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OPINION

Health, voting should not be in collision, Coons says

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Sunday evening, Sen. Chris Coons joined Kasie Hunt on MSNBC to discuss Congress’ pandemic response and his efforts to expand vote-by-mail and secure upcoming elections.

“Senators Klobuchar and Wyden and I have been advancing both a bill and funding to allow states to begin planning responsibly now for how they’re going to carry out their delayed primaries and how they’re going to carry out the November election,” Coons said.

Q: Joining me now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

Senator, it’s always great to have you on the program. Let’s start where we just left off in our conversation with the panel and the congressman from the other side of the Capitol. Fill us in on how we got here. Do you feel good about the deal that seems to be coming together to put more money into this small business fund, to help small businesses in this difficult time and to help hospitals but leave that state aid for later? What’s your sense of where things stand, and are you supportive of this?

Coons: Kasie, I am very optimistic that the deal that has been put together this weekend is something that all of us can support. It’s got roughly the same architecture as the bill that we passed unanimously several weeks ago: aid for small business, aid for hospitals, support for lots of the critical parts of our economy and our public health system that need more resources. One of the big problems with the Small Business Administration’s PPP, or Paycheck Protection Program, that was in the C.A.R.E.S. Act, was that there was no guarantee that funding was available for the smallest businesses and nonprofits.

Many of them struggled to connect with a bank that was able and willing to lend to them. I am happy that some of the provisions of this bill I’m told will include provisions to encourage community banks and credit unions and so-called CDFIs, or Community Development Finance Institutions to make sure that a broader range of businesses, not just the larger of the small businesses, but some of the very smallest are going to be able to get help. I really wish we had replacement for lost revenue for states and local governments in this bill. That’s what’s been holding it up much of today. In the end, I am hopeful that will either happen in this bill or very soon hereafter.

I’m hearing from the mayor of Wilmington and the Governor of Delaware that our revenue shortfalls here in Delaware are striking, and if we can get more aid to states, that affects the teachers and police officers and firefighters. It’s not just some faceless bureaucracy. It’s the folks we count on to help keep us safe.

Q: Yeah, and the people that we are asking literally the most of right now.

They are putting their lives on the line for all of us day in and day out. Senator, do you get the sense that this is something that you’re going to have to pass in person on the Senate floor? Is the Senate going to be able to do this by unanimous consent or are we going to suddenly see Congress come back into town to do it?

Coons: Well Kasie, I really don’t think that we should be bringing all 100 senators back to the floor to cast a vote in this context if we can possibly avoid it, and frankly, that’s the subject of a letter that Senator Klobuchar and Senator Wyden and I have been leading and an effort that we’ve been leading to appropriate more money to make sure that the average American citizen also isn’t forced to go and vote in person while we still have shelter in place orders.

As you saw in the state of Wisconsin, we don’t yet have a clear plan for how to deal with voting in the age of this pandemic. So Senators Klobuchar and Wyden and I have been advancing both a bill and funding to allow states to begin planning responsibly now for how they’re going to carry out their delayed primaries and how they’re going to carry out the November election.

We shouldn’t put the average American, and, in particular, seniors or those who are immunocompromised in a position of having to choose between exercising their sacred right to vote and keeping themselves and their families safe from this virus, so I think this is an important step forward. It would ask us to give some flexibility to states in terms of match requirements and some dramatic additional resources, $3.6 billion.

We’ve heard both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, heads of state parties, and local election officials calling for this. In every election, hundreds of thousands of Americans vote by mail from overseas: folks in our armed forces and our diplomatic corps. President Trump has requested an absentee ballot for this election.

If it’s good enough for our troops and our diplomats and our president, I don’t see why vote by mail shouldn’t be a feature in every election in every state this November if people request it.

Q: And yet, we’ve had the president already when talking about similar types of measures, universal voting basically say that he then doesn’t believe a Republican would ever get elected.

Do you think that you have a good shot at getting this money in the next C.A.R.E.S. package, not necessarily the one this week but what is sure to follow in May or June, or do you think it’s going to become aggressively politicized?

Coons: Well, it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Look there are five states right now that conduct their elections entirely by mail.

Utah is one, Oregon is another. Utah is heavily Republican and Oregon is majority Democrat in terms of who they send to Congress. So I don’t think that you can predict what the partisan outcome will be based on whether folks have the ability to cast their votes by mail.

A number of states have developed thorough security measures to make sure that they can track every single ballot and they can confirm that the person casting that ballot is, in fact, the registered voter by signature match and by other measures. We ought to be able to do this, to vote securely, if necessary, by mail, if there is an ongoing pandemic problem with us in the fall.

And frankly, the lack of planning around several aspects here, around being able to vote by mail, around being able to have enough testing and tracing resources available to public health organizations around our country is a lot of why this pandemic keeps being such a challenge for us.