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Sen. Gillibrand On How Democrats Are Approaching The Latest COVID-19 Relief Package

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A White House meeting between President Biden and 10 Republican senators went way longer than expected this evening. It was supposed to end an hour ago but only just wrapped in the last few minutes. COVID relief was the topic of conversation with the Republicans presenting their alternative to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that President Biden has proposed.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Republican proposal calls for less - way less - some $600 billion in aid. So what should happen now? A question we are going to put to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She is a Democrat from New York. She joins us now.

Senator, welcome.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Thank you. It's great to be on your show.

KELLY: So Joe Biden - as you know, he ran on unity. He promised bipartisanship. Should he look now for bipartisan common ground and compromise?

GILLIBRAND: I think he would love bipartisanship on his proposal. I think, though, the Republican proposal is so deeply inadequate. My state of New York is suffering. We are desperate for resources. Our state has a $15 billion budget shortfall. And people are at the end of all of their benefits, so we need those unemployment benefits. We need checks going out. We need money for first responders and health care and vaccination plans as well as small businesses and food stamps.

So we just have to deliver for the American people. And unfortunately, the Republican proposal is so paltry. It's inadequate. It doesn't meet the need even halfway, so I just don't think it's the time for half measures.

KELLY: Although, as you know, there's a process here. And one side starts in one place and the other side starts somewhere very different, and the whole point of compromise is you move towards some kind of middle ground. I mean, these 10 GOP senators at the White House would argue if you want a bill with bipartisan support, it's not going to be $1.9 trillion.

GILLIBRAND: I know that's their view, but I just don't think their view of the world meets the need of the world. For example, Republicans have been unwilling - and Mitch McConnell has been unwilling - to give any money for cities and states. And without that money, Americans won't get the relief they need. They need to have first responders. They need to have teachers. They need to have doctors and nurses working in hospitals to save lives. And if the Republicans are so dead set against city and state money, it just leaves the response as insufficient for the need.

And so we would love the Republicans to help us do this. But if they're unwilling - the parts of their ideas are in Biden's plan, so Biden's plan has a lot of the same priorities that the Republicans have put in their plan. So there's a lot of overlap.

KELLY: You're saying Republicans would get what they need in the $1.9 trillion bill.

GILLIBRAND: They would get everything they need.

KELLY: They would just get $1.3 or so trillion more, which they don't want to pay for.

GILLIBRAND: Of things that they're not for - correct. And they're never going to be for it. That's the thing. Like, we've been asking for city and state money for a long time.

KELLY: Yeah, it was the sticking point for many months before now.

GILLIBRAND: Right, so that's why I think it's just time to meet the need. And this is something that President Biden ran on. It's something that the Senate has committed to, and so I just think we have to do the work.

KELLY: I want to note what is happening on Capitol Hill right now, which is that Democratic leaders are moving full steam ahead on trying to pass this by simple majority without Republican support. You've likely got the votes to do that. We'll see, but you probably do. The question is, just because Democrats can do that, should you do that? It sets quite a precedent.

GILLIBRAND: I think they should do it because the need is so urgent. People are really out of money, and they need unemployment checks. They need stimulus checks. They need emergency paid leave. And Americans want relief. And we shouldn't be fighting and playing games over that relief.

And at the end of the day, they don't care whether it's a 51-vote margin or a 60-vote margin. That is inside baseball. It doesn't relate to their lives at all. They just want their family to be safe. And they want to not be evicted from their homes. And they want to be able to have heat on. And they want to feed their kids.

I can't tell you how much hunger there is in our state. I've been to food banks all across our state, and I've seen the lines go on for miles in cars. And I've seen people standing in line around blocks. And that's the reality that we're facing. So I don't think - at the end of the day, if the Republicans aren't willing to come to the table on something more generous, then I think if we do it through that limited process, it's fine.

KELLY: We just have a minute or so left, Senator. But what about the point you will have heard your Republican colleagues make that a lot of the money in the last aid package, the one passed in December, remains unspent? Do you need to shoot so much money into the economy all at once?

GILLIBRAND: You do. And the reason why President Biden's plan is so good is it sends the money where it's needed. It goes to places like mass transit, to daycare, to child care, to school districts, through small businesses, nutrition. Like, all the things people need, that's where the money is directly targeted.

KELLY: OK. That is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York.

Senator, thanks for your time.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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