One of us is a Democratic senator, who, though certainly willing to seek common ground across the aisle, has been a loyal Democrat all his adult life. The other voted Republican in every presidential election of his adult lifetime until 2016, and came to Washington to serve in the Reagan administration.
But we agree on this: We both want this nation to deal with the coronavirus as well as possible. We both want an economic recovery as soon as possible. And we both see proposals in Congress that would set back these goals.
Too many members of Congress, following the lead of President Donald Trump, continue to engage in coronavirus denialism. They also rush to embrace short-sighted and counterproductive policies that are particularly dangerous in the midst of a global pandemic. Today, these lawmakers seem to believe that by simply wishing for the country to be “open for business,” but without any real plans or safeguards, that all will go well. It won’t. We’ll lose tens of thousands of more Americans to the virus, and we won’t get the economy going again.
In the last week, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have seemed to balk at providing financial assistance to states — though it is the states who have shown real leadership in fighting COVID-19, even as their revenues evaporate.
It gets worse. McConnell, upon announcing the Senate's return this month, said that giving businesses immunity from lawsuits would be his priority, perhaps a condition for the states to receive aid. At the same time, some Republican governors have said employees who are wary of returning to work once businesses reopen, fearing for their health and even their lives, will lose access to unemployment benefits. In short, the position of today’s Republican Party seems to be that employers should get a waiver of liability if their workplace turns out to be unsafe, but employees should lose unemployment benefits if they won’t return to that unsafe workplace.
Workers would be left vulnerable
In other words: No liability at all for businesses, absolute liability for workers. This is unfair and, indeed, offensive. And we would say, as a Democrat who’s been an advocate for the legitimate interests of businessmen and women in his state, and as a Republican concerned for the future of democratic capitalism, this is the worst possible message about capitalism to send to young people, or to anyone, in America. No wonder the polls show support for democratic capitalism falling.
Rise above divisive rhetoric
And unfortunately, the list goes on. Republicans don’t want to provide funding to the postal service because Trump is obsessed with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (despite the fact that the Postal Service has profited significantly from Amazon’s business). And they do not want to provide funding for safe and secure elections because they fear (with no evidence) that making it easier to vote absentee or by mail will help the other party. Again, if you want to discredit the American democracy in the eyes of our fellow citizens, this is the way to do it.
We urge responsible Republicans to rise above the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump and the cynical political maneuvering of Mitch McConnell, and join with Democrats in advancing legislation in this crisis that’s good for our country. Let’s get through this crisis responsibly, and then the two of us can get back to arguing again!
Chris Coons, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Delaware. William Kristol, former editor of The Weekly Standard, is director of Defending Democracy Together.