WILMINGTON, Del. — Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to discuss the COVID-19 response. Senator Coons highlighted the need to support state and local governments and expand national service to help re-open the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“[F]or us to continue to provide services – whether it's garbage collection or it’s pandemic health services in support, whether it's keeping the unemployment offices open, or it’s providing police and firefighters – continuing to provide those key government services is also going to take some federal support,” said Senator Coons. “We put restrictions on the money that went to some of the largest companies. I understand our putting some restrictions on money that would go to state and local governments, but frankly if we don't, because of the balanced budget requirements of virtually every government, and I used to run a county government, we’ll see massive layoffs in the public sector.

On his effort to expand national service to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Coons added, “we will need to provide more support for businesses so they can reopen for contact tracing and testing. One of the things I've been talking with Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate about is our existing national service program, AmeriCorps, which has 75,000 young people in every state who were midway through their service year. We need to have somewhere between [100,000] and 300,000 people in every state doing contact tracing so we can safely reopen. We need to figure out how we get those folks up and running in every state in the country.”

Full audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below.

Q: Delaware Senator Chris Coons is with us now. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. Senator, good morning. We hope your family is doing well. We appreciate you joining us.

Sen. Coons: Good morning. Great to be on with you. Yes, everybody is safe and healthy at home. I am relieved that we got this $484 billion package out of the Senate unanimously, and I’m optimistic the House will pass it today.

Q: So, the news this morning as well though, even as the House is moving forward on that package, is talk about yet another package because we have 4.4 million more unemployment claims coming in this morning. That’s a grand total as you know of 26 million Americans now unemployed in the span of just a few weeks. What does a fourth package in the days ahead look like to you?

Sen. Coons: Well, Ed, something that we fought for and was not in this package was assistance to local governments and states. What that really means is keeping employed folks who are police officers, paramedics, first responders, teachers, public health officials, the folks who are keeping us safe and keeping things running, whether they are garbage collectors or they are folks administering unemployment checks. We do need to provide support to state and local governments in the next round. I also frankly think we’re going to need to provide more support for businesses so they can reopen, for contact tracing and testing. One of the things I've been talking with Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate about is our existing national service program, AmeriCorps, which has 75,000 young people in every state who were midway through their service year. We need to have somewhere between [100,000] and 300,000 people in every state doing contact tracing so we can safely reopen. We need to figure out how we get those folks up and running in every state in the country. 

Q: Well that might be an interesting initiative to get people to come together at this critical time. On the other hand, when you talk about helping state and local governments, Republicans see that, as you know, as a bailout, and they say they are not on board with it. Mitch McConnell yesterday had very strong comments on that. To be fair, we also want to add what a democratic governor said about it and we’ll let you react. Listen.

[Clip: Leader McConnell] I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route if it saves some cities. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now, so they don't have to do that. That's not something I'm going to be in favor of. 

[Clip: Governor Murphy] Come on, man. That is completely and utterly irresponsible. We will gut the living daylights in every state in America out of the services, the exact services, that our citizens need right now. 

Q: You can hear Governor Murphy in New Jersey. He is a Democrat who wants this money, this kind of bailout from the federal government. But answer that point from the Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who's basically saying, why should the federal taxpayer – our viewers watching right now have already been doling out trillions of dollars to help things get going - to bail out states like New Jersey who have not handled their state budgets well in recent years? 

Sen. Coons: Well we just spent $500 billion on bailing out the airlines, on bailing out a wide range of businesses large and small, from hotels to restaurants, who had no fault in this pandemic. And I frankly think for us to continue to provide services – whether it's garbage collection or it’s pandemic health services in support, whether it's keeping the unemployment offices open, or it’s providing police and firefighters – continuing to provide those key government services is also going to take some federal support.  We put restrictions on the money that went to some of the largest companies. I understand our putting some restrictions on money that would go to state and local governments, but frankly if we don't, because of the balanced budget requirements of virtually every government, and I used to run a county government, we’ll see massive layoffs in the public sector.

Q: But, Senator, the Wall Street Journal points out today the CARES Act, which you passed before, had $150 billion already for states, $90 billion for schools, transit, Medicaid, which obviously helps the states. I went back and looked. This is what you said back in 2013 in the Budget Committee, talking about a measure you had passed to try to cut spending and get the budget balanced. You said, ‘we need to reduce our country's dangerous deficits and stabilize our paralyzing national debt.’ That was seven years ago, Senator. 

Sen. Coons: That's right. And frankly, we are barreling towards a record amount of both deficits and debt. We are also in the greatest public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes. We spent a record amount as a government in order to get through the second World War and in the Great Depression, and we may end up spending a similar amount here. Frankly, I continue to be concerned about and committed to trying to get our budgets back into balance, but as someone who ran a local government that provided lots of the first responders support for my community, the police and the paramedics and the 911 call services, this is not a time I would be laying off the people who answer the phone at a 911 center or laying off the paramedics and the folks who are the nurses and the orderlies and the doctors at county hospitals all over this country. We did put a restriction on that $150 billion. It can only be spent for pandemic response. I think we need to find the right balance here.

Q: Alright. A lot of people will be working on finding that balance. Big decisions ahead. Senator Coons, I appreciate you coming on. 

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