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Congressional Corner With Ed Markey

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Even during the pandemic, the political calendar goes forward.

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

Here we are with Ed Markey, the senator from Massachusetts. Ed Markey has been in office since 2013. Senator Markey, you have a tough primary on your hands with a Kennedy, a young Kennedy. My question to you, sir, is, what have you learned from this debate with Kennedy?

Well, again, it's given me a tremendous opportunity to be able to talk about my record, the things that have fought for the things that I've led on, and the things that I've delivered for the State of Massachusetts. So it's been, it's been something that I’ve embraced, and every day I have done my best to be able to communicate all of the victories that I've been able to bring back for the State of Massachusetts.

Well, you've gotten so many endorsements from so many office holders in Massachusetts. That's extraordinary. Is that of comfort to you?

Well, again, the endorsements are only a reflection of the, of the work that I've done, you know, so, you know so as you look at community after community that has needed help whenever the elected officials call me, I stand up and deliver for them. When NARAL and Planned Parenthood needed people to stand up and fight against Gorsuch and Cavanaugh going to the Supreme Court, I stood up and I fought when, you know, Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters needed someone to be the leader on fighting against climate change, I looked, I stood up and I fought. And so in each of those instances, you know, when people support me, it's almost invariably because I stood up and fought for them when they had a problem. They had an issue that they wanted help on, and then I stood with them in each of those instances,

We speak to you on St. Patrick's Day, bars are closed, parades are cancelled, are people in your view, listening to the need to keep away from each other?

Well, I think it's important that public health officials, reinforced by the elected officials, let people know that they have to actually stay away from each other. Social distance. Make sure that we're not congregating in large places. And that's why when you're talking about bars or restaurants, when you're talking about athletic events, when you're talking about anything where people in larger numbers are coming together, it's just better, for the time being, that we just stay apart so that we don't inadvertently spread this disease. Many, there are probably a lot of people who are asymptomatic right now who can spread the disease and who don't even think that they're sick themselves. So people should be washing their hands, they should be just keeping their distance from other people. They should be cleaning, you know, surfaces that they think could potentially be contaminated. And that's the best way for us to be able to get through this as a community.

So let me ask you a question. I live in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I'm a grateful constituent. There's a big difference between Great Barrington and Boston or isn't there?

For the purposes of this disease, we should assume that it's everywhere. And therefore everyone has to protect themselves. There could be someone who is living in Great Barrington right now, who returned from Italy in the last 10 days. There could be someone who came into contact on a on a plane trip, at the restaurant with someone, as they visited New York City in the last couple of weeks and got exposed to it. Someone perhaps from New Rochelle, who didn't realize they had it. So I think the way we should deal with this is that we assume whether it's Great Barrington or Boston, that we're going to use uniform policies to make sure that we that we respond and suppress this threat as quickly as possible, but it's going to take everyone working together in partnership. Everyone.

I got that? And I guess I really didn't give you the right kind of notice on that question, which was, we’re Western Massachusetts. Springfield thinks they’re Western Massachusetts, but that's way over there. Although we certainly cover Springfield. And we have great respect for everything that they do there. But as a senator, you know, the mass, the constituencies in Boston, the mass of people. But Western Massachusetts is different, isn't it?

Well, it is different in terms of the density of population, but it's not different in terms of the potential spread of this disease. And so that's how I view it, that we should have uniform responses and we should, the response should, make sure that all the resources are there. So just in the last week, I was called by the Berkshire hospital, because dozens of their nurses had been exposed to the coronavirus. And they had to go out and spend a couple of million dollars in order to bring in new nurses in order to do the work. I'm also told by the hospital out by the Berkshire hospital that they did not have sufficient testing equipment; they did not have sufficient protective gear for the nurses and for their doctors. So whether it's Boston or the Berkshires, we have we have to make sure that we deal with this as the common threat which it is in the Berkshires, sorry, just in the last 10 days.

Senator Sanders debated recently with Joe Biden. What did you take away from that?

Well, I thought that they each did a very good job in making their case to the American people. And, and I think we're going to be well served with either of them serving as our nominee going forward. And I think it was healthy for democracy that that debate, you know, took place and that people could hear their views.

I want to talk to you about a little bit about the pandemic. And in your race for reelection the debate, March 18, was postponed. Will people be able to vote on September 1?

I don't know that. Let's hope that we put in place the protections that will have us looking back in a rearview mirror towards this crisis by September 1. And I think that has to be our priority to put in place those protections right now.

OK. And now I give you a minute to say whatever you want. Well there’s a question. Go ahead.

We're at a point where as Americans, we have to come together to fight the coronavirus. It is imperative that we do so. As a nation, we need leadership from the national level in order to help them the governors, the mayors, the local first responders to deal with this issue. I'm working every single day to make sure that we put those tools in the hands of every American that they're going to need in order to protect their family. We're going to need unemployment insurance expanded across the board to everyone. We're going to need sick leave across the board to everyone. We're going to need to make sure that we have the kinds of programs that are in place that will produce the equipment, produce the tests, produce the protective gowns and mask that all of our first responders are going to need, especially doctors and nurses. So I'm down there, working hard every single day to make sure that we protect our country, protect every family from this deadly disease.

So Ed Markey, very quickly, is everybody on board? Is this a Republican and Democratic thing at this point? Or is this really something different?

It should be bipartisan. We're hoping that it can be. And, and that's my goal that we all work together as one nation to fight this, this scourge.

Well, Senator Markey, we so thank you for showing up and for being with us here. It's a great privilege and a great honor to have you with us. And we appreciate it. We hope we'll be able to come back and talk to you again in the future.

Thank you so much, much appreciated.

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.