Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joins CNN's Wolf Blitzer to discuss the Trump administration and gun control:
"This administration, saying they're going to come in and clean up the swamp, has made the swamp worse, because there are so many people in this administration who have financial interests -- broad financial interests, not the least of which the president himself, and they intersect with things the government has to do," he said.
"Previous administrations, democrat, republican, made a clear break. When you entered the administration, you had to get rid of financial entanglements so that there wouldn't be a conflict -- an appearance of a conflict of interest," he said about Trump and his business.
"This administration seems blind to that, immune to that, and it just leads them only to more trouble."
BLITZER: We're going to talk about the possibility of significant gun control legislation in just a few moments. First, let's go through news of the day. I quickly want to get your reaction. What do you make, first of all, of that report of the "New York Times" that we just heard, Maggie Haberman, suggesting that the president may be working behind the scenes with staff to push up his son-in-law and daughter?
SCHUMER: Well, you don't know how much veracity any of this has, because different people in The White House tell reporters different things. I will say this, I've served under six administrations. I've never seen such chaos, I have never seen such in fighting, and it has real results because the president’s positions keep changing. And not only the rest of the world, but Americans, are saying "What kind of leadership is this?" On guns, he changed around completely, on immigration he changed around completely. Who knows what he'll do on trade tomorrow morning?
BLITZER: The "New York Times" also reporting, Senator, that the Kushner family real estate group got half a billion dollars – $500 million in loans from various banking institutions and money lenders after White House meetings, after Kushner actually met with some of those company officials. What red flags does that raise for you?
SCHUMER: Well, this administration, saying they're going to come in and clean up the swamp, has made the swamp worse, because there are so many people in this administration who have financial interests -- broad financial interests, not the least of which the president himself, and they intersect with things the government has to do. Previous administrations, democrat, republican, made a clear break. When you entered the administration, you had to get rid of financial entanglements so that there wouldn't be a conflict -- an appearance of a conflict of interest.
This administration seems blind to that, immune to that, and it just leads them only to more trouble. I just don't get it. There is almost a view that we can treat ourselves ethically different than anybody else. The chickens always come home to roost, and they are right now.
BLITZER: Do you think Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner should remain in The White House?
SCHUMER: Well, I'm not going to make those personnel decisions. I think they both ought to divest themselves of any real estate or other holdings they might have, because at the very minimum, it looks like there is an appearance of a conflict. And who knows, maybe there’s a conflict as well.
BLITZER: As you know, some allies of the president are expressing deep concern that about the president now that his trusted aid communications director Hope Hicks is leaving. Our own Gloria Borger spoke with one of those allies, who’s really worried, suggesting that the president – and pointing out that he's know the president for decades. What's your take? You've known the president for decades as well.
SCHUMER: Well, you know, running a real estate company in almost a solo operation way is a heck of a lot different than being President of The United States, and the amount of chaos in this White House, the amount of infighting in this White House, and frankly, the fact they have so many positions unfilled is just incredible. Rumor has it one of the reasons they wanted to hang onto Porter, even after some of these revelations that was mentioned by your reporter, is that they had no one else there to do the work. This is just, in a really confident (ph) experienced way. So this is really damaging, whether you're a democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. You love the country. You don't want to see a White House that seems to be so chaotic, so incompetent, and so filled with contradictory actions and opinions that people around the world and people in America wonder if there is any leadership at all coming from the president.
BLITZER: Let's get to guns. The president had that extraordinary session on guns with republicans and democrats earlier in the week. At times he sounded more like a democrat than a leader of the Republican Party. But last night he met with leaders. National Rifle Association. The group's executive director later tweeted this and I’ll read it to you and our viewers, "I had a great meeting tonight with Donald Trump and Vice President Pence, we all want safe schools, mental health reform, and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS and VPOTUS support the second amendment, support strong due process, and don't want gun control." What’s your reaction to this meeting, the earlier meeting, and that tweet?
SCHUMER: Well, as you know, when I dealt with the president on immigration, I said negotiating with him is like negotiating with Jell-O, and that’s what happens, He believes one thing one day and then seems to contradict himself. Here with guns it’s a typical pattern, with the bipartisan group and the camera lights on, his instincts were to do the right thing, to make sure felons and those adjudicated mentally ill couldn't get guns by closing these loopholes of gun shows and online purchases.
That was the right thing to do, both substantively, because it would have changed thousands of lives, and politically, because 90% of America is for it. Then the hard right puts pressure on him, in this case the NRA, and he does a total 180-degree flip. It makes one think the president has no convictions, that he just says what’s convenient at the moment. But more importantly, it makes one feel that when America really needs something, when America is crying out to prevent future Parklands, the president just succumbs to the pressure group that puts the most heat on him, in this case the NRA.
BLITZER: What's the likelihood of Congress, The Senate, and The House, passing any kind of gun legislation this session in the wake of the Florida school massacre?
SCHUMER: I’d say two things. First, Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan are so afraid of the NRA, as are most of their members, that unless the president gives them cover by saying he's for it, it's very hard to see getting anything else done, maybe until the Congress changes in a year after the elections.
But the second thing I would say is this, don't underestimate the power of these kids. I've been focused on this issue for a long time. I was author of the Brady Law in Congress when I was a congressman back in the mid '90s. I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen so many people in different walks of life, in different political persuasions telling me we need to get something done. The power of these kids and the fact that there will be a large march in Washington on March 24th, and marches in 70 other cities around the country, is going to be very powerful. I think President Trump, Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan duck this issue at their own peril. Americans are fed up that the do doctrine air (ph) position of the NRA, which is do nothing to close these loopholes, to prevent felons and those adjudicated mentally ill from getting guns, is so out of favor and so infuriating to so many Americans, that I believe Trump and the republican leadership may have no choice but to switch their positions in the next month or two. Now that hasn’t happened in the past, but I think there’s maybe something different out there now, led by these kids – these brace kids from Parkland.
BLITZER: Do you think if the president does take the positions he spelled out during that meeting with democrat and republican lawmakers at The White House earlier in the week, that he will convince the republicans and leadership in The House and The Senate to follow suit and pass significant gun control legislation?
SCHUMER: I think the leaders -- the republican leaders of The House and Senate, know that politically their position is backward and wrong. But they're so afraid of the NRA, they're afraid to move and do the right thing. I think if the president were to come out and say, "I am for this, and I urge The House – my fellow republicans in The House and Senate," it could happen. It is on the president's back and no one else's. But that is the because of the lack of strength and courage, the fear of the NRA that's in the hearts and souls of so much of the republican leadership in the House and Senate.
BLITZER: Let’s get to another very significant issues that’s been unfolding yesterday and today, the president today doubling down on his plans to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the United States. He tweeted this today, he said that trade wars are good and easy to win. How worried are you, if you are worried, about his position on these tariffs, that it could set off a trade war and also result in much higher costs for American consumers for products that rely on aluminum and steel?
SCHUMER: Well, I’d say three things here. First, to say that trade wars are a good thing is just wrong. Economic history shows it's wrong. China has taken very great advantage of the United States. And to do nothing, I think also, hurts America in a very real way. But, you have to do it in a smart way, you have to do it in a focused way. The number one worry I have about China, and I have a lot of them, is that they're stealing our most precious economic intellectual property. They’ve sort of dithered on that issue. On this issue, on steel and aluminum, number one, we don't know where the president is going to come down, because the ruling was temporary and for all we know he may back off tomorrow. So we’ll have to wait and see where they come down, see how they’ve implemented this, then make a judgment on it. I'm not sure he's going to stick with this one, either.
BLITZER: By the way, China is not a major exporter of aluminum and steel to The United States. Canada for example is a major exporter of aluminum and steel To The United States and a whole bunch of other countries.
SCHUMER: Right – that’s why –
BLITZER: That's why it's causing some significant (ph) concern --
SCHUMER: Right. The biggest issue with China, the crown jewel of America, is our intellectual property. We come up with all these great ideas. China doesn't let us use those ideas to sell products in China. Instead china tries to steal the intellectual property of America. If I had to pick one place to come down on China, it would be that.
BLITZER: Let's get to another sensitive issue. Your republican colleague Utah Senator Orrin Hatch had some very harsh words for supporters of Obamacare. I want you to listen to what he said during a speech over the American Enterprise Institute. Listen to this.
SEN. ORIN HATCH, R-UT.: That was the stupidest, dumbass deal that I've ever seen. Some of you may have loved it. If you do, you're some of the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met. This is one – and there are a lot of them on Capitol Hill from time to time.
BLITZER: The latest health tracking poll from Kaiser Family Foundation, by the way, shows Obamacare’s approval ratings are at the highest since 2010. What does that say to you? And what is your reaction to Senator Hatch?
SCHUMER: Obamacare is not perfect, but the overwhelming majority of Americans say don't repeal it, make it better. When republicans tried to repeal it, they couldn’t do it. It was so unpopular (ph) with the American people, because it's done a lot of good. We have preexisting conditions that is covered. We have women's health that is covered. We have 30 million people who might not have gotten coverage or just have gotten skimpy coverage, who now have coverage. These are good things. Orrin Hatch, I think, is frustrated. He's usually a very polite man, but I guess he sort of lost it on that little clip you showed. But, he’s just frustrated because the American people are against what has been drummed into the head of republicans. Repeal it, repeal it, repeal it. And the damge for repealing it would’ve been so great that they couldn’t accomplish it. They’re not going to accomplish it. They ought to give up and move on. There are ways we could make Obamacare better, no question about it. That’s what we ought to do in a bipartisan way, as opposed to calling people names and using words that Orin doesn’t typically use.
BLITZER: Let me finally get your reaction, you've caused quite a stir. I want to get your reaction –
SCHUMER: Somebody (ph) saying dirty words on TV?
BLITZER: -- No, you caused a stir by a vote on a judicial nominee the other day, the South Carolina attorney Marvin Quattlebaum was confirmed to become a federal judge by a vote in the Senate of 69 to 29. You were one of the 29 who voted against him. Apparently because of some of the comments you made, because he’s white. I want to give you a chance to explain what you meant by that, because it sounded unusually to put it mildly --
SCHUMER: Yes I didn’t say – yes, that was right wing radio who never really tells the truth, distorting what I had said. What I said is this, that Barack Obama had nominated, I think as early as 2013, two people for this seat. And our republican senator from South Carolina blocked them with the withholding of the blue slip, which has been a tradition.
So this seat has been vacant a long time. The two people nominated were African Americans, and I said "Now this new fellow is white, and we need the bench to have real diversity." The president's record in nominating people of color, even nominating women to the bench – I think the bench should look like America. I think most Americans agree with that. And the fact that they held up two people for so long and now wanted to get their fellow to come in made no sense. And compounding the injury was the lack of diversity on the bench – of the appointees --
BLITZER: So was this payback because –
SCHUMER: No –
BLITZER: -- of the earlier action against the two African American nominees?
SCHUMER: Absolutely not. It was saying I thought this nominee was not a very good nominee to begin with. But second, it's really wrong to hold a seat vacant for four years, then change the rules, and then say we're going to fill the bench just with people we want. There ought to be some compromise here.