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For a perspective on President Biden's historic stimulus bill from a Democrat, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons joins Judy Woodruff to discuss American support for COVID relief, bipartisanship under Biden, and how the impact of the pandemic was "far worse than it needed to be."
And for a Democrat's view now, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware joins me.
Senator, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
I don't know if you were able to hear, but the minority leader was just making the case that the COVID relief bill signed today by President Biden is squandering money, that five bills passed last year, that there's $900 billion in the pipeline, in essence, that this is way more than what's needed.
Sen. Chris Coons:
Well, I'd encourage anybody who's interested in that debate to go and ask the American people.
This bill is overwhelmingly popular. It's got the support of more than 70 percent of the American people and the majority of Republicans. Not in the Capitol, not in the Senate, but a majority of Republican voters around the country recognize that the pandemic and the recession are continuing to harm American families.
So, sending $1,400 checks out to something like 100 million Americans, funding a continued expansions of our vaccination program that has already under President Biden put shots in arms of a quarter of all Americans, safely reopening schools, getting kids back to school, while vaccinating teachers and paraprofessionals, and providing another round of unemployment insurance support and investment in small businesses to keep them afloat or help them reopen, with a particular focus on restaurants, that's some of the many good things in this bill.
It's popular. Our president has led us to this point. And I think it's going to lead to a strong recovery coming out of this pandemic later this year.
Senator, the minority leader also makes the point, he says, that this comes at the wrong time to be spending all this money, because he says the forecasts are that the economy is just about to come roaring back. In other words, this is going to happen on its own and Congress didn't need to do this.
Well, Judy that was exactly the same argument that the minority leader was making six months ago.
There was a determined effort by a number of senators to finally force that last bill, the $900 billion, that we passed and that President Trump signed right at the end of December. This has been a long, hard slog.
As President Biden will make clear in his first national address after his inauguration later this evening, he has been relentlessly focused on helping us recover from this pandemic. The pandemic was far worse than it ever needed to be, and the recession caused by it far more painful than it ever needed to be. But President Biden is doing a strong job of leading us out of it.
I think saying the American people should simply wait around and hope that our economy is going to recover, that we're going to come out of this pandemic, without making more bold, necessary investments in our schools and hospitals and businesses and families, is just the wrong thing at this time.
So, I was proud to vote for this bill. And I think it's essential for us getting moving forward.
Senator, we heard President Biden say, on a number of occasions, he hoped there would be bipartisan support for this — for this legislation, but not a single Republican is voting for it.
How discouraging is that for the president? You know him very well.
Well, Judy, Joe Biden is someone who didn't just run for office on bringing us together as a country and on working across the aisle with Republicans in the Congress. It's part of who he is.
It's part of how he served as a senator for Delaware for 36 years. It's part of what Delaware asks of its elected leaders. And I know that Joe Biden will continue trying to work across the aisle, reaching out his hand.
The very first meeting that he hosted in the Oval Office with members of the Senate was with 10 Republicans. And two of the younger Republicans, newer in their service in the Senate, said to me afterwards they were impressed and surprised at how well he knew the numbers, how well he knew their proposal.
It was supposed to be an hour meeting. And the president himself is the one who extended it to a second hour. Even during the week of the impeachment trial, President Biden had over a bipartisan group of four senators to talk about one of our future priorities, infrastructure, and how we can make progress on that.
It's part of who Joe Biden has always been, and it's part of how he hopes to bring us together.
But, frankly, the fact that this bill is so supported by the American people on a strong bipartisan basis, I think, shows that he is making progress on things that are a priority for the American people, even if, on this first big bill, he wasn't able to get any Republicans to come across the aisle and join him in the Capitol.
Senator, finally, very quickly, because I know you talk to Republicans probably more than most other Democrats do, do you get the sense that there will be Republican support for the infrastructure bill or for the bill with regard to racial justice coming along?
I literally had a conversation on the floor of the Senate this afternoon on one of the most senior and central Republicans for infrastructure, who was asking me whether I think there will be time for us to work together on some bipartisan initiatives around infrastructure.
And I'm optimistic that there will be. I spoke with another Republican last night about a bipartisan effort that Senator Schumer is leading to pull together a bill to confront China and to make our country more competitive, investing in manufacturing and in research and in onshoring supply chains.
There's a number of initiatives, Judy, where I think it is possible for us to make progress on a bipartisan basis, and I'm going to be engaged in those. It's what Joe Biden wants. It's what the American people expect. And I think it is what will make us stronger on the world stage, if we're able to move forward with bipartisan legislation across a wide range of areas.
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, we thank you.
Thank you, Judy.
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