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Sen. Coons Says He's Speechless Over Trump's Criticism Of Relief Bill

NOEL KING, HOST:

And on the line with us now, a Senate Democrat who helped to get this deal done, Chris Coons of Delaware. Good morning, Senator.

CHRIS COONS: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What do you think of the president calling for changes after Congress spent seven months working toward this moment?

COONS: Noel, I'm just speechless. It is yet another example of how President Trump has engaged the role of president. He stayed out of these negotiations for weeks. He did not press for a bigger package in the final days before it was enacted. And once the bill has finally been passed by the House and Senate and the entire Congress has gone home, he announces he wanted a bigger bill than Republicans were willing to accept in the Senate.

I'll remind you, a few days ago, before this happened, we passed our annual defense authorization bill, which provides a pay increase for our troops and funds stronger cybersecurity. That bill President Trump has specifically threatened to veto because it doesn't do something that's not directly relevant to defense, but that he wants to do to social media companies. So we already had a veto threat on the table. This additional...

KING: Wait. Now, as Ayesha pointed out - hang on. As Ayesha pointed out, the president, like, very notably did not use the word veto in the video last night.

COONS: Correct.

KING: Do you have any real concern that he could tank this bill?

COONS: Yes, he could tank the bill.

KING: OK.

COONS: One of the challenges of legislating in the era of Trump has been we never really know what he's going to do right up until he does it. And because Congress has now gone home to their districts and states all over the country, it's not easy to bring us back. I think we should call his bluff and - by offering to pass by unanimous consent, which can be done without all the members of Congress present, an increase to the dollar amount he's asking for. Democrats would support this. Let's see if Republicans will.

KING: Well, yeah, this is interesting. Some Democrats have responded to the president's argument that direct payments should be $2,000 to give people more money. Nancy Pelosi came out on Twitter and said - and I quote - "let's do it." It sounds like you agree, and it sounds like you think many Democrats would agree.

COONS: Look; Democrats who control the House passed a much larger stimulus - a much larger COVID relief bill months and months ago. It was in the Senate that the Republican majority leader and the caucus that he leads refused to take up a bill that was higher than 500 billion. And it took weeks of disciplined engagement by a bipartisan group of eight senators to get us to this point.

Last night, I texted two of my Republican colleagues, folks I've worked with to get bills into this package, to say, seriously? Do you seriously think your president, our president is going to veto this bill? And I got little dots, little dots, little dots. And after a few minutes, I have no words from one of the other senators.

KING: What do the - I was going to ask you, what do the little dots tell you? No one wanted to give you an answer?

COONS: They just didn't know what to say.

KING: OK.

COONS: Because this is not the last relief bill we'll need, but it is the bill we need right now. And it's going to provide rental assistance, unemployment extension, hundreds of billions in small business support, support for those who are hungry through nutrition programs, support for schools and for vaccine distribution. It is a large relief package. We should test the president's bluff and offer to add an increased individual stimulus payment or family stimulus payment and see what happens.

KING: You know, earlier this week - you mentioned people having a hard time - I talked to a restaurateur in Los Angeles. You know, she's self-made. And she had to close three of her four restaurants and lay off 100 people. She's worried right now that the last restaurant might not survive. Let's listen to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BROOKE WILLIAMSON: We're losing money right now. We're definitely not breaking even. We are losing money. And we have a little bit of money in the bank to do so for a few weeks. But beyond that, you know, it's pretty grim.

KING: What's in this bill that's going to help this woman, Brooke Williamson, and other small-business owners who say this aid might come too late - and now it looks like it might be even later?

COONS: Well, Noel, I'm on the Small Business Committee, and one of the most effective and popular pieces of the CARES Act from nine months ago gave small businesses like hers loans that became grants if they spent it mostly on payroll. We have expanded that program. There's nearly $300 billion for a next round of Paycheck Protection Program checks to go out. And they are specifically larger for those who operate hotels or restaurants that can show they had a 25% drop in revenue any quarter of this year over any quarter of last year. I'm sure she would qualify. And we are primed to get those checks out quickly.

KING: President-elect Joe Biden called this relief package a down payment - his words - and he said providing more relief is a top priority of his. Have you talked to Biden about the next round and what should be included in the next relief bill?

COONS: We have talked about how broad it will need to be because we're going to need to both continue response to the pandemic and to the economic wreckage that's been caused by President Trump's mishandling of this pandemic. And we're going to need to help build back better the American economy by investing in infrastructure, investing in American manufacturing, investing in things that will create better long-term jobs to bring back our country and to bring us together.

KING: And hopefully - in the seconds we have left - it won't take another seven months.

COONS: It won't because we're going to have an engaged and effective president involved in the negotiations after January 20.

KING: Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. Thank you, sir.

COONS: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.