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Sen. Alex Padilla on COVID relief: ‘It’s going to make a world of difference’

During the weekend, all 50 Senate Democrats voted to pass the COVID relief bill. One of them is Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, who joins Judy Woodruff from Capitol Hill to discuss how it will affect his state, Republican opposition to the bill, immigration and raising the federal minimum wage.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we have been reporting, all 50 Senate Democrats voted to pass the COVID relief bill.

    One of them is Alex Padilla of California. And he joins me now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator Padilla, thank you so much for joining us.

    So, we have just been hearing from my colleagues Yamiche and Lisa about some of the — what is in this legislation. My question for you is, what is the main difference it's going to make for your home state of California?

  • Sen. Alex Padilla:

    I mean, I think it's going to make a world of difference for people that have been suffering throughout this pandemic.

    I think, in the prior segment, laying out the various elements of this rescue package, I think it reflex the realities of the pandemic. It's been dual pandemics, to be honest, devastation from a health standpoint on so many people throughout the country. That needs to be responded to. The Rescue Plan does that with more vaccination supply, distribution, equity in administering of the vaccines, and then some.

    Resources for schools to reopen, but reopen safely, et cetera, but also from the economic standpoint. You talk about some of the other elements of the bill, which some of our Republican colleagues tried to paint as non-COVID-related, when it couldn't be further from the truth. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy, both from a health standpoint, an economic standpoint, disproportionately on communities of color and working-class communities.

    So, the equity lens that wraps this all together was absolutely the right thing to do. I was proud to vote for it on Saturday and can't wait for the president to sign it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, we know that, despite all of this, there are still voices out there saying that this legislation is too big, $1.9 trillion, that it is not targeted enough, that it is bloated, it is throwing money all around.

    Specific criticism we have seen about your state of California, that it is going to get tens of billions of dollars, even though California is facing a surplus this year. How do you answer?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Certainly, that came up during the course of the debate.

    This supposed surplus in California that some of my Republican colleagues are pointing to is a false surplus. You don't want to penalize states like California for doing the right thing early in the pandemic, looking at taking deep cuts, not just in the social service safety net, but even into state employee contracts, et cetera, that make it appear like that is a surplus on paper.

    But the funding that this package is going to restore to states across the country will replenish those social service programs when they are needed the most.

    So, I take difference with that spin, if you will, on this package. It is a holistic package because we are suffering through a once-in-a-century pandemic. And, as I said a minute ago, it has had devastation — devastating health impacts, as well as economic impacts.

    But, as we're turning the corner here, this is exactly the infusion that we need, not just to restore the economy, but to keep those trend lines going down on the number of cases, number of fatalities. No state is bigger, no state is more diverse, no state has more stake in this than the state of California.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, one — we know one provision that was taken out of the legislation had to do with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

    There is still going to be a push to do that. But, at this point, it doesn't look like there are the votes to get to $15 an hour. Would you be willing — given that, would you be willing to support, separate from this legislation, but other legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $11 an hour, and then gradually higher after that?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Look, the minimum wage needs to go up. Even the $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal is a compromise, in and of itself.

    So, we're going to get that done. Disappointed that it wasn't included in this final rescue package, but we're going do have other opportunities to get there, maybe through reconciliation, maybe through stand-alone legislation.

    We will consider all options for doing it. States like California and New York well on their way to get into a $15-an-hour minimum wage. People across the country, throughout the country, in every corner of the country deserve a living wage.

    If you work full-time, you should not live in poverty. And so that's what the minimum wage is all about. We're going to keep fighting for that.

    But it also reminds me to point out other elements of the rescue package, a significant expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, significant expansion of the child tax credit .That alone can uplift maybe half the children living in poverty today in the United States of America out of poverty. That's the magnitude and the power of this rescue package that is soon to be on the way to the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, would you — just bottom line, would you be willing to accept $11 an hour in the near term?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Eleven dollars an hour is not enough of a minimum wage increase. The American people deserve better.

    This is not a partisan issue, by the way. Republicans and Democrats across the board, just as they were supportive of this rescue package, support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to ask you about, Senator.

    And I do want to ask you about immigration. You are the chair of the Immigration Subcommittee of the committee — the Judiciary Committee. And we know that you are pleased with at least the — what appears to be the thrust of President Biden's approach, what we know of it, to immigration.

    And yet, right now, we are seeing a surge at the Southern border just in the last few weeks, the New York Times reporting this afternoon the number of children at the border has tripled just in the last two weeks.

    My question to you is, how concerned are you that this may complicate efforts to try to find a bipartisan solution to immigration? And what can be done about it?

  • Alex Padilla:

    Look, I am hopeful.

    If you recall, it was as recent as 2013 that a bipartisan immigration reform was approved by the United States Senate. I know it seems like the political world has changed dramatically since then, but we have got to have hope. And there is at least something to work from.

    Immigration reform in this country is long overdue. It was long overdue prior to the beginning of the Trump administration. But, clearly, the last four years were devastating not just immigrants coming to the United States, immigrants that are living in the United States, but immigration policy overall.

    We're going to do this right. Unlike the last four years, we're going to restore humanity and common sense to immigration policies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will continue to talk to you about that, Senator. As we know, the number of people trying to cross the border is increasing, and people are looking for a solution.

    We thank you very much, Senator Alex Padilla of California.

  • Alex Padilla:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, tomorrow night, I will talk with Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York, as the House of Representatives votes on the revised COVID relief bill.

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