VIDEO - Coons: 'We need to be focused on saving lives and getting our economy restarted;' check-signing is 'an unfortunate stunt.'
Sen. Chris Coons joined MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell to discuss President Trump’s recent decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization.
Q: Joining us now is Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons who is on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, first of all, your immediate reaction to the World Health Organization and what the President ordered yesterday.
Coons: Well, Andrea, what we need to be focused on is saving lives and getting our economy restarted. And President Trump trying to shift blame to the WHO by cutting off funding or claiming he can cut off funding to this critical global public health organization is like shooting at an ambulance because you don’t like how quickly it responded to its first call when you still have patients lying out in the street, bleeding, needing responses.
It doesn’t help anything for us to look backwards and try to punish the WHO and distract from some of the challenges or failures in our own country. We need to very rapidly scale up reliable testing for antibodies and for the infection itself. And we happen, Andrea, right now to be in a moment where this highly transmissible and lethal pandemic is beginning to spread rapidly in the developing world. The WHO has a critical role to play in coordinating a global response. As you know, I was quite active in our work responding to the Ebola pandemic. Back then, the United States really was leading the global response. Right now, I don’t see the sort of global leadership that we need.
Q: Senators Lankford and Portman have also joined other Republican Senators Grassley and others, Collins last week, Romney, in criticizing the President for going back, moving IGs of the 75 IGs, challenging the independence of the Inspectors General who were supposed to be overseeing the trillions of dollars that have gone out. What is your take on that? Is there anything Congress can do?
Coons: There is, and I was glad to see this initiative by Senators Lankford and Portman because, frankly, when we unanimously passed the $2.3 trillion CARES Act roughly two weeks ago, there was a lot of concern expressed, particularly by Democrats, about transparency and accountability. Every federal agency has an inspector general, and one of the key functions that they play is holding administrations accountable over the decades, different administrations of different parties. We have relied upon inspectors general and a bipartisan support for their critical work to make sure that we know how the money is being spent, and that we can make sure it’s being spent in an appropriate way. So frankly, I was grateful to see some engagement by Republicans.
If we don’t have a bipartisan commitment to pushing back on President Trump’s abrupt firing of the former Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Atkinson, in sidelining the former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, who was supposed to be chairing the inspector general’s committee for this CARES Act, then we won’t have effective oversight. This was a positive step but, frankly, we need more determined and bipartisan insistence on full transparency in how this record amount of federal funding is being spent to respond to this pandemic.
Q: Are you at all surprised or concerned about the President having his name put on the stimulus checks that are going out starting today?
Coons: Frankly, Andrea, this unprecedented act to ensure that the President’s own signature appears on a check coming out from the Treasury — something that didn’t happen in the ‘08-’09 response when there were also stimulus checks sent out, something that doesn’t happen with typical Social Security Administration checks — was just, in my view, an unfortunate stunt to try and ensure that millions of Americans who are now receiving these stimulus checks have some sense of gratitude.
Frankly, there is a pattern here of refusing to take responsibility for what has been an uncoordinated and often even chaotic response at the federal level to the urgent demands by governors and mayors for adequate testing and adequate PPE, and an attempt to insist that he has powers and authorities that he doesn’t, and to take credit for things that were done on a unanimous and bipartisan basis. I think it’s a distraction for us to spend too much time focusing on or fighting over this. But I do think it just shows one more thing about the focus, the prioritization and character of our current President.