Sen. Chuck Schumer On New York, The Response So Far And A Possible Fourth Relief Bill
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb issued this warning to Americans last month, March 8.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: The next two weeks are really going to change the complexion in this country. We'll get through this, but it's going to be a hard period. We're looking at two months, probably, of difficulty.
CHANG: As has become painfully clear, Gottlieb was right that the complexion of daily life in America has changed dramatically.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Tens of thousands of people have been sickened by the coronavirus, millions have lost their jobs and doctors and governors are warning about American hospitals at a breaking point.
CHANG: Last night in the White House briefing room, President Trump warned about another critical two-week period.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We're going to go through a very tough two weeks.
KELLY: The president, flanked there by his public health advisers Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, said 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus, and that is the best-case scenario. So how will America's leaders help Americans navigate this period and beyond? Well, let's bring in one of those leaders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Senator Schumer, welcome.
CHUCK SCHUMER: Good afternoon, Mary Louise.
KELLY: I know you are joining us on the line from your home in Brooklyn. Would you start there? What is it like to be in New York right now, the epicenter as it were?
SCHUMER: Well, it's eerie because the streets are empty. We - I've only seen four people in - since I got back from Washington a week ago Wednesday and got in my car at midnight. I wanted to get out of Washington, get home quick.
SCHUMER: Got home at 4:30, and I've seen four people - my wife, my daughter and son-in-law because their apartment's small; they're living with us - and my 1.5-year-old grandson. I do get to - I'm on for two hours a day, and chasing him around is as exhausting as anything. But the...
KELLY: You're getting your exercise in there, it sounds like.
SCHUMER: Yeah. Exactly, the isolation...
KELLY: You're doing the whole social distancing, like not shaking hands, all that?
SCHUMER: Yes. Yes. Yes. I do go out for a walk, and my doctor said just stay six feet away from anyone. I probably make it 12 feet. So I'm walking in the street a lot of the time, and I hope people don't think I'm upset with them when I see people I know and I just cross the street...
KELLY: Yeah. We're all doing it.
SCHUMER: ...Rather quickly.
KELLY: Yeah, it's a remarkable moment.
SCHUMER: Yeah. Yeah. But the isolation for New York is particularly confounding because we're people who like to be together. After 9/11, we hugged each other and clung to each other. We ride the subways, and we're in close contact with people of every different background and every different type. And here we are; we're isolated. We don't know how long this is going to last. We know we're the epicenter.
But there are few things that - you know, I'm on the phone almost 24/7. Today I asked the president to give us 100% of the FEMA aid. He said he'd look at it. I'm calling on the president also to have a czar for distribution of these hospital - of the supplies we need, the PPEs and the masks and the ventilators. They have appointed someone under this Defense Production Act, which is the act that allowed, during the Truman administration, the government to take over factories and produce. And they're starting to do that, but they're not distributing it well. So our mayor had to call Sweden to try and get ventilators. The governor had a call to someone in California; they said, well, we're sending them overseas.
The president should appoint probably a general who's an expert at quartermastering, getting supplies from one place to the other, to take over the supplying and giving the places that need the ventilators and the masks the preference...
SCHUMER: ...Instead of everybody just catch as catch can.
KELLY: Let me...
SCHUMER: I think the other thing - the one other thing I've asked for is that the federal government - today I asked the president to pay hazard pay to all of those on the front lines. These nurses, these doctors, health care workers - they're risking their lives. I'm sure when they walk to work or take the subway to work - they still have to get there - they're wondering, will I catch this virus? But they're - like the firefighters and police officers and construction workers were heroes of 9/11, these are our heroes today, and they should get hazard pay. The federal government should give every federal worker hazard pay, and I think in the next COVID bill we should require it for everyone.
KELLY: Let me shift, Senator, to the news of the day and the possibility of a fourth rescue package.
KELLY: Speaker Pelosi has been talking about this all week. Over in the Senate, though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, hey, it's way too early to talk about another package; we haven't even got the programs we funded in the one we signed last week up and running. Where do you land on that?
SCHUMER: Well, I think they're both right. We should be focusing right away - we passed a huge package. We Democrats played the major role in shaping it. The Republican bill did not help average folks and did not have a Marshall Plan for hospitals; we did.
And so getting those unemployment checks, you know, the federal government, under our (unintelligible), has said that we will pay every worker their full salary for four months, and the company doesn't have to fire them; they can furlough them, stay on the payroll so when, God willing, this crisis is over, these companies, restaurants, manufacturing places can reassemble having not lost their workers...
SCHUMER: ...Because they're getting pay and getting furloughed. Well, we need those unemployment checks to be out in two weeks. And I've asked the president to make sure that happens.
KELLY: The president...
SCHUMER: That has to happen immediately.
KELLY: Yeah. The president...
KELLY: ...Is calling in this next package for another $2 trillion...
KELLY: ...Aimed at infrastructure.
SCHUMER: So I think - look - so I think...
KELLY: Can I - may I - let me just put a question in here...
SCHUMER: Please. Sure.
KELLY: ...Which is, do we have another $2 trillion? I mean, it's $2 trillion here, $2 trillion there. Can we afford this...
KELLY: ...With already a giant deficit?
SCHUMER: Well, look - I think we will do, with COVID, four; we have to. And there are certain things we must do. We have to look at election reform. How are people going to vote? And we need to lay out how - and we may have to lay out how Congress is going to vote if we can't - you know, the Senate, they have to fly - the House - from all over the country. I think we have to do things with paid leave, paid sick leave, paid family leave.
As for an infrastructure package, when you start looking down the road and you say, how do we get our economy going? And how deep is the hit to our economy? - there is no better thing than infrastructure. But I think that that - the first job is to beat this health care crisis and deal with people who have their immediate problems. And I would not at all be averse to an infrastructure package. I want it to be quite green, looking at the future, as well as the traditional infrastructure. But the immediate need...
KELLY: It does prompt the question of how infrastructure work would even get done when much of the country is on lockdown.
SCHUMER: Exactly, so it's a longer-range view of getting the economy back. But job No. 1 - get that - those materials to our hospitals and to our health care workers. Get the unemployment checks out to people who need it. Make sure that thousand-dollar payment - I talked to the president today and I said, you know - not the president, Mnuchin, rather. I'm getting all these...
KELLY: The treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
SCHUMER: ...Jumbled into each other. Yeah. Make sure that people who don't have - who haven't paid taxes or don't have some kind of job pay - or everyone on Social Security should get one of these checks...
KELLY: And just in the moments we have left, Senator, can Congress do anything about that - about getting those checks to people who need to pay their bills, need to pay rent?
SCHUMER: OK. I think we did a very good job, not perfect, and...
KELLY: Just briefly, if you may. Yeah.
SCHUMER: ...We do need a COVID four (ph) quickly - on laying out what has to happen. Now it's up to the administration to get it done, but we have to watch them like a hawk because this administration is not good at administering.
KELLY: Senator, thank you.
SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talking to us there from his home in Brooklyn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.