Bernie Sanders Returns to Floor of U.S. Senate With Urgent Call to Action

WASHINGTON, June 17— Senator Bernie Sanders (I-V.t.) returned to the floor of the Senate to call for decisive and drastic action to address the crises of health, economic well-being, and police brutality that face the American people. The Republican Senate leadership is “doing nothing,” Sanders said, while “in every state in this country our constituents are hurting and they are calling out for help. Let us hear their cries. Let us act now."

The following are his prepared remarks, which can be viewed here.

"Mr. President, as everyone knows, this country faces an extraordinary set of crises – unprecedented in the modern history of this country. Over the last several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country have courageously taken to the streets to demand an end to police murder and brutality and to rethink the nature of policing in America.

And, in the midst of that, we continue to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed over 115,000 Americans and infected over 2.1 million of our people. And, on top of all of that, we are experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression with over 32 million Americans having lost their jobs.

Mr. President, enough is enough. The United States Senate must respond to the pain and suffering of the American people. Let us begin work today, not next week, not next month, but right now on the unprecedented crises facing America.

Mr. President, if there is anything that the torture and murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has taught us it is that we have to fundamentally rethink the nature of policing in America and reform our broken and racist criminal justice system.

Let’s be clear. The murder of George Floyd is not just an isolated incident. It is the latest in an endless series of police killings of African-Americans including: Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott and so many others.

Mr. President, the American people are rightly demanding justice and an end to police brutality and murder.

The Senate has got to act and it must act now.

Now, here is the good news. Thanks to a massive grassroots movement, the Senate will finally begin to debate legislation dealing with police departments. The bad news is that the Republican legislation introduced this morning goes nowhere near far enough as to where we need to go.

Now is not the time to think small, or respond with superficial, bureaucratic proposals. Now, is not the time for more studies. Now, is the time to hold racist and corrupt police officers and police departments accountable for their actions.

Now is the time to implement far-reaching reforms that will protect people and communities that have suffered police brutality, torture and murder for far too long, and to act boldly to protect the First Amendment right to protest.

Here are just some of the things the Congress must do to address our deeply corrupt system of policing:

First, every police officer involved in a killing must be held accountable, and those found guilty must be punished with the full force of the law. That includes officers who stand by while these brutal acts take place.

Every single killing of a person by police or while in police custody must be investigated by the Department of Justice.

We must create a process by which police departments look like the communities they serve and be part of those communities, not be seen as invading, heavily-armed occupying forces. We must, therefore, prohibit the transfer of Department of Defense military equipment to police departments.

We need to abolish “qualified immunity,” so police officers are held civilly liable for abuses.

We need to strip federal funds from departments that violate civil rights.

We need to provide funding to states and municipalities to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders to supplement law enforcement. For too long we have asked police departments to do things which they are not trained or prepared to do and have criminalized societal problems like addiction and homelessness and mental illness – severe problems that exist in every state in this country. These are not problems that are solved by incarceration.

We need to make records of police misconduct publicly available, so that an officer with a record of misconduct cannot simply move two towns over and start again.

We need to require all jurisdictions that receive federal grant funding to establish independent police conduct review boards that are broadly representative of the community and that have the authority to refer deaths that occur at the hands of police or in police custody to federal authorities for investigation.

We need to amend federal civil rights laws to allow more effective prosecution of police misconduct by changing the standard from willfulness to recklessness.

We need to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the police.

Finally, we need to legalize marijuana. In the midst of the many crises we face as a country, it is absurd that under the federal controlled substances act marijuana is at schedule 1 along with other drugs like heroin. State after state has moved to legalize marijuana and it is time for the federal government to do the same. When we talk about police department reform we must end police officers continuing to arrest, search or jail the people of our country - predominantly people of color - for using marijuana.

We need to ban the use of rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas on protestors. The right to protest is a fundamental constitutional right and must be respected.

But, Mr. President, let us be clear. Police violence is not the only manifestation of the systemic racism that is taking place in America today. Take a look at what is going on with the Covid 19 pandemic.

In recent months, we have seen black and brown communities disproportionately ravaged by the virus.

We have seen workers who earn starvation wages forced to go to work -- day in and day out – in unhealthy workplace environments because without that paycheck they and their families would go hungry.

These working class families have, with enormous courage, kept our economy and society together in hospitals, meat packing plants, public transportation, supermarkets, gas stations, and elsewhere.

These workers, disproportionately black and brown, have risked infection and death so that the rest of us can continue to eat, get our medicines, or put gas in our cars. Mr. President, in the wealthiest country on earth workers should not have to choose between hunger or getting ill or dying for doing their job.

And Mr. President, when we talk about starvation wages in this country I was happy to hear that Target has raised its minimum wage for its 275,000 workers to $15 an hour. This follows a decision two year ago by Amazon to raise the minimum wage for their workers to $15 an hour, and the effort in seven states in this country to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Now is the time for Walmart, the largest employer in America, owned by the wealthiest family in America, to also raise their minimum wage to at least $15 an hour. I should add, Mr. President, that the Walton family can more than afford to do this because since Trump has been president their wealth has increased by about $75 billion and they are now worth some $200 billion.

And, by the way, when we talk about racial justice, please understand that about half of black workers in this country earn less than $15 hour.

Further, Mr. President, the House has done the right thing by passing legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The time is long overdue for the Senate to pass that legislation.

And Mr. President, despite what we hear from the Trump administration, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

In fact, 9 states today hit record highs for new cases in a single day.

What we have seen unfold over the last several months, and continue to see unfold, is an administration that continues to ignore the recommendations from scientists and doctors. No one doubts anymore that masks can play an important role in cutting back on the transmission of the virus. We need to utilize the Defense Production Act and manufacture the hundreds of millions of high quality masks our people and our medical personnel desperately need. And, as part of the Defense Authorization Act, I will be offering an amendment to do just that.

And, Mr. President, not only do we need to act boldly and aggressively to address this horrific pandemic, not only do we need to act boldly to fix a broken and racist criminal justice system, we need to respond with a fierce sense of urgency in regards to the worst economic crisis in the modern history of our country.

Over the last three months, over 30 million Americans have lost their jobs, and because half of our people live paycheck to paycheck, many of those people are now facing economic desperation.

Today, all over this country, tens of millions of Americans are in danger of going hungry. We are seeing long lines in state after state of people who have run out of food and need governmental help to feed their families.

But it’s not only food. Millions of Americans are scared to death that they will soon be evicted from their apartments or will lose their homes to foreclosure.

Further, we are in danger of losing over half of small businesses in this country within the next 6 months.

We cannot allow that to happen. The United States of America is the richest country in the history of the world.

No, Senator McConnell, the American people cannot afford to wait. They need our help now, not a month from now, not 2 months from now.

We need to respond vigorously to the enormous economic pain, suffering and anxiety of the American people.

What does that mean?

It means that the government must guarantee 100 percent of the paychecks and benefits of American workers – up to $90,000 a year - through the Paycheck Security Act that I introduced with Senators Warner, Jones and Blumenthal.

Countries in Europe that have taken this approach have not experienced the skyrocketing levels of unemployment we have seen in the U.S.

Mr. President, as a result of the economic downturn, we know that over 16 million Americans have already lost their health insurance. Further, there are estimates that that number could go as high as 43 million people. And that is on top of the 87 million Americans who were already uninsured or under-insured before the pandemic.

Responding with a fierce sense of urgency to the economic crisis means that, in the midst of this horrific pandemic, everyone in America must receive the health care they need regardless of income. That means that Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the health care bills of the uninsured and under-insured until this crisis is over. And that is why I have introduced the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act with a half dozen of my colleagues.

If this crisis has taught us anything it is that we are only as safe as the least insured among us.

Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means providing every working-class person in America with a $2,000 emergency payment each and every month until this crisis is over so that they can pay the rent, feed their families and make ends meet. These emergency $2,000 monthly payments will also serve as a major stimulus in reviving the economy.

Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means making sure that no one in the United States of America is allowed to go hungry. That means we have got to substantially expand the Meals on Wheels program, the school meals programs, and SNAP benefits.

Responding with a fierce sense of urgency means making sure that the Postal Service receives the emergency funding that it desperately needs.

Mr. President, now more than ever, our country needs the Postal Service to ensure the timely delivery of medical supplies, to ensure that everyone in America can exercise their right to vote safely through a vote-by-mail system, and to ensure that people in rural America and inner-cities receive the packages they need to survive on a daily basis.

If we could bail out large corporations, if we could provide over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, please do not tell me that we cannot save and strengthen the Postal Service – the most popular government agency in America with a 91% approval rating.

Acting with a fierce sense of urgency means extending the $600 a week in expanded unemployment benefits that expires in July. Failure to extend these benefits would slash the incomes of millions of Americans by 50, 60, even 70 percent – not something we should be doing in the midst of an economic crisis.

So, Mr. President here we are. We are in the midst of the worst public health crisis in over 100 years.

And the Republican Senate is doing nothing.

We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And the Republican Senate is doing nothing.

We continue to see African Americans brutally murdered and tortured by racist police officers.

And the Republican Senate proposes a woefully inadequate solution.

Now, I understand that not everyone is hurting in America. Not everyone needs the Senate to act.

While over 32 million Americans have lost jobs during this horrific pandemic, 630 billionaires in this country have seen their wealth go up by $565 billion.

Let me repeat that. Over the first three months of this horrific pandemic, America’s 630 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by $565 billion.

In other words, at a time of massive income and wealth inequality a horrible situation is becoming even worse. During the last three months, while the very, very rich have become much richer, American households have seen their wealth go down by $6.5 trillion. In all likelihood, in the midst of everything else, we are currently witnessing what is likely the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the very rich in the modern history of this country.

Mr. President, in the midst of the unprecedented crises we face it is time for the Senate to act in an unprecedented way. In every state in this country our constituents are hurting and they are calling out for help. Let us hear their cries. Let us act now.”