WILMINGTON, Del. — Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined CNBC’s Squawk Box to call for another round of COVID-19 relief for the American people.
On Congress’ failure to pass another relief bill earlier, Sen. Coons said: “Speaker Pelosi has been working hard because she and the House Democrats, who are in the majority, passed a big and broad package four months ago, but Majority Leader McConnell has been completely absent from these negotiations.” Sen. Coons continued, “I think it's appropriate Speaker Pelosi put a deadline on this. It’s been dragging on for months, and our key problem is the Republican majority in the Senate will not support the kind of broad bill that the White House is talking about and that the Speaker has already passed and sent to us months ago.”
On the relief bill already passed by the House, Sen. Coons said: “The initial bill, the $3.5 trillion HEROES Act, if we had actually pushed that into law and delivered it, you would see a solid economic recovery right now…Instead, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell have dithered and disagreed about the path.”
Sen. Coons concluded: “The larger point is we have to get to a deal that meets the broad needs of the American people. That’s what Speaker Pelosi is advancing and by putting some deadline on it, she's trying to get serious about getting this done before the election.”
Full video is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Joining us right now is Senator Chris Coons. He serves on the Small Business Committee and, Senator, with a focus on the Small Business Committee, I can only assume that you must be desperate to get something done at this point because small businesses right now in this country need some help. What happens next?
Sen. Coons: That's right. That’s right, Becky. I hear every day, literally I just got a text while I was waiting to go on here, from small business owners in Delaware eager to hear about news that there may be some breakthrough. It's been clear from Republicans I've talked to that President Trump would like to get a deal. Obviously, Speaker Pelosi has been working hard because she and the House Democrats who are in the majority passed a big and broad package four months ago, but Majority Leader McConnell has been completely absent from these negotiations. He's only put out one bill in the last four months. It was a small bill that had some key provisions that prevented any Democrats from voting for it. And while he has told us we'll have a vote this week on those issues, he hasn't released any text yet, he hasn't reached out to Democrats. As I have been talking in recent days to Republican colleagues, if we had a chance at amendments that would allow us to build a broader bill that would actually deal with the 6 million Americans who are late on their rent or mortgage, the record lines at food banks, the increase in hunger, and aid to state and local governments, we could get a deal done. But I think it's appropriate Speaker Pelosi put a deadline on this. It’s been dragging on for months, and our key problem is the Republican majority in the Senate will not support the kind of broad bill that the White House is talking about and that the Speaker has already passed and sent to us months ago.
Q: Senator, hold on just a second. Let's put the Senate aside for now. Let's put McConnell aside for this moment.
Sen. Coons: That's pretty hard to do.
Q: But you can't even get it past what Pelosi is talking about with Mnuchin at this point. And that's what I find incredibly troubling. I don't think that there's an easy way to get McConnell on board for this, but we don't even know that. What I don’t understand is why would you let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this situation, and if there's a lot of common ground that the White House and the House could find, why not put that together and put the pressure on McConnell?
Sen. Coons: Great question. President Trump ran four years ago as a deal maker, someone who would put everyone in a room and sort it out. He literally hasn't spoken to Speaker Pelosi in a year and frankly, if President Trump and Speaker Pelosi hammered out a deal, no one has more leverage on Mitch McConnell than President Trump. If those two works this out, I do think it's possible to get the votes in the Senate. But as for where we are right now...
Q: You don't think Mnuchin is speaking on behalf of the president though. The Treasury Secretary, you don't think has the full backing of the president in these talks?
Sen. Coons: If you missed this point, just over a week ago, President Trump announced he was cancelling all further talks on any kind of a stimulus and then within 48 hours, reversed himself.
Q: I saw that. He did it because it put him in a terrible position of saying, “we're not going to pass this.” It was the wrong move, clearly. I don't understand why Nancy Pelosi is now saying 48 hours or in this case, 24 hours, or we're out.
Sen. Coons: Because she's trying to get to a deal. She's made it perfectly clear: she wants another round of stimulus. Democrats want to get this done because we're getting calls every day from our constituents, those who have been unemployed, there's 25 million Americans collecting unemployment. There were 900,000 new unemployment filings last week. That's the entire population of my state in size. There are state and local governments laying people off and there are record lines at food banks. Obviously, we need another round of stimulus for small businesses, for nonprofits, for families, and for our communities. The differences that divide us should not be insurmountable, but there were two provisions in McConnell’s... the only bill McConnell has advanced in the last four months had two provisions that were designed to prevent any Democrat from supporting it. We should be able to close this gap. We just need to have him release his text and have them negotiate in good faith.
Q: The two issues, I think, one has to be in terms of liability. I’m assuming that's one. What's the other?
Sen. Coons: Correct. Aid for state and local governments. More than a million and a half public employees have been laid off.
Q: The aid for state and local governments – that is an issue that the administration has put on the table, maybe not to the full extent that Nancy Pelosi would like to see, but they have moved that number up. And the last I saw; it was much closer to what she had originally asked for on that. Again, why don't you cut that deal with the administration and then put the pressure on McConnell? If this is where it gets held up – my question is at this point: if there's not something before the election, when I heard an analysis that suggested, the next time might be December 11th, maybe when you have to go back and ask for additional funding for the government, maybe something could get cut into that. Short of that, you're probably looking at February after the election, and after the inauguration day. It's going to be February before any help gets out, and how do you knowingly and conscionably say we're not going to offer any help to any of these people who need it until February?
Sen. Coons: Becky, I'm one of the folks who helped write both the PPP bill and the next round, the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program. That piece of this has been enduringly bipartisan in the work on the Small Business Committee. Our challenge really is the larger structure, is going from the $3.5 trillion bill that House Democrats passed four months ago and Majority Leader McConnell’s $500 billion. There has been steady progress. The Speaker has come down twice significantly. But as you heard, as we just discussed, the on again/off again nature of President Trump's engagement – Meadows saying no, saying no, saying no, Mnuchin saying yes, Meadows saying no – has made this very difficult to get to yes. I do think if Pelosi and Mnuchin reach an agreement that actually covers all the issues that we know need to be covered, as Jay Powell the fed chairman just said – I think last week – we need another round of stimulus. If that deal happens, I think McConnell will ultimately give in, but right now, he cannot get a majority of Senate Republicans to vote for any significant stimulus package. That's a real challenge.
Q: Senator, I know that you are one of the people who has worked in a bipartisan effort. I know that you are focused on small business. Do you get frustrated, though, seeing this get caught in this position at this point?
Sen. Coons: Yes. Absolutely.
Q: I don't think McConnell could get this past Republican Senators at this point, but I wonder if Nancy Pelosi couldn’t get a deal she cut with the administration past some of her caucus too.
Sen. Coons: I'm confident that Speaker Pelosi, if she goes back to her caucus and says this is a good and solid deal, that she has the votes in her caucus for it. She has demonstrated over and over again that she is both a master legislator and negotiator, and that the initial bill, the $3.5 trillion HEROES Act, if we had actually pushed that into law and delivered it, you would see a solid economic recovery right now. You’d see more kids back in schools, you’d see skilled nursing facilities have the resources they need, you’d see states having the testing they need to get fully open. We would be in a much better place. Instead, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell have dithered and disagreed about the path. Now, we're talking about a bill that’s somewhere between $1.8 and $2.2 trillion. You're absolutely right. I cannot tell you how frustrated I am. I have had a number of conversations with the secretary, with the deputy secretary, with Republicans in the Senate and with Democrats in the Senate. The larger point is we have to get to a deal that meets the broad needs of the American people. That’s what Speaker Pelosi is advancing and by putting some deadline on it, she's just trying to get serious about getting this done before the election.
Q: Okay. A deadline that ends by tonight. If there's not a deal, what are your odds – just give me quickly, we're out of time – but what are your odds, do you think that something gets done between now and the middle of November?
Sen. Coons: I'd put it at 50/50 at best, frankly. And that is frustrating.
Q: Senator, I want to thank you for your time.
Sen. Coons: But nobody wants to see this move forward more than me. An open amendment process and a commitment to passing the Senate, whatever gets done, is what we should see.
Q: Thanks, Senator.