WAMC Interviews U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer | WAMC

WAMC Interviews U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Oct 6, 2020

On Tuesday, WAMC’s Alan Chartock conducted a lengthy interview with New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. The Democratic Minority Leader spoke as Washington is gripped by the presidential election, the health of President Trump, and a looming Supreme Court battle.

Here we are with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. What an honor, Chuck, for you to come in to be with us. We so appreciate your being here. It's a great honor. And we’re very happy.

The honor is mine, Alan, I haven't been on in a while and sorry we couldn't do it last week. It's kind of, not much is going on in Washington, as you could imagine. But let me ask, what baseball cap are you wearing?

I'm wearing my WAMC baseball cap.

Yeah, you often wear a cap? Well, you'll be happy to know and many of your Western New York viewers you know, I root for the Giants in the NFC. Right. But I root for the Bills in the AFC and I've now been doing I've been trying with everything going on to do some walks. You know, and I wear my Buffalo Bills cap around Brooklyn. They're doing great. 4 and 0.

Let me ask you this. Senator, are you still eating those Schumwiches?

Oh, yes. Schumwich, well, you know what's happened? Yes. I haven't had one in a while but the Schumwich is famous and I still love them.

Would you explain to people what exactly a Schumwich is?

A Schumwich, it's a Subway sandwich with the following roast beef, mayonnaise, pico de gallo, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, ketchup, mustard, and any kind of spice you want to put on it.

And when you get them, do you ever find that the proportions aren't quite right?

Oh, yes, no one no one gets it exactly right. But it's pretty good. It's pretty good. And I've done the same thing now at Chipotle, very similar, of course, with some rice and beans in there. But with many of the same ingredients there, but it doesn't have bread, it has rice.

Senator, let's get a little bit more serious. Here. Okay, what do you think of the President's COVID diagnosis and return to the White House?

Well, look, of course, everybody wishes the President and First Lady and all of those there a fast and full recovery. But let me say this about the President, I think he is the worst president we have ever had by quite a long shot. He is a, you have to say it directly, he's a liar. He just lies he will say one thing and then say another, he doesn't care about the truth. He doesn't care about other people. He cares about feeding his infantile ego. And he just has been a disaster in terms of his policy on COVID. And what happens with the President himself was sort of a metaphor for what happened. He treated it casually and carelessly, he didn't wear a mask. He bragged he didn't wear a mask. He sort of tried to ridicule Joe Biden in the debate about Joe Biden wearing a mask, which is what all the medical experts tell us. And as a result, he got COVID. As a result, because of their carelessness, many other people got COVID. And that's a metaphor for what's happened in the country. I called him, Alan on January 26, and said, this is a national emergency, make it one. He refused. He took a month before he did that. On March 6, I called him and I said you should invoke what's called the Defense Production Act to get adequate testing, which as you know, we didn't have here in New York State, we didn't have it anywhere. And again, he didn't do it. He has been derelict in this, in helping the American people and then he’s sort of cavalier. 200,000 people have died and he's saying it's not so bad. Tell that to the families of people who have lost loved ones or the people who are sick. Tell that to them. So it's just disgraceful, disgraceful, disgraceful, how he has handled COVID in the White House and how he has handled COVID in America. If you want to ask yourself, Alan, why so many other countries have less COVID than we do even though it ravaged them at the beginning, it's because they had some leadership. We have had none. We have had absolutely none. And today, I'll make some news for you because this is going to happen in a few hours. Senator Murray and I are sending a letter to Chief of Staff Meadows, asking the White House to launch a full scale CDC certified contact tracing regime. And they should oversee it, because we have a super spreader. And they're not doing anything about it, you know, at the swearing in, or the way they introduced Amy Coney Barrett. You saw the picture. Almost no one was wearing masks and when they came inside, those who were invited inside, they were told to take off their masks. This whole thing is appalling. I think he's handled it poorly. I think the American people know it. People are still dying. 210,000 dead, close to that. And an abdication of science, same thing he's done with global warming, same thing he's done with so many other things. He doesn't care about science. He doesn't care about truth, cares about his own ego. So he thinks, oh, it's good to be macho Trump, I don't need a mask. And look what happens in the White House. It’s a metaphor for what happens in America.

Do you think he's successful in diverting people from his real failures, one after another, after another, you know, the taxes, the this, the that? And so from that point of view…go ahead. I'm sorry.

Yes. But Alan, God works in beautiful and mysterious ways, in a certain sense. He can't divert all the time, truth comes out. That's what I really mean, justice. You know, Amos. “Justice shall flow down like the mighty waters”. And here he tried to divert attention from COVID over and over again, but he couldn't, because truth is truth. And now COVID is again, the number one issue and he's suffering from it. He had to go to the hospital, of course, and he does this macho thing, risking other people, the Secret Service, by driving around in the limo. I don't know, I don't trust his doctors, you can tell they haven't been fully forthcoming. The doctor he has is a doctor of osteopathic medicine, not an expert on infectious diseases. He should have Fauci, giving him advice, one of the great experts, Brooklynite, Bensonhurst, I might add, on infectious diseases. And so I don't trust what they're saying. And I don't know if he's fully recovered. And you know, what the news reports say is he orders them what to do. He doesn't listen to his doctors, he tells them what to do, and then they squirm as to how to deal with it. So I think that COVID is now front and center. Again, it has always been with the American people. But he can't get away from it. He can't get away from it because it's so big and large. And the only way to deal with it is tackle it head on, do the science, spend the dollars, do what you need. And as other countries have shown, you can make a real dent but he's refused to do it.

Everybody wants me to ask you the same question. Is there any way to put a stop to this Supreme Court nomination?

Okay, well, let me talk about this for a minute. First, speaking of Brooklyn, of course, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Brooklynite. Alan, she went to James Madison High School. She went in 1950. She was the chief cheerleader. Okay. She was well known. I forgot her nickname, I think was Kiki or something. 10 years later, guess who else went to James Madison High School, Bernie Sanders. He was on the track team. I think he was captain. They won the city championship. A few years after that, I went to James Madison high school. I was a basketball player. But you know what our team's motto was? We may be small, but we're slow. In other words, we weren't very good. But there's a neighborhood pride in Ruth Bader Ginsburg and let me tell you a little story about what she means to the American people in a very personal way for me. So we were sitting at our Rosh Hashanah Jewish New Year's dinner Friday, a Friday evening a few weeks ago, and that's when the news of RBG’s unfortunate death occurred. Immediately my wife and her daughter, I'm sorry, my daughter and her wife who were sitting next to each other were wondering if their right to marry would be curtailed or eliminated. My other daughter who has a 20 month year old son, little Noah, my first grandchild, was wondering if she's interested in climate. And she said, now with this new, you know, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg on and whoever Trump puts up, and we knew it would be somewhat hard right, will the will little Noah be able to appreciate the globe and the beauty of it the way his generation was? My wife remember the days when women pre Roe, pre Roe v. Wade, when women had to go to back alleys, couldn't control their own bodies. It was an oppressive, white male regime that told them what to do. And finally, finally, my mother, who was 92 was on the phone, you know, because she couldn't come. And she has Parkinson's, and she wondered if she'd still have healthcare because she has a preexisting condition. So getting Amy Coney Barrett will turn back the clock on all of these things and many more. She is, there's a suit, there's a lawsuit coming up about repealing the ACA that would rob 130 million Americans have their protection if they have a preexisting condition to prevent the insurance companies from taking it away from them. You know, you're a mother or father, your kid has cancer. And now the insurance company say we're not going to cover you. Wow. 40 million seniors, many in New York State pay more for their drugs if they eliminated ACA, and 20 million people across America. I don't know the exact number in New York, it's probably more than a million, would lose coverage. All together. So that's healthcare. But she would also, I'm a union guy, I like unions. This court with Amy Coney Barrett would try to make America a right to work country. No unions. As I said they’d undo climate protections. They’d undo LGBTQ protections, they undo civil rights and voting rights. So it's awful. And we have to fight her with every tool we have.

Now, can you do it? Can you do it? I mean, do you have a way of doing this?

We will use, here is the sad fact of the matter. And that is that McConnell, with his defiling the Senate, he has totally, totally changed the Senate. So it is not the body people think it used to be. We have many fewer tools in the toolkit, and they're less sharp, but we will use every tool we can. Now at the hearing, there's almost nothing you can do to stop but some people talked about don't have a quorum on the floor of the house, it doesn't matter. They could still have the hearing. Hearings occur even when the when the Senate is not in session. But we do have some leverage, because they need quorums. At the markup the vote on Amy Coney Barrett, which will be two and a half weeks from now and on the floor of the Senate. And we have some things that we will do. We will do everything we can to see that we can delay this nomination. And I can't tell you what those tools are because then McConnell will move to thwart them. But believe me, we have a group of experts we're consulting, and we will use every tool in the toolbox. Is it an uphill fight? Yes. But if we focus on two things, focus, not on a Amy Coney Barrett's personality, of course, not on her religion, but rather on all the things she will take away from the American people, all the bad things she will do to the American people, number one, and number two, the perfidiousness, of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham stopping Merrick Garland. And now moving forward, you know, they said, Merrick Garland, too close to an election. It was February. So it was like nine months before an election. Now it's 40 days, it was 40 days and voting has started. And they say it's okay. So those are the two areas we're going to focus on and people is it an uphill fight? Yes. But I tell you two things. Number one, everyone said when we tried to stop the ACA from being repealed, can't do it, forget it. We fought and fought and fought. And lo and behold, at the last minute, I helped do this a little bit. John McCain changed his mind and we won. You never know. Right now, all of the groups that you and I know and care about, the environmental groups, the labor groups, the civil rights groups, have a two week campaign pushing, putting heat on the Republican senators, and if we get to more we could win. And so we got to keep fighting and keep fighting and keep fighting. When some of these Republican senators are looking at how unpopular her stands are, and how unpopular not letting the next president decide whomever it may be. They may be forced to change. We will keep fighting and fighting to see that that happens. And the second thing I'd say is a metaphor. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, look what she did. She fought gender discrimination in a male dominated, legal establishment. Everyone said, forget it, forget it, forget it. She kept fighting and fighting and fighting. And lo and behold, she won. So those are our inspirations, and we're going to do everything we can with our limited toolbox, but using every tool, we have to stop this.

There have been, I've been getting a lot of letters. You know about just expanding the court. The numbers on the court. It didn't go well for FDR. Some polling doesn't like don't like it. So what do you think?

Here's what I think it to expand the court you of course have to expand change the rules of the Senate. Okay. Here is what I've said. I have said first, we got to elect a majority on November 3. If we don't have a Senate majority, forget it. But then I have said everything is on the table. Everything is on the table. And look, I’m not busting my ass, excuse my language, to be senate majority leader to do very little, we must bring bold and significant change to America. And I have a lot of ideas about that, which we can talk about if you wish.

So first of all, you raise the issue. Are you going to take the senate, Chuck?

It's looking pretty good. Right now healthcare, actually, these number one issue against Amy Coney Barrett happens to be the same issue that the American people care about. All these Republican senators support repeal of the ACA, they voted for it 6, 7, 8, 9 times. That's a huge issue. Even in these purplish states, where people care about their healthcare. I think it's one of the reasons that senior citizens, what did vote for Trump. You know, Trump got a majority of them in the last election. I think Biden will get a majority here and our Senate candidates will get a majority here. So we're looking pretty good. We need to win a net of three seats. And right now, we are ahead in in six democratic seats, six seats where we can beat Republicans, and we're only behind in one. So I'm working very hard at this.

How does one work hard you go and you get to get him some money and get them some money and do what you need to do? I mean, how does that work?

Yeah, well, strategy. Um, you know, I'm on calls with these senators and their campaigns quite a bit. Obviously, we raise money, and we help them. And we also, here in Washington, and this is our job, but we focus on issues that we want to accomplish, but they resonate in these campaigns.

Now, Joe Biden wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn't favor quote, “Medicare for All”. What do you make of that?

Here's what I make of it here. Look, we have a diverse senate caucus. And one of my jobs is to create unity in that caucus. Without unity, we are nothing. So I have a leadership team. Okay. And every Monday night, my leadership team and I need to discuss the upcoming week and things that will face us further down the road. Who is on the leadership team, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the very most progressive members of the Senate Democrats, and Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, two of the most moderate or conservative members of our caucus, and we sit, and we discuss, and we come together. Here is what we've done on healthcare. We said all of us believe healthcare is a national right. All of us believe we must provide healthcare for everyone at lower cost and easier access. And different people have different ways to do it. Bernie has proposed Medicare for all, Debbie Stabenow has proposed Medicare buy in over 55. Brian Schatz has proposed Medicaid buy in, and there are some others too. There are a number of different ideas out there. Should we get the majority, we'll put our heads together and figure out the best way to go to produce the best, most strongest, least expensive, most high quality healthcare for Americans.

Do you think the Affordable Care Act will survive as it is? Or do you think that maybe they'll throw it out and do something a little bit more dramatic?

I’m not eliminating any of it. Some of our caucus likes it. Some prefer other ways, but all of us are united in providing better, cheaper, more accessible healthcare universally.

Chuck, I can't help but help but ask about that dramatic meeting. We'll never forget it. When you and Nancy Pelosi walked in and sat across from the Senator. I'm sorry, sat across from the president. What was that like? What was that moment like? That was a moment in history.

Yes. And, you know, I did it deliberately. I tried to goad him. And I know he's dishonest. And he's a macho man. He thinks he's the toughest guy in the world where actually he's a weakling most of the time. You know, when he sits down with Xi, when he sits down with Putin, all they do is flattered him, and then they walk away laughing because they got much more than he ever did. So in that one, here's what I figured. Nancy and I were a great team, sort of a one two punch. But at the very moment, I said, I challenged him. I said, you brag a bit, you know, he bragged I'll shut down the government is trying to be macho. So I did it, at him, and I knew I had him either way. I said, You bragged, you told us you're going to shut down the government. And lo and behold, he fell right into it. He said, Yes, I will shut it down. You don't fund it, I will own the shutdown. Well, that made sure that he would lose, he did.

Amazing.

He does this all the time. You know, he goes out on these little macho limbs, and then it gets sawn off under him. And that is why right now he is not a very popular president as he shouldn't be. We do know that should be unpopular.

Yes, Senator, we do know that he is incredibly, you know, unpopular as you just as you just suggested in the country, but we also know that he's on steroids. And that steroids, in up to one third of the people take it I understand, cause some severe psychiatric differences.

I’m not a doctor but I will tell you this. I don't think we're getting the full the whole truth and nothing but from his existing doctors. Okay.

But the 25th amendment talks about when somebody is incapacitated, you pass it on?

Except that you know what the qualification to be a cabinet member of Donald Trump is, it’s to suck up to him. So we’re not going to get the 25th. You know, what the people who put together the 25th Amendment not that long ago envisioned that there'd be an independent cabinet voice, who would do what's good for America. Trump doesn't like any independent voices. You've had people like General Mattis, and they can't stay there anymore. Because he doesn't want to hear the truth.

Chuck Schumer, what if he doesn't go? I mean, it's on everybody's lips.

We are working on this. This is something that's very, I have a little task force of some of our senators looking into it. But here are some of the tools that we have. One is lawsuits already Mark Elias, I don't know if you've ever heard of his name, but he's our lawyer at the Senate, in the Senate Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and for most of the senators, and he and his firm, are doing lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit, they won a good number of them. So in many states, now, the law requires the ballots to be counted days after the election. They want a case like that in Pennsylvania recently, very important state, as you know. We have gotten in certain campuses, in certain states, the rights of kids to vote on college campuses, the Republicans are taking that away, because the college kids are so overwhelmingly Democratic, these things, you know, the next generation is going to be the Generation Z, even the Millennials, they're much more Democratic than the country as a whole. So we're filing lawsuits. And here's what's interesting. And this will give you a little faith in a very difficult, difficult time. A lot of, even some of the Republican judges in the states are siding with us, because they know how sacred the right to vote is. So one, we're filing lawsuits. Second, here is some good news to give people some heart, not that we should stop being as vigilant as we can, because this guy will do anything. Of the six key swing states, four have Democratic governors. They are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina and of the two other swing states. Both of them have systems where the ballots are counted automatically, and the governor can’t interfere. That's Arizona and Florida. This governor of Florida is awful, and he will try to interfere. But so far, people think it may not work. In any case. We're working with those governors as well. But finally, and here's what I'd say to your listeners from one in New York to the other, and to all of their friends, relatives, family and other states. Vote. Vote early, but vote the lot more Joe Biden wins by, and God willing he will win, the less chance there is of Trump messing around with the election. So vote, if Biden wins by 10 points, eight points, you know, which is what the polls show now even some of them show more, who knows if they'll stay that way and who knows about these polls’ accuracy. But if Biden wins by a lot, it'll be impossible for Trump to try to rig the election. So the more Biden wins by the less likely, but we are doing everything we can legally and working with the governors and mayors and others. We’ll also be working with Biden and the House and the Senate, we Democrats, we've recruited over 50,000 people, to go to the polls to be poll watchers to make sure that these Republican thugs and others will not interfere. And when the ballots are counted, you know, the mail ballots afterwards, we will have a Democrat in every significant precinct, you know, in swing states. We may not have it in New York, because he’ll win by a lot there, counting. And if people want to volunteer, they can look on my look on my campaign website or anyone else's website and find out how to volunteer because a lot of this work will be done virtually given COVID so you won't have to travel anywhere but you can still help, not only if you're a lawyer, but if you want to be a watcher and things like that.

Speaking of elections I'm sorry, I have to ask you this, it's such a personal interest to me. Can Mitch McConnell actually lose in Kentucky?

Well, Amy McGrath has given him a rough run for his money. It's a closer race. Now Kentucky's a very Republican state.

Oh yeah.

What happened is first it has very few minority population. I think it's 4% African American and much less Hispanic and Asian. And second, the coal miners in the eastern third or quarter of the state who used to be solidly Democratic, are not anymore, because we're a green party and we can coal is a bad thing. Certainly, if we get in power, we're going to go to those coal areas like Eastern Kentucky like West Virginia and say, you know what, as we make a green economy, and we need to manufacture new types of things, whether it's solar or windmills or anything else, we're going to prioritize you guys. So you'll have a new path to a job but in the meantime, they're very Republican. So Kentucky is of the, we have 12 states where contesting republican incumbents or republican seats two are vacancies so they’re not incumbents, but it still was held by Republicans. Of the 12 states in which we're contesting, Kentucky's the hardest. But she is running a good campaign and all the polling data shows she's only a few points behind them. Trump won that state by 30, but if he only wins by 15, or 20, which is very possible, she could beat him. Yes.

So let me ask you, is Joe Biden doing a good job as a candidate?

In my view, excellent job. He has handled himself very well, he has not falling for Trump's bait. He has not gotten into these back and forth. You know, I'm talking on the campaign trail. He's talked about policy, he's visiting the key states, he's directly talking to working folks. I think the working people of America, who, as you know, many of whom voted for Trump in 2016, realize that Joe Biden with his Scranton, PA background, understands who they are, what they are, because he came from that type of a family. And he's doing a very good job relating to people, putting out policy positions, keeping the Democratic Party unified. I want to salute Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth, and everybody else who is telling everyone to vote and making sure even if you don't agree with Joe Biden on every issue, it's so important to beat Trump, we should not stay home, we should not vote for third party, we should vote for Biden. And they're saying that, and so I think yeah, I think he's running a very good race. I can't fault him. I thought it the debate, he did just right. He didn't get into the nasty, bullying way of Trump. He held his own, but he answered him on occasion, he called him a clown. That got all over the media and people knew it. People knew it. Trump was a clown. So yes, I give him high marks. I give him very high marks.

Chuck Schumer, one last question that is so important to so many New Yorkers, and nobody is a bigger expert on New York politics than you are. What's going on between the Blasio and Cuomo?

Well, you know, I read the newspapers. But let me say, I would say this, what I want to do, my job is federal, is to get them both enough money that they don't have to lay off people, that they don't have to cut back on services, and things like that. I try to get along with everybody, and I do so. But my job is to get federal largess. So it makes it easier for the governor, easier for the mayor to do their job under the very difficult situation and circumstances of COVID.

And as you know, Chuck, the governor, I talked to him quite frequently is really adamant about trying to get some federal help for New York, you think that that's going to get done?

Well, this the Heroes Bill, this has been my passion, as you know. The Heroes Bill A got New York State between the state and the localities nine, the total was $915 billion. I helped write the formula. New York benefits more than any other state because after all, we have the greatest COVID problem. Thank God, it's not as bad as it as it was. But we have fought very hard. And even in the Heroes 2 Bill, you know, which Nancy did, which went down to 2.2. We preserve the same amount of state, local albeit for one year. So there will be enough money for the mayor, for the governor, and for everybody else. Because money goes directly to localities. If you're a county you get money. If you're a town, if you're a city, you get direct money. It will be more than enough to make up for the shortfalls that the governor and mayor have predicted. And this is a bottom line for Nancy and me. The Republicans don't like this. They don't like government at the federal level. By the way, listen to this. Alan, there are 20 Republican senators who don't want to vote any COVID money, none. We have the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, the greatest healthcare crisis since the Spanish Flu, 100 years. And they don't want to vote any money. That’s what’s holding it up. We're fighting hard to get those dollars.

We are out of time but I want to thank you for giving us a wonderful half hour. Thank you so much for being with us. We really do appreciate it. We know how busy you are and go and have a Schumwich and let us know how it was.

I will be back soon again and I'll let you know.

That's great. Yes.

Take care. Bye.