Efforts to increase stimulus payments to $2,000 were blocked in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put forth a new bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of those making the case for higher stimulus payments. He joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
As we reported, efforts to increase stimulus payments to $2,000 were blocked in the U.S. Senate today.
One of the senators making the case for more money is Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
And he joins me now from Capitol Hill.
Senator Sanders, welcome back to the "NewsHour," and thanks for making the time.
Let's start with a little recap of what happened today.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked your request to vote on that House bill for direct payments to go up to $2,000. He then put forward a new bill that combines those $2,000 payments with election security requests from the president and also removing some legal protections for some tech companies.
What does all of this mean for all of the people out there waiting to see if they're getting that $2,000 check or not?
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:
It means that Senator McConnell and the Republican leadership are muddying the water and making it more difficult to do what the American people want.
This is not a complicated issue. The House did the right thing last night. They understand that, all across this country, there is a level of economic desperation we have not seen in this country since the Great Depression.
We're looking at people who are worried about being evicted, people who are going hungry, unable to feed their kids, people who, in the middle of this terrible pandemic that you just discussed, can't afford to go to a doctor, people accumulating more and more debt.
And the people are crying out. They need help. Now, we managed to get 600 bucks in direct payment in the bill that Trump finally signed. But everyone understands that is not enough. So, all that we are asking Mitch McConnell to do and the Republican leadership here is to allow an up-or-down vote on what the House did.
If you want to vote against it, go home and explain why you voted against it. But let us have an up-and-down vote on a clean bill, in terms of what the House did last night. That's it.
But you would need additional Republican support if this was to move forward and to pass the Senate.
Sen. Bernie Sanders:
You have seen some Republicans step forward and say they would endorse that plan and they would want to see a vote. You have seen Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, both Georgia Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
What about others?
Do you know that there's additional Republican support there for this measure?
Yes, I believe there is.
Now, I can't guarantee that we will get the 60 votes that we need. But I think that virtually all of the Democrats will vote for it. And I think we can get the 12 Republican votes that we need. As you have indicated, we already have five Republican votes, people who have indicated they want to support this legislation. Others are talking about it in a positive way.
All — I can't guarantee a victory. But all I can ask of McConnell is, let democracy play out. If he wants to vote against it, vote against it. But at least bring it to the floor, so the people of this country have a sense of what the priorities are of their senators.
Senator Sanders, I need to note, because, at this moment in time, you and President Trump are both arguing for the same thing. You both want to see these $2,000 payments.
And it strikes me that, for a man that you have described as an existential threat, you are both seeing eye to eye on this issue right now. What does that say to you?
Well, it says the broken clock is right twice a day. And I guess, in four years, every once in a while, Trump has it right.
We worked — but here's the point in terms of Trump. He could play now — rather than just sending out tweets, I think, if he got on the phone, if he talked to McConnell, if he said, look, this is really important, let's do it, I think we can win the Republican votes that we need, and pass this legislation.
So, I say to the president, you're right on this issue; $600 is not enough. Do the right thing. Get on the phone. And let's see if we can work together for the American people on this issue.
While we have you, I want to ask you about some-transition-related issues as well, because you have been very clear in all of your interviews you are not happy with what you're seeing so far when it comes to president-elect Biden's Cabinet.
It's not progressive enough for you. Has the president-elect consulted with you for names that you think should be filling those roles?
Well, let me just say this.
I think the president-elect has made some really excellent appointments or nominations, very, very competent people. And I think, on the issue of COVID-19 and the pandemic, you're going to see a radical change for the better. Some enormously competent people will now be at the helm.
But what I have said repeatedly is that the progressive movement in this country is 35, 40 percent of the Democratic coalition. Millions and millions of people identify themselves as progressives. They want the Congress to stand up to powerful special interests. They want the Congress to fight for working people. They believe in Medicare for all, et cetera.
And that point of view should be represented, in my view, in the Biden administration. As of this point, that has not happened. But I hope it will.
Well, let me ask you this, because you're saying what I have heard from other progressive Democrats in both the House and the Senate.
What do you think that says? If that doesn't happen, if there's not someone from the progressive movement that ends up in Biden's Cabinet, how do you think that will be perceived by progressive voters in this country?
I think with disappointment.
I mean, I think the progressive community worked very, very hard at the grassroots level to do everything that we could to defeat Trump, who I consider to be the most dangerous president in the history of this country, somebody who is literally today trying to undermine American democracy.
We worked very, very hard to defeat him. And in all of the primaries, there was a lot of support for me, for Elizabeth Warren, for the progressive candidates.
And I think there will be disappointment in the progressive community if there are not progressive voices in the Cabinet.
Very briefly, before I let you go, when you look ahead to what's needed to address this pandemic economically, the CARES package back in March, $2.2 trillion, this new package, $900 billion.
What do you think we need to see in this next administration to meet the economic need Americans have right now?
I can't give you an exact number.
But what I can say and what I believe to be the case is that the president-elect understands the severity of the crisis. And I believe that, on day one, this will be his major priority, both in terms of the pandemic and the economic impacts of the pandemic.
So, I think you're going to see a very, very significant economic layout to address the crisis facing working families all across this country.
What does it mean? It means, in my view, direct checks. It means extending unemployment benefits. It means creating millions of good-paying jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure. It means providing health care to the millions of people who have lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs during this pandemic.
So there's an enormous amount of unmet need out there. And I think the Biden people understand that. And I expect they will be ready to go to work on day one to address those problems.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, thank you for making the time. Always good to speak with you.
We should add that we invited all 52 Republican senators to appear on the "NewsHour" tonight. They all either declined or didn't respond.
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