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Congressional Corner With Ed Markey

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The coronavirus response was different in the Senate than the House.

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey. This interview was recorded on March 17.

Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. He's been in office since 2013. He served in the house from 1976 to 2013. So, Senator Markey, let me ask you this. Are you enjoying the Senate more than the House?

Well, they're two different institutions. They each have, obviously, each have their advantages and disadvantages. But what an honor to be one of the two senators from Massachusetts to cast those votes on the Senate floor, as I hope we're going to be able to do before the end of today, on a coronavirus relief package. But also the honor to sit as a juror on the trial of Donald Trump and ultimately, twice to vote guilty that he had committed a high crime against our country. So serving in the Senate is just a very special honor. And I value it greatly. And I try to do my best to represent the state of Massachusetts every single day on the Senate floor.

Ed Markey, you have been, you know, in this in this position now in the Senate, and there's a real question as to whether the Senate has any chance at all of flipping to the Democrats. What do you think?

I think there's a real chance that that can happen. I think that every day Donald Trump just shows himself to be unworthy of being president. And I think that's going to create a cascading impact right down to the House and Senate as well as people are casting their ballots this this November. So I think as every day goes by, there's an increasing likelihood that we will win the senate as well as the House and the presidency.

That would be quite something. What do you think would happen if the democrats had all three? Do you think there will be basically a revolution in our politics?

Well, it would be it would be a revolution against Donald Trump and Trumpism, and Mitch McConnell and the way in which he controls the Senate. So yeah, it would be a pretty big revolution that would take place, and then we would have the ability to be able to act on climate change, to act on gun safety, to act on income inequality in a way that we've been stymied in actually accomplishing during this era of Trump.

Do you ever get a chance to be in Mitch McConnell's face, I mean, really in his face?

Well, last night, I got up to rail against the fact that we hadn't yet cast a vote on the coronavirus package. I fight them every day on climate change and on many other issues. It's you know, it's a difficult era to be in where science is no longer something that is accepted across the board by both parties. And so yeah, you have to you have to fight, and fight hard, every single day in order to advance the goals that we want to see accomplished for our country.

Senator, what is the thing that Massachusetts needs most in the middle of this coronavirus?

Well, we're going to need funding for pretty much anything and everything because we're, we're probably heading towards a shutdown of the country, and that means that everyone's going to need sick leave, everyone's going to need some kind of unemployment compensation, even if they may be a gig worker, or they may be someone who works on a contract and isn't covered for healthcare, isn't covered for sick leave, isn't guaranteed that they have some income as their job is now suspended. So we're going to have to look at this across the board. We're going to have to make sure that our hospitals are solvent, and they can survive. The revenue stream going into hospitals is clearly going to be limited. And they're not going to be able to do elective surgeries. They, you know, for the largest hospitals, they won't have these international patients coming in that are a big part of the income for the largest hospitals. So we can see a real cascading effect down, impacting community hospitals, all across Massachusetts, in the country and we have to make sure there's a funding source there so that they can continue to pay nurses, pay doctors, and guarantee that they have all the resources they need to protect communities.

Do we have our priorities straight? I hear the president talking about helping out the airlines. And yet there are an awful lot of people as you just have suggested profoundly. I think that there are an awful lot of people who have no resources, whatsoever and who are going to be out of money? What do we do about them?

Exactly, we are going to have to absolutely put in place programs that are going to help every family. Mitt Romney is talking about $1,000 a person, but we're going to need even more unemployment insurance, even more extended health care benefits for everyone. We don't want people to think that they should continue to work or continue to stay out in public because they don't have an income for their families. They don't have health insurance and they're afraid, you know, of what the consequences could be for their family. So that's, that's a big challenge for us. And while we talk about airlines, we have to make sure that we're also talking about the poorest and most vulnerable our society at the same time.

We can't let them starve. Can we? I mean, that's when you get that's when you get a revolutionary situation when people are walking around without any money and they can't feed their kids.

Exactly, exactly. And so we need to make sure that we have all of the all of the resources that are necessary. And that could wind up with hundreds of billions of additional dollars that we have to authorize coming out of out of the Senate out of Washington for these families. We just have to at this time, deal with it as though we've been invaded. We're at war. And we have to make sure that every family has the tools that they need to protect their families.

Governor Cuomo says we need to mobilize the military. You say a wartime response is needed. What do you mean?

Well, the President has the authority under the Defense Production Act to invoke powers that make it possible to say to private sector companies that that you should be producing more of protective equipment for doctors and nurses. We have a gap out of 3.5 billion new pieces of masks, and ventilators, and other protections which we're going to need in our healthcare system. And we only have, for example 12 million masks that are in our strategic reserves. 12 million versus 3.5 billion, which we're going to need to fight this crisis. So this is without question, a huge challenge for us. And I think that by invoking the Defense Production Act, the president is able to look back at World War II, The Korean War, and just say we're going to mobilize this entire country in order to fight this disease.

Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.” Is this president letting the buck stop on him? He says he gets a 10 out of 10 for what he's been doing.

He didn't do anything in December. He didn't do anything in January. We could see what was coming our way from China. He kept downplaying it. He said it will go away when the weather gets warmer. He didn't act soon enough, we lost a lot of time. So now it's imperative for us to come together as a country in to use every single tool that is at our disposal in order to fight this disease.

Final question here. Should Joe Biden tap your colleague, Senator Warren for VP now that he said he wants a woman?

Well, again, I wanted, Elizabeth…

You wanted her to be president.

Yeah. And, and I will ultimately leave that to her discussion between Joe Biden and Senator Warren. She’d obviously be a great president, and a great vice president as well. But I just think that's something that she should be able to discuss with the president at the appropriate time after, the primary season has been completed.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.