Mar 4, 2021
Senate GOP Press Conference on Reopening Schools Transcript March 4
Sen. Ted Cruz and other GOP Senators held a press conference on March 4, 2021 to discuss reopening schools. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Sen. Capito: (00:05)
Hey, thanks everybody for coming. I’m going to step up a little bit, so you can see. I’m just kind of short. I’m Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, and we’re here to talk about an important issue to every single American family, really and everybody, and that is getting our schools reopened. This has been very difficult year for families, for many of our workers. Particularly, women have not returned to the workforce because they’ve had to stay home, many of them be with children. We have many children who are falling through the cracks.
Sen. Capito: (00:38)
It’s estimated through certain studies that that children are going to be losing about nine months of instruction. And for some families, they can manage. But for most families, those families that have working parents, that don’t have connectivity, that have students that might have special needs, or really those families that don’t really have a parent or an adult in their home that can really help them, this is going to do irreparable harm to those children in those families. And I’m very concerned about… We put a lot of money into this, but only 5% of the money that we put in up to this point has gone to the schools. And we in West Virginia just opened every single K through 8 school, five days a week, safely. Safely opened our schools.
Sen. Capito: (01:26)
So we need to get our schools reopened. We know that the bill that’s in front of us here, whenever it comes in front of us, has a lot of money in it for schools. But if you really look at it, it says that that school money is going to go out until the year 2028. This is supposed to be an emergency bill. It is an emergency to get our schools and our students back to school, and our schools reopened. But with this kind of overspending, way over the top appropriations to our schools, it’s not what we need now. We need to get the schools open. We still have money in the pipeline to do that, and I encourage all of the members… And I have a lot of members here who believe the same that I do. So thank you for coming, and I’m going to just go down the list. And I think Senator Cornyn from Texas…
Sen. Cornyn: (02:17)
Well, thanks Senator Capito. In my state, like Senator Capito’s state, and I suspect all of our states, many students don’t have access to broadband. And we tried our best to solve that problem, fill in the gaps with hotspots and other creative ideas. But the fact is that many of our students, and usually they come from low-income families, many Hispanics, African Americans, they simply are falling farther and farther behind. And we’ve learned how to safely reopen our schools, and it’s imperative that we get our children back in schools as soon as we can safely do that. And believe we can now, following the CDC guidance. But what this feels like with this extortionate demand from Senate and House Democrats, for all this money, when there’s already a lot of money that’s been appropriated, it feels like extortion.
Sen. Cornyn: (03:17)
It feels like we have to pay off the teachers unions to get them to bless what we already know to be true, which is students can safely go back to the classroom. And unfortunately, a lot of well-to-do parents can send their kids to private schools. They can homeschool them. They can bring in tutors and the like, and it really is the most disadvantaged students who are suffering the most by this. So this is frankly outrageous, not only the extortion associated with it, but the fallout for these students who are falling farther and farther behind, and the discrimination, really, that naturally occurs when poor people can’t access the same resources and the same education that well-to-do people can.
Sen. Capito: (04:01)
Thank you. Now, we’ll have Senator Barrasso.
Sen. Barrasso: (04:16)
If you were to grade Joe Biden’s abilities to keep his promises of opening schools, Joe Biden… This is his report card. He deserves an F. And it’s a well-deserved grade for him, because he promised that he would have the schools open all across America within 100 days, and he’s failed. And we’re halfway there. When the teachers union heard what he had to say, they said, “No way.” And as a result, he got in line behind the teachers union, and our students have fallen further behind in terms of their education. We opened the schools of Wyoming last August. We did it safely. The CDC says we can do it. And when I went to schools last week to talk to students, talk to their parents, talk to the teachers, talk to the principals, these were people that wanted to get to yes. They wanted to be open.
Sen. Barrasso: (05:20)
I asked the principal, “Who do you give credit to?” He said, “The custodians were here every night, making sure it was clean. The school nurses did a remarkable job.” When it comes to focusing on educating our students, the question is, do you want to get to yes, or do you want to get to no? And in our home states, teachers, parents, students, custodians, school nurses all said yes. The Biden administration and the teachers union that they look up to and respond to said no, and that’s why this administration gets a well-deserved F.
Sen. Capito: (05:58)
Next, we’ll have Senator Blunt.
Sen. Blunt: (06:05)
Well, I thought I’d just give you an example of some information I got a few days ago from the Knob Noster school district in Missouri. This is near Whiteman Air Force Base. Here’s a letter I got from the school superintendent. “When handled correctly, schools can safely reopen with high levels of success and normalcy for students. We stand as a good example of how that can happen. We had enough data in August to make a competent decision to reopen, and our community has been lockstep with us and very grateful for helping us get back to normal school life. For kids, reopening schools also significantly mitigated the learning loss gap, the social-emotional disconnect concerns, and many other issues that impact their personal and family stability. When Knob Noster district opened, offered parents and students the choice to go back to school or virtual learning in August, 85% of them said, ‘We want to go to school.'”
Sen. Blunt: (07:08)
As of January, that number had gone up to 93%, and the school superintendent, Dr. Jerrod Wheeler, this is what he said at the end. “This story is being shared as a confirmation that reopening schools is spot on.” Too many kids are winding up with mental health challenges. Too many kids are getting too far behind. $67.5 billion dollars already available to elementary and secondary schools. They’ve drawn down less than 10% of that. Money is not the problem here. Not opposed to funding schools or even helping schools as they’ve dealt with these challenging situations, but money’s not the problem here. Will to get kids back to school is the problem, and every parent and every involved grandparent and every involved neighbor knows the kids need to be in school.
Sen. Capito: (08:06)
We have Senator Blackburn from Tennessee.
Sen. Blackburn: (08:12)
Thank you, Shelley. And yes, the issue of getting children back to school and parents back to work is something that Tennesseeans have put their attention on since day one, figuring out a way to make this work. And as Senator Blunt just said, money is not the problem. There are $67 billion that has been put in the pipeline. You have less than 10% of that that has been pulled down by schools. What is an obstacle is teachers unions who are saying, “We have a wishlist, and we’re going to put our priorities in front of the students. We’re going to put this in front of the pupils that would be in these classes.” In Tennessee, they said, “We’re going to make a team, and we’re going to get this job done.”
Sen. Blackburn: (09:15)
So you had directors of schools and superintendents and principals and parents that all came together and said, “This is how we make it work.” And that is why 93 of our 95 counties were back in school in some way, shape, or form in August, and have continued. They have hybrid models. They are working with parents, working with the community, with their health departments. And yes, indeed, children are in-person in classes, and they’re doing the right thing for these children. And the teachers unions did not prevail in trying to keep children out of school and classrooms closed.
Sen. Capito: (10:12)
Thank you, Marsha. We have Senator Marshall.
Sen. Marshall: (10:16)
Thank you, Shelly. And it’s always hard to follow Marsha, but it’s a good afternoon, everybody. I’m a first-generation college kid who got to go to medical school. Education is the great equalizer in this great nation. It’s what gives every kid the same opportunity, the equal opportunity to succeed. And like the people standing beside me, I’d give the shirt off my back to get our kids back in school. Any day of the week, give me a good teacher and a chalkboard and an eraser over a Zoom call. What we have before us though is a bill that Americans will soon find out exactly how bad it is, how absurd and irresponsible it is, and soon will become very unpopular. Certainly, we agree with our friends across the aisle the goal of getting our kids back in school, but this bill does little to expedite or encourage getting your kids safely back in the classroom.
Sen. Marshall: (11:09)
Now, as one of three positions in the room actually, I remind everybody that youth suicide has doubled. Mental health has never been worse, but today the issue of getting our kids back in school feels more like parents versus the teachers union, and it should not be. it feels like no matter what the CDC says, no matter if teachers are vaccinated, no matter how much money we throw at this, it just doesn’t seem to matter. Our friends across the aisle keep moving the goalposts on us. As Marsha and several others have talked, we’ve already appropriated $113 billion for education from our recent COVID relief bills, $113 billion. Now, the CDC says we need 22 billion more to get our kids in school, 22 billion. And guess what? We’ve got 60 billion left that we haven’t spent yet. So why wouldn’t we just reappropriate that $60 billion and see where we are in a couple of months? That just too much common sense.
Sen. Marshall: (12:06)
Look, this bill before us, not one Republican voted for it in the House, and it’s asking us now to borrow another 170 billion, $170 billion for education, but only spend $6 billion now. Does any of this make sense to anybody? We’re going to borrow 170, and only spend $6 billion of it now, but the crisis is now that we need to get our kids back in school. I feel like maybe our colleagues across the aisle are going to take Americans for fools, and we’re not. This bill will become widely unpopular. It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not American. This is a dereliction of duty on their behalf. And if I could just say one more positive thing, I just want to thank all the teachers that are out there now that are teaching, that are back in the classroom. We’ve got your back, and we’ll keep fighting for you to get our kids back in the classroom. Thank you so much. God bless.
Sen. Capito: (12:56)
Thank you. My neighboring state, Senator Paul.
Sen. Paul: (13:01)
The scientific evidence has been overwhelming not only now, but for months, that kids should be back in school. Even the most cautious of government experts is saying they should go back to school. Around the world, kids have been in-person learning for 9, 10 months. Some of them never interrupted in-person schooling, without surges or without outbreaks. In my state, three different Christian schools, Louisville Christian Academy, Calvary Christian Academy in Covington, and Rose Hill Christian Academy in Ashland have been in continuous school in-person since last summer, without significant outbreaks. The evidence is there, but maybe we need something even more to get people back in school. And the one thing I know that works is competition, so I’ve introduced today a bill called the SCHOOL Act.
Sen. Paul: (13:51)
The SCHOOL Act says if you have Title 1s that follow a poor child, they should follow the poor child wherever they want to go. If there’s a school that will not open and will not teach them, the poor child can go to a private school, religious school, wherever they want to go. Wherever they think their parents think will be a better education, the child can take those funds and go there. I’m guessing when kids start flowing to other places, the schools will decide to open up. But right now, we don’t have enough in-person learning in Kentucky, and I’m going to do everything I can to get the schools open. Thank you.
Sen. Capito: (14:20)
We’re going to go to Jerry Moran, and then Ted.
Sen. Moran: (14:26)
Shelley, thank you. One of the most important things we can do, in fact, the highest priority of many Kansans is to see their kids in the classroom, the ability to learn at the rate that is necessary, the ability to have a quality education. While we’ve had the opportunities, had the necessity of utilizing technology to educate, it is time for us to have our young people in our families back in the classroom. It is about learning, and it’s about getting the family back to normal. It’s about opening the economy, and making certain that moms and dads can be at work. But the greatest thing, the mistake we will make, if we are not having our kids in the classroom, is that our students will have had a year in which they have not learned what they need to learn. It will have a consequence for them into their lifetime, and it will have a consequence to the community and our country.
Sen. Moran: (15:14)
I think the teachers who are willing and able and interested in being in the classroom, it is happening in Kansas regularly across our state. It can be done. We know it can be done. It can be done safely. And this bill does next to nothing to enhance the opportunities for our students to learn face-to-face. Technology has a role, but there’s nothing that will replace the circumstance in which a student can know that he or she is cared for, loved, and soon be hugged in that classroom. Teachers serve a hugely important component, and they cannot do what they need to do in distance learning. So we need the effort in Kansas and across the country to make certain students are in the classroom being educated for the benefits today and for the benefits that will accrue to them and our country in the future. Thank you.
Sen. Capito: (16:06)
And Ted, Ted Cruz.
Ted Cruz: (16:12)
What is happening right now with schoolkids in America is an outrage and a tragedy. Right now today, roughly 40% of American school kids are attending school in person, five days a week. More than half of the schoolkids in America are not. It’s been now nearly a year since the COVID lockdowns began. This is unacceptable. Millions of kids are falling behind. Millions of kids are not learning reading, not learning math, not learning history, not learning science, not learning art, not learning music. And the data shows that as these kids fall farther and farther behind, that learning gap will never be filled. This democratic spending bill filled with a partisan wishlist does nothing to change this. What congressional Democrats are telling you is your kids don’t get to go to school. It’s not a priority. We shouldn’t accept this. We need to open the schools now.
Ted Cruz: (17:25)
We need to get the kids back in schools. And it’s important to understand that the impact on kids, it’s not distributed uniformly. Wealthy parents, those with resources, are able to enroll their kids in private schools that are open. They’re able to engage in homeschooling. They’re able to hire tutors to work with their kids. But low-income children are being abandoned by this democratic monstrosity of a bill. If you’re a single mom struggling to hold down one or two jobs, and you have kids whose school is not meeting in person, far too many of those kids are falling behind. We need to say enough is enough. Joe Biden and the Democrats like to say, “Follow the science.” Well, here, the science is clear. The CDC has told us kids should be back in school. It is hurting kids. We’re seeing more youth depression, more youth suicides.
Ted Cruz: (18:25)
We’re seeing more child abuse. This is hurting the children, and it is only partisan politics that makes Democratic politicians willing to leave kids out of school. Enough is enough. This bill doesn’t fix it. I’m introducing an amendment that says if your schools are shut down, if your kids are not able to go to in-person school, then you’re eligible for a grant, a scholarship grant to get your kids in school. I expect most, if not every, Democrat will vote against that because their answer right now to those kids is essentially, “Tough luck.” We shouldn’t be willing to accept that. We should stand for the children in our country who need an education, and we should insist that they get access to a good-quality education now. We need to open the schools now.
Sen. Capito: (19:22)
Thanks, Ted. I think you can see we have very uniform thoughts on this, very strong feelings, because these are the feelings that we hear every day from every parent, every teacher, every child. They want to go back to school. They should go back to school. So I’m going to take a couple of questions, and hope these guys will stick around for it. Yes.
Sen. Capito: (19:52)
Well, I don’t know how much support there is to have the entire bill read, but it looks like that’s what’s going to happen, so as good members of the Senate, we will abide by the rules as they move forward. I do think that there are amendments such as the one that Ted’s talking about, and there will be other amendments to try to make better sense of this bill. To say to schools that if you don’t reopen, there’s consequences. I mean, the president said he’s going to open the schools by May. Well, guess what happens in June and May? The schools close for this summer. I mean, that’s a useless exercise. They can open now. They are all across the country. Yes.
Sen. Marshall: (20:32)
Well, Shelley, I just would add one thing that I expect our amendments to show what we’re for, that we do want to help those that are still hurting out there. We just want the money to be more laser-focused on those who really need the help.
Sen. Capito: (20:44)
Senator, I heard a lot of stick. I’m just curious on the carrot side of it. One of the things the White House talked about the other day was letting teachers get up towards the front of the line in vaccinations. Is there a role for Congress to try to help teachers, every state’s doing it differently, but get vaccinated now, if that helps get the schools reopened faster?
Sen. Capito: (21:04)
Well, I don’t know about your state. My state does have teachers at the front of the line. Most of our teachers, if they want it, have had their double vaccination. We know that the numbers of vaccinations are going to be rising, and it shouldn’t be a factor of whether you’re vaccinated or not. I think if you do the safe practices that we all know very well now, that your schools can open. I don’t know what you guys are-
Sen. Blunt: (21:33)
I think the state should do that. I’m for that. I think they’re in a great place to decide that, and clearly being recommended. But I offered an amendment on the budget to where there would be some encouragement to be able to get full access to all of these funds if you went back to in-person school when every teacher had been vaccinated, and every single Democrat voted against it, and every single Republican voted for it. So surely it’s not just an issue about vaccinated teachers. I hope they are a priority. I think all of our first responders and essential workers should be as much of a priority as possible. And with this focus on getting kids back to school, I think there’s no parent who has kids at school at home right now who’s being virtually educated who wouldn’t say, “Let’s do whatever it takes to get teachers and kids back to school.”
Sen. Capito: (22:31)
Can I get one more question?
Sen. Marshall: (22:33)
I’ve got one more thing to say about though. This is my concern, is when we asked the teachers union, when we asked the administration, “If we get the teachers vaccinated, then would you go back to school?” And there’s still no commitment from the administration that that’s the right thing to do. We need leadership. We need leadership to get our kids back in school.
Sen. Capito: (22:53)
All right, we’ll take one more.
Sen. Capito: (23:07)
Well, I like what Roger said, because I think it’s right. I think he says that what you’re going to see in the amendment process is what we’re for, where we think the emphasis should be, where we think that the hearts of Americans are. And so I don’t think this is going to depress our wanting to be able to make our voices heard. So I don’t know, Ted. I answered the reading-the-bill question.
Ted Cruz: (23:30)
Yeah, look. We’re getting ready to go through an unfortunate bit of political theater. And the reason for that is that the Democrats have made the decision to be hard partisans rather than to work together in a bipartisan manner. Last year, Congress passed five separate COVID relief bills. Every one of them was bipartisan. So it’s not just empty words. Republicans here have demonstrated that we are ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and work together in a bipartisan matter to address COVID to defeat this pandemic and to get people back to work. Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi could have done the same, but they made a decision instead. This is not a COVID bill. 9% of this bill focuses on COVID health spending. 91% is a partisan wishlist paying off the Democratic special interests that got them elected, and it’s cynical.
Ted Cruz: (24:30)
It’s got Chuck Schumer’s bridge to Canada. The last I checked, a bridge to Canada is not going to defeat COVID. The first version of the bill had Nancy Pelosi’s tunnel of love to be built in Silicon Valley, because apparently bringing pork home to her constituents will help us defeat COVID. It’s cynical, what they’re doing. This bill, if it passes, if the Democrats manage to keep their conference together, we’ll end up passing with 50 Democrats voting yes, and I think the odds are quite high you will see 50 Republicans voting no and the vice president breaking the tie. That is cynical. That is partisan. It is an abuse, because they don’t want to work together. There are all sorts of elements on which all of us would eagerly participate. Vaccinations. Should we have funding for more vaccinations? Should we accelerate the distribution of the vaccinations? Of course. And if we brought that up for a vote, it would pass 100 to nothing, but the Democrats aren’t interested in doing that.
Ted Cruz: (25:33)
This debate will play out… And listen. Ron Johnson and other senators are using procedural tools to delay this, because this is $1.9 trillion in wasteful spending that doesn’t have anything to do with defeating COVID. That is a mistake. It is cynical, and it’s an abuse of this process. And I’ve got to tell you, there are a lot of Texans who are mad. Joe Biden gave an inauguration speech. We were all there, where he talked about unity and working together. Where’s the unity and working together? You had 10 Republicans go down to the White House saying, “We want to work together on a COVID relief bill,” and what did the Democrats say? “Go jump in a Lake. There will be no bipartisanship. We’re going to ram through a partisan wishlist.” That’s wrong. It’s cynical. And one of the things that does is it abandons a whole lot of schoolkids who need to be in school right now.
Thanks, guys. Thank you.
Sen. Capito: (26:34)
Thank you all.