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Week In Politics: Senate To Vote On Coronavirus Relief

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Welcome to vote-o-rama, a series of votes in the Senate, not a theme park. Or is it? The latest explanation for why coronavirus aid isn't already in the hands of hurting Americans. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: This, of course - this bill would put $1.9 trillion of aid into the lives of Americans. According to polls, it's overwhelmingly popular. But, boy, it's been a long and prickly road to getting it passed, isn't it?

ELVING: Yes, indeed. Today, though, it could finally pass. The train will finally leave the station. But what's on that train is still in flux. As we know, yesterday and overnight, the Senate got past an impasse about the size of the checks, boosting state unemployment benefits, extending that - it's going to run out in March 14 for some folks - extending that, but not extending it to $400 a week, just 300, where it's been, and also extending it a little longer from August into September. So there's a lot of careful load balancing here to keep the Democrats' centrist members on board for the final vote. And we are seeing one particular senator in the midst of this negotiation. Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia has the tie-breaking vote. He becomes a kind of on/off switch for the power of the majority.

SIMON: Remind us about the grounds of Republican opposition because the polls show this bill to be very popular indeed.

ELVING: Their view is, as it's been since last May, that the federal government has already done enough, that the economy is recovering on its own with the aid of what's already been approved. And they say what's happening now - this bill that's proposed - is too generous to people who don't really need it and that it might disincentivize people going back to work in some cases. So they also oppose some of the aid that goes to cities, particularly big cities. And some activists say there's a chance that some of the funding in this bill could wind up supporting abortion, so there's an array of objections.

SIMON: As you begin to note, though, at the same time, eight Democratic senators voted Friday against adding an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour to the bill. There was an enormous delay when a Democratic senator, as you mentioned, wanted changes to unemployment benefits. Democrats are hardly together on this, are they?

ELVING: They are not perfectly together, not at all. And some of these Democrats are in states where they pay more attention to their home state polls than they do to national polls. And when it comes to the minimum wage issue in particular, well, they say we can do that again later on in somewhat different form, detached from this COVID relief for separate votes on its own merits. And that would, of course, allow them to either negotiate a middle-ground minimum wage, maybe not $15 an hour, or to possibly make the Republicans vote separately on the question of just how much more people need to make.

SIMON: We're continuing to learn more about the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters. What stood out to you from this week's hearings?

ELVING: One glaring feature was the similarity between the failures on January 6 and the failures that led to 9/11 two decades ago - poor coordination within the protective services, poor communication among the various authorities and ultimately a failure to recognize that such a thing was even possible in America, that such a thing could be done by our citizens. It just seems to have been unthinkable for a lot of the security officials and law enforcement folks on January 6.

SIMON: And a report this week on CNN that prosecutors are looking into communications between U.S. lawmakers and insurrectionists. Are we likely to learn more from that avenue of inquiry than the governmental investigation?

ELVING: We are likely to learn some additional things from that kind of inquiry, yes. But the key here is to have both - to pursue every avenue of inquiry and gain every kind of information. Wherever it leads and whoever is implicated, the full story needs to be known, and the full story needs to be told.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.