WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle to discuss congressional action on police reform and COVID-19 relief. This morning, Senator Coons voted against proceeding to debate on the Republican plan for policing reform, the JUSTICE Act, citing that the bill would not do enough to ensure accountability for police departments and to ban practices like no-knock warrants and chokeholds.
“Over the last two days we’ve heard from more than 130 civil rights organizations, the family of George Floyd, longstanding nationwide advocacy groups like the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, all urging Democrats not to vote to proceed to this bill, and as a result Senators Booker and Schumer have reached out to their counterparts Senator McConnell and Senator Scott and urged them to put off this vote this morning and instead negotiate towards a bipartisan base bill. We know what’s going to happen if we go to the floor today. We won’t proceed to the bill that Senator Scott has put forward,” Senator Coons said.
Full video available here. Full transcript available below.
Q: Senator, thank you for joining me. Let’s start on the vote today on Senator Tim Scott’s police reform bill. What are you going to do?
Sen. Coons: Stephanie, over the last two days we’ve heard from more than 130 civil rights organizations, the family of George Floyd, longstanding nationwide advocacy groups like the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, all urging Democrats not to vote to proceed to this bill, and as a result Senators Booker and Schumer have reached out to their counterparts Senator McConnell and Senator Scott and urged them to put off this vote this morning and instead negotiate towards a bipartisan base bill. We know what’s going to happen if we go to the floor today. We won’t proceed to the bill that Senator Scott has put forward. I enjoy a good working relationship with Senator Scott, but his bill fails to meet this moment. We need a stronger, broader, more effective bill that actually makes transformational change in policing nationwide.
Q: But let’s be honest sir, this bill might not meet the moment, but if you block it do you actually think that Tim Scott and Mitch McConnell are going to go back to the drawing board and present something better? Let’s be honest.
Sen. Coons: Well, so that’s the challenge we have faced in legislating on so many different issues while I’ve been here. Whether it’s immigration reform, gun violence, criminal justice issues. In some cases we’ve gotten something done like the criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. In that case you had a genuinely bipartisan effort in the House and Senate and an expressed willingness by the White House to sign the bill that came out of the process. In this moment as it was with gun violence and immigration reform, we don’t know where the president really is, and there isn’t a bipartisan base bill for us to work from.
Q: So are you optimistic that if you don’t sign it, you don’t believe that the immediate headline coming from the Trump Campaign today at four o’clock will be ‘Democrats Block Moving Forward on Police Reform’ they’re just obstructionists? You don’t think that’s going to happen?
Sen. Coons: Of course that’s what the Trump Campaign will say. Here’s the question I’ll put to you and that I’ve put to people in Delaware with whom I’ve met and with whom I’ve spoken. Who do you believe more effectively and accurately reflects this moment and what we need to take on in order to achieve reform that speaks to centuries of racial inequality and our challenges in policing: the NAACP and the family of George Floyd or President Trump and the Trump Campaign? I don’t think there is a lot of credibility when President Trump at his Tulsa rally was speaking about ‘our monuments’ and not speaking to bringing together our country in this difficult moment. I do think, let me give you one optimistic example, Stephanie, just two months ago when we were facing the pandemic and the recession, the initial bill that was put on the floor by Majority Leader McConnell, every single Democrat went to the floor and voted against proceeding to it. Then we got aid for the states. That bill, every Democrat voted against proceeding to it. Then we got aid for hospitals and healthcare systems. Then the bill passed unanimously. So we have had standoff moments like this recently, Majority Leader McConnell knows how to legislate in a bipartisan way. It begins by having for example Senators Harris, Booker and Scott sit down and hammer out what a strong bipartisan compromise bill would look like. If he wants to get a result, that’s the way to do it.
Q: Okay let’s talk about Aaron Zelinsky testifying today, this is the whistleblower. We already know that the Department of Justice has been politicized. Bill Barr is A-Okay with accepting reputational harm, he doesn’t mind because at the end of the day he achieves what his goals are, right? Jeffrey Epstein, we don’t really know what happened. We know that Bill Barr wrote a four-page summary that misrepresented Robert Mueller’s report. We know that IGs have been bounced and the Attorney General of the State of New York got fired on Friday night. Lots of bad headlines, but Bill Barr still keeps his job, and he keeps on trucking. Anything you can do about that?
Sen. Coons: Well as you know Stephanie, when the U.S. attorney was fired from the Southern District of New York, when those other actions regarding the IGs happened, this testimony today, it simply adds to the clarity, to the sharpness with which senators like myself and many others, mostly Democrats in the House and Senate, are speaking up about the inappropriate way in which Attorney General Barr is politicizing decisions at the Department of Justice. You’ve seen career prosecutors step off of cases, resign in protest, over 1,000 former career DOJ officials speak out against politicized sentencing decisions, changes in the pursuit of case law. This is a very concerning moment. I don’t think we’ve seen a moment where the Department of Justice and the rule of law were as seriously at risk as this since I was very young during the Watergate era. And frankly, the only thing that’s going to change Attorney General Barr’s behavior at this point is a different outcome in the election, and a different president.
Q: And I misspoke. I meant the U.S. Attorney not the State Attorney General. I want to ask you about this new Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program. You’ve joined Senators Ben Cardin and Jeanne Shaheen to introduce this. A new round where businesses with 100 people or less who’s profits, who’s revenues have dropped more than 50 percent to be eligible to get into this kind of program. Great idea, do you plan on making it retroactive? Because I promise you there are many companies that got some of that $600 billion that made loads, you had pharmaceutical companies getting $80 million contracts from this government and they got PPP. Are you going to go back and change the rules for those businesses? Because they didn’t get hurt, they got hooked up.
Sen. Coons: Okay so we’re conflating two things let me try and speak to both of them quickly. Senator Cardin is the ranking Democrat on Small Business where I also serve. I’m the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the SBA. Senator Shaheen has been a great leader in this effort. We are working to find a Republican lead cosponsor, and I’m optimistic. There are still $130 billion unspent in the existing PPP Program. What we are trying to say is there should quickly be a second round of PPP available for smaller companies that took the hardest hits. I pressed Secretary Mnuchin in the last Small Business Committee hearing we had to be more transparent about what companies receive PPP loans for what reasons. After initially resisting, he took some steps over the weekend to be more transparent in terms of which companies got the PPP loans. We need to do more for accountability and transparency. To your point, there were a number of large and publicly traded companies that took these loans that should not have received them.
Q: Do you know when, I know we’re out of time, do you know when we’re going to be getting that information from the Treasury Department?
Sen. Coons: I don’t, but I’d be happy to get back to you on it.
Q: I appreciate it, thank you so much for joining me this morning.