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Sanders says coronavirus testing still ‘woefully inadequate’

The Senate and the White House continue to deliberate over another coronavirus economic relief bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he would support the measure's “unprecedented expansion” of unemployment compensation, how to get needed medical resources to American health care workers and the need to expand coronavirus testing before resuming economic normalcy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This pandemic has changed virtually every aspect of American life, including the race for the White House, where the campaigns of the two leading Democratic candidates have moved from rallies with big crowds to virtual messages to supporters.

    And it brought one of them back to Washington to focus on the stimulus package we have been discussing.

    Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont joins me now from the Capitol.

    Senator Sanders, what is your view at this point of what you know about the status of this effort to aid hospitals, but mainly to help American workers and small and large businesses?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Well, what I believe is going to be the case is that there will be a massive, unprecedented expansion of unemployment compensation, which includes workers who today are not covered by unemployment.

    Over half the workers in America today are not covered, people who drive Uber cars, people who are in the gig economy. And we have the problem with a lot of tipped employees, workers who are making $2.50 minimum wage.

    So, this will be unprecedented. My understanding is, it will be 100 percent of people's salaries for four months. And that's something that we fought for very, very hard to make sure that we make workers whole.

    In the small business provision, which is also going to be very, very expensive, what we are saying there is that if small businesses retain their employees, not fire them, even when they are at home, there will be loans for the small businesses which will be forgiven, as I understand it, if they retain their workers.

    Also, what we're talking about, which I think is not enough, but it's a start, is $1,200 for every adult in this country earning less than $75,000 and $500 for their children.

    Obviously, a major, major concern now is that hospitals all over this country, especially in New York City, Washington, elsewhere, are being inundated with coronavirus patients. They need help. I believe there is $130 billion on the way to help them.

    Clearly, unbelievably, we don't have enough masks or gloves or gowns for our doctors…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    … and nurses who are putting their lives on the line. There is money available to make sure that, as soon as possible, they get the equipment they need to protect themselves and treat their patients.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Senator, at this point is this something you would support?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I have got to see the details, and the details are not out yet.

    I think, at the end of the day, given the fact that we have an unprecedented economic crisis, some people are suggesting that unemployment might go above 20 percent, 25 percent by the end of June, we have an unprecedented health care crisis, it's clear to me that we have got to move as aggressively as we possibly can to protect working families in this country.

    One of the areas where I do have concerns — I haven't seen all the details yet, I don't know that they have been negotiated — is, I am very uncomfortable with giving Donald Trump and his administration $500 billion to use in any way they want. That worries me a whole lot.

    And we will see if there has been some improvement in that situation in the last few hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. And we were told that there has been serious conversation, negotiations over an inspector general and over an oversight board, so — but we're waiting, as you say, to see the details.

    Senator, another piece of this is that one of your campaign co-chairs, who is Congressman Ro Khanna of California, has called on the president to issue essentially a national shelter-in-place order for next few weeks.

    Is this something you agree with?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I will tell you what I do think.

    I mean, I think that — what I do think is, I am very worried about a president who is ignoring the medical advice and the leading scientific experts in this country, who talks about opening the economy and bringing people back to work when they may be sick.

    This could be enormously dangerous for this country. And I worry about that very much.

    I think, in terms of a national shutdown, I think you have got to look at various states and where they're at. New York City is now in crisis. Washington state is in crisis, other states may be not so much.

    But, clearly, the goal right now is to do everything possible to stop the spread of the epidemic, to have the resources to treat those people who are ill, to be prepared for what may happen in the fall, because there is a fear that, even if we are able to significantly lower the epidemic right now, it may resurface in the fall.

    There's an enormous amount of work to be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I'm sure you know their argument is that, if the economy is completely decimated, people's lives, their livelihoods are going to be ruined, and that's something that has to be weighed in the balance.

    So, at the very least, they're talking about looking at geographic areas where — that are not so-called hot spots and lifting some restrictions there.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, that gets into the whole issue of why we don't have enough tests.

    And I think what the experts are telling us that, if the day comes when there is a work force that is tested every day, and nobody is positive, that's OK, people can go to work.

    But, right now, we're woefully inadequate in terms of our testing situation.

    Judy, I would also add that, in this unprecedented moment, as we fight our way out of this crisis, and I have — I kind of believe that Congress will be back in the not-terribly-distant future after this bill is passed, because there will continue to be unmet — enormously unmet needs that are out there.

    We have got to ask some hard questions. How did we get to where we are right now? Why are so many people in this country desperate? What people are afraid of, and what I am afraid of, is that half of our country is living paycheck to paycheck. What happens when those paychecks stop?

    Twelve hundred for an adult…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    … yes, well, that's fine for a few weeks. It is not fine for a long period of time.

    How do we make everybody in this country whole? How do we give confidence to the American people that the government will be by their side?

    Now, Trump talks about the fact that a bad economy is bad, people are going to be hurt. Of course, that's true. But, at the end of the day, our job is to keep people healthy, keep people alive, and do everything we can to get the resources, economic resources to people.

    Money is money. Life is life. People die, you know, that's not what we want. So, the first priority has got to be to protect the health of the American people, and then we have to rebuild the economy.

    But, short term, government has got to do everything it can to make working people whole in this process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for president, for the Democratic nomination for president, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you, Judy.

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