Since the coronavirus pandemic is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, People For the American Way is especially grateful to have been able to host a member telebriefing with the senator The Nation proclaimed to be its choice for “coronavirus czar” herself, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on March 26.
Less than 24 hours after working with her colleagues to pass the historic $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, Sen. Warren joined PFAW members for a discussion of the legislation and what we can expect to see from Congress going forward.
The first question for the senator touched on the bill’s corporate oversight provisions, for which she explicitly fought. “The initial plan was to put [the legislation] out there without any [corporate] constraints at all,” Sen. Warren said. She focused her criticisms of the early drafts of the legislation on the lack of restrictions on the ways that the White House and the Trump family could dole out the funds included in the section for corporate bailouts at their discretion, mentioning that she went repeatedly to her colleagues to point out that they might as well be handing out brown paper bags of money at Mar-A-Lago had the legislation passed in its original form. In a crisis of this magnitude, “the need for oversight here is more acute than ever,” she pointed out.
Sen. Warren said she is proud of the restrictions on corporate bailouts that they successfully placed in the bill, as well as the section of the legislation that dedicated funding for additional election security, which a PFAW member raised in the next question. She also praised the outpouring of advocacy from activists like PFAW’s members. As Sen. Warren put it, “you don’t get what you don’t fight for,” and Senate Democrats were determined to see the legislation through while keeping an eye on what the coronavirus pandemic “means for our economy and what it means for our democracy.” The success of each is inextricably linked to the other, and Sen. Warren urged those on the call to keep an eye on both simultaneously.
“You’re not going to be surprised to hear that the Republicans didn’t want to do full voter security,” Sen. Warren said wryly in response to a member’s question, but that didn’t stop the Democrats from continuing to press for it. Although this coronavirus relief package did include $400 million to shore up election procedures and security, she stated that this is a far cry from the $2 billion that the Democrats originally proposed. Addressing this concern will be one of the priorities for future pieces of legislation.
The last question during the telebriefing addressed the need to protect communities that have historically been marginalized, and stressed that the current coronavirus pandemic has thrown societal inequities into sharp relief. The current legislation, historic though it may be, “is not enough,” Sen. Warren emphasized. “We will be back again” to improve the relief package, she explained, “because the nature of this pandemic [and its trajectory around the world] suggests that we’re going to have to do a lot more” to help the country recover and thrive. Additional coronavirus legislation will continue to focus on how Congress can both “support individual human beings and the economy from the ground up, to help ameliorate some of the racial inequity in this country,” she continued.
Most significantly, Sen. Warren credited the Democrats’ addition of corporate oversight into the bill to both the members of Congress and the democracy advocates across the country who continued to talk about it. Continuing the drumbeat is the best way to hold this administration accountable, she said, and that’s why activists are vital during crises, even when the actions being taken are virtual. “It is your vigilance and your willingness to stay active” that will help us get through this fight, Sen. Warren told PFAW’s members. Advocates are “our best, best hope for pulling our government and our country in a better direction.”