Sep 14, 2021
Senate Democrat Leadership Press Conference Transcript September 14
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats held a press conference about the Build Back Better agenda on September 14, 2021. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Leader Chuck Schumer: (00:01)
Oops. One second. Sorry.
Speaker 2: (00:07)
I can’t believe he bought them in bulk and has like 20 of them.
Senator Durbin: (00:11)
The last of the flip phones, my friends.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (00:16)
Okay. Now this pesky little critter will not bother any of us. Okay, thank you everybody, and I’m glad to be joined by Senators, Durbin, Murray and Stabenow. We had a robust, and wide ranging and really constructive discussion in our caucus today, about what lies ahead and we all want to move forward to get big things done for the American people. There were four or five major items, we must deal with that we discussed today in the caucus. Voting rights and reconciliation, which we spent the most time on those two, particularly reconciliation, appropriations, excuse me.
Senator Durbin: (01:03)
Leader Chuck Schumer: (01:04)
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (01:10)
Where’s your mask?
Leader Chuck Schumer: (01:11)
It’s here in my pocket, but I can’t talk. Actually, this is a little known fact after I eat, I sneeze often. And all the males in my family do it. So we had a nice meal in there. It’s not a cold. It’s sneezing from eating. Yeah. Voting rights and reconciliation took the most time, appropriations, debt limit and nominations. Now just like when we began earlier this year, the Senate has a whole lot of work to get done, and we are moving forward on every issue. We’re making very good progress on voting rights rules, Chair Klobuchar, along with Senators Kane, King, Manchin, Merkley, Padilla, Tester, and Warnock all introduced the Freedom to Vote Act today. The proposal contains many of the important provisions of previous voting rights bills championed by Democrats, particularly by my colleague, Senator Merkley.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (02:14)
To piece this bill together, I’m proud to have convened and work with eight members of my caucus, four on the liberal side, four on the more moderate side, to bring this bill to fruition. The bottom line: this legislation is critical for stopping some of the most egregious assaults against voting rights from Republicans, exclusively Republicans at the state level, like the awful one, there are so many awful ones, but the awful one signed by the Governor of Texas a few weeks ago. This is an important voting rights bill that I want to vote on very soon. We need to move quickly here. Time is of the essence. Every member knows that. Senator Manchin, for the last two weeks and continuing is reaching out to Republican colleagues to see if they will support it, or what changes they might want to make in it in an effort to get a bipartisan bill. But we know we have to move forward. We know that.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (03:10)
Okay. On reconciliation, our caucus had a robust discussion about the latest elements of the Reconciliation Bill. Overall, August our committees work closely with their House counterparts to turn the budget resolution into text. And at our lunch today, we had a PowerPoint presentation, it took about 35, 40 minutes on everything that has been agreed to between House and Senate. That’s eight committees, and the four committees where there hasn’t been an agreement, we went over the Senate positions so every member got a lot of detail. And our caucus will continue to have productive discussions, formally and informally to move forward with President Biden’s transformative agenda.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (03:56)
On keeping the government funding and addressing the debt limit every member of my caucus agrees, we cannot allow a government shutdown or a catastrophic default. To prevent both of these from happening, it will require bipartisan cooperation just as we got in the past for three times, Democrats voted when Trump was president to renew the debt ceiling. We didn’t play games. We didn’t risk the credit of the country. We did it. And that’s been the history. Senator McConnell seems to be trying to break new ground by saying that we should let the country default. I’d ask you to ask each Republican Senator, are they willing to vote to let the country default? Ask them. We’d also asked the business community to start weighing in on the danger to default to the entire economy, which will hurt every single person in this economy; our veterans, our elderly, our young people, you name it. So this is risky business and dangerous business that Senator McConnell is involved in. And it’s the first time… A few years ago, he said, “Of course we have to have bipartisan efforts to avoid default.” You can’t keep switching as he’s doing; when the Democrats are in charge, it’s one way, when the Republicans are in charge, it’s in other way, particularly on something so vital and sacred as the full faith and credit of this country, which generations have spent years building up. Okay?
Leader Chuck Schumer: (05:28)
Instead of allowing the radical and dangerous schemes from Senators Johnson and Cruz, I expect cooler heads in the Republican Party will prevail. And finally, on nominations today, we’re going to advance for presidential nominations. We continue to work to confirm President Biden’s nominations as quickly as possible. We have three more judges this week, and by all accounts, we have confirmed more judges in our first eight and a half months than any Senate in a very long time, under a new president. Senator Durbin?
Senator Durbin: (06:03)
The Judiciary Committee is the first committee into the reconciliation pool. Literally, we are in the birdbath, as it’s known in the Senate, where a presentation is being made on behalf of the provisions that we have authored for changing immigration in the United States. That matter is now being considered by the Senate Parliamentarian. Many of you have asked me repeatedly, “Well, when is she going to rule, and how is she going to rule?” I can’t answer either of those questions. That is entirely in her hands at this point. We believe immigration is a critical element in reconciliation for three reasons. First reason, how many years have we all complained that the immigration system in America is broken and needs to be fixed? It’s been 35 years since the Congress passed an immigration reform bill signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It is time for us to, again, address the needs when it comes to immigration.
Senator Durbin: (06:56)
Secondly, this immigration bill does have a cost associated with it. If more and more people become legal, permanent residents, they qualify for some government programs, but all of the leading economists agree for every dollar that is paid out in a federal program to a legal, permanent resident, $10 are returned to the economy because they will be able to work, and buy homes, and be an integral part of the future as our economy grows.
Senator Durbin: (07:23)
And the final issue is one that is obvious. We need workers in America. These people are in America already, they are the Dreamers, the TPS, the agriculture workers. They are the ones who are an essential workforce that kept us whole during this pandemic. To bring them into legal status gives them a chance to be a functioning part of this economy in a real way. This significant change, I think, will be good for the economy and certainly consistent with the fact that this nation of immigrants is building a pretty good record in our history.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (07:55)
Senator Murray: (07:55)
I have a mask. Thank you. Over the past few weeks, we have been in our states, meeting with people, seeing firsthand how the American Rescue Plan has made a difference for our workers and our families. Today, vaccines are available in communities. The economy is adding jobs. Small businesses are reopening and millions of people are saving hundreds of dollars every month on their healthcare. But as much as we have done so far, we still have a lot more we need to do if we’re going to end this crisis and bring our nation back to be stronger and fairer.
Senator Murray: (08:33)
Traveling across my home state of Washington, I heard from childcare providers who struggled, struggled to keep their doors open throughout this pandemic, and who are not sure how much longer they’re going to be able to keep that up. I heard from students who are looking for a brighter future on the other side of this crisis, but finding that future out of reach, because of the high cost of higher, I heard from firefighters and communities that are facing an historic wildfire season, driven by climate change and fearing what the coming years and decades will look like if we fail to address this climate crisis. I’ve seen how our hospitals, and healthcare providers and public health systems have been pushed to the brink. I heard from healthcare professionals about the need to rebuild our public health infrastructure, and help people get quality affordable healthcare. I spoken with essential, undocumented workers, and TPS recipients and Dreamers who are helping our country to run, while fighting for a fair pathway to citizenship. And I heard from workers trying to navigate this crisis while balancing their job, and school and family needs.
Senator Murray: (09:44)
So many people are facing all of these challenges with a shoestring budget for the essentials, and with no paid leave to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families. Now Republicans may act like they don’t understand what’s at stake here, but the truth is these issues are not new. In fact, they are the reason many of us got into politics. Anyone who’s been talking to people like Democrats have, are not surprised our families want action on this. And it isn’t surprising that they overwhelmingly support the Build Back Better Plan. Anyone who’s really listening understands we have an historic opportunity to deliver for working families in ways that putting money into their pockets, and help people get back to work in good quality jobs, and support our small businesses. We have a responsibility to deliver on this. Families are really counting on us to get this done, just like they’re counting on us to tackle reproductive rights and voting rights, and so much more that you heard Senator Schumer speak about. Getting all of this done is not going to be easy, but we’ve been fighting for this kind of progress for a very long time, and we are not about to stop. Thank you.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (11:00)
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (11:02)
Thank you. As Senator Schumer said, we have continued to work both as leadership and committee chairs throughout all of August on the Build Back Better budget, and we are literally focused on lowering costs for Americans, extending the tax cut for American families, and creating tens of millions of jobs by tackling the climate crisis. I want to specifically speak to the urgency of the climate crisis. This isn’t a debate about sometime, somewhere, it is right in front of our face, and we simply can’t afford, can’t afford inaction. Thanks to the climate crisis, natural disasters are becoming more destructive, as we know, more dangerous and more expensive.
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (11:50)
Last year, the United States set an awful record. We had 22 separate $1 billion weather and climate disasters in a single year. These large-scale disasters have more than quadrupled in the last two decades. Over the last five years, American taxpayers have spent an average of $126 billion on picking up the pieces from the damage due to these disasters. And the total cost of these disasters over the past 15 years is top 1 trillion. And this is going up, and up and up. We’re going to be spending $3.5 trillion picking up the pieces from climate sooner than we would like, if we do not act. Just yesterday, the President was in Idaho surveying the terrible damage being caused by wildfires, and he said, “We can’t continue to ignore reality. And the reality is this: carbon pollution is a root cause of the climate crisis. We had had it with us for over 100 years of accumulation.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (12:59)
And through the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better budget, we’re really doing something about it. We’re making electric vehicles more affordable, and convenient and assuring that there’ll be built right here in America, with good paying American jobs, including their supply chains. We’re providing a tax credit for manufacturers to retool and build new plants to produce clean energy parts and create jobs. We’re focusing on making polluters pay, and creating clean electricity policies. We’re restoring our forest and making them more resistant to the extreme wildfires that are burning up our country right now. And we’re investing in climate smart agriculture so that farmers and ranchers can continue to be a part of the solution. We’re also making our infrastructure more resilient, so that the climate disasters do less damage.
Senator Debbie Stabenow: (13:51)
Democrats have been saying for decades, decades, that inaction on carbon pollution has consequences. It has huge consequences. It has huge costs that are only going up, not down. So our Build Back Better budget will take the action necessary to address this crisis.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (14:15)
Thanks [inaudible 00:14:16]. Questions? Yes, go ahead.
Garrett : (14:18)
On the debt ceiling. Plan A seems to be to put this with the CR, and hope Republicans blink. I think that’s right, correct me if I’m wrong, but what’s Plan B if they don’t? Mitch McConnell made it pretty clear they’re not voting for this at all.
Leader Chuck Schumer: (14:30)
Well, let me just say again, I’d like every single Republican Senator to answer the question, are they willing to let the government default? As to the plans we are working, there are a number of different options. The White House, Speaker Pelosi, myself are discussing those, and we believe that we must do this. We believe it’s an imperative to do it, and Leader McConnell, as I said, is playing dangerous political games by not stepping up to the plate as he asked us to do, and we did when Trump was President. Yes, next, next, next, next, next, next?
Speaker 7: (15:06)
Following up on that are Democrats willing to go with that alone? Because as Garrett said, Senator McConnell said they stand united against-
Leader Chuck Schumer: (15:14)
[crosstalk 00:15:14] Well, I think that statement speaks so negatively for itself, and we believe we have to renew the debt ceiling, and we are going to move forward and get it done. And we believe it will ultimately be done in a bipartisan way. And I think the whole country, including many very conservative elements in the business and finance communities will be appalled if we get so close to the deadline that Leader McConnell is risking the full faith and credit of the country. Yes, [Bolton 00:15:43]?
Is it even an option to [crosstalk 00:15:45] –
Leader Chuck Schumer: (15:45)
Look, again, We are discussing all of the options with the President and with a Speaker Pelosi. Yes, orange dress?
Speaker 9: (15:56)
If the Senate Parliamentarian comes back and says that you can include it, are you confident that you have the support that you need to get immigration-
Leader Chuck Schumer: (16:03)
I believe our full caucus supports immigration reform. Absolutely. Next.
Speaker 10: (16:08)
You said that you’re bringing up this new voting rights bill as soon as next week, and you’ve also acknowledged the Republicans are not likely to support it. What is your game plan on voting rights as majority leader?
Leader Chuck Schumer: (16:19)
Look, the first part of our game plan is to come up with a bill that all 50 Democrats can support. We have done that. The bill has been introduced today. It keeps the safeguards that we need, but make some changes we have, as you know, Senator Manchin, who believes that we should try to make this bipartisan, and we’re giving him the opportunity to do that with the bill that he supports, and that he modified. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. As I’ve said, all options around the table. Yes?
Speaker 11: (16:52)
Thank you, Leader Schumer. Can you just tell us what is the schedule now for Build Back Better? When are we going to see this come to the floor?
Leader Chuck Schumer: (16:59)
Well, as you know, the House Committee said they finished their work by today. They are. We said, we’d have legislative texts. We went through the legislative texts, not all of the four committee… There are four committees that have an agreed with their house counterparts, but we’re right moving forward, and it’s going to be a lot of intense discussions and negotiations over the next few weeks.
Speaker 12: (17:20)
Leader Chuck Schumer: (17:20)
Speaker 12: (17:21)
Yes. What’s Plan B if the Parliamentarian doesn’t rule in your favor on immigration? Would you remove the Parliamentarian? Replace her?
Leader Chuck Schumer: (17:30)
We’ve very good discussions with the Parliamentarian. Senator Durbin’s staff, my staff, Senator Sanders’ staff, Senator Padilla’s staff, and others. And we’re continuing the discussions with her. Last question.
Speaker 13: (17:45)
Senate Leader, will your committees be finished with their work by tomorrow? And then just in terms of [inaudible 00:17:52], what is your message to members? On the one hand you have somebody like Senator Manchin, who’s saying the number’s got to come down, you have Senator Sanders saying, “It’s got to stay at three, five” how are you-
Leader Chuck Schumer: (18:02)
Look, there are members of our caucus who wanted higher than three, five. There are members of our caucus who wanted lower than three, five. We will have to come together and we will come together. That’s what we’ve done in the past; we’ve come together on every major issue, because every member of our caucus, with no exceptions, realizes our unity is our strength. Each will have say because with 50 votes, each member does have say, but we will come to agreement, and my goal, which I believe we will achieve as a country, is to have a strong, robust plan that includes –