Rep. Ro Khanna: $2,000 Stimulus Checks Are Needed, Not More Austerity, Amid Economic & Health Crisis


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Trump unexpectedly signed a $2.3 trillion spending package Sunday that includes a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. The bill includes direct payments of $600 for most adults, expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, money for vaccine distribution, and a temporary extension of a federal eviction ban. Millions were plunged into uncertainty over the holidays as Trump held up the signing of the bill while he vacationed and golfed in Florida. This allowed two unemployment programs to lapse Saturday night. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted Sunday night, “Never forget, his tantrums have real life consequences for millions of Americans. Since [unemployment insurance] expired Saturday, this delay will almost certainly postpone state unemployment payouts. I am so glad his days of inflicting pain are coming to an end,” she tweeted.

Last week, Trump blasted the bipartisan bill, describing it a “disgrace,” even though his own administration had helped negotiate the bill. Trump is demanding lawmakers amend the bill to give $2,000 in direct payments to most Americans — a proposal opposed by most Republicans but endorsed by Democrats. The Democratic-controlled House will vote on increasing payments to $2,000 today. Trump has also asked lawmakers to rescind parts of the bill, but the request is expected to be ignored.

The COVID relief package is part of a broader spending package that needed to be signed in order to avert a government shutdown. The broader bill includes a number of provisions endorsed by Republicans, including new tax breaks and nearly $1.4 billion for Trump’s border wall. In other congressional news, the House is scheduled to vote today to override Trump’s veto of a $740 billion defense bill.

We’re joined now by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. Last night, he tweeted, “I am glad we are finally having a vote tomorrow on a $2000 stimulus. The question remains why we didn’t have this vote in March when @TimRyan and I proposed this. This is a lesson. It should not require permission from Trump or Republicans to vote on and push for bold policies.”

Congressman Khanna, welcome back to Democracy Now! That seems to me to be a clear message to the Democrats. Can you just explain what’s happened over this holiday weekend? Trump didn’t play ball with Congress at the beginning, but was certainly out there playing ball — playing golf through the weekend as unemployment lapsed, and then, out of the blue, without getting any concessions, he signed last night.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s a fair summary. I mean, he was just playing politics here. He had no intention of actually pushing for $2,000. He never tried to get McConnell and the Republican senators on board. And Mnuchin, as you pointed out, never was advocating for that in the negotiations. So there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is to blame for the delay, for the anxiety people had. And McConnell and the Republicans are to blame for not having $2,000.

That said, what I am saying is that Tim Ryan and I, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, many of us have been calling for $2,000 since March, April of this year. And we should not wait to have Republican support or Republican statements before voting on that. We need to make sure that when we’re advocating for working families, when we’re advocating for progressive policy, that we put that forward, have votes on that, and put pressure on the Republicans to do the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how this will work. Before he signed this bill last night, again, 24 hours earlier, unemployment wouldn’t have lapsed for many people. Now millions, perhaps 12 million people, are plunged into uncertainty. They might get it late. They might not get it for a week and will lose that forever. But before he did that, Nancy Pelosi called for voting on the amendment to get it to $2,000 today. Now, without changes, Trump has approved the legislation. What could possibly get this passed, not only in the House, but, do you believe, in the Senate?

REP. RO KHANNA: I think it’s an uphill battle to get it passed in the Senate. I mean, we’re going to vote tonight to have $2,000 checks, but McConnell has already indicated he is opposed to that. Cornyn has indicated that he’s opposed to that. So, what it would take is either Trump not just tweeting out but convincing Republican senators to support it, or a next administration, hopefully Joe Biden, making this a critical component of what we’re going to push for. But the obstacle has always been in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: There was word that Jon Ossoff in Georgia was demanding that David Perdue pull his ads saying that he had been part of passing this legislation, because then Trump didn’t sign off on it. Trump is expected to go to Georgia to campaign for the runoff elections next week, that that could have put pressure. Kevin McCarthy in the House, your colleague there, reportedly had a conversation with Trump yesterday. Who knows what caused this change? But what Trump said in signing this, to save face, because he got no changes but signed off on this bill, he said it’s because Congress had agreed to look into voter fraud, you know, the tremendous amount of voter fraud he alleges that took place that he has never proven, even when cases were brought to one after another Trump-appointed judges, not to mention the Supreme Court. What about this? And what about this legacy that Trump — this issue that Trump keeps pushing right through January 6, when he’s demanding calling for thousands to come to Washington, D.C., to challenge the final approval of the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, your analysis is absolutely correct. This had nothing to do with helping the American people. This was not a debate about whether we get $2,000 checks to working families. This was Trump upset with McConnell because McConnell is not willing to have senators challenge the results of the election, and McConnell has already congratulated Joe Biden. So Trump says, “Well, look, I can blow up this deal. And I actually cost you those Georgia races if I blow up this deal, because that’s going to hurt Perdue and Loeffler in their races.”

And I think behind the scenes you had McConnell and McCarthy telling Trump, “Don’t do this. You’re going to cost us those seats.” And who knows what concessions they made? Who knows what Mitch McConnell has promised him on January 6? It’s of real concern. And all we can hope and be vigilant about is that there is a transition and that you don’t have shenanigans with the Senate or the House of Representatives on January 6th.

AMY GOODMAN: So, at the same time you have this vote expected to take place, you said, tonight that Nancy Pelosi is putting forward to increase the payments to $2,000, if you can quickly say why the Democrats didn’t demand this from the beginning, why it took Trump? It seemed that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi, Schumer were his major enemies, but then he put Mitch McConnell at the top of the list because he dared to say the words “President-elect Joe Biden,” so ticked him off that he just put in this demand at the end, after Mnuchin negotiated the whole thing. But why didn’t the Democrats, your colleagues, insist on this from the beginning?

REP. RO KHANNA: I don’t know. It’s a good question. That’s what I’ve been asking on Twitter and making the point more broadly. I mean, there were many of us, not just progressives, people who are highly respected in the party — Senator Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan — many saying, “Let’s get $2,000 in the pocket of ordinary Americans. Let’s vote on it.” We should have been saying this, voting on it, campaigning on this loudly and clearly since March, partly because it may have been effective in actually getting Americans relief. And secondarily, it would have made it clear that one party is for getting money to working families and putting money in the pockets of people, and the other party is blocking it. Instead, I think we were too reluctant. We were not sufficiently bold. We finally did pass a HEROES Act, but that had $1,200 checks. It did not have $2,000 checks. None of the checks were monthly.

So, what I think this shows is that our policies are popular. You see Donald Trump realizing that too late. We should be willing to have votes on it, to advocate for it, and realize that we’re on the side of people. We don’t have to wait for some kind of mythical bipartisan consensus to advocate for good policy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, $1.5 billion for the southern border wall between U.S. and Mexico, that Trump had insisted Mexico would pay for, reportedly pushing scores of these projects forward because he thinks possibly President Joe Biden will stop this wall. But what about that? That’s part of this bill. That’s part of what the Democrats and Republicans arrived at by consensus.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s wrong. And that’s why some of us in the progressive party voted against the authorization for the homeland security and against the authorization for defense. We voted for the part of the bill that would get $600 checks to people and that would fund most of the other government. And the speaker split the bill because she knew that there were many progressives who could not in good conscience vote for more funding for the border wall, could not vote for this bloated defense budget. And that is something that we’re going to have to try to reverse in the first year of the Biden administration.



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