WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the bipartisan framework for a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package and the immediate need for Congress to work together to pass relief for the American people.
On another round of relief checks, Sen. Coons said, “What I'm hearing from Delawareans up and down this state is that many cannot pay their rent or mortgage, many have lost their jobs or are afraid that they’re not going to be able to make it through the rest of this winter, and I think another round of relief checks would help make sure that our economy doesn't dip even deeper into a recession in the months that come between now and when we have the vaccine.”
On whether the Senate can pass a relief bill before the holidays, Sen. Coons said, “Bluntly, I don't understand how any of us can go home for the holidays and look our constituents in the face or the mask because so many are suffering. This is part of why we have a federal government, is to deal with disasters.”
On the federal response to COVID-19, Sen. Coons said, “And in this particular case, a disjointed federal response, different standards, different direction and frankly the way in which our current president, Donald Trump, has failed to give us a positive and consistent message about the public health crisis we’re in has made this worse.”
Full audio and video is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Joining us now, one of the senators working on a bipartisan deal, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He is also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Coons, Chris, what's standing in the way of relief checks?
Sen. Coons: Well, Mika, we’ve had a more than six-month impasse from when the House passed a broad solid relief package for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and recession to now. And you just mentioned the key critical issues: whether or not there should be another round of stimulus checks to families and individuals, whether there should be more support for state and local governments, and whether there should be some liability relief for employers and business owners. A group of us met last night for several hours to try and hammer out the liability relief so that we can help reopen the economy, help businesses operate safely, and yet, also ensure that those who’ve been harmed through reckless behavior get some help and some relief themselves.
Q: So what would be the argument against another round of relief checks?
Sen. Coons: Well, I support it. I think many in the Congress have supported it, but frankly, most of the Republican caucus in the Senate has opposed it. The 908 coalition, which is the group of senators that’s put together this next proposal, really was trying to stay below a trillion dollars simply because there's been pressure from the Republican majority here for months to not do another really large relief package. What I'm hearing from Delawareans up and down this state is that many cannot pay their rent or mortgage, many have lost their jobs or are afraid that they’re not going to be able to make it through the rest of this winter, and I think another round of relief checks would help make sure that our economy doesn't dip even deeper into a recession in the months that come between now and when we have the vaccine.
Q: So Senator Coons, you understand the politics of the Senate very well. Mitch McConnell has been more optimistic about this $908 billion proposal than he has about anything else in the last six months. Do you see something getting done by the end of the year and is it even conceivable to you for you all to go on recess without taking care of the people of Delaware, the people of America, who may lose their jobs and their livelihoods if you don't?
Sen. Coons: That's why I think we have to work even harder and get to the table with some fresh thinking and some new ideas. Because bluntly, I don't understand how any of us can go home for the holidays and look our constituents in the face or the mask because so many are suffering. This is part of why we have a federal government, is to deal with disasters. And in this particular case, a disjointed federal response, different standards, different direction, and frankly the way in which our current president, Donald Trump, has failed to give us a positive and consistent message about the public health crisis we’re in has made this worse. We have a chance to work together in a bipartisan way as we did months ago in passing the CARES Act and deliver the relief the American people need.
Q: So is a perception from the outside true, is it real that Mitch McConnell and some Republicans are actually receptive to this, they may agree to some version of this bill that you all have put forward?
Sen. Coons: They may agree to some version. But those two sticking points: he doesn't want to provide any more relief to state and local governments and he is demanding broad, long-standing changes to the law in how people who get hurt are able to be compensated. We wanted a lot more support for the teachers and paramedics and nurses who work for state and local government, and he wants a very broad change to the law in terms of how people who get harmed through the recklessness of others can recover. That's a conversation we're trying to close. This is the art of legislating and we need folks to bring their best ideas to the table. But I remain optimistic. One of the things Joe Biden and I share – and it’s partly rooted in our state – is an optimism about our ability to solve problems even in the most divided and partisan time.
Q: So it's December 8th. You don't have a lot of time ahead of you to get this massive deal done. Is there a chance that you all go home and face your voters without passing something?
Sen. Coons: Yes, there is a real chance of that. This impasse has lasted for months and months and months. Many in my caucus have found it incredible that we’ve had deals on the table over and over in recent months, and we haven't been able to close the deal. The American people, anyone who is watching, needs to call their senator's office and say deliver another round of relief. It's what will help this country get through this winter. This pandemic has infected nearly 15 million people, taken nearly 280,000 American lives. If we're going to slow the destruction of this pandemic, we need to provide more support for state and local governments, for hospitals, for schools, for the distribution of the vaccine, and for relief for individuals, families, and small businesses that need help reopening.
Q: Alright. Before you go, I'm just curious in your Republican counterparts and these meetings and discussions – do they recognize Joe Biden as the President-elect?
Sen. Coons: Well, look, I have had a number of private conversations with senators who want me to convey their congratulations to the President-elect, but are not yet willing to say so publicly. It's my job to keep working with them, but I will tell you it is a striking moment we’re in that President Trump still has the Republican party by the neck and is insisting that they ignore reality, which is that there is no chance that Joe Biden will not be sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th. The certifications in states, the lawsuits that have failed, it is clear that Trump is out of time. As Garry Kasparov would say, “check and mate.”
Q: Well, we can ask him. Alright. Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much.