WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Peter MacArthur on WDEL to discuss bipartisan COVID relief negotiations and what they could mean for Delawareans.
Senator Coons said, “I'm in Washington this week, and we are trying hard to negotiate a bipartisan compromise package. It's $908 billion and it would provide support and relief for small businesses, restaurants that have closed or are suffering real revenue loss. It would provide more money for the distribution of the vaccine. It would provide support for schools and for childcare, support for state and local governments, and another round of $300 a week unemployment checks that would last 13 weeks, so I support this framework. I think it is a badly needed down payment on getting us through the next couple of months.”
“What matters to me is the calls I get from Delawareans every single day – folks who were calling in, crying on the phone, saying ‘I’ve lost my job,’ ‘I've lost my car,’ ‘I may lose my apartment or my house,’ ‘how do I care for my kids?’ I don't see how we go home for the holidays particularly as the virus is getting – we are at the worst point of this pandemic, more than 40,000 Delawareans infected, more than 800 who passed away,” Senator Coons said.
Full audio is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Let's check in with U.S. Senator Chris Coons to talk about where things stand now, Senator, and where you see them going from here.
Sen. Coons: Good morning, Peter. It’s great to be with you. I'm in Washington this week, and we are trying hard to negotiate a bipartisan compromise package. It's $908 billion and it would provide support and relief for small businesses, restaurants that have closed or are suffering real revenue loss. It would provide more money for the distribution of the vaccines. It would provide support for schools and for childcare, support for state and local governments, and another round of $300 a week unemployment checks that would last 13 weeks, so I support this framework. I think it is a badly needed down payment on getting us through the next couple of months. But these negotiations are hard. There are some points on which my Republican colleagues are not so far agreeing to bend.
Q: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not so much in favor of the money you're talking about for local and state governments. What seems to be the hold up there?
Sen. Coons: Well, I was texting back and forth with Governor Carney last night. Many in the Republican majority are concerned that state governments have already received money, and they don't see the additional need. I hear from both our governor and from other state leaders, and from senators who are former governors themselves, that there are many states that have had COVID expenses that have exceeded what they’ve received federally, and where they may have made it through this year, but the revenue losses they're seeing as a state really makes them worried about next year – about their ability to continue to employ teachers and paramedics and public health officials. So it's a disagreement over whether or not states need another round of relief.
Q: Clarify for me the $300 that you mentioned – is that a tack on for people who've run out? Is it in addition to people who were currently receiving unemployment? How does it work exactly?
Sen. Coons: Yes – two things. The CARES Act, which we passed now nine months ago, provided a federal $600 a week on top of state unemployment assistance, and it provided unemployment assistance for groups of folks who don't otherwise get state unemployment – so-called gig workers – people who might have several different part time jobs. It extends both, and it extends them into early next year.
Q: I expect that you're doing a ton of work behind the scenes above and beyond what a lot of people might realize. Obviously, you were very much in the mix for Secretary of State, and the understanding is the President-elect told you, ‘I need you in the Senate,’ and Politico this week, Senator, I'm sure you've seen the article, labeled you as possibly the most critical individual Democrat on Capitol Hill in terms of, I believe, reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans. Does that perception add to the pressures of the obligations you feel as you work through this economic recovery package?
Sen. Coons: Peter, it does – you know, that was a very kind article, but it misses the point that there are many other Democrats who are good friends to the President-elect and who are also working hard alongside me. Obviously, Senator Carper is also someone who has a lot of experience, a lot of relationships, and works well across the aisle. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is very close to the President-elect, is also helping out. There's a lot of folks here who are pitching in to try and solve this. We've had an impasse on whether or not there will be another round of state and local aid for more than nine months, so trying to solve it in one week is a steep challenge. But we have been trading back and forth draft ideas. I'm currently negotiating with Senator Graham of South Carolina, and he's someone who's an experienced lawyer. He understands the Republican position; I understand the Democratic position. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is doing a lot of the hard work, and we're also doing a lot of talking with Mike Crapo of Idaho. Anyway, it's a group of senators. We're trying to hammer out a compromise. What matters to me is the calls I get from Delawareans every single day – folks who were calling in, crying on the phone, saying ‘I’ve lost my job,’ ‘I've lost my car,’ ‘I may now lose my apartment or my house,’ ‘how do I care for my kids?’ I don't see how we go home for the holidays particularly as the virus is getting – we are at the worst point of this pandemic, more than 40,000 Delawareans infected, more than 800 who have passed away. I think Governor Carney has done a strong job of managing this in our state, but nationally this is a public health crisis. There is hope on the horizon because of three very promising vaccines, but we've got a tough couple of months from here to when those are widely publicly available.
Q: Finally, Senator, does the transition period play into the difficulties in reaching a settlement here, or do you think that might be overstated?
Sen. Coons: I think that may be overstated. Look, it's been very hard to work positively in a Senate where every Democrat recognizes Joe Biden as the President-elect and Kamala Harris as the Vice President-elect, and very few Republicans recognize that. A number of them privately called me to say, you know, ‘please compliment the President-elect on his win, I look forward to working with him,’ but they haven't publicly acknowledged he's going to be the President-elect. Once we get past the electoral college, all of them recognize that it'll be time to move forward. The Supreme Court very brusquely dismissed the last significant legal effort by President Trump's lawyers. I think there's no question that Joe Biden is the next President of the United States, and there's a lot of interest and engagement around who's being nominated for what position. I'm enjoying working with the transition team and look forward to supporting the nominees that the President-elect is putting forward.
Q: Well, Senator, as new developments come up with the relief package, you have an open door here to come on and let us know what those are and let Delawareans know where things stand.
Sen. Coons: Thank you, Peter. Great to be on with you.
Q: Alright, take good care.