Nov 17, 2020
Senate GOP Press Conference Transcript November 17: COVID-19 Vaccine & Economic Stimulus
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP Senate leaders held a press conference on November 17. They addressed Operation Warp Speed, coronavirus relief, and relations in the Middle East. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Mitch McConnell: (00:05)
Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. Let me start by saying that, as I indicated yesterday, I think it’s extremely important to here in the next couple of months not to have any earth shaking changes with regard to defense and foreign policy. I think a precipitous draw down in either Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake, so said publicly yesterday. And I hope that’s precisely where these discussions end up.
Mitch McConnell: (00:44)
It’s hard not to be really excited about the two new vaccines. Senator Blunt was very much involved in that part of the Cares Act. If you look at the effectiveness of the Cares Act, it has to be one of the most dramatic and effective pieces of legislation ever passed by the Congress. And I would remind everyone that it passed first in a Republican Senate and then was approved on a voiced vote by the House.
Mitch McConnell: (01:16)
I’m focusing on the next couple of months. We hope to get an omnibus appropriation. I believe the Speaker would like to do that. I would like to do that. Hopefully that will be the view of the Administration as well. And of course we still are confirming well qualified judges, largely to the district courts at this stage. And we intend to continue doing that as well until the end of the session.
Speaker 2: (01:47)
Well, the pandemic has put some unimaginable hurdles in front of the American people, but the one thing that hasn’t been lost is American ingenuity. As a leader pointed out, the news on the vaccines this week is great news and a tribute to Operation Warp Speed. We now have not one but two potential vaccines out there with perhaps more to come. And so it is a great accomplishment for the Trump Administration and the private companies who have worked together in record time to get these vaccines to the point where hopefully we’ll be able to get them out to the American people and start the good work, the hard work of ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to defeat this virus.
Speaker 2: (02:33)
We have our job and work to do here in Congress too, our responsibility. I think Congress should pass the coronavirus relief bill, which has passed the Senate, or I should say has drawn a majority of support in the Senate, not once, but twice. It is a targeted bill. It’s say fiscally responsible bill. It deals with schools. It deals with healthcare. It deals with the PPP program, which benefits small businesses all across the country and it could become law. The House Democrats, and the Democrats here in the Senate for that matter, seem insistent on clinging to this multi-trillion dollar liberal wishlist that they’ve put out there, even as their majority, the Democrat majority in the House, continues to shrink by the day. If nothing else, I think the American people were sending a message that they want a fiscally responsible approach to this challenge, one that targets the assistance where it’s needed the most and provides much needed relief to the American people.
Speaker 2: (03:32)
So I certainly hope that the Democrats will come to the conclusion here soon, decide to work with Republicans. Republicans have been willing to compromise from the very beginning. The Democrats clearly have not. And we will continue to have an open door and we’re ready to negotiate at a moment’s notice if the Democrats come to the realization that the position that they hold right now is an untenable one and one that is costing the American people.
Speaker 3: (04:03)
The news just out about the vaccine to fight coronavirus is really great and historic news in this effort to protect ourselves from coronavirus. It was the front page story of every newspaper, major newspaper in America. This morning, the New York Times, “Another vaccine appears to work against the virus.” Another vaccine. That’s two. One with about 94% effectiveness, the other 90% effectiveness. These numbers are remarkable. Just think about not that long ago, Dr. Fauci said if we could come up with a vaccine that was 50% effective, that would be really good news. As a doctor, I will tell you, this is a modern day medical miracle. And it may be by the end of this year, 20 million Americans may be able to be started during the vaccine process.
Speaker 3: (05:02)
This is tremendous news. When you take a look at the spike that we’re seeing in coronavirus cases around the country and around the world, this vaccine truly is the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s made possible by the commitment of the Republican majority in the Senate and this Administration and our efforts to focus on Operation Warp Speed.
Speaker 3: (05:24)
Now, at the same time we’ve been doing this, the Democrats have seemed to be rooting for failure. Started with Joe Biden saying he wasn’t sure that a vaccine was even real. Kamala Harris in the vice-presidential debate said that if there Donald Trump said that there was a vaccine that worked, she would not take it. And Nancy Pelosi in her $3 trillion so-called Heroes Act, she has more money in that to do direct paychecks to illegal immigrants than she does to help with a vaccine.
Speaker 3: (05:57)
And last week, when the first news came out about Pfizer being 90% effective, what did the governor of New York have to say? The governor of New York had to say this about all this good news. He said the bad news. “The bad news is that it’s about two months before Joe Biden takes over. And that means,” he said, “this administration is going to be implementing a vaccine plan.” This administration is going to implementing a vaccine plan. And he calls that bad news. My question for the governor of New York and Democrats who think like him is why is it bad news that American ingenuity and invention and investment could come up with such record breaking efforts to develop a vaccine? Why is it bad news that families will be able to have parents get back to work and kids get back to school and the great American comeback to happen that much faster? Why is it bad news that millions, if not tens of millions of people in America and around the world will have their lives saved by this vaccine?
Speaker 3: (07:05)
This is something to celebrate. This is a success for the world to turn to America and say, “You have done it and you have done it right.” Maybe that’s the reason that the Democrats call it bad news.
Speaker 4: (07:24)
Well, I did mention in our conference today that in the matrix of distribution that had been recommended to the governors, and I think the governors are all adopting, that about 15% of the whole population would be included in that healthcare workers, first responders, people most likely to be at the highest risk if they got the vaccine. The next 35% would be the emergency workers of the country. And by the time you get that 50% of the people that could have access to the vaccine that they wanted to have access to the vaccine, probably into March. And everybody is safer if the people you’re most likely to come into contact with outside your normal closest circle have been vaccinated and can’t get the virus. I do think that’s all headed in the right direction. We’ll be talking more about that.
Speaker 4: (08:23)
I also think in the troop draw down area in Somalia, the discussion Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan, none of those places are nearly as secure if we leave as they are if we’re there. I think there’s some room, depending on the discussion as to whether you could have a partial down or not. But particularly in Afghanistan, if we want to continue to move forward with a peace discussion with the Taliban, I think we have to have a presence. And if we want to have any chance of enforcing a peace agreement that involves the Taliban, we have to have a presence. And I hope we’re looking carefully at the number that you’d have to have for that presence to be meaningful in those three places and anywhere else in the world that we’re thinking about repositioning. All of these things have significant long-term consequences. And my advice would be to remember that an American presence does matter, and it does make a difference and it has made a difference. And none of those places would be as safe if we aren’t there as they are if we are there.
Speaker 5: (09:47)
This is pretty darn amazing, folks, that we are seeing the development of these vaccinations in such a short timeframe. So Moderna of course announced that they are very, very close to delivering on that vaccine with a high efficiency rate. We’ve seen that from Pfizer as well. But I also want to give kudos not only to those in the pharmaceutical companies and private industry, but also to those wonderful folks at the Department of Defense that are working in collaboration with these private industry groups in delivering the vaccination as well, because we know that this will be an important part of making sure that those vaccinations get from point A to point B. So kudos to everyone that has been involved in this process. Operation Warp Speed has been a tremendous success for this administration. I do want to give a shout out to the Trump Administration for making this possible by thinking outside of that box on making sure that we can deliver those much needed vaccinations quickly to the American people.
Speaker 5: (10:57)
So I also want to move on to another potential COVID-19 recovery package. I do think that this is very important. I keep stressing this over and over again. I actually sat down on, I guess it was Friday afternoon with a community based provider group in Red Oak, Iowa, [inaudible 00:11:16] Productions. They work with those folks that are intellectually and physically disabled. They have individuals that go to work every single day, caring for those that have difficulty caring for themselves. We want to know that they are protected. How do we do that? We make sure that we’re getting another COVID-19 relief package out.
Speaker 5: (11:37)
So again, Democrats in the House, they need to come back to the table. They need to focus on what is right for our frontline workers, those essential workers that are out there every single day, caring for members of our communities. So let’s get over the partisan politics. The election is over, folks. Let’s come back to the table, let’s make sure we’re doing the right thing for our constituents as essential workers and celebrating the fact now we have a vaccine. Let’s keep our economy strong and protect those essential workers. Thank you.
Speaker 6: (12:12)
I too want to celebrate American ingenuity and recognize the achievements of these two pharmaceutical companies that recently announced the development of, it appears, highly effective vaccines to the COVID-19 virus. They, of course, in the coming weeks, will be seeking formal approval for emergency use from the FDA. And there’s some other drugs online that are notable as well. Eli Lilly out of Indianapolis, Indiana has a drug that is targeted towards those who are most at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. And it’s already been approved by the FDA. All of this is possible because of our innovators, our frontline scientists, our incredible university system. But the Trump Administration is also to be commended for its Operation Warp Speed, finding a new way to do business, and Republicans in the US Senate led by Roy Blunt who helped author this initiative in the Cares Act. So very proud of my colleagues. And we need to build on that success here in Washington.
Speaker 6: (13:26)
First order of business is we need to make sure that all of the leadership who might need access to current COVID developments has access to that. So that would be the coronavirus task force. The second thing is we as legislators need to build on our Cares Act success by passing the next round of assistance. Small business assistance is especially important as we see hundreds of thousands of businesses having permanently closed on account of this pandemic. They require additional help. I’ve been talking about this for months. I’ll continue to talk about this.
Speaker 6: (13:59)
Fortunately, a variant of the legislation I put forward with Senator Bennett is part of the Republican Senate relief package, as is additional essentials like school funding? So look, I understand some of my colleagues on the far left have other priorities. They may be a bit intentioned with our more targeted relief bill. They may have additional sort of wishlist priorities that they want to tack onto this. This is not a time for putting forward your ideological initiatives. If there’s one thing that I think we learned in the recent elections, it’s been the rejection of this far left impulse of the national Democratic party. So hopefully we can agree that there’s much to like in this Senate bill and move on it in coming days. [crosstalk 00:14:55]
Speaker 7: (14:55)
You’ve long been concerned about federal intervention in elections that are being administered by the state. So do you have any concerns about the Senate judiciary chairman, a member of your conference, reaching out to key officials in these states to raise concerns and questions about how mail-in voting is being conducted?
Mitch McConnell: (15:14)
Well, you’re going to ask Senator Graham about that. What I’ve emphasized is that one of the beauties of the American election system is we have 50 separate ways to conduct them. Every state is different. It ought to stay that way. We ought not to try to nationalize how we handle elections. States know how to do it. One of the great success stories of the current administration, as you noticed, you’ve all not been writing about foreign intervention. A dramatic improvement from 2016, under the Obama Administration to 2020 under the Trump Administration, the coordination between Homeland security and secretaries of state in charge of conducting elections all around the country.
Mitch McConnell: (16:01)
I know when things don’t happen they tend not to make a headline, but no indication any foreign intervention succeeded. The elections were smoothly conducted. But the decision as to how the elections and happened in 50 different places. So next, we’re going to see election certification in the states that are still close and in doubt, in Georgia, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Nevada. Once those certifications occur, if they occur based upon litigation that’s being tried at various places, those will be final, the electoral college will meet in December and the inauguration will be on January 20th. [crosstalk 00:16:51]
Speaker 8: (16:51)
How is it not time for the GSA to ascertain Joe Biden? A lot of these lawsuits have been failing. Brian’s won with more votes than Trump did in some of these states four years ago. How is it not time for the GSA to say, “Allow him to transition and ascertain”?
Mitch McConnell: (17:09)
I hate to give you the same answer again, but in all of these presidential elections, we go through this process. There’s a way to deal with disputes. It’s called the courts. And the courts in the various states are dealing with whatever disputes there are, whatever evidence may be provided, and we’re going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one. What we all say about it is, frankly, irrelevant. All of this will happen as I laid out a minute ago to [inaudible 00:17:41] question. All of it will happen right on time and we’ll swear in the next administration on January 20th. [crosstalk 00:17:50]
Speaker 9: (17:51)
Mr. Leader, is your pessimism on COVID relief based on actual conversations you’ve had with Democrats or simply on their public statements? And then secondly, it seems like you are going to take the lead back from Secretary Mnuchin. Are you going to now talk to Speaker Pelosi and does President Elect Biden have a role in shaping it during the lame duck?
Mitch McConnell: (18:14)
Well, first, based on what I’m seeing publicly, because we’ve had no private discussions about this. And it looks to me like the Speaker, the Democratic leader of the Senate, and Former Vice President Biden all have the view that two and a half trillion or nothing. I share the view of my colleagues that have been expressed here is that a more narrowly targeted proposal, such as we laid out in September and October here in the Senate, deals with the actual problem. As some of you may or may not have noticed, revenues at the state level are basically up almost everywhere. And they continue to insist apparently on almost a trillion dollars from state and local government. That has nothing to do with solving this problem.
Mitch McConnell: (19:08)
So to sum it up, I’m open to a targeted bill, roughly of the amount that we recommended, a half a trillion dollars, which is not nothing, narrowly targeted at schools, at healthcare providers, at PPP. And of course, liability reform to keep America from being engaged in an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic. Very open to that. But I’ve seen no evidence yet, as several of my colleagues have suggested that they’re open to it. [crosstalk 00:19:51]
Speaker 9: (19:50)
Open this up, please. Open it up. Thank you very much.
Speaker 10: (19:53)
Leader McConnell, do you think you have the votes to-