This morning, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman delivered remarks at the Association for a Better New York’s Power Breakfast.
In his remarks, Attorney General Schneiderman made clear that he won’t hesitate to challenge the proposed health care bill if it becomes law: “If the version of the health care bill proposed last week ever becomes law, I’ve promised to go to court to challenge it – and protect New Yorkers from these wrongheaded and unconstitutional provisions.”
The Attorney General also discussed how the fight against President Trump’s immigration ban served as a galvanizing moment for the coalition of state Attorneys General who have formed the core of the “legal resistance” that’s developed in recent months.
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery
Good morning / everyone.
Thank you for having me here today.
Thank you / Bill (Rudin) / for that kind introduction.
And thank you for your extraordinary commitment / that has made ABNY one of the most vital institutions / in America’s most vital city.
It’s a pleasure to be here with so many old friends / former colleagues // and even a few former adversaries.
I am proud to be your lawyer / and I am grateful for the opportunity that gives me to represent not just New York’s people / and New York’s institutions / but also to represent New York’s values.
When I became Attorney General more than six years ago / I set out three goals for my office:
First / to build the best public law firm in the United States.
Second / to always be guided by the essential American principle of equal justice under law.
And third / for our office to do whatever we can to ensure that New York is as competitive as it can possibly be in the global economy.
After six years in office / I think we’ve made great progress on / all / three / of those goals.
Before becoming Attorney General / I spent most of my career in private practice / and I have always believed that the people of the state of New York deserve the same quality of legal work that my corporate clients had when I was at my law firm.
Today / I do believe we have the best public law firm in the country.
We have created new bureaus and reorganized others / and have made major strides in upgrading our technology.
Over the last six years / we’ve brought more money back to the state than ever before in our history.
And // I am particularly proud of this // we have developed some of the country’s most / innovative / programs for dealing with law enforcement’s most / intractable / problems.
We set up the nation’s best prescription drug tracking system / to give doctors and pharmacists the tools they need to prevent doctor-shopping for opioids.
According to the state health department / during the first year our I-STOP system for tracking prescriptions was in use / doctor-shopping // getting prescriptions for the same drug from more than one doctor // fell by / 75 / percent.
Second / uniquely among the states / we closed the Gun Show Loophole in New York.
To make that happen / I had to reach out to New York’s gun show operators // and let’s just say that / having served as the national co-chair of Legislators Against Illegal Guns / we didn’t have the warmest relationship at the outset to build on.
But we were able to work together / seeing past our differences / and together we created a set of model procedures that insure that no one who buys a gun at a New York gun show can do so without a background check // our procedures really are a national model.
I like trying things that have not been tried before / and my office will continue to be the source of new approaches / and innovation / as long as I am your Attorney General.
We have also been able to develop strong relationships with leaders in every sector of the economy.
Consistent with my goal of keeping New York competitive / we have shifted the culture of our office by making it clear that lawyers on my team don’t just get credit for catching / bad / guys / they also get credit for helping / good / guys.
And in every sector of the economy / from retail to health care to construction / our best sources of information about bad actors often come from the good guys // from legitimate businesses who play by the rules.
The relationships we’ve developed with leaders of the business community / the nonprofit community / labor unions / and others / have been crucial in our efforts to defend New York / and to stand up for New York values in the face of some very dangerous / and damaging / policy initiatives coming out of Washington over the past six months.
And / ladies and gentleman / it has been a wild / six / months.
Our first major test came early / on January 27 / a week after Inauguration Day / when the president handed down his first unconstitutional / anti-Muslim travel ban.
The ban offended all of us / who believe in the rule of law / and in our constitutional framework / that imposes limits / on even what a president can do.
But at a deeper level / I felt that the travel ban was an affront / to the values that I take special pride in / as a New Yorker.
When I speak of New York values / I mean the values of openness / pluralism / innovation / and common sense / that have distinguished New York throughout its history.
Going back to its days as New Amsterdam / New York / unlike many other colonies / was not started by a specific religious group seeking to build a relatively homogeneous community // like the Puritans in Massachusetts / Quakers in Pennsylvania / or Catholics in Maryland.
When we were still New Amsterdam / we were a trading port that aspired to be a major center of trade and commerce.
And more than any other colony / New Amsterdam was open to all.
Famously / in 1654 / the first boats filled with Jews fleeing oppression / in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of South America / appeared in New Amsterdam.
Governor Peter Stuyvesant wrote back to his bosses / at the Dutch West India Company to protest / essentially saying: //
“I don’t have to take them / do I?”
And his bosses in Amsterdam wrote back and said //
“Yes / actually / you do. // We take everyone.”
And for centuries since / there has been a sense of pluralism / of openness to new people and new ideas / that has characterized New York / as it has grown into the greatest city in the world.
Well / the president’s January 27 travel ban could not have been more of an affront to this tradition.
It sought to shut down the entire US refugee program at a time when tens of thousands of refugees desperately sought shelter from war and oppression.
And it sought to block all immigration from seven overwhelmingly Muslim countries / with no coherent rationale other than an anti-Muslim animus.
The travel ban was not just an affront to New York’s values.
It was also a direct assault on the business and civic institutions that are New York’s lifeblood.
If the ban was not challenged / our city’s economy / which depends on free commerce and immigration / our businesses that are constantly seeking to attract and retain the best and brightest / would have been cut off from entire sections of the world.
So / on the afternoon of January 27th / I got on the phone with my counterparts / other state attorneys general / all across the nation.
Within / 36 / hours / we pulled together / 17 / Attorneys General / representing more than / 130 / million / people / to come out strongly against the ban / to stand up for the rule of law / and for the essential constitutional principle that even a president cannot discriminate based / on / religion.
We issued a statement making it clear / that in our view / the ban was unconstitutional / and that we would challenge it in courts all across the country.
And / we / did.
As we prepared our cases / I reached out to leaders in the finance / labor / health care / and tech communities / and got the facts and figures we needed to make the case that the travel ban would have a devastating effect on New York’s economy.
We were able to argue that it wouldn’t / hurt / just immigrants / and / refugees.
It would hurt / all / of us.
Major New York institutions / some represented here today / joined us and supported our fight in the courts // SUNY and CUNY / the Greater New York Hospital Association / tech companies like Kickstarter / Etsy / and Meetup // and major leaders of the finance industry added their voices to the effort.
And then / with these powerful alliances in place / we went into courts all across the country / to challenge the travel ban.
We were joined by lawyers for immigrants’ rights groups / civil rights groups / and individual detainees.
There was / in fact / an unprecedented outpouring of support from lawyers all across the country.
We soon figured out that our best chance for a national injunction was in Washington state / so we threw our support behind the efforts of the Washington attorney general / and got a broad order blocking the travel ban / that was upheld on appeal by the court of appeals for the 9th circuit.
We achieved similar success when we challenged the second version of the travel ban.
And with yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court / it is clear we will taking the fight one more step up the appellate ladder later this year.
Let me say something about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling.
The business community / in particular / can take heart from the structure of the Supreme Court’s partial stay of the lower court injunction.
In modifying the stay / the court prevented the government from banning travel to the US by anyone with a legitimate employment-related reason to travel here.
Legitimate academic / nonprofit / and family connections were also protected by the Supreme Court.
It is too early to predict what the Court’s ultimate ruling will be / but the arguments about potential for injury to businesses / nonprofits / and educational institutions in New York / and other states / seem to have had an impact.
Ladies and gentlemen / the fight over the travel ban was a galvanizing moment for our coalition of state Attorneys General / who formed the core of the legal resistance to the two executive orders.
We are now working together more closely / and with more clarity of purpose / than at any time in any of our memories.
And we have kept building our coalition / and expanding our efforts to defend the rule of law / to protect the people we represent against other potentially devastating federal initiatives.
I now lead a group of / 25 / state and local governments that have intervened to defend the Clean Power Plan / and other critical programs / to address the existential threat of climate change.
And / after the president decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord / my office / along with / 18 / other AGs / signed on to the “We / Are / Still / In” pledge.
We joined an amazing group of / government actors / businesses / non-profits / and investors // including ABNY members like eBay / Bloomberg / and NYU // that have committed to continuing action on climate change.
Like you / I know that it is tremendously short-sighted for the United States to abandon a leadership role in the transition to a new energy economy.
And any delays in our efforts to slow the devastating effects of climate change put us all at risk.
We know that the water in New York Harbor is more than a foot higher than it was in the early 20th century.
And any New Yorker that lived through Superstorm Sandy knows that climate change is real / it is here / and it is deadly.
That is why / if the federal government won’t defend our planet / my state colleagues / and / I / will.
The same dynamic is now at play in the fight over the future of healthcare for millions of New Yorkers / and really all Americans / where the energized coalition of state attorneys general and our allies are once again set to play a critical role.
As you know / right now / the US Senate is considering a bill that would take away health insurance from tens of millions of the most vulnerable Americans / including millions of New Yorkers.
It would scrap many of the hard-fought protections / for the sick / poor / and elderly / that have finally brought some modicum of justice to our health care system.
And it would have a particularly devastating effect on New York / where our health care sector is one of the pillars of our economy / and where some estimates indicate that New York could lose nearly $7 billion dollars in healthcare funding.
That’s why I’m leading a group of / 16 / Attorneys General that have moved to intervene in litigation to protect the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing subsidies / the same subsidies that make the ACA economically feasible for insurance plans / and that help make coverage affordable for low-income New Yorkers. [House of Representatives v. Price]
In New York / 730,000 / people / rely on more than / $900 million / in cost-sharing reduction payments provided through the Affordable Care Act. //
Let me add that / as written / the Senate’s healthcare bill would defund Planned Parenthood / placing an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.
It also includes a provision that specifically targets New York’s // and only New York’s // system for funding Medicaid / that would require massive state tax increases to offset billions of dollars in lost revenue.
If the version of the health care bill proposed last week ever becomes law / I’ve promised to go to court to challenge it / and protect New Yorkers / from these wrongheaded / and unconstitutional / provisions.
Ladies and Gentlemen // the story of the Affordable Care Act in New York is a success story.
We have built one of the best / if not the best / health care exchanges in the country.
It was built by business leaders / labor leaders / government officials / and key advocates coming together to ask a simple question: //
“How can we help the most people / in the most efficient way possible?”
By joining together / we have been able to cut New York’s uninsured rate in half since 2013 // from 10 percent to 5 percent of our population.
And we were able to do that in large part because of the toolkit provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Many of you in this room / today / continue to play a key role in the fight against ACA repeal.
Many business leaders have been outspoken in their opposition / especially those from our healthcare industry.
We need those voices to be even louder in the days ahead.
The words of business leaders resonate loudly in swing states across the country.
And they resonate loudly in this White House.
My friends / we have come together today at a particularly challenging time for our country.
A lot of New Yorkers are confused and scared by what’s happening in Washington.
But let me close by recalling that many of you have been here before / when New York’s social and economic fabric was threatened by other shortsighted / or just plain stupid / policy proposals from our federal government.
I am reminded of the extraordinarily successful effort by ABNY leaders / and New York’s elected officials / to block some potentially devastating proposals in what became the federal tax reform plan of 1986.
Bill / to me / your father’s most remarkable achievement will always be how he somehow got business and property owners to prepay their real estate taxes in 1975.
But a close second was the campaign to derail the federal tax reform juggernaut that emerged in 1985 / and would have / among other things / eliminated the deduction for state and local taxes / and devastated New York.
There were a lot of proposals / and a lot of heated rhetoric / flying around in 1985 and 1986.
But New York’s business and political leadership focused on the key elements of the / substantively / dangerous proposals that could actually be blocked // and then executed a campaign that was able to overcome opposition from key congressional chairs / and / the White House.
[So Bill, if you can channel your father’s energy from the 1986 campaign / maybe we can get Jay Kriegel to channel himself.]
The key then was / and the key now is / to focus on the substance / and not get distracted / by the bright lights / and the loud noises.
I know that this is hard / because of the circus-like atmosphere that seems to permeate Washington.
I try to keep my office / and my colleagues / focused on the real issues // People losing healthcare / crippling restrictions on travel / real damage to our environment.
I try not to get sucked into the latest nonsense on Twitter.
But it’s hard / especially when the nonsense is about you.
Look / the president has gone on Twitter rants about me // Calling me a “sleazebag” / a “total lightweight” / a “crook.”
And gems like:
“It’s Thursday. What brand of eyeliner is the nation’s worst AG / AGSchneiderman / wearing today?”
Those tweets were sent when I was pursuing the Trump University litigation / which we settled on excellent terms for the students who had been ripped off / and got Trump to pay a million-dollar fine to the State of New York.
I did not let the tweets distract me then / and I am not going to let them distract me now.
And neither should any of you.
Because I truly believe that New York has a special role to play in building the next national consensus that must arise out of the current turmoil.
New York values of mutual respect / pluralism / and common sense are more important than ever.
As long as I am your Attorney General / I promise to do everything I can to stand up for those values / and defend all the people I represent / in the challenges we face together.