell did and never let a vote occur, never let anything see the light of day. We have to figure out the best way to get the most done, and that’s what we’re going to figure out. Thank you.
Senator Schumer: (16:17)
Speaker 17: (16:17)
How about one more? Just to follow up on guns again. Why are you prioritizing the expanded/universal background checks over an assault weapons ban? [crosstalk 00:16:31].
Senator Schumer: (16:30)
I’m not going to pick which of them. The background checks bill passed the House. It passed it overwhelmingly. It’s supported by 90% of Americans, 80% of gun owners. It’s a very important thing to do. That is not to say we wouldn’t look at other things as well.
Senator Schumer: (16:47)