Schumer slams Ross for 'thuggish behavior' over reportedly threatening to fire officials

Schumer slams Ross for 'thuggish behavior' over reportedly threatening to fire officials
© Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerGroup of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers GOP super PAC launching August ad blitz Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-N.Y.) on Monday blasted Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross33K laptops meant for Alabama distance learning are stuck in customs, could be held until October Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors Trump census order faces logistical challenge MORE's "thuggish behavior" following an explosive report that Ross threatened to fire top employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after officials contradicted President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE's claims about Hurricane Dorian.

"Secretary Ross appears to be learning all the wrong lessons from President Trump’s friends President Putin and Chairman Kim," Schumer said in a statement. "What started as an embarrassment from the president has snowballed into thuggish behavior from a Cabinet Secretary to force scientists to bow down in obeisance to an anti-science president."

ADVERTISEMENT

The New York Times reported Monday afternoon that Ross had threatened to fire political staff at NOAA as part of an effort to fight off the perception that some of its employees had contradicted Trump's claim that Dorian would potentially reach Alabama. 

The president faced mounting scrutiny last week after issuing a warning on Twitter that said Alabama would be hit "harder than anticipated." The statement led the National Weather Service's (NWS) Birmingham branch to tweet just hours later that the storm would not affect any part of the state. 

Trump adamantly defended his stance in the ensuing days and displayed a map in the Oval Office that appeared to alter Dorian's projected path with a black marker. 

Just two days later, according to the Times, Ross contacted acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs and told him to fix the perception that the agency had pushed back against Trump's claims. After Jacobs objected, he was told that political staff at NOAA would be dismissed if the situation wasn't resolved, the Times reported. 

NOAA went on to release an unsigned statement affirming Trump's claims and disavowing the tweet from the NWS's Birmingham branch about the hurricane. 

The Commerce Department has denied the Times's report

"The New York Times story is false. Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian," a spokesperson told The Hill. 

Democratic Reps. Don Beyer (Va.) and Paul Tonko (N.Y.) — both members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — have already called for Ross's resignation.

"Reporting now suggests that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross put the safety of countless Americans at risk by compromising America’s hurricane warning system just to protect the President’s ego. If these reports are true, Secretary Ross needs to take responsibility and resign," Tonko said in a statement. 

The Times noted Monday night that the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General is looking into the NOAA statement affirming Trump's claims about Dorian. 

Craig McLean, NOAA's acting chief scientist, has also said that he would be examining whether the agency's move constituted a violation of policies and ethics.