Feb 9, 2021
Schumer, Senate Democrats Press Conference on COVID-19 Relief Package Transcript February 9
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats held a press conference on February 9, 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 relief package. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.
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Chuck Schumer: (00:13)
They’re marks, not with names, but with distances. There’s a distance. Okay.
Chuck Schumer: (00:26)
I’m proud to be joined by my colleagues, the chairman. I was almost going to say ranking member, but that was then and this is now. The chair members of so many of our committees that are involved in the COVID legislation, but first I want to say a word on impeachment. The senate has a solemn responsibility to try and hold Donald Trump accountable for the most serious charges ever, ever levied against a president. Those who say let’s move on, that brings unity, are false. When you had such a serious invasion of the Capitol incited by a president who we know urged people, told people the election was false, urged people to come to Washington, urged people to march on the Capitol. The Senate has to find if he’s guilty of inciting the violence that ensued. When you have such a serious charge, sweeping it under the rug will not bring unity. It will keep the sore open, the wounds open. You need truth and accountability.
Chuck Schumer: (01:44)
I believe the managers will present a very strong case. The evidence will be powerful. The evidence, some of it will be new and I urge all my colleagues to pay careful attention to the evidence. I particularly urge my republican colleagues, despite the pressure on them, to pay very real attention to the evidence here because it’s very, very serious. Every senator, democrat and republican, has to approach this trial with the gravity it deserves and that is really important for the future of this country.
Chuck Schumer: (02:27)
A mob of white supremacists and insurrectionists and domestic terrorists, falsely believed the election was stolen and tried to overthrow the government and as I said, the trial is about whether the president, the man chiefly responsible for feeding the mob with the lies that motivated their behavior, who told them to come to DC, directed them at the Capitol, is guilty of inciting the violence.
Chuck Schumer: (02:55)
Now to why we’re here. It was a few weeks ago, in all the punditry and everywhere else, that the impeachment trial would throw a wrench into president Biden’s early agenda. We are here today to say, we are not letting that happen. We can do both at once. The defining challenge of our moment, we had to do three things when we gained the majority. One, fill the president’s cabinet. We are doing that. Last night two nominees were approved. Late at night the Deputy Secretary of Defense was approved by voice vote. Second, run a fair impeachment trial and unlike the previous impeachment, Leader McConnell and I are introducing the resolution together. No one can claim it’s not fair, but third and just as important, is deal with this awful COVID crisis. To the pundits who said, we can’t do both at once, we say you are wrong. We can and we are.
Chuck Schumer: (04:04)
The bottom line is simple. The senate is moving full steam ahead on a bold plan to get this country out of the crisis, to speed vaccination distribution, provide a lifeline to small businesses, help schools reopen safely, save the job of teachers, firefighters and other public employees and so much. Our country has so suffered. Every one of us knows people that make our hearts ache with what they’re going through. I just saw a video of grandchildren saying goodbye to their grandparents. They couldn’t see them, hug them, touch them. We have to do everything we can to end this crisis and even though the impeachment trial is an important and august responsibility, we are doing both and that’s what my colleagues here are doing. We are working with our house members. We are working with our committee members. We are working, when we can, with our republican colleagues to produce a big, bold piece of legislation that will help us deal with and get out of this awful awful crisis. We look forward to it working with republican colleagues to make this COVID package a reality and you saw there were a number of bipartisan amendments. The first amendment that passed, a very important one to help restaurants was authored by Senator Sinema and Wicker, one a democrat, one a republican, but make no mistake. Senate democrats will not dither, dilute or delay because the COVID responsibility is so real.
Chuck Schumer: (05:50)
Now here is the order of speaking, I think it’s seniority, I guess. Murray, Stabenow, Wyden, Carper, Cantwell, Menendez, Cardin, Sanders, Brown, Schatz. First Patty Murray and Tester, who is a happy surprise guest arrival because he didn’t think he could make it earlier today.
Patty Murray: (06:15)
Thank you, leader Schumer. Since January 6th, there has been no question in my mind, we need to do everything we can to make clear that in our country, brute force cannot win over people’s voices and votes. That’s a critical part of our work, but this time in our country’s history demands action on many fronts. We have an administration to staff up. Qualified, experienced experts can get to work leading our nation’s response to COVID-19 and making sure we can come back stronger and fairer.
Patty Murray: (06:50)
Last week, my committee held two strong hearings to discuss the nominations of Dr. Miguel Cardona to be secretary of education and Mayor Marty Walsh to be secretary of labor. We will vote in committee on their nominations this week and I hope to bring these nominations to the senate floor very soon so they can get to work. We’ll continue working quickly to schedule more nomination hearings, including in the health space.
Patty Murray: (07:16)
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cost lives, cause horrific illness and leave families struggling to make ends meat and now we are in a race against new, more contagious strains of the virus. For too long our country’s COVID-19 response went without serious attention to critical needs like vaccine distribution and administration or needed investments in safely reopening our schools for in-person learning and in helping make sure our already fragile childcare system does not collapse when essential workers need it the most, as well as many of our other priorities that others are here today to talk about and because the American people spoke clearly this election for a COVID-19 response that matches…
Patty Murray: (08:02)
… this election for a COVID-19 response that matches the depth of this crisis we’re in, work is underway to get exactly that kind of strong response signed into law. So we are getting it done. And look, I’ve been asked how we’re going to do all of this at once. I think about how many people in this current country are being asked to do it all at once. Under impossible circumstances, right now, moms, dads, students, educators, frontline workers, you name it. They don’t have the option to pick just one problem to solve. They’ve got to get it all done, and so do we. So Senate Democrats know that, and we will get it done, and we’re proud to be doing this job. With that, I will turn it over to Senator Stabenow.
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (08:50)
Thank you very much, Senator Murray. And it’s wonderful to be here with my colleagues who are working so hard to move this package forward along with the agenda for the American people. And as has been said, this week we’re holding a trial, an incredibly important trial. We’re confirming President Biden’s nominees, and taking bold action to ensure that we save lives, help Americans survive the pandemic, and get our kids safely back to school.
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (09:23)
American families and communities are suffering through an economic crisis, a health crisis, and a hunger crisis. In the agriculture and nutrition portion of the American Rescue Plan, we’re working with colleagues on four important things: To help families and communities survive, ensure that families in America have enough to eat, close the gaps in our food supply chain, including providing PPE to food processing and farm workers, providing critical support for rural hospitals, and helping farmers who have been left behind.
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (10:08)
And on that note, I want to thank Senators Booker, Warnock, and Lujan for introducing their Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act with me yesterday. Families, farmers, and communities need to know we’ve got their back, and that’s what the American Rescue Plan is all about. I’d like now to turn to our esteemed Chair of the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden,
Senator Ron Wyden: (10:40)
Thank you, Senator Stabenow, and to Majority Leader Schumer for giving us this opportunity to give you an important update right now on where things are. This is a supremely important moment for our economy and for millions of vulnerable families. Without our economic package, it would be five years before unemployment is back in the ballpark of where it was a year ago. That’s five more years of unnecessary financial pain for millions of Americans. And we, as Chairs in the Senate, are committed to making sure that does not happen. We are making visible and steady progress on our legislation to rescue the American economy ahead of the March 14th cliff for jobless workers. We know that the American people are with us on this package, and we know it because we have been listening to them. They support enhanced jobless benefits. They support relief payments. They support resources to keep firefighters on the job.
Senator Ron Wyden: (12:07)
Let me tell you something. The only place in America where there is division on these priorities seems to be in the United States Senate. We believe when Americans are hurting, when their neighbors are hurting, you’ve got to get a critical and important package designed to help people get on their feet. Senate life has always been about dealing with more than one issue at a time. It has been ever thus, and we’re doing it again. We’re going to deliver on the economy, and as the Majority Leader said, we understand with respect to what we’re dealing with now that unity requires accountability.
Senator Ron Wyden: (12:56)
Now our leader on the environment, Tom Carper.
Senator Tom Carper: (13:03)
Thank you, Ron. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. A few days before his inauguration, I had the privilege of talking with then President-elect Joe Biden about priorities as he assumed the mantle of leadership for a country. Among the priorities was, number one, accelerate the vaccinations, supply, predictable supply, get it moving. The second, build back better. How do we clean up our air, clean up our water, address climate change and produce jobs? One of the most contentious nominations before the Environment and Public Works Committee, in my time in that committee, has always been EPA Administrator. We measure the delay from a hearing or from not naming a nominee until someone’s actually confirmed for the EPA Administrator. Not by days, not by weeks, but by months.
Senator Tom Carper: (13:59)
This morning at about 10:20, the Environment and Public Works Committee met. We reported out the nomination of Michael Regan to be EPA Administrator on a 14 to six vote, a strong bipartisan vote. Next, we expect to have a hearing later this month that focuses on service transportation reauthorization with a strong climate title. And our expectation is that we will be gathering input from Democrat and Republican Senators on what the priorities should be in that service transportation reauthorization. Our goal is to beat the record we had two years ago when we reported out a five-year bipartisan reauthorization service transportation bill. The goal is to beat that. We reported that bill out in June. We’re going to try to report this bill out this year in the month of May.
Senator Tom Carper: (14:56)
And in addition to that, we’re turning our attention to water, water resources development, water infrastructure, and our goal is to actually beat the end of May goal for the service transportation. Actually do two major infrastructure bills by Memorial Day.
Senator Tom Carper: (15:13)
We have a couple more nominees that are in the queue. One of those is Brenda Mallory, who’s been nominated to be head of the Council of Environmental Quality. And the second is Janet McCabe, who’s been nominated to be EPA Deputy. Our committee is a workhorse committee. We get things done, and we’re off to a good start. Thank you. Maria Canwell, with whom I came to this lofty body together 20 years ago. Maria?
Senator Maria Cantwell: (15:39)
Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Majority Leader Schumer, for allowing us to be here to speak about these important priorities. Since last February, when the first case of COVID-19 hit the State of Washington, actually in Everett, Washington, and then was followed by a nursing home outbreak, we have had to focus on the needs of delivering people, the type of support they need, and to also think about the-
Senator Cantwell: (16:03)
… people the type of support they need, and to also think about the impacts on our economy. That really hasn’t stopped since last February, and this week is no different. We’ve had to focus last week on getting this budget resolution passed, and obviously in an all-night session, only to get about four hours of sleep and start negotiating with our house colleagues. It’s imperative that we continue to focus on the resources to help our economy during this pandemic. We cannot just ignore the issues that average Americans are facing as they struggle to keep their kids educated and to keep their livelihood. That is why the next focus of attention will be on getting more money in the E-Rate program, because we have 12 million kids who still can’t get access to broadband to have the education advantages that they deserve. We have to continue to focus on our airline sector, which is basically about 5% of our GDP.
Senator Cantwell: (17:01)
We need to focus on aviation manufacturing, where we’ve lost already 100,000 workers, and the potential is to lose another 200,000 workers. We can’t afford that. And we have to remain focused on Amtrak and Amtrak services, because there are communities already that are suffering economically because they no longer have service. Literally, we have to keep America moving, so the Commerce Committee is going to continue to negotiate on these issues with all of our colleagues to move our economy forward. We’re going to continue to invest time and energy in the next package, as my colleague from EBW mentioned. There is so much to do on the next proposal as it relates to infrastructure and investments. But this last year has been nonstop, and there have been many things that have faced us as we’ve negotiated, sometimes losing track of day and time, but we continued to negotiate and this week will be no different. And now I’d like to turn it over to my colleague, Senator Menendez.
Senator Menendez: (18:08)
Thank you, Senator Cantwell. We have taken the majority leader’s requests seriously to work on COVID-19 and related issues during the course of this impeachment trial, for as long as COVID-19 is anywhere, it can spread everywhere, directly threatening the national security, our economy, and the health and safety of the American people. That’s why as the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I am working with my colleagues in a bicameral matter to fashion the $10 billion in prevention and defeat of COVID-19 in the foreign assistance portion of the current relief package being negotiated. We know that COVID-19 has devastated the world. To date, there have been over 103 million confirmed cases worldwide. More than 2 million people have died, including over 450,000 in the United States. We understand the sense of urgency here. COVID-19 knows no borders. The longer we allow the virus to spread, the more it mutates into new strains, and the more it mutates into new strains, the greater the threat to the efficacy of our vaccines and the ability to rebuild our economy and restore our way of life.
Senator Menendez: (19:24)
That’s why our efforts to ramp up America’s leadership to fight COVID-19 abroad, to be involved in the various of vaccine forms that can create more supply, and to stop new variants before they reach our shore and cause more American lives is so important. I’ll just say at the same time we have reported out not only the secretary of state, of course who’s confirmed, but Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is the nominee to be the US ambassador to the United Nations, she is pending a floor vote now. We will shortly be considering the nomination of Samantha Power for USAID administrator. Yesterday, the committee held a classified hearing on hotspots in the world to instruct where our attention has to come. In my 30 years of doing foreign policy, I’ve never seen a greater confluence of challenges to the United States of America. We’re meeting all of those head-on. And with that, let me introduce my colleague, Senator Cardin.
Senator Cardin: (20:27)
Let me thank Senator Menendez, particularly for his leadership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I’m proud to serve on that committee. As a senator from Maryland, I’m prepared to devote the necessary time in regards to the impeachment trial. There’s no more serious charge that can be brought than inciting insurrection in our country. As the ranking member and now chairman of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship, I had to learn how to use those words, chairman… It does. But as the chairman of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, I will be devoting time to make sure that we can act quickly on President Biden’s requests for COVID relief. Small businesses are the growth engine of our nation. We all know that that’s where jobs are created. That’s where innovation occurs, and we also know that their resiliency is challenged during COVID-19. That’s why in the previous packages, we’ve provided $900 billion of relief directly to small businesses, but we must do more, and let me tell you the priorities.
Senator Cardin: (21:33)
The first priority where we must do much better is to get COVID-19 under control, to get the virus under control. The small businesses are going to be able to recover, and this package needs to provide that type of relief for vaccine distributions and for the other areas to get COVID-19 under control. And then secondly, in direct assistance to small businesses, we need to concentrate on those smaller small businesses that are in the greatest need, and we intend to do that. And to look at industries that have been the hardest hit because of the gathering restrictions on the number of people, such as restaurants. And we intend to do that, and we’ll be ready to act as quickly as we possibly can, and we’ll do this as well as be jurors during the trial. And with that, let me turn it over to Senator Brown, the chairman of the Banking Committee.
Senator Brown: (22:35)
Thank you, Senator Cardin. We have three big things to do. We fight the virus every day, we continue to do that, we hold accountable the people who attacked our democracy, and we help people. And the Housing and Banking Committee, we know that we have to stop the massive wave of evictions in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the pandemic. We’ve already voted out of our committee on a strong bipartisan vote Marcia Fudge to be secretary of HUD. We’ve also voted out of our committee unanimously 24 to nothing Cecilia Rouse, who will be the chair of the council of economic advisors. We will get floor time soon to make sure those go through. We also are about to consider the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Senator Brown: (23:24)
We know what we have to do. This plan is about vaccines. It’s about putting money in people’s pockets. It’s about stopping layoff. We’ll be continuing our work on this. The Housing and Banking Committee is working every day on this, during the impeachment and after. We’ve seen the risks of inaction. We’ve seen economic and public health risks of inaction on this virus, and we’ve seen the risk to a functioning government of inaction in the face of Donald Trump’s encouragement of violence. We can never make either of those mistakes again. My pleasure to bring forward Senator Tester, who’s doing his work well, and we voted yesterday-
Senator Brown: (24:03)
And who’s doing his work well. And we voted yesterday to confirm the Secretary of the VA because of [inaudible 00:24:07].
Jon Tester: (24:08)
Thank you, Senator Brown. I want to thank Leader Schumer and everybody that’s here today, including the folks that I’m looking at. Look, in a few, short while, we’ll start the impeachment trial. I think it is critically important we do our job as jurors and hold the people accountable that need to be held accountable for what happened on January 6th. So, I think, if we’re going to have unity, there has to be accountability.
Jon Tester: (24:34)
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I will also tell you that making sure our veterans get the benefits they earned is critically important. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some new challenges to our veterans because many of these veterans already have health conditions that need to be dealt with. COVID has compounded that. And so, we need to continue to work to make sure we get adequate vaccines, and make sure we get those vaccines into the arms, make sure that we’re giving the benefits to our veterans that they’ve earned.
Jon Tester: (25:07)
We have a lot of work to do. We are working on it as we speak. And I will tell you that I have never been overworked in the United States Senate yet. And so, we have a lot of things to be doing, and we have time to do them. And we need to be, and we are. So, thank you all for being here. I want to introduce to you to the Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Brian Schatz.
Brian Schatz: (25:35)
We are one year into this pandemic. And for Native Americans, the risk of COVID is higher. It’s about three and a half times higher in terms of the COVID rates, and the morbidity is almost twice as bad. They need help now, and our plan will infuse up to $28 billion into Indian Country, making it the biggest one-time investment into Indian Country in American history. The biggest one-time investment in Indian Country in American history. Billions for the Indian Health Service to ramp up vaccine distribution, testing, and contact tracing. And billions for tribal governments that are struggling to keep other critical services running. And hundreds of millions for Native students to try to make sure that they don’t get left behind.
Brian Schatz: (26:28)
Every politician in the entire Congress makes promises to Native communities. This Congress, we have a chance to fulfill our obligation. Thank you.
Chuck Schumer: (26:41)
We’ll take a few questions. Yes.
Speaker 1: (26:44)
[inaudible 00:26:44] I have two questions, the first is-
Chuck Schumer: (26:46)
You’ll take one, so we can get it around.
Speaker 1: (26:48)
On the minimum wage, if the parliamentarian [inaudible 00:26:53] if it will pass, I’m not sure. Will you challenge that? And also will the homeless get vaccinated?
Chuck Schumer: (27:03)
Okay, on your first question, we’re trying to work as well as we can with the parliamentarian to get minimum wage to happen. That’s all I’m going to say. Yes.
Speaker 2: (27:30)
Chuck Schumer: (27:32)
Nope. You get one question. One question each. Okay. You want his or mine? Look, what we’re talking about here is the president day in day out lying about the election, urging people to come to the Capitol, urging them to march on the Capitol, urging people to come to Washington, urging them to March on the Capitol and people died. People were hurt. Our Capitol was invaded. These diversionary tactics, one has nothing to do with the other. [Debonas 00:28:17].
Mr. Leader, the rules that you reach [inaudible 00:28:22] with Leader McConnell [inaudible 00:28:25] they were threatening that if you go forward with witnesses, they will delay [inaudible 00:28:29] that you were saying that you wanted to do here today. You had to take that vote today, the key vote-
Chuck Schumer: (28:35)
Look, it’s going to be the manager’s decision. They haven’t made a decision yet whether to call witnesses. There is a vote that will have to be made if they decide to call witnesses, but I’m not going to prejudge. Let’s see what they decide to do, but whether they call witnesses or not, and whether there’s a vote or not, we will continue to get our work done. This was to me, such an impressive array of people and issues. And just exhibit A, that we can do all three things at once. And we are. Yes. Last one.
Speaker 3: (29:11)
Chuck Schumer: (29:31)
Look at what happened last week. Democrats had great unity. Thank you everybody.