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Politics & Government

NY Sen. Schumer Delivers First Speech as Democratic Leader

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Senator Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor today to officially begin his new role as Democratic Minority Leader, succeeding Harry Reid of Nevada, who did not seek re-election.  Below are Schumer's comments as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, first I thank my friend the Majority Leader for his welcoming remarks. As this is my first time offering opening remarks with the Republican Leader, I will speak a little longer than him today (after all it’s my first speech)…and I want to start by extending my sincerest wish to him that we are able to work together to get things done for the American people.

The Republican Leader is my friend. He is also a great believer in and defender of the Senate and the important role it must play in our national life and that of the entire world.  I look forward to working with him to preserve that legacy.

Coming from the swearing-in ceremony as we just did, I also want to thank the people of my home state of New York for entrusting me a most sacred obligation – to represent them; to be their voice here in the United States Senate.

It has been the honor of my life to serve them; to use what ability I have been given on their behalf…to endeavor to make their lives, and the lives of their fellow Americans, better, safer, more prosperous, and more free.

And I could never have done this job that I love if not for my family: my wife Iris, my two beautiful daughters Jessica and Alison, my parents – 93 and 88 – who came down to be with us on this occasion, and my new son-in-law.

They support me, keep me going through the good times and the bad, and maybe most importantly, they tell me when I’m wrong. They are my rock and the light of my life.

Mr. President, I’d like to acknowledge also, in this, my first speech as Democratic Leader, that I am both honored and humbled by my caucus for the trust they’ve placed in me to lead them in this new Congress.

We are like a “second family.” We watch each other’s backs. We seek unity. And like a family, while at times we may have disagreements, we always move forward together. We’re a big, diverse group, from all walks of life and political perspectives, from all corners of this great, big country – but at the end of the day, we’re a family.

To have earned their trust and support means the world and I will try every day to deserve it.

To my staff, also, another “second family” of mine: “Thank you.” There are so many hardworking, dedicated, and brilliant men and women who over the years have put their shoulder to the wheel to help New York, this country, and me.

There are too many to name (I wish I could name them all), but I must mention two – Mike Lynch and Martin Brennan – who have been with me since the ’98 campaign. They are the twin pillars of my office. Whatever success I’ve had in my campaigns and in the Senate, it can be traced back to them.

I thank them, and all of my staff, past and present, from the bottom of my heart.

And finally, Mr. President, though he is no longer a member of this esteemed body, I salute the outgoing leader, my predecessor and mentor and friend for life, Senator Harry Reid.

Mr. President, now is a time to look forward.

We Democrats lost the election. It was a result many of us did not expect; it was a result none of us hoped for. When you lose an election like this, you can’t flinch, you can’t blink. You have to look it right in the eye, analyze it, learn from it, and most importantly, make corrections and move forward.

It’s easy to blame the results of the election on outside forces.

And it’s true that any one of them, or a few in combination, could have been responsible for the outcome of an election in which the Democratic candidate won by nearly 3 million votes, but lost by slim margins in a few states that decided the Electoral College.

It’s easy to look back and place blame, but now is a time to look forward. I believe that Democrats must take a hard look at what we can do better. It is clear that many Americans felt that the economy was rigged against them and that their government wasn’t looking out for them; it was too beholden to big money and special interests.

Democrats did not do enough to show American workers that WE are the party that has their backs.

That OUR positions are much more in line with their needs than Republican positions.

And so as we look to this new Congress and a new Presidency, Senate Democrats will once again recommit ourselves to a set of principles that have always been at the core of our party – what my beloved friend and mentor Sen. Ted Kennedy called “economic justice.”

It’s what our party has stood for since the days of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson through FDR, whose enduring New Deal is now almost a century old. It has been reaffirmed and deepened by passionate advocates like Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr. A commitment to the common man; to economic fairness for the American worker; to opportunity and prosperity for the American middle class and those trying to get there.

What’s needed from we Democrats is a bigger, bolder, sharper-edged economic program that addresses how those struggling to stay in the middle class can stay there, and those struggling to make it into the middle class can get there more easily -- and deals directly with the unfairness that so many see and experience in our economic system.

That’s a mission that unites our caucus – from my friend from West Virginia, Senator Manchin, to my friend from Vermont, Senator Sanders – and one that appeals to the blue-collar worker in West Virginia and Michigan just as deeply as the college student from Los Angeles struggling with student debt…

…it appeals to the factory worker in the heartland just as much as the immigrant family in New York City and the single mom in Cleveland trying to make ends meet on minimum wage.

There are a great many things that we Democrats would like to do here in the Senate to help those people; to ease the burden on the middle class and those struggling to make it. Creating more jobs by investing in infrastructure and education, science and medicine…making college more affordable…increasing the minimum wage…changing our trade laws…and so much more.

And we’ll be making proposals we hope our Republican colleagues will join us on.

As the year wears on, and it becomes clear that Democratic proposals are what the American people want and need, I hope many will.

But we are not in the majority. We cannot delude anyone that this Congress will start tomorrow taking up the priorities of the Democratic minority. But we can raise our voices to present an alternative way forward, and we can rally the American people to support this program. 

As Republicans return majorities to both houses of Congress and we prepare for a Republican in the White House, the Democratic minority in the Senate has a very important task ahead of it.

There are those who suggest that our baseline posture should be to work with the President-elect and help him pass his whole agenda.

But it is not our job to be a rubber stamp. It is our job to do what’s best for the American people, the middle class and those struggling to get there.

If the President elect proposes legislation that achieves that – on issues like infrastructure, trade, and closing the carried interest loophole, for instance – we will work in good faith to perfect and, potentially, enact it.

When he doesn’t, we will resist.

But what we will always do is hold the President-elect and his Republican colleagues in Congress accountable.

Accountable to the working people, to whom he promised so much; accountable to the people of all colors and creeds and sexual orientations in this country, for whom he is President; accountable to the millions of Americas who voted for him, even though many of the Republican policies he now (post-election) seems to be embracing are inimical to their interests.

And perhaps most importantly, accountable to the law.  The Senate has a rich, bipartisan tradition of being a constitutional check on Presidents of both parties. 

Many in this body have long observed that in America, we are a nation of laws, not men.  That sacred Constitutional duty of holding the President accountable to the law must continue.  Democrats will make sure of it.

Sometimes it will mean pointing out where his rhetoric and reality diverge; and sometimes it will mean resisting the President and Republicans in Congress when they propose legislation that we believe will hurt the American people.

This will be an Accountability Congress.

And we will be a caucus that works to make sure the President-elect keeps his commitment to truly make America great, in its finest sense and tradition.

We know what makes America great: a fundamental optimism; a belief that the future will bring every child more opportunity than their parents; and a conviction that this American Dream can be shared by ALL of us, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. We will hold Trump accountable to the values that truly make America great.

But we’ll fight him tooth and nail when he appeals to the baser instincts that diminish America and its greatness – instincts that have too often plagued this country and his campaign.

And we’ll have benchmarks…

Throughout the campaign, the President-elect said he could push GDP growth to 5 or 6%, he complained that the real unemployment rate was way too high, and that he would bring it down…we’ll hold him accountable for that.

What does he think he can achieve in a year, two years, four years? What policies does he propose to achieve those goals?

He promised to be much tougher on China, even though many Republicans for years have resisted legislation here in Congress to that effect…we’ll hold him accountable for that and demand that he keep that promise.

He promised to protect Social Security and Medicare, but tapped an avowed critic of Medicare, a man who has spent his career advocating for its demise, as his Secretary of HHS. We demand that he keep his promise to not cut Social Security and Medicare.

He said he wants to build a strong America and earn respect around the world, but seems to be marching in lockstep with a bullying, dissembling autocrat who has caused a great deal of trouble around the globe and here in America, Vladimir Putin. We’re going to hold him accountable for that.

We will hold the President-elect accountable if he doesn’t nominate a mainstream Supreme Court Justice. President Obama nominated a mainstream candidate in Merrick Garland. President-elect Trump should do the same.

The President-elect said a great many things about rebuilding our infrastructure. Democrats welcome that discussion. But how is he going to do it?

We have thousands of bridges, tunnels, highways, schools, wastewater systems and airports in need of repairs. Not only in our big cities, but in rural and suburban communities throughout the country.

A program of tax credits isn’t going to get the job done, no matter how large. We need significant, direct spending. How does the President-elect plan to get that done?

The President-elect has said that there are several parts of the Affordable Care Act he favors. We will hold him accountable for that. The ACA extended affordable health care to 30 million Americans. We ask the President-elect, “If you repeal the ACA, what are you going to do to protect them?”

How will you ensure the kid right out of college can stay on their parent’s plan; that the mother with a child who has a pre-existing condition can get health care for her child; that women everywhere are not charged more for their care just because they’re a woman?

It’s not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos, and then leave the hard work for another day. “What is your plan to make sure all Americans can get affordable health care?”

We will hold the President-elect accountable…

…for actually creating jobs and raising incomes;

…for growing our economy and lowering our trade deficit;

…for protecting voting rights and civil rights;

…for safeguarding our clean air and clean water;

…for maintaining our commitment to our nation’s veterans and troops and their families;

…for giving that worker in Michigan, that college student in LA, that single mother in Cleveland a real opportunity and a ladder up.

What could be fairer? After all – his biggest and most consistent pledge was that he would make America great. Make the lives of Americans better. We will hold him accountable for that. And we will resist him if he breaks that promise.

And while we will respect the office of the Presidency, we won’t hesitate for a moment to call out the person occupying that office if he demeans women, or Muslims, or Latinos, or our friends in the LGBT community.

And if allies or aides to the President demean a group of Americans, we won’t hesitate for a moment to demand that our new President condemn those comments – not sidestep them or distance himself from them – condemn them, as every President of both parties has done throughout the decades.

We will hold him accountable to the finest instincts of what America – “e pluribus unum” – has always stood for.

The bottom line is, the President-elect ran as a change agent. He ran against the establishments of both parties. He promised to change the way America operates; to oppose elites, drain the swamp, and pay attention to working families.

But since the election, he seems to have forgotten that.

Looking at the cabinet, which is stacked with billionaires, corporate executives, titans of Wall Street, and those deeply embedded in Washington’s corridors of power, it seems that many of his campaign themes are quickly being abandoned. He said he was going to un-rig the system. So far, it still looks rigged.

Too many of his cabinet picks support the same, hard-right, doctrinaire positions that many in the Republican Party have held for years – policies that the American people have repeatedly rejected.

If President-elect Trump lets the hard-right members of Congress and his Cabinet run the show…if he adopts their timeworn policies – which benefit the elites, the special interests and corporate America, not the working man and woman – his Presidency will not succeed.

Maybe not in the first 90 days, but certainly in the first two years. Unfortunately that seems to be the path he is following throughout the transition.

So Mr. President-elect, if there’s one part of my speech today that I hope you listen to and take to heart, it’s this one. I mean it with the best of my intentions.

If you abandon “change,” and simply embrace shopworn, hard-right, pro-corporate, pro-elite policies – diametrically opposed to many of the campaign themes that helped you win working class voters and get elected – your Presidency will not succeed.

We Democrats will hold you accountable to the working people of America, not the conservative ideologues in Washington.

Mr. President, the issues facing this country are many.

We have a lot of work to do on creating jobs, raising incomes, making college and health care affordable, rebuilding our infrastructure, making our trade laws work for the American worker, keeping Americans safe from the threats of violence and terrorism, taking care of our vets.

Each one takes serious thought and action.

These issues are too important for mere words; our challenges too entrenched for mere tweeting.                                                                                               

“Making America Great Again” requires more than 140 characters per issue.

With all due respect, America cannot afford a Twitter Presidency.

We have real challenges and we need to get real things done.

Many Americans are afraid, Mr. President-elect, that instead of rolling up your sleeves and forging serious policies…for you, Twitter suffices.

There’s nothing wrong with using Twitter to speak to the American people. It’s a good use of modern media. But these issues are complex and demand both careful consideration and action. We cannot tweet them away.

For instance, a tweet bragging about the 800 jobs that were saved at the Carrier plant doesn’t solve the underlying problem. While it’s good the 800 jobs were saved…even at Carrier, 1,300 jobs are still leaving, hundreds more at the nearby Rexnord plant that are going overseas, and most importantly, thousands more each month leave our shores from every part of America.

Tweeting about 800 jobs you saved is not a re-manufacturing policy. That’s not an economic policy.

We’re going to hold the President-elect accountable for a real policy to stop jobs from leaving the country, not just one-half of one plant, not just one tweet – even if Republicans in Congress oppose it.

Similarly, tweeting “very smart” to Vladimir Putin for ignoring American sanctions is no foreign policy. America does not conduct foreign policy by tweet, least of all by flattering Putin after our intelligence agencies have confirmed that Russia interfered in our election.

                                                         

Conducting foreign policy by tweet, while spurning vital intelligence briefings that lay out the real emerging threats around the world…THAT should alarm Democrats and Republicans alike.

It is utterly amazing that our Republican colleagues, who have spent years lambasting President Obama for not being tough enough on Putin, are now, with a few rare exceptions, utterly silent. On this and so many other issues, the President-elect must be held accountable.

On January 20th, we won't be in reality TV – we will be in reality. We Democrats will fight to make sure government works for every American, in reality, not just on TV and on Twitter.

So to those who wonder what the Democratic minority will do in the 115th Congress, the answer is simple: we will fight for our principles. For our values. And we shall fulfill our solemn Constitutional duty to hold the other branches of our government accountable.

To the extent that the President-elect and the Republican majority pursue policies that help Americans and are consistent with our values, we stand ready and willing to work with them. If they propose policies that will hurt Americans, deny them heath care, cut their benefits, unleash irresponsible Wall-Street risk-taking at the expense of consumers…their efforts will crash and break apart like waves upon the rock of the Senate minority.

That is our challenge and our charge, and we rise to meet it.