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Although the House has decided it's not safe for members to return to the Capitol at this stage of the pandemic, the Senate will resume work next week. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, whose state has suffered the country’s highest death toll from COVID-19, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss that decision as well as ongoing issues with small businesses getting federal pandemic relief.
New York remains perhaps the hardest-hit area in the country, both in terms of death toll and economic loss.
We turn now to the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate. He is the minority leader, Chuck Schumer. He joins us from his home in Brooklyn.
Senator Schumer, thank you very much for joining us.
First, about the decision announced by the House of Representatives today that they are not going be in session next week, after all, on the advice of the congressional physician, rising cases here in the Washington area.
The Senate, fewer members, smaller chamber. How is it safe for the Senate, if it's not safe for the House?
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:
Well, Leader McConnell made the decision, as I understand it, without even consulting the Capitol physician.
But I will tell you, if we're going to come back, if he's going to force us to come back, it's — the decision is his — then we ought to be using the time productively.
It seems what he wants to do is have us vote for or have hearings on a judge who is sort of a crony of his, someone who used to work on his staff who was rated unqualified by the ABA.
People are hurting. People are dying. We ought to use this time to exercise our oversight authority and have hearings. They will be nationwide, published on TV, or if not on TV, certainly audio, over these issues.
Why are we not doing a good job on testing?
Sen. Chuck Schumer:
We ought to have Brix come by — we ought — Birx come by.
We ought to have Fauci come by. And in a hearing, Judy, it's not like when the president gets a question from a reporter, and he can just make fun of the reporter. The senators can hone in, ask a lot of questions, figure out what's wrong.
And these hearings have often importuned an administration to act. We ought to do the same thing with small business. We ought to do the same thing with unemployment insurance. If we're going to come back, we should use the time the have hearings that will help solve this crisis, not on judges or irrelevant appointees.
I want to ask you about some of that.
But, very quickly, are you saying you don't think it's safe for the Senate to come back?
I — the Capitol — McConnell — the Capitol Hill physician, the chief doctor there, told the House it wasn't safe. I don't even know if McConnell called him. So I don't know what he told McConnell, if he talked to McConnell at all.
Well, let me ask you about some of the things you just discussed.
You are working in the Congress on another round of emergency economic aid. And we have just been listening to small business people who are basically saying, a lot of this money didn't go where it was supposed to.
One of the people we just heard from, her name is Christine Goslin. She owns a hair salon in Groton, Connecticut, in the village of Noank.
And I just want to quote quickly, Senator.
She said: "I'm so frustrated that businesses, publicly traded companies, their CEOs, making more money than I would ever make in a lifetime, took advantage of a program that was designed to help people like me, people who need the money so we can survive."
What do you say to someone like Ms. Goslin?
She's on the money. I agree with her.
My dad was a small businessman. He was an exterminator. He had a rough time every day, and that was even without COVID.
The bottom line is that Secretary (AUDIO GAP) to instruct the banks to not go for big boys and their former — and their big clients, but to small — small, little businesses like Ms. Goslin.
And what we did in COVID 3.5, which is just happening now, we walled off $125 billion that can't go to the big boys, that goes to minority banks, that goes to small banks, that goes to credit unions, that goes to rural areas.
We need to make sure the administration gets this money out.
And just let me make one more point. One of the big problems…
Can that happen? Will that happen, Senator?
One of the big problems here is, this administration — we can make good laws, but the executive branch, the president and his people, are in charge of executing them. And they're executing them poorly, awfully.
And that's why we need these kinds of hearings. I want Mnuchin to come before the Senate this week and to say, why isn't the money going to small business? Why isn't the EIDL program, $60 billion, which is direct to SBA, not through a bank, not getting out?
These are the questions that have to be asked.
But, Senator, with — Senator, with all due respect, that legislation was passed by the Senate and by the House, so the language was in there.
It just passed. This passed in COVID 3.5.
The original 3.0, which just had the PPP program…
… they were supposed to set up guidelines, the administration, to tell the banks to represent small people. They didn't set up those guidelines.
So, that's why we came back. And when McConnell said and when the Treasury said, just give us more money for PPP, where the money was going to the big boys, we said no. We want $125 billion to go to other programs, that it — have to go to small businesses.
Now, they just got to get the money out quickly.
Let me ask you about aid for state and local governments.
The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, said today he sees around $500 billion, roughly the amount — or the amount that he says governors want for state and local governments.
Does that sound like the right amount to you that state and local governments should get?
Yes. Yes, it does.
Let me just say, this is not an abstract concept.
Some of our Republican friends say, we don't like local government.
These are policemen. These are firefighters. These are ambulance drivers. These are people who drive the buses and drive the trucks. A lot of them are hospital workers. We have municipal hospital workers in many cities.
They will be laid off, laid off, no job, no money, through no fault of their own, if we don't give a strong, large infusion to the state and local governments.
And we also have to say that the money we give can be used to make up for lost revenues. The states and localities are not collecting much in taxes. And they need to be able to do that.
But what do you say, though? Secretary Mnuchin, the president himself have said they are wary of sending money to states that they argue were fiscally irresponsible, their term, before this pandemic ever started.
The reason the states are in trouble right now is because of two reasons. One, they have huge expenses. My city has huge new expenses because of COVID. That has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility or irresponsibility.
And, second, because no revenues are coming in. The federal government itself delayed taxes until June 30, instead of April 15. And the state taxes are key to the federal taxes. So, they need help.
And this idea, oh, they're bad — and by what way? Blue states, red states? A firefighter in a — who is working for a city doesn't look at whether he's in a blue state or a red state. In either state, if he's laid off or she's laid off, they need help.
So, this politicalization of this is just harmful to average people who are working hard and need our help. We Democrats want to give them help now, without all of these caveat strings attached, criticisms. It makes no sense.
And, by the way, Judy, every Republican governor signed a letter saying they need this money. So this is not a Democratic or Republican issue.
The other piece of this is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying today there is not going to be help for states and local governments unless there is also some sort of liability protection for businesses.
He says that there's — businesses are forecasting there's going to be, in his words, a pandemic of lawsuits. Businesses have to be protected.
Could that be — would that be something Democrats could go along with?
Look, I haven't even seen it.
But I will tell you, if it's going to help big CEOs, and not help the workers or hurt the workers, that's not going to happen.
Why does McConnell have to keep drawing these lines in the sand that he later retreats from? One day, it's bankruptcy. One day, he's not going to do anything but PPP?
Why doesn't he sit down and work with us, because people are hurting? He's always drawing these ideological, politically driven lines in the sand. He almost inevitably has to back off from them. It makes no sense.
He ought to sit down, work us with, and get the money to those bus drivers, to those food safety workers, to those police officers and firefighters. They did nothing wrong. They need our help. If we do nothing, they will be laid off.
And, Senator, the other point Senator McConnell made today was, he said, there is not going to be funding in this next round for infrastructure.
Well, again, lines in the sand, without talking to anybody. And that's why he didn't get his way on the first two bills, because he just did what he wanted, didn't talk to people.
Even his own Republican senators want state and local aid, by the way. Eight or nine of them spoke out for that.
On infrastructure, we have a huge economic hole. We have to get out of it. I wouldn't take anything off the table. I don't know, you know, the size of infrastructure or how — what type of infrastructure. I think it should be green. Should bit in COVID 4 or another bill?
But to just take it off the table, when the economy is hurting and infrastructure has been a time-tested way to get people back to work and get the economy going again, makes no sense.
Mitch McConnell, stop drawing lines in the sand. Work with us. Get something done to help people.
But in just a few seconds, Senator, the Republicans have the clout. I mean, they're in the majority.
Well, they're not in the majority in the House.
And each time, they had to come and do most of the things we wanted in COVID 3 and COVID 3.5, the last two bills, because their own people were pressuring them to do it. It wasn't Republicans drawing a line in the sand.
It was basically Mitch McConnell. Not even President Trump drew such lines in the sand.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the United States Senate, thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy.
And we hope that you continue to stay safe.
Yes, likewise to you. Be careful, please.
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