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Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which held hearings Tuesday about the federal government’s pandemic relief efforts. Brown joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he fears new virus outbreaks as workplaces reopen, the administration’s economic priorities and the possibility of “massive” layoffs in struggling states.
Senator Sherrod Brown is the highest ranking Democrat on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, and he joins us now from Cleveland.
Senator Brown, thank you for being here.
Let me start by asking you about what Senator Brown said. And this is that it's — in his view, it's now clear that COVID is mainly dangerous to the elderly, and that it's time for young, healthy people to be able to go back the work.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:
Well, what Senator Toomey said was, essentially, it's not worth government — it's not government's role to protect workers.
Now, I don't know if he's not seen the numbers. I — Abraham Lincoln, one of my favorite quotes is — Lincoln said, I have to get out of the White House and get my public opinion baths, meaning I need to talk to people about their lives and their hurting and what they're doing and all that.
And I spend every day talking to people that are staffing homeless shelters, and talk to people in food banks, and talk to people that are laid off. And the pain is great out there still.
And, in the end, that hearing today showed that the administration continues to care more about the stock market than it does workers.
And we have had 4 to 5 percent of the world's population. We have had almost a third of the world's death. They're — he can say, well, they're just people in nursing homes. We don't worry that much about them. They're old anyway.
Or we can say, we have got to protect workers. The president — you may remember, just a couple weeks ago, a slaughterhouse in South Dakota, hundreds were infected at work. We know that prison guards are infected in large numbers. We know that 35 or 40 — I haven't seen the final — the most recent numbers — of bus drivers have died from coronavirus.
As we open — we need to start putting workers first. As we reopen the government, we need to scale up testing, something the administration has taken no leadership on. We need to increase the protective equipment we get, not just the hospital workers, but to laundry, people doing the laundry, people doing food service, people driving buses, people stocking shelves at supermarkets, because the next big outbreaks are going to be in workplaces, because we're not setting the guidelines and enforcing them on what employers must do to protect their workers.
Senator Brown, you put it in pretty stark terms today with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
At one point, you said, how many workers should give their lives to increase the gross domestic product or the Dow Jones average by 1,000 points?
He pushed back. He said, that is not fair; the administration has put a lot of money into protecting workers.
Is that an answer that — how does that answer sit with you?
Sen. Sherrod Brown:
Well, you heard — you heard the previous interview with my colleague from Pennsylvania, that it's just like these are numbers.
Never do we hear out of the administration the human — the pain about people dying alone, they can't sit with their spouse of 60 years or sit with their 45-year-old daughter as they're dying in the last few days of coronavirus.
And you can see that this administration is all about the economics of it. I want people back at work. I want a more prosperous country, a more prosperous economy. But if you start putting people back to work without the safeguards — and nobody really believes this president has led any national effort to scale up production of protective equipment for all workers.
Nobody believes he's worked to scale up testing. That's why we have had a third of the world's death, yet we're only 5 percent of the world's population, even though we found out about this coronavirus pretty much the same week or maybe even the same day they did in South Korea. Yet, in South Korea, they're — fewer than 500 people have died, and their economy, their unemployment rate is 3-point-something percent.
So, it's just because the president never scaled up testing. The president has shown no interest in building a movement and an effort to produce protective equipment for workers, because, frankly, the president in his — and Senator McConnell always side with corporations over workers.
You saw it in the hearing today. You see no empathy for workers, no support for workers, no discussion about workers. And too many workers are going to die on the job, regardless of what my friend from Pennsylvania — or my colleague from Pennsylvania said.
They have — you have got to focus on workers going back to work as you reopen this economy. Otherwise, there are more outbreaks and more deaths and more economic hardship that will be visited on the whole country.
Senator, what about their argument that, if you keep people away from work for too long, you destroy livelihoods, that businesses can't open again, jobs can't get recreated again, that you're doing a different kind of damage, but an equally long-lasting damage?
Well, of course we want to put everybody back to work.
They just make up these arguments when they say, we don't want people to go back the work. I want them to go back the work safely. The president — my governor in Ohio, a Republican — I'm a Democrat. This isn't a partisan statement.
My governor saved lives because he early and aggressively went after — went after this virus. The president of the United States, who was in denial about this virus, and then has never stepped up and led an effort for protective equipment and for scaled-up testing, this president's cost Americans' lives.
And if you go back to work without protective equipment, you go back to work without a plan to really scale up testing, the economy is not going to grow, and we could easily fall back in to more people getting sick and more people dying.
We're still seeing roughly 2,000 people a day die. If you take New York and New Jersey out of this, in many states around the country, infections continue to go up, because the president and people in the Senate, like my colleague from Pennsylvania, continue to argue, get them back to work, get them back to work, get them back to work, but don't argue about don't — but don't put anything out there to protect the workers.
In the end, it's, whose side are you on? And Mitch McConnell and President Trump, always looking for more tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporate interests, they're always on the side of corporations.
In that hearing today, you could see who was fighting for workers. You could see that Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell was saying, we have got to put money into local communities, so they don't lay off police and fire, so they can provide the kind of city services, instead of just, these are just senior citizens, they're just people in nursing homes, but the real…
… don't get sick, I guess, is what my colleague was saying.
Senator, just 15 seconds.
The commission that today reported that only a tiny part or a very small part of the money that's been appropriated by Congress to go toward state and local governments has been — and small businesses — has been spent.
They're saying we need to wait until that money is actually spent before you — Congress starts appropriating more money. Just in a few second, why not wait?
First, the administration needs to do their jobs, get the unemployment benefits into people's pockets, get the help for small business, not just the big banks and Wall Street and the airlines and the big guys that they want to help.
But we still know there's huge holes in funding for food banks, in funding for community health centers, in funding for local governments. There will be massive layoffs coming. They're already starting in Ohio cities and communities and counties, small cities like where I grew up, Mansfield, and large cities like Cleveland and Detroit and Chicago.
The layoffs are coming. And then things get worse, as more people get (AUDIO GAP). We have got to move on it now.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, we thank you very much.
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