Mar 5, 2021
Lindsey Graham, Senate GOP Press Conference on COVID Bill Transcript March 5
Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators held a press conference on March 5, 2021 to discuss the American Rescue Plan bill and COVID relief. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Lindsey Graham: (00:00)
Where’s the chart? Ah, the chart people. So I don’t know how each of you got the job of covering the Senate, but I’m sorry. The bottom line is the first vote was taken at 11 o’clock, it’s 4:20, and we’ve been sitting around, and for what reason? President Biden in his inaugural address said that he wanted to change the dynamic in Washington and to find unity, and I think that was welcomed news to most Americans, including me. This is one area where we’ve actually had unity. So on March the 5th, 96 to 1, 8 billion. March 18th, 2020, 90 to 8, 35 billion for COVID. March 25th, 2020, $1.9 trillion, 96 to nothing about a year ago. So as we knew more about COVID, the more we appropriated, and we did it together at every turn. If you told me that you could spend 355 billion by voice vote, I wouldn’t believe it. That’s what we did in April of 2020.
Lindsey Graham: (01:27)
September of last year, 8 billion, 84 to 10, and December 21st, we approved working together, 1.4 trillion. So what we’ve been able to do® working with Democrats and Republicans is to appropriate $4 trillion in a bipartisan matter. Here’s the question for the American people, what the hell happened? They had the House, we had the Senate and the White House. Now they’ve got it all. So if they’ve chosen a partisan path, and the reason we’re not doing it together now is they don’t want to do it together. They’ve got a wishlist that’s unrelated to COVID that none of us are going to buy into, and I’ll talk to you about that in a minute, but they see this as an opportunity to appropriate money for their liberal wishlist using COVID as the reason. And that’s why we’re here. Now, while we’ve been waiting for hours and something for the next vote, there is some bipartisanship we believe to change the bill, but apparently that’s an unpardonable sin on the other side.
Lindsey Graham: (02:38)
We believe we have some Democrats who read the bill yesterday and found some things they didn’t like, sat down with some Republicans to find a better way, and the result is we’ve done nothing for four hours and 20 minutes to break somebody’s political arm. To President Biden, is this the new way of doing business? There’s nothing new about this. He’s been on the phone trying to talk Democrats out of working where Republicans to change the unemployment insurance benefits, I think, in a reasonable way. What is this all about? The unemployment benefit plan they have in their partisan bill results in 68% of the people on unemployment making more unemployed than they did at work, and we think that’s not right. And some Democrats, we believe, agree with us. We could save $128 billion if we went from 400 a month to 300 a month for unemployment benefits and phase it out a bit earlier as the economy’s beginning to reopen.
Lindsey Graham: (03:45)
All of us can tell you that employers are having a hard time opening up their businesses because of finding labor. So there seems to be a bipartisan breakthrough on changing the unemployment benefit package that would save money and allow us to reopen your country quicker. That breakout of bipartisanship has resulted into the Senate coming to a halt because they want it their way or no way. We’ve been told that the Speaker of the House objects to this. So my main message here is that not only have we worked together and we’ve stopped for a wrong reason, we’re spending 1.93 trillion and we haven’t spent the money we appropriated in the past. So administrative actions, there’s $200 billion left unspent. The legislative actions that resulted in Republicans and Democrats finding common ground to the tune of over 90 votes each time, there’s $1 trillion yet to be spent. The Federal Reserve has money available to business, 5.9 trillion. 2.8 trillion’s been spent.
Lindsey Graham: (05:00)
So our message is pretty simple. We found a way to make unemployment benefits, more affordable and allow the business community to get back in business sooner, and Chuck Schumer has brought the whole thing to a stop. And I don’t know what Joe Manchin has gone through for the last four hours and 20 minutes, but I want you to know that President Biden’s inaugural speech rings hollow. Instead of trying to bring us together, he’s on the phone making sure a couple of Democrats will not work with Republicans, and that’s so sad. Before Joe Biden got to be President, we worked together pretty well. And now we’re to standstill because a couple of Democrats are willing to work with us to change a bill they wrote last night. And what’s in this bill that makes us all a little upset? $20 million to the preservation and maintenance of Native American languages. That may be a very good idea, but that’s not helping anybody with COVID in South Carolina.
Lindsey Graham: (06:07)
135 million for the National Endowments For The Arts may be a good idea, but we should goes through the appropriation process. 130,000 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities. 200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I’m sorry if it bothers people on the other side, we think we shouldn’t take that up in a COVID crisis. So that’s why we could not find common ground. Nobody asked for it. When we try to find it, people try to undo it. So that I’ll turn it over to Senator Thune, who’s been managing this bill. But to President Biden, your inaugural speech rings hollow, my friend. You could pick up the phone and end this right now by leading us to a compromise on unemployment insurance that makes sense for the American people and the American economy. I wish you would do it. Instead of trying to break apart bipartisanship, try to bring us together. That’s my challenge.
Senator Thune: (07:07)
Thank you, Lindsey. I think Lindsey’s covered it well, and I guess I would just say that he is managing is our Ranking Republican on Senate Budget Committee, this processed, which we had hoped would be going a little bit smoother than it is right now. But that has everything to do with the Democrats, and it’s now five and a half hours actually, almost five and a half hours, since the last full vote started. And because there was an amendment that we were prepared to offer that actually had bipartisan support, the Democrats have gone back behind closed doors, and as Senator Graham pointed out, try to get the President on the line to pressure a couple of people not to work with Republicans on an amendment, frankly, that saves $100 billion and makes a lot more sense when it comes to policy. So we’re stuck right now where we are, and I hope this is not a sign of things to come. But-
Senator Thune: (08:03)
… and I hope this is not a sign of things to come, but I do feel really bad for those Democrats who have tried to work, reach out and work with Republicans. There was an effort made. I think, as you know, early on, there were a number of Republicans who came up with a proposal that’s significantly smaller in terms of its overall price tag than the one we’re debating today, but at a size that most analysts and economists now believe is much more aligned with what the need is out there. The Democrats’ $1. 9 trillion wishlist is a bloated, wasteful, and very partisan bill, and it’s really unfortunate, at a time when a president who came into office suggesting that he wanted to work with Republicans and create solutions in a bipartisan way, and try and bring the country together and unify, the first thing out of the gate is a piece of legislation that simply is done with one party rule, without consultation with Republicans, or consideration of our ideas, and a huge price tag, $1.9 trillion, with lots of goodies in there for Democrats’ special interest groups.
Senator Thune: (09:11)
We think that’s really unfortunate, and as I said, I hope it isn’t a sign of things to come, because I do believe that Republicans are here to try and solve problems for the American people, and dealing with this pandemic is problem number one, but dealing with problem number one means vaccines, it means distribution of vaccines, it means helping frontline healthcare providers. It doesn’t mean bailing out big blue state governments, or adding unrelated provisions and including in the bill that came out from the House, subway lines, and bridges, and things that favor Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, as well as a whole lot of spending that doesn’t actually impact the country or anybody that’s supposed to benefit right now. It’s extended out into the future 22′ to 28′. 95% of the money that goes to the schools doesn’t get spent this year, it gets spent 2022 to 2028. It’s hard to argue that that’s a [inaudible 00:10:14] emergency.
Senator Thune: (10:14)
So we’re going to do everything we can to try and improve this bill. We hope that the Democrats will let us vote on the Portman amendment. Unemployment insurance is an important issue, but one that needs to be handled in a way that encourages people to go back to work, where we can get this economy opened up and creating jobs again. And I think the Democrat legislation works entirely against that, but we will be here as long as it takes to try and get our amendments debated and voted on, to try and improve this bill, make it a better bill for our country. Senator Blunt.
Senator Blunt: (10:50)
Well, clearly, we’ve taken the biggest area of bipartisan cooperation, maybe in the history of the Congress, certainly in terms of spending in the history of the Congress, these COVID bills, the five that passed, bipartisan, met the need at the time, established incredible new programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, and others that really work, and turned it into a huge partisan exercise. No question that less than 10% of this bill that relates specifically to COVID could’ve passed and been signed into law on January 21. The money for vaccines, the money for delivery, the money for community health systems that would be a big part of this delivery system, all could’ve happened on the first full day of the Biden administration. It might’ve even happened on a voice vote, but certainly could’ve happened and would’ve happened.
Senator Blunt: (11:49)
The other parts of this largely don’t relate to anything related to COVID or the economic stress of COVID. They could also have happened, the few of them there could’ve happened. Back to school, we talked yesterday about back to school, $67.5 billion already made available to elementary and secondary education, less than 10% of that drawn down, so that means there’s $60 billion still available for elementary and secondary education. This money isn’t needed to get back to school, in fact, they didn’t intend to spend this money to get back to school or relate to COVID. Less than 10% of the school money could get spent between now and September the 30th, when the new spending year starts, and the rest of it is scheduled to spend out between now and 2028.
Senator Blunt: (12:43)
This is just seeing an opportunity, seeing a moment of crisis, and trying to get the most out of it you can, and on the bipartisan front, that’s already been well covered by my colleagues, the pledge is important, but if there’s no substance to it, it’s not important. On this big bill, 10 of our colleagues went down to the White House and said, “We’d like to negotiate.” I think they had a very pleasant hour or so at the White House, but no hint of negotiation. They got the time of day, but barely the time of day, and didn’t get any more than the time of day, and today, we’re talking about an amendment. We’re not even talking about something that substantially impacts the size of the bill, it improves the size of the bill in an important way, but it doesn’t impact what money would be spent between now and June in a significant way. It goes from $400 extra unemployment, to $300 extra unemployment.
Senator Blunt: (13:44)
Republicans are prepared to vote for that, but it’s about one amendment, and about less than a handful, maybe only a couple of Democrats that would like to join Republicans in passing that one amendment. And here we are, in at least the fifth hour. Who knows when this discussion started this morning. We’re in at least the fifth hour of explaining to those Democrats, you cannot work with the Republicans. It is not allowed to work with the Republicans. We will just sit here until you change your mind, and keep not only the whole country waiting, but that many more hours before the little COVID relief that’s in there happens, that many more hours before we get to final passage on this bill, all to show Democrats in the Senate, you are not going to be allowed to work with Republicans.
Senator Blunt: (14:42)
This is an incredibly dangerous way to start the Congress. The Senate divided as narrowly as it possibly could be, 50/50, a House with the smallest Democratic margin since 1870. Now, the likelihood is that both of those margins will change in favor of Republicans in two years, but they’re increasing that likelihood today, by showing that they don’t want what the American people showed on Election Day they’d like to see, we want you to work together, and we’re going to send a Congress as narrowly divided as we can, to ensure that that happens.
Speaker 1: (15:21)
Today, we are witnessing a very, very unfortunate exercise in partisanship, exactly what President Biden preached against on his Inauguration Day, stating that he would be a president for all Americans, and that bipartisanship would prevail, and yet, we have seen absolutely none of that. Now, we know we have to kick COVID. That means focusing on those things that will get our economy up and going. First and foremost, making sure that our population is vaccinated, second, reopening our schools and our childcare centers, so…
Speaker 1: (16:03)
… and reopening our schools and our childcare centers so that our moms and dads can get back to work. We are talking, large in part, about the unemployment insurance amendment that is being offered by Senator Portman.
Speaker 1: (16:16)
Now in Iowa, prior to the COVID pandemic, our unemployment hovered right below 3%. Now a year later, we’re still in the pandemic, but our economy in Iowa is recovering. And our unemployment is down to around three and a half percent.
Speaker 1: (16:37)
But we are struggling, because employers who are trying to reopen their businesses are unable to get their employees back to work, large in part, why? Because with a lot of the enhanced benefits, they have been able to make more money on unemployment insurance than actually going back to work.
Speaker 1: (16:59)
We had a bipartisan amendment that would have solved some of these issues, to get our American economy up and going. But unfortunately, President Biden has put his foot down and said, “Democrats, you won’t work with Republicans. Not in my administration.”
Speaker 1: (17:16)
And that is really, really unfortunate. And those that will suffer, all of us. We need that bipartisanship to come back. We’ve done it five previous times. We need to see it in this Congress as well.
Speaker 2: (17:34)
Us Senate went into session this morning at nine o’clock. I was here at nine o’clock, ready to go to work, for not just the people in Mississippi, but for the people in America.
Speaker 2: (17:48)
I really thought we would get something accomplished today, and as my colleagues have so well put it, we have sat here for hours and not even closed the vote.
Speaker 2: (18:01)
When I got here, I intended to come and work with everybody in this building, and I’m still willing to work with everybody. Everybody on this platform came here today to work. The employers in Mississippi have voiced to me their need for this unemployment amendment because they need their people to be at work.
Speaker 2: (18:25)
We have got to get past this COVID epidemic. We’ve got to let the basic fundamentals of economics work so everybody can have the dignity of a job.
Speaker 2: (18:36)
Some people, they just can’t be put in the position of power. They get focused on other things. I just ask my democratic colleagues, let’s get focused on the people. Let’s get focused on this American economy. And let’s get focused on getting past COVID.
Speaker 2: (18:57)
This is COVID relief bill. We passed it bipartisan. We’ve already passed five bi-partisan. We can do this one just the way we did the other. Let’s move forward. Let’s get this in a position that we can be proud of this bill, instead of having to be right here wasting the time of the American people while the clock ticks. Thank you.
Lindsey Graham: (19:20)
Speaker 3: (19:27)
Senator Thune, maybe you can clarify this, you mentioned that there was bipartisan outreach. Are there more democratic senators than just Senator Manchin that have expressed willingness to sign on to the Portland Legislation? And it also, were you saying that President Biden has personally called Senator Manchin and told him not to support the Republican Bill? Just clarity on those two points?
Senator Thune: (19:50)
I don’t know if I said that, but I believe that to be true. And…
Speaker 4: (19:56)
Senator Thune: (19:56)
Yeah. I think he’s been engaged in the call, trying to steer people away. And a couple in particular, Joe Manchin being one. But there are, to the degree that there was any bipartisan support, sorry, for the amendment, and in an effort to make this something that we can all actually make the bill better, it’s an amendment that actually improves the bill, they’ve been shooting it down.
Senator Thune: (20:24)
They’ve been working their members over since 11 o’clock, because this was going to be the next amendment up. It was our first amendment. And it was clear to them that it could pass. They had an alternative amendment that they’ve been trying to whip. And they’ve had problems getting votes for that.
Senator Thune: (20:40)
And we’re here five and a half hours later, after that first vote started, simply because the Democrats didn’t want to have a bipartisan amendment actually get attached to this bill that might make it better.
Lindsey Graham: (20:53)
This is more than COVID now, it’s about an attitude. It makes everything President Biden said in his inaugural speech ring hollow to me. You ask him, have you been on the phone trying to talk Joe Manchin and others out of supporting a compromise. If a Republican, if we were doing this, you’d be all over us.
Lindsey Graham: (21:13)
We couldn’t walk five feet down the hall. Why are you trying to keep two Republicans from working with Democrats? Why have you put the Senate on hold for five and a half hours because you won’t let two Republicans work with a Democrat to do something they want to do?
Lindsey Graham: (21:27)
Well, the shoe’s on the other foot. So my challenge to the American media, why are we waiting five and a half hours? What the hell happened here? Have you ever asked a Democrat, why have you chosen a partisan path when Republicans were willing to work with you in the past, recently as December the 21st?
Lindsey Graham: (21:46)
We appropriated $1.9 trillion together 96 to nothing. Nobody asked any questions about what happened to the bipartisanship that existed December the 21st. Well, what happened is that they’re in charge of everything. They put together a bill, to seize the moment, as Roy said. There’s stuff in here that’s got zero to do with COVID. Most of the money in here goes to something other than COVID, they’ve been able to take the power they obtained, and they’re not using it consistent with the rhetoric of President Biden, I think, or the hopes of the American people.
Lindsey Graham: (22:26)
And if President Biden’s going to use his time to destroy bipartisanship, it’s going to be along two years here. So I wish somebody would call up the President and say, “What’s going on in the United States Senate? What is it about Joe Manchin, and maybe one or two others, working with Republicans that makes you want to stop the entire process for five and a half hours?”
Lindsey Graham: (22:50)
That would be my challenge.
Speaker 5: (22:54)
Just to be clear, there is more than one Democrat that has expressed interest?
Lindsey Graham: (23:06)
Speaker 6: (23:06)
Lindsey Graham: (23:06)
Under this… The way these two have been treated, I’d hate to be the one that said, “Yeah, I’m interested.”
Speaker 6: (23:06)
Speaker 7: (23:06)
Senator Graham, I believe you mentioned that Speaker Pelosi was not happy with this. Are you suggesting that Democrats are afraid of changing this too much and that it wouldn’t pass in the House?
Lindsey Graham: (23:17)
I’m telling you five and a half hours, something’s up.
Speaker 7: (23:20)
And then can you also tell us, there’s a report about one of your colleagues having to leave Washington, Senator Sullivan? How might that impact the amendment for the Portman Amendment?
Lindsey Graham: (23:30)
I’ll let Senator Sullivan’s people speak about that. But the point is, that we’re here five and a half hours over an amendment that we know to be bipartisan. And the goal is to talk Democrats out of working with Republicans. That’s the headline.
Speaker 6: (23:46)
Senator Thune, how confident are you that you’re going to have 50 Republican votes for the Portman Amendment, given the uncertainty about Sullivan, given Rand Paul yesterday said he wasn’t sure how he might vote on a UI extension? Are you absolutely confident that you have the votes to pass the Portman Amendment?
Senator Thune: (24:02)
Well, it’s a constant-
Speaker 8: (24:03)
… absolutely confident that you have the votes to pass the [inaudible 00:24:02] amendment.
Senator Thune: (24:03)
Well it’s constantly a management challenge to make sure that the votes are there, but I can tell you that we had a …
Speaker 9: (24:13)
Won’t know until you vote.
Senator Thune: (24:14)
We won’t know until we vote. And we had some Democrat support too, which is why we’re five and a half hours later because they’re getting worked over by their leadership and told not to cooperate with Republicans. And to your point, the message from the house speaker is if this comes over in this forum, we’re going to send it back. So I think that the house doesn’t want to, or the Senate Democrats accept anything, anything, any idea that came from Republicans that actually might improve the bill.
Speaker 10: (24:56)
Speaker 8: (24:57)
One other question I have. Is there a dispute over ordering the Carper and the Portman amendment? Is it not just a question of votes but a question on the order of the votes so that one amendment potentially could amend the second amendment. Can you get into that discussion or what is that about? Can you explain that?
Senator Thune: (25:13)
It’s part of the procedure and having under reconciliation, obviously the Democrats have all control because they have the majority. And so, if they want to, like they did during the budget resolution at the end come around with a wraparound amendment, a curative amendment that knocks out all of the bipartisan amendments, which is what happened to the budget resolution, that’s their prerogative. What we had hoped would happen is that if there were some changes made to the bill, there would be some Democrats who’d say, “I had some ownership in this. I helped make a positive change in this bill and vote against amendments that would undo that work.” And I think we were trending in that direction. But like I said, I think that the Democrat leadership figured that out and five and a half hours later, we’re still on vote number one in a process that is supposed to be expedited.
Senator Blunt: (26:04)
I think the problem probably has not been in ordering the amendment, so it might come to that at some point. Now the problem’s been the one of these amendments had more than 50 votes and the under amendment had less than 50 votes.
Speaker 8: (26:17)
Senator Blunt: (26:18)
That’s the problem. The problem is the amendment the Democrats wanted had less than 50 votes. So it doesn’t matter what order they’re in if one of them has less than 50 votes. And they’ve known that all day and there’s been well over five hours. And I think it started before the vote. So who knows how many hours today Democrats have been told, “No, you cannot work with Republicans on this amendment, which means you cannot work with Republicans on this bill.”
Speaker 10: (26:45)
By the President of the United States we believe.
Senator Thune: (26:49)
There you go. Good? All right.
Speaker 11: (26:53)
I just wanted to add something. If you guys have followed what J. Powell did, J. Powell for months has been saying we’re not going to see inflation. And yesterday he came back and said, “Oh, we might have an inflation.” If you look at what’s happening right now, since the election interest rates have gone, ten year [inaudible 00:27:10] have gone from about 0.9% to 1.6% today. If they pass this bill, we’re going to be not at $28 trillion worth of debt, which is too much, we’re going to be at $30 trillion. At $30 trillion dollars, think about that, that’s $480 billion worth of interest expense of the year, even before COVID we were running over $1 trillion deficits. So now if interest rates go to the 50 year average, that’s over 5%. There’s no way this is sustainable. So not only are they wasting money in this bill, Republicans are United.
Speaker 11: (27:43)
Republicans want to make sure that we help people that don’t have a job, help our small businesses get the vaccine out, get the testing done. But if you look at the markets are telling us, the market is scared to death of how much debt this country has right now. And you can see interest rates are going up. As interest rates go up, what happens? The cost of mortgages go up, the cost of buying a car goes up. If you look at a family on fixed income, inflation goes up, their income doesn’t go up. And if you look at poor families, historically their wages never stay up with inflation. So if we go back to high inflation like we did back in the ’70s, it will be devastating for poor families. So the Democrats are not worried about this. They just want to spend money with all these Liberal priorities. Longterm, this is devastating for the poorest families in our country and devastating for the people on fixed income. Thanks.
Speaker 12: (28:30)