WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined MSNBC to discuss negotiations for the upcoming COVID-19 stimulus package. In addition to relief for unemployed workers, food assistance, and other key priorities, Senator Coons highlighted the urgent need for safe and secure elections amid this pandemic.
“[John Lewis] risked his life over and over for the right to vote. That we're not taking up and voting on funding to make sure that elections are safe and secure, it’s not just irresponsible and unsafe, it’s disrespectful to the memory of Congressman Lewis,” said Senator Coons.
Senator Coons, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has led the call to expand vote-by-mail and early voting to ensure that all eligible voters can safely cast their ballots amid disruptions from the ongoing health crisis. The senators are specifically calling for $3.6 billion to help states expand vote-by-mail and early voting in the next COVID-19 relief package.
Full audio and video available here.
Q: I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, Republicans trying to find an agreement among their own party as this Politico headline notes very simply, ‘it's a mess,’ and that's a quote from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. Based on what you've heard, what you’re seeing on the Hill, what exactly is the hold-up in their caucus?
Sen. Coons: Well, they’ve got a deep division between those Republicans who think they’ve already done too much in terms of helping average Americans, those who think they’ve already done enough, and those who think they should do more. As you just pointed out, there's a cliff right in front of us for tens of millions of America families. […] 30 million Americans are dependent upon these extra $600 a week that they're getting through the CARES Act as an addition to their unemployment insurance. That's coming to an end this week. So the fact that the House of Representatives passed a robust bill two months ago that included assistance for state and local governments, included assistance for voting by mail securely, and include a critically needed extension, both of the eviction moratorium and additional help for housing and the unemployment benefit and two months later the Republicans have just released their opening bid, which has bailouts and benefits for big corporations and insurance companies, but does not help with that unemployment extension, does not help with eviction, is striking to me. Their biggest problem is division in their own caucus between those who think they have nothing more to do and those who think they should do just a little bit more. If you look at who they want to do more for, it's pretty striking just how far apart we are.
Q: One of the ideas that's being tossed around is the $600 extended unemployment benefit. That $600 being cut to $200. What would be the real-world impact of that cut?
Sen. Coons: Well, just think about it. If you're currently getting $600 a week and, in many cases, also several hundred dollars along with that from your state unemployment insurance, and that suddenly gets cut in half, or the federal part by two-thirds, for an awful lot of families that makes it hard for them to stay in their homes, they may well be evicted. That makes it hard for them to feed their kids. As many parents are trying to safely transition to schooling, whether schooling at home or sending their kids back home, they're trying to figure out daycare. This will strain tens of millions of families to very difficult points. We'll see an increase in homelessness, we'll see an increase in kids who are not getting the food they need and deserve at home. There's also not more money for SNAP, for the program that combats hunger for tens of millions of Americans in the Republican bill, there is additional support for SNAP in the House Democratic bill, the HEROES Act that was passed two months ago. Let me also, just last in closing, highlight that today as our nation is preparing to watch John Lewis' funeral in Atlanta tomorrow, as you just referenced, this morning I saw Congressman Lewis' funeral procession leave from the front of the Capitol Building. He risked his life over and over for the right to vote. That we're not taking up and voting on funding to make sure that elections are safe and secure, it’s not just irresponsible and unsafe, it’s disrespectful to the memory of Congressman Lewis.