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caption: Patty Murray in the KUOW studios on January 5, 2016.
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Patty Murray in the KUOW studios on January 5, 2016.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Senator Murray on the need for Covid relief, and the concession-less transition

The U.S. Senate is taking a break this week, a recess for Thanksgiving, even as the death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb. The virus continues to ravage the economy, with millions on unemployment.

We spoke with Washington Senator Patty Murray earlier today, before President Trump announced that his administration would work with President-elect Biden on the transition, a reversal of his previous position. Trump added that his campaign team would continue to contest the election results.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Senator Murray explained what is preventing Congress from passing another coronavirus relief package.

We are in a very, very challenging time: from people who can't put food on the table; rental assistance is going away; unemployment insurance is going to end for many people, businesses are looking at how they're going to be staying alive; families are asking themselves what they're going to do; and Congress hasn't passed anything. It is as frustrating to me as it is to everyone.

The House passed legislation last May. Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it up. He offered a very small package that didn't provide for many of the needs that are out there, and refused to compromise. We're in this really struggling position that is frustrating to every one of us living through it.

Senate Republicans are saying $500 billion is the size of the package they're prepared to pass. There is a gap, obviously, between that and $2 trillion. At this point, what is the argument for sticking to the guns and holding out for the larger amount? Why not solve some of the pain, and make the deal right now for a smaller package?

I think every one of us would like to see that happen, but what is in a “smaller package” is incredibly important. What Mitch McConnell has put on the table in a “smaller package” is not relief for our families who are struggling. And, he's put some provisions in it that simply say to corporations, you won't be liable for the workers that come to work; meaning if you’re going to be back at work, there will be no hand sanitizer, there'll be no plastic partitions, we're not going to take care of you, you're on your own. That's not a way to solve a problem as large as this.

We're getting to the end of the year now. A number of federal programs are going to expire -- the moratorium on evictions, several other programs. At this point, can you realistically tell your constituents that help is on the way?

I can realistically tell everyone here that we are fighting every day to find a way to make sure many of these critical programs extend beyond the end of this year. I'm very hopeful that the Trump administration, which is still in place until January 20, agrees to sit down and work with us to get this passed, and that Mitch McConnell does as well. What I will tell you is I am hearing from Republicans. I know that they, too, believe we need to extend some of these programs.

The real issue is that we do have to extend funding for the government or it shuts down after the middle of December. That is a vehicle, as we say, that we can use to add some of these important extensions on. I am hopeful that at the very least we can do that, but we are working to do much more because this is a pandemic that is really at the worst in this crisis. People cannot wait any longer.

As you referenced, a large number of Republicans in Congress, and outside of Congress as well, still have not publicly acknowledged that Joe Biden is the President-elect. They haven't condemned Trump for claiming victory falsely. What's your message to your Republican colleagues in Congress?

To stand up for our country, our nation, our democracy, our rule of law, how we need to operate for the safety and security of all Americans, over their politics. What I see right now, is Republicans who privately say things like that, but publicly don't. Why? Because they fear President Trump? That is unacceptable. Because they fear the political consequences of taking him on? That's unacceptable. Our country is more important than that. The people of this country are more important that. The future of this country is more important than that.

A new administration will take office in January. What is your top priority at that point?

Obviously, getting this pandemic under control, making sure that we deal with the healthcare crisis that is in our face right now, making sure that we deal with the economic crisis as a fallout of that as quickly as possible. I think that there's many other issues that are really pressing right now that just have not been acted on.

Whether it is restoring protections for dreamers, or helping us here in Washington State roll back some of President Trump's trade wars so that that we can get our economy moving again, transportation policy, the environment. There are many issues in front of us, but obviously, taking precedence is going to be healthcare and economic crisis.

Senator, we still don't know what the final makeup of the Senate is going to be. If Republicans do end up retaining control, how much do you think the Democrats are going to be able to get done?

I think within an administration that is open and willing to work with Republicans--and have before, President-elect Biden has a history of that-- that we can make progress on a number of issues. But it will be up to Mitch McConnell on whether or not he's gonna cross his arms and say, we're not doing a darn thing for four years, and keeping his members in line, or whether he says 'yes, we've got problems in this country, let's address them. If we don't get everything we want. That's, you know, it's going to be the way it is. But let's make some progress on these critical issues.'

Senator Murray, is there anything you're thinking of as you head into the Thanksgiving holiday that you'd like to share with your constituents?

Like most people, I’m not going to see my family on Thanksgiving. It's going to be just my husband and I. Like many people, I will be feeling the loss of that personal time with the people I love the most, but recognizing that there is hope for the future. We can see a time when a vaccine can be distributed.

We have a new administration that's coming in that brings hope to a lot of Americans that we will get past this turbulent time and start doing the business of this nation. I for one, it’s the smallest of things. Not to wake up every morning to a Tweet that somebody is going to have to pay attention to is a relief.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.