WILMINGTON, Del. — On Sunday, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Greta Van Susteren on her show, Full Court Press, to discuss the GOP’s proposed COVID stimulus bill, the future of the filibuster, and climate action following the deadly wildfires across the Western United States.
On the GOP “skinny” COVID relief bill which failed to pass in the Senate last week, Senator Coons said: “It leaves out critical aid to state and local governments that will prevent additional layoffs of folks like paramedics, nurses, firefighters, police officers.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) included a liability waiver in the bill that Senator Coons also labeled as “overly broad.”
“It doesn’t just incentivize and reward responsible employers... It would provide liability relief to those employers that make no serious efforts to comply,” Senator Coons told Ms. Van Susteren.
When asked whether it would be possible to pass two distinct relief bills: the current relief bill and a separate bill for state and local government relief, Senator Coons commented that the relief bill should be comprehensive. “This is a moment that is a genuine crisis for our country and we should be doing our jobs, resolving it,” Senator Coons added.
On whether Senator Coons would support getting rid of the filibuster given potential Democratic Senate control, Senator Coons stated: “I’m going to try my hardest, first, to work across the aisle... Then if tragically, Republicans don’t change the tune or their behavior at all, I would.”
Discussing the role of the filibuster in climate action, Senator Coons continued, “There are bolder solutions to climate that have been proposed in the House, but they’re not currently enactable in the Senate, unless we get rid of the filibuster. Doing that’s a very strong move and one that I would hesitate to take, unless we have no other alternative.”
Full audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Senator, you voted against the Republican bill, the stimulus bill. They call it a starter bill and some people call it a skinny bill. Why did you vote “no” this week?
Sen. Coons: Well there were several reasons, Greta. First, it leaves out critical aid to state and local governments that will prevent additional layoffs of folks like paramedics, nurses, firefighters, police officers. In some ways, it’s actually literally harmful. Majority Leader McConnell included a liability waiver that is potentially dangerous to workers and to pandemic relief, because it’s overly broad. It doesn’t just incentivize and reward responsible employers. It would provide liability relief to those employers that make no serious efforts to comply. We also, frankly, have been pushing in my caucus for OSHA to do its job and to put out a national standard that would make it easier for employers to know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing in this pandemic to keep their customers and workforce safe.
Q: Well now it’s apparently dead in the water. And isn't something better than nothing? It was $105 billion for schools, $20 billion for farmers, $10 billion for postal workers, $10 billion childcare, $300 weekly in unemployment. So there was something in there. Isn’t something better than nothing in light of the fact that it is now dead in the water.
Sen. Coons: Well Greta, I would agree that there are some appealing provisions in there. There's also a series of policy provisions that are so-called poison pills for Democrats. It would be very difficult for us to accept like the wildly broad liability relief I just mentioned but I'll remind you: four months ago, before we unanimously passed the CARES Act, every Democrat came to the floor and voted against it because there was no aid for state and local governments. We had to come to the floor and vote against it again because there was no aid for hospitals or healthcare systems. Ultimately, once Majority Leader McConnell got involved in negotiating, we got to a bill that passed unanimously. Republican Leader McConnell has not been involved in the negotiations with Speaker Pelosi, with Senator Schumer, and the White House. I think he should get engaged, and I think we could move towards a bipartisan broader package that is somewhere between what the House passed months ago and this very skinny bill.
Q: Would it not have been possible to pass what you did in the Senate, and then have Speaker Pelosi originate a separate bill for state and local governments in the House
Sen. Coons: We could do a distinct bill just for state and local government, but frankly many of us recognize with the very small amount of time we have left until the elections, we should pass one last comprehensive COVID relief bill, resolve these outstanding issues, and give relief to the tens of millions of Americans and thousands of Delawareans who are reaching out to their members of Congress every day to say that they need more relief.
Q: We are hearing that the House and Senate are leaving town, Washington, on October 1st in preparation for the November 3rd election in light of the situation where we are. Would you be in favor of everybody staying in town, House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, because Americans are in dire straits and because frankly last election you all said you could get it done for us and the country is in a very tough situation right now?
Sen. Coons: Yes, I was stunned when Majority Leader McConnell sent us all home for the month of August and even more upset when I got back last week and was told by committee staff and by leadership staff that there have been no serious negotiations over the month of August. I've spoken to Minority Leader Schumer directly about this. He's told me that he made a number of offers and was eager and ready to negotiate but we didn't make serious progress either on the appropriations bills that are supposed to be done by the end of this month or on this next COVID relief package. I hear from Delawareans every day, Greta, how frustrated they are and how they want us to act. I frankly don't think we should leave until we get a big package that meets this moment and that helps the tens of millions of Americans who are unemployed, or who have been sickened, or who are concerned about their kids going back to school. This is a moment that is a genuine crisis for our country and we should be doing our jobs resolving it.
Q: You’re on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There is news coming up this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be at the White House because the UAE and Israel are normalizing relations. Now we’re hearing Bahrain is as well. Is this a huge step forward for the Middle East?
Sen. Coons: Greta, I do think it’s a significant step forward for there to be a resolution of the decades-old break in relations between Israel and the Gulf States. The Emiratis, the UAE, took the first big step. I was encouraged to hear that Bahrain is joining them, and I hope other countries will as well. We should also be advancing a two-state solution to make sure that there is, not just the normalization of relations with the Gulf States and with other states in the region, but progress towards a two-state solution that might finally bring to a successful conclusion the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the severance of relations that happened decades ago. This is a positive step, and I think it can help build momentum for the region.
Q: Do you give credit to President Trump for this step forward, as well as for the brokering of a peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo? Usually, we tend to be very divided domestically in politics, but when it comes to foreign relations, they’re seizing more unity. Do you give President Trump credit for these developments?
Sen. Coons: Greta, any time something happens in our foreign relations sphere that is positive for our country, I'm happy to give credit where credit's due. Our diplomats work tirelessly. Many of the moments of progress we've had in recent months built on things that happened under the previous administration. But I’m happy to give credit to the President, the Secretary of State for the resolution of the Bosnia-Kosovo challenge, as well as to the resolution of a normalization of relations with the UAE and Bahrain. Some like to put out the idea that people of my party don’t want to see America succeed on the world stage. Nothing could be further from the truth, and when there’s progress, I’m happy to recognize it and celebrate it.
Q: We have an election coming up as we all know and we had the disturbing news this week. We learned about it a little bit earlier in the last month. There is an effort to interfere with our election and the U.S. Treasury Department just put sanctions on three Russians and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Apparently, they're trying to break into Vice President Biden’s campaign. Are we going far enough to protect ourselves?
Sen. Coons: We are not. And Greta, this is something that was predicted months and months ago by the FBI Director, by the then-Director of National Intelligence – this is Chris Wray and Dan Coats – Senior members of the Trump administration predicted publicly that we would face an onslaught from Russia trying to influence the 2020 election as well as other state actors. One striking aspect of the development in Ukraine that you just referenced is that the Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on someone who has now been publicly identified as a Russian intelligence asset, but who also worked closely with Rudy Giuliani in an ill-fated attempt at smearing former Vice President Biden. I think it's important that we recognize, that we confront, Russia’s repeated efforts to interfere in our election.
Q: A member of the Ukrainian Parliament is trying to interfere or caused the hacking into our election. Is there anything the U.S. could do to put pressure on the Ukrainian Parliament to handle their own member, to discipline their own member? Could we withhold military aid or any other aid so that the Ukrainian Parliament stands up and takes charge of this?
Sen. Coons: We could send stronger signals than we have so far. I do want to make sure that we don't overreach in a way that harms Ukraine in their resistance to Russia's ongoing interference in their East in the Donbass. But we have not taken all the steps we could or should to engage with Ukraine to urge them to take appropriate steps. Frankly, Russia has been interfering in Ukraine's internal politics ever since Ukraine became an independent nation and the ways in which they have been a part of some of the Russian intelligence operations against the United States should gravely concern us. At the end of the day, it was President Trump's invitation, almost pressure, on the head of state of Ukraine that was the critical incident that propelled his impeachment late last year. That's why I think, on a bipartisan basis now that we're past that moment, we ought to look at this clearly and say there is an ongoing Russian disinformation campaign. There are ongoing cyber efforts to intrude into political actors in the United States. We should stand up for America and stand up for our elections.
Q: In the event that the Democrats take control of the Senate beginning after this coming election, would you be in favor of, or not in favor of, doing away with the filibuster?
Sen. Coons: Greta, I’m going to do everything I can to work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to the crises facing us. But if we've got a Democratic majority in the Congress, we will have been elected to those positions with a mandate to address the pandemic, address the recession, and address racial inequality. And before this current crisis, we had challenges of gun violence, immigration, drug prices, opioid addiction, and climate. We have to have a path forward to solving them. I will start by extending my hand to my friends on the other side of the aisle and saying, “Please work with us. Don’t put us in a position where the only way to move forward our country is by changing the rules of the Senate.” But Greta, as I’ve said before, I won’t stand by for years and allow the majority, if it’s a Democratic majority, to be blocked from making any serious progress. I’ve lived through that before, and I don’t think this moment will call for us to do literally nothing for an entire presidential term.
Q: So, you would do away the filibuster in that circumstance?
Sen. Coons: I’m going to try my hardest, first, to work across the aisle. And then, if tragically Republicans don’t change their tune or their behavior at all, I would.
Q: You say that in the event of a mandate...what if the country is evenly divided? Do you see that as a mandate? Because we’ve got a unique situation, the last time around, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got more votes nationwide, but she didn’t win the Electoral College. How do you define mandate? I can understand “mandate” if it’s 95% vote one way and 5% vote the other, but when the country is so divided, will you take a close election as a mandate?
Sen. Coons: Well, Greta, that’s exactly why my last answer to you was that I will work very hard to reach across the aisle because I think sustainable solutions to the challenges in front of us, whether it's getting out of the pandemic, recovering our economy, addressing racial inequality, or tackling climate change are bipartisan solutions. That’s why I launched the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with conservative Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana. There are bolder solutions to climate that have been proposed in the House, but they’re not currently enactable in the Senate, unless we get rid of the filibuster. Doing that’s a very strong move and one that I would hesitate to take, unless we have no other alternative.
Q: But again, but the whole issue going back to the mandate, something that, sir, that you have great passion for, but if the country’s divided on it, do you still see that as a mandate?
Sen. Coons: Well, I agree that if we have a 50-50 Senate, it’ll be very difficult for us to move forward without bipartisanship, and that’s exactly why seeking bipartisanship is important if there isn’t a stronger majority in the Senate.
Q: And I know that you bring up climate change. Delaware is very much sort of the victim of climate change. I think you're the lowest elevation in the nation?
Sen. Coons: We are blessed with a lot of beautiful water as you can see behind me, but it's also the lowest mean elevation state, and we are already seeing the impact of sea-level rise, of storms, of the impact on our wetlands, and you know frankly like a number of other states like Florida, like Louisiana, Delaware's a state where at the grassroots level, we have more and more citizens concerned about the ways in which climate is inevitably impacting our state.
Q: I interviewed Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, on the show, and I asked him about Oregon and California and the fires there. Do you have any thoughts on how we can help in those areas?
Sen. Coons: First, there is a critical role for federal relief in addressing those wildfires and in changing our system so that the funding for the robust response that's needed in this remarkable record fire season is available when it's needed, not afterwards. But frankly, as Governor Newsom just said in a national address, climate change is what’s driving these wildfires. This is yet another wake-up call. As you well know, Greta, Australia, a number of months ago, had not just record wildfires but catastrophic wildfires all over their continent and I think this is another wake-up call to average Americans that the climate is undeniably changing, people have caused it, and we have to take decisive action.