WILMINGTON, Del. – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Joe Scarborough on MSNBC to discuss a COVID relief package and Supreme Court hearings.\
On COVID relief, Senator Coons said, “We have a next version of that, a bipartisan next version of that ready to go. But frankly, when the House tried to pass it, it was blocked and the White House, until President Trump's late-night tweet last night, had refused to move forward with piecemeal solutions.”
On SCOTUS confirmation hearings, Senator Coons said, “Instead of doing what we should be doing, which is negotiating a final COVID relief package for the American people, the Senate Majority and the Judiciary Committee are racing ahead with a Supreme Court Confirmation. If the Senate is too unsafe for us to be there in person this week to vote on judges, it's unsafe for us to be holding this confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett.”
On Amy Coney Barrett, Senator Coons said, “I've been consulting with my legal team. I've been reading her opinions and law review articles, and I'm increasingly convinced that she's even more conservative than Justice Scalia for whom she clerked on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a willingness to reverse long-settled precedent.”
Full video is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. He's got a new piece in Foreign Affairs Magazine titled “A Bipartisan Foreign Policy is Still Possible.” We'll talk about that in just a moment. Senator Coons, good morning. I want to begin by asking you about what's going on in the Congress right now in terms of COVID stimulus, COVID relief. We had the Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, saying it is critical to get something into the system for this economy. As you know, it is critical to small business owners and families in the state of Delaware, the president coming out publicly and killing the negotiations effectively yesterday in a tweet. So where does Congress stand right now, most importantly, in getting money into the hands of people who need it?
Sen. Coons: Well, we've been working for months in the Congress to put together a package that we can get passed. As you know, six months ago we unanimously passed in the Senate the CARES Act, which delivered about $2.3 trillion worth of relief and is what's keeping our economy from collapsing. Four months ago, the House passed a bold, substantial relief package, which Majority Leader McConnell never took up seriously in the Senate. We have waited for week after week after week without Republicans in the Senate coming to the table to negotiate. Speaker Pelosi ultimately in the last few weeks has been negotiating directly with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, with Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader in the Senate, and it's been very difficult to get to any agreement, even as Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer have agreed to come down by a trillion dollars from that initial House package. This is just another example of how difficult it is to negotiate with President Trump. It's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. He's canceling all negotiations and then within a few short hours saying, no, no, we urgently need more money to be enacted tomorrow. We are not in session this week because of the COVID outbreak that has infected three of my colleagues. Instead of doing what we should be doing, which is negotiating a final COVID relief package for the American people, the Senate Majority and the Judiciary Committee are racing ahead with a Supreme Court confirmation.
Q: As you know, talking to your constituents, people in Delaware, people out the country, they're not much interested in the politics of how this is happening. They just know they need some help and they need it fast. So what do you say to that small business owner in Wilmington or somewhere else in your state who's saying, I'm about to go under unless you guys do something and do it fast?
Sen. Coons: Well, that's literally a conversation I'm having every day as folks I know here are texting me, emailing me, calling my office saying, when are you going to get this next relief package done? I'm on the Small Business Committee. I helped write some of the PPP provisions that helped millions of businesses and nonprofits stay open in the CARES Act. We have a next version of that, a bipartisan next version of that ready to go. But frankly, when the House tried to pass it, it was blocked and the White House, until President Trump's late-night tweet last night, had refused to move forward with piecemeal solutions. We still have the unresolved and critical issue of funding state and local governments, which have already laid off more than a million and a half public employees. The middle of a pandemic is no time to have teachers and paramedics, nurses and police officers facing layoffs because of the ongoing recession caused by President Trump's bungled mishandling of this pandemic.
Q: Do you think those $1,200 checks, the way that President Trump described them last night, those standalone checks, the bill... Is that a possibility? Is that something real that could get into the pockets of your constituents?
Sen. Coons: It would distribute, I think, roughly $400 billion dollars to the American people. I'll remind you, President Trump insisted on putting his name on it the last time–something unprecedented in the distribution of federal support and relief in comparable recessions. That may be something that's considered today. Bluntly, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer have tried their best to make progress in these negotiations, and the unpredictability of President Trump's response and the unwillingness of the Republican majority in the Senate to focus on this pandemic relief package rather than the confirmation of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court has made progress very difficult.
Q: Let's talk about that confirmation process, Senator. Mitch McConnell says he wants to go ahead starting the hearings in some form on Zoom. As you mentioned, three of your colleagues have come down with COVID-19. Some of them say they expect to be well enough to be back in person for a hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. How do you see this playing out? As you know Republicans have the votes to confirm her. What does this process look like to you over the next few weeks?
Sen. Coons: Well, we should not be racing ahead with this partisan process. There is no precedent in our nation's history for the Senate holding a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee this close, just 27 days before a presidential election where people are already voting in more than half the states. Nonetheless, the majority committee chairman, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is insisting on holding a confirmation hearing and an initial vote next week. If the Senate is too unsafe for us to be there in person this week to vote on judges, it's unsafe for us to be holding this confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett. I am still preparing for these upcoming hearings. I've been consulting with my legal team. I've been reading her opinions and law review articles, and I'm increasingly convinced that she's even more conservative than Justice Scalia for whom she clerked on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a willingness to reverse long-settled precedent. I look forward to questioning her more about that, and I think the American people need to realize President Trump himself said the only reason he was choosing this judge to be a justice and pressing for her to be seated before the election was so that she could participate in decisions about the election if it is closely contested, and so she could be seated to help overturn the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court hearing scheduled for November 10th. It is a bitter irony that Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life to gender equality, and the provision of the Affordable Care Act that protects women from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy or literally just being a woman, this is a key feature of the Affordable Care Act that protects all American women from discrimination by insurance companies. That's on the docket. A vote for Judge Barrett is a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That’s what I’ll be trying to lay bare in the upcoming hearings, which we frankly should be delaying until after the election.
Q: So you disagree with Judge Barrett on major policy issues, obviously, but do you think she's qualified as a judge?
Sen. Coons: I think she is qualified as a judge; I think she's going to be an engaging candidate. But, frankly, what matters here is not whether she's taught at a well-regarded law school or whether she answers questions well. What matters is her judicial philosophy, how she will change the balance on the Court and what the consequences will be for tens or hundreds of millions of Americans. We're in the middle of a pandemic. It is stunning that the Trump administration is in the Supreme Court trying to take away health care protections from millions and millions of Americans. Pre-existing condition protection covers more than 100 million Americans. And there're more than 7 million Americans newly infected in this Covid pandemic who have a new pre-existing condition. So, frankly, I think the focus here ought to be on the consequences of Judge Barrett joining the Supreme Court.