WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed an “accountability Congress” in his first floor speech as Dem leader today, stressing that there are “issues are too important for mere words” and “challenges too entrenched for mere tweeting.”
“‘Making America Great Again’ requires more than 140 characters per issue,” Schumer said. “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.”
Among various examples of President-elect Trump’s tweets, Schumer said that “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,” he continued. “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.”
Schumer vowed that if Republicans “propose policies that will hurt Americans, deny them heathcare, 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.”
In a much shorter opening address, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) welcomed the new senators: Republicans Todd Young of Indiana and John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Kamala Harris of California, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
“The Senate has a lot of work ahead, but for now, I would encourage each of our members who have just been sworn in to take a moment to celebrate the rich tradition of this day,” McConnell said. “For those who served last Congress, you should be proud of what the Senate was able to accomplish on behalf of the American people.”
Promising to make a lengthier speech on Wednesday, McConnell added that “the coming days are going to require hard work and cooperation from both sides — but if we work together, we’ll be able to continue a record of achievement for our constituents, for our states, and for our country.”
In his opening day address to the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged that “just months ago, our country held a great electoral contest — and at times, it was a little intense.”
“As you all know, when you’re in the heat of it, you start to wonder: Will tempers cool? Will the system still hold? Does our old and rich tradition still have the old magic? Well, turns out, it does. The clash of opinions, the hue and cry of campaigns, the rancor and the dissension — in the end, they all dissolve in the silent and peaceful transfer of power,” Ryan said.
The Trump presidency, he added, “offers us yet another new beginning — a new chance to work toward that more perfect union.”
“I don’t care what your party is. Find one person in this House who doesn’t want the best for America. Find one person who doesn’t want to help the unemployed, or care for the sick, or educate the young, or honor our troops. Who here among us does not want to open wide the door to opportunity? Who here among us does not want every American — of every creed and every color — to cross the threshold? You can’t find one person — not a one. And that is a true cause for celebration,” Ryan said.
“…And so to the minority, I want to say, we’ve never shied away from our disagreements. And I do not expect anyone to do so now. But however bright of a contrast we draw between us, it must never blind us to the common ground we share.”
To the GOP majority, the Speaker told lawmakers they have “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“This is the kind of thing that most of us only dream about. I know, because I used to dream about it. The people have given us unified government. And it wasn’t because they were feeling generous. It’s because they wanted results. How could we live with ourselves if we let them down? How could we let ourselves down?” Ryan said. “I have for many months been asking our members to raise their gaze and aim high. Now, let us not be timid, but rather reach for that brighter horizon.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the House floor that she hoped lawmakers “will each be humble enough to accept the good faith of others.”
“We will seek common ground. But we will stand our ground wherever in good conscience we must,” she said. “If there is an attempt to destroy the guarantee of Medicare, harm Medicaid, Social Security, or the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will stand our ground. If there is an assault on clean air and clean water, on civil rights, women’s rights, or LGBT rights, if DREAMers and their immigrant families face the nightmare of deportation, Democrats will stand our ground. And if there is an attempt to silence our voices for common sense gun violence prevention, with Gabby Giffords here in the chamber as our witness – Democrats will stand our ground.”
“Many of us just celebrated Christmas, the birth of Christ,” Pelosi added. “In sharing in our humanity, God enabled us to participate in His divinity. This spark of divinity is acknowledged in every faith tradition. In recognizing the spark in others, we reaffirm it in ourselves. Honoring it, honoring that spark of divinity — we are commanded to respect the dignity and worth of all of God’s children, and to work together for the common good.”