WILMINGTON, Del. — Sunday evening, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined MSNBC’s Kasie DC to discuss President Trump’s firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and his legislation to expand national service in response to COVID-19.
“It is an appropriate moment for all of us in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to be asking what is it that is causing President Trump to fire so many inspectors general, and will we stand up on a bipartisan basis to protect them? If not, we're going to have to say goodbye to real transparency and accountability of the presidency,” said Senator Coons. “One of my concerns is that there will be some hand wringing, some expressions of disapproval, but there won't be any substantive action. We in the minority, the Senate Democrats, can call for information, can demand hearings, but we don't have subpoena power and, frankly, so far this administration has demonstrated a disregard for congressional oversight.”
To discuss his effort to expand national service in the COVID-19 response, Senator Coons was joined by Mr. James Winfield, Member Development Specialist with Civic Works in Baltimore which has 200 AmeriCorps members delivering meals to those in need. Mr. Winfield noted, “we've been able to pivot our operations because we already had the infrastructure in place and focus on addressing one of the most glaring needs in the community.” The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would expand existing national service networks like AmeriCorps, which supports Civic Works, to deliver a community-based response to the COVID-19 recovery.
Audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below.
On the firing of Inspector General Steve Linick:
Q: NBC News has learned that the president fired Steve Linick after it was recommended by the Secretary of State. And now two Congressional officials tell NBC that Linick was looking into whether Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up dry-cleaning, make dinner reservations for him and his wife, and do other errands. Linick’s firing has spurred bipartisan outrage. Chuck Grassley, the Co-Chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus called inspectors general, ‘crucial in correcting government failures,’ adding that Congress needs a more thorough explanation for why Linick was fired. For more, I’m joined by Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is going to investigate Linick’s firing. Senator Coons, it's always great to have you on the program. Thanks for being here tonight.
Sen. Coons: Great to be on with you, Kasie. Senator Menendez said it all there. This is an important development and one that is deserving of a prompt investigation led by Senator Menendez in the Senate and by Chairman Eliot Engel in the House. This is the fourth inspector general abruptly fired by the Trump Administration: Atkinson, Fine, Grimm, and now Linick are four inspectors general. Every one of them had something to do either with the impeachment investigation or with providing thorough oversight for the remarkable amount of money that is now being spent by a variety of federal agencies, so inspectors general, and there's one for every federal agency, play a critical role in transparency and accountability. It is an appropriate moment for all of us in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to be asking what is it that is causing President Trump to fire so many inspectors general, and will we stand up on a bipartisan basis to protect them? If not, we're going to have to say goodbye to real transparency and accountability of the presidency.
Q: I was going to say, I mean, do you think that your Republican colleagues are serious about doing this? I mean, they have banded together, written a letter. This is not the first time that Senator Grassley has complained about the Trump Administration doing this. But, you know, I think a lot of people have watched a lot of complaints about the Trump Administration from Senate Republicans and then felt like there wasn't a lot of follow through.
Sen. Coons: That's right, Kasie. One of my concerns is that there will be some hand wringing, some expressions of disapproval, but there won't be any substantive action. We in the minority, the Senate Democrats, can call for information, can demand hearings, but we don't have subpoena power and, frankly, so far this administration has demonstrated a disregard for congressional oversight. They've disregarded even congressional subpoenas when delivered. So if we're going to protect the role of the inspector general, the central role of accountability and transparency, we're going to have to work harder, and frankly, Republican senators are going to have to step up and show that they understand the significance for separation of powers of Congress conducting real and meaningful oversight.
On National Service
Q: And, senator, I want to ask you exactly that, about this effort that you're leading to expand government outreach programs like AmeriCorps during this pandemic. And you also brought with you tonight someone who is a great example of how important that work is. I want to add to our conversation here James Winfield. He's a Member Development Specialist with Civic Works in Baltimore which has 200 AmeriCorps members delivering meals to those in need. Mr. Winfield, thanks so much for being on the program. And you know as we continue our coverage of this pandemic, the work that people like you are doing has been so critical for so many people who were already struggling in their own lives. Talk to us a little bit about what you're seeing every day as you try to continue this work under much more difficult conditions than anyone ever expected.
Mr. Winfield: Well, yeah, this pandemic has exacerbated all of the other things that have been going on in the community that we've been trying to address through our programs. One of the key carriers that we've been focusing on is food insecurity. As you all know, as we know, the elderly population is the most at risk during this pandemic, and they're also the most at risk in terms of not being able to travel about and get out and access the resources that are available. So we've been able to pivot our operations because we already had the infrastructure in place and focus on addressing one of the most glaring needs in the community.
Q: So, Senator Coons, I know you have legislation, this has been something we've spoken about this, your efforts around this on this show before. And obviously there are so many young people who are either graduating from high school or graduating from college. They don't know what they're going to do in this kind of economy. How would your efforts, if you could be successful in them, help give them potentially a path to service as we all try to recover in this pandemic era?
Sen. Coons: Well, the bill that a group of us have been championing in Congress, a bipartisan group in the House and a large group in the Senate, would essentially give James Winfield and Civic Works more resources, more AmeriCorps members to do more service to help combat hunger and food insecurity, to help support senior citizens, to help with things like testing and tracing and other public health responses, and to address education shortfalls that are happening because we've got a lost semester, perhaps an entire lost year for America's public schools. So we would double the number of AmeriCorps members from 75,000 to 150,000 in the first year and then double it again the next year. Year in and year out, there have been five to ten times as many people applying to serve in AmeriCorps programs like Civic Works that James Winfield is associated with, as we've had slots. This is a great opportunity to let young people earn a college opportunity, be a part of a broad and diverse coalition of people responding to needs in their communities, and to create opportunity for a younger generation to participate in national service in response to this pandemic.
Q: Alright. We're going to have to leave it there. Senator Coons and James Winfield, thank you so much for your time tonight. Mr. Winfield, thank you so much for the efforts, your efforts, on behalf of those citizens of Baltimore. I know we all really appreciate it.