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Bipartisan support is growing for an economic relief bill

With just weeks left in the year, bipartisan support is growing in Congress for a more than $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. If passed, it would extend aid for small businesses, unemployment benefits and provide extra funding for state and local governments. Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is among those backing the bipartisan negotiations. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, with only a handful of weeks left in the year, support is growing in Congress for nearly trillion-dollar COVID economic relief bill. If passed, it would extend aid for small businesses, for unemployment benefits, and provide extra funding for state and local governments.

    Utah Republican Mitt Romney is one of those backing these bipartisan negotiations, and he joins me now.

    Senator, thank you so much for being here.

    Before I get to that, I do want to ask you about these grim new numbers about COVID, off the charts in terms of number of cases, hospitalizations, number of deaths.

    What should have been done at the very top of the federal government to keep things from getting this bad?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah:

    Well, it would have helped if there had been a communication from the very beginning that this was very, very serious and that we should take every action we possibly could to reduce the spread, including wearing masks.

    And the idea that that became political, where some Republicans or red states felt that they shouldn't wear a mask because it was impinging on their liberty, that was just the wrong way to go.

    And that was one of the things that's contributed to the extraordinarily record number of deaths and hospitalizations that the you're seeing today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And President Trump, from the beginning, did not send a clear signal about what people should do.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Well, I think that was unfortunate.

    I don't know what I would have done in that situation, but I can surely tell you that the communication has been mixed, it has been unclear. I think people have been confused. And the result of that has been a number of folks have taken actions which have spread the virus. And the result is, we're seeing record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and number of new cases.

    It's really — it's really just inexcusable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, given how bad things are, a lot of — everybody is looking to Congress to see if there will be economic relief around all this.

    Has there been serious progress on these bipartisan negotiations? Do you think legislation will pass?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    I think there will be a relief measure. I can't tell you exactly what it will look like.

    Democrats and Republicans have worked together and negotiated a package down to $908 billion. As you know, Nancy Pelosi, just a couple of weeks ago, was saying it's $2 trillion or nothing. But we're down to $908 billion on a bipartisan basis.

    Either that bill will pass, or portions of it will be taken by Speaker Pelosi and by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer and others and put together in a final omnibus package. But I think you're going to see relief for the PPP — that means the small business program — for unemployment insurance.

    These measures, I think, have to be included, as well as vaccine distribution. Food security has to be provided. These are elements that are part of our package. And I think they will ultimately make it through Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we have heard Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer say they're on board with this bipartisan plan, that they are prepared to negotiate from it.

    What about, though, Majority Leader McConnell, who has not indicated he is on board yet?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Well, I can't speak for the majority leader, of course, but he did ask us to come into his office today. And we described our measure in some detail.

    And whether he accepts it in whole or whether, instead, he negotiates with the speaker and the minority leader to select certain portions of it and include that in an omnibus bill, that's for him to decide.

    But we have clearly negotiated a measure which does address the challenges that many Americans are feeling. And I think, given the number of people suffering from COVID right now, it's important that we certainly move before the end of the year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is — what is the majority leader pushing for? We know he's very concerned about liability protections for business owners. Is that worth holding up agreement on this over?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Well, I think the Republican side, not just the leader, but the Republicans generally are very concerned about sending a bunch of money to states and localities that might use that money ineffectively, inefficiently.

    And, at the same time, they want to make sure that schools aren't sued, that hospitals aren't sued, that universities, small businesses are not sued because people get COVID.

    So, there is a trade here, which is, OK, we're going to give some help to cities and states, but, at the same time, you have got to give some protection for all those entities which otherwise are going to get held up in lawsuits and slow down the economy for heaven knows how long.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as we wait to see what happens — and, as we know, Congress is supposed to go home in another — a little over a week — Congress has this to get done, also looking at funding the government, a defense authorization bill.

    And yet the Senate has gone home. Shouldn't the Senate be back in session to get this done?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Well, negotiations are ongoing. We have already met several times today. We're going to meet again tomorrow. We're going to meet over the weekend.

    So, officially, votes are not being taken, but senators are working on this compromise day and night. And our staff is working, putting together language that reflects the agreements that we're coming to, because we're going through some of the detail on the overall package.

    Precisely what are the liability protections going to look like? How do we decide which localities are eligible for which funds, and likewise with small businesses? So, all these details are being negotiated. As they are, we're drafting language.

    So, we're going full speed ahead. There's nothing slowing down because votes aren't being held on the floor. When we're ready to get a vote, we will get one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Romney, different subject.

    And that is, as you — as you know very well, President Trump continues to insist the election was stolen from him, that there was massive fraud. He has continued to state that today.

    Yesterday, we heard in the last couple of days elections officials in the state of Georgia plead with the president to stop this, because we now see threats being made on election officials at every level in different parts of the country. He also said Republicans who don't stand up to the president on this are complicit.

    Is he right?

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Well, I think it's very important that the rhetoric be tuned down.

    And I said from the beginning that it's totally appropriate for the president to seek legal recourse and to present what evidence he has.

    But, so far, every court has said there's nothing there. And even the attorney general has said there's no there there.

    Of course there are going to be irregularities and mistakes made. But those things get corrected. But there's nothing of the scale that would suggest that the president won.

    And for him to communicate time and again that the election was rigged or that it was stolen, that there was massive fraud, without presenting evidence of the same, I think, is really unfortunate for democracy here, as well as for people around the world that look to America as the example of democracy and the proof that democracy can work.

    Look, China and Russia are smiling ear to ear, saying, look how we can show that democracy doesn't work. Even in the United States of America, the president is saying it's rigged.

    And I think that's very, very unfortunate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, you're saying it's unfortunate, but this election officials and others — I mean, he's a Republican — is saying, it's undermining American democracy.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    I have said the same…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is doing damage to our system.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Yes, I have said the same thing.

    I mean, as you know, I put a message out. I said the same thing. It does. It strikes at the very foundation of democracy here and around the world. It's a very dangerous development. And it's — again, it's one thing to pursue legal recourse, but legal recourse hasn't yet shown any evidence that has convinced a judge that there's a case to be made.

    And the attorney general and the FBI can't find a case. So, continuing to allege massive fraud, when there's no evidence of that, is very damaging to democracy here and abroad.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, with all due respect, most of your Republican colleagues, or at least many of them, have not been prepared to say that, including the majority leader.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Everybody makes their own decision as to what they say. I can't begin to criticize my fellow colleagues. They have their own perspectives. I express mine.

    And you probably know I'm kind of out there from time to time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are very glad to have you joining us tonight on the "NewsHour."

    Senator Mitt Romney, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney:

    Thanks, Judy. Good to be with you.

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