Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the election outcome, COVID-19, and the state of the next stimulus bill.
AKIKO FUJITA: I have Senator Sherrod Brown joining us from Ohio. And senator, let's start right there, where we've gone several months now without an extension of any of those additional unemployment benefits, specifically for the federal level. Has the need moved at all on these discussions as a result of the elections coming and going.
SHERROD BROWN: It's not clear, Akiko. What we do know is the first stimulus package, the first big one, which passed the Senate unanimously, one study showed that it kept 12 million Americans from dropping below the poverty line, and the economy didn't get nearly as bad as it would have gotten because we put $600, $600 a week for unemployed workers, and that's hundreds of thousands of people in my state alone-- money for schools, money for local governments, help for small businesses so they could at least stay afloat and keep their payroll intact and not go out of existence permanently. All of those things.
But come July and August most of that expired, and essentially President Trump and Republican leader McConnell, the leader of the Senate, said to Americans, you're on your own. And you know, thousands of people a day are dropping into poverty. And we've got to do-- we've got to help unemployed workers. We've got to help people so they aren't evicted from their apartments or have their electricity cut off. We've got to help these small businesses that are struggling.
And so far McConnell seems to have his eyes on the Georgia special election than he does on doing his job now. And we can't wait two more months. The American public can't wait two more months until Congress acts.
AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, to that point, we're looking at a number of deadlines here-- the eviction moratorium, for example, expiring. We're looking at a number of states where we have seen those benefits come to an end as well. I mean, if the focus really is about trying to take back the Senate or hang on to the Senate for Republicans, are we talking about a two month delay? Are we unlikely to hear anything or any kind of resolution on the stimulus until Joe Biden does, in fact, take the oath of office?
SHERROD BROWN: I hope not. I-- I mean, there's no reason that we all can't do two things at once. I mean the special election in Georgia matters to me. It matters to senators in both parties. But it's not my job. My job is to get Senator McConnell and the White House to do a package now. You know, maybe it will be inadequate, but at least do something now so that 600,000 workers in Ohio have some help.
I worry most about the wave of evictions and the wave of gas and electric cutoffs. There were a moratoria on those too in many places around the country. Going into the winter in a state like Ohio, as cold as it gets in the midst of a pandemic is-- doing nothing is just immoral. And we know government has a role in this. And it's the government's actions that kept millions out of poverty as we were saying earlier in the spring and summer. And we need to act again.
- Yeah. And senator back in the spring, obviously that's when the CARES Act came through here. And we've exploded well past beyond the case count that we saw back in the spring, and we're seeing more states roll back some reopening here, including in Ohio. There's new rules being put in place there.
We chatted with a doctor on President-elect Biden's coronavirus task force yesterday on the show, and he was talking about potentially returning to a four to six-week lockdown to get this under control. I want to quickly play what he had to say and get your reaction on the other side. Take a listen.
DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks. And if we did that we could drive the numbers down like they've done in Asia, like they did in New Zealand and Australia. And then we could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year and bringing back the economy long before that.
- Senator, the big if there is, he's talking about making the American worker whole if we have to go back to lockdowns. Obviously that was kind of a thinking back in the spring was, look, this is a problem. We need to get it under control. We need to make Americans whole if they can't go to work. Right now though, without that stimulus package coming through, do you fear that we're really kind of leaving the nation up for a terrible situation here as we approach the winter if there's nothing to be done until January?
AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. A lockdown is the absolute last resort. And whether we do a lockdown, whether there's a lockdown or not ordered by the governors or by President-elect Biden and President Biden, whenever that would come, it has to be accompanied by a major coronavirus package. You can't expect people-- you can't expect business to survive, workers to survive. People must be able to stay in their home. School districts, local governments, all that-- you can't do that without help.
And, you know, we just-- so far Senator McConnell just doesn't seem to want to act. President Trump sort of moved on to fighting on the election and not even talking about the coronavirus. But I'm heartened, only in that President-elect Biden's team is already in place for the coronavirus. It's made up of scientists. You're not going to see Biden do a briefing day after day after day from the White House. You're going to see doctors from the CDC and medical researchers and experts, public health authorities do these briefings, instructing Americans of the importance of this.
I mean, just go back briefly if I could, Zack. Go back to February, March. Imagine if instead of lying to us, the President of the United States had said, this is a potential pandemic. I'm going to start wearing a mask. We all should. We need to social distance. We've got to get really serious. Instead he told us it was a Democratic hoax and all the things he did. Imagine where we'd be today. We'd be-- you know, people would be back at work. Our kids would be back at school. Tens of thousands of people would still be alive. We can't miss that opportunity again and not do it right.
- Well yeah, that may be true, senator, but when we're looking at kind of the situation right now, Ohio is obviously suffering, you know, similar situations as other states are, as we see cases rising in all 50. It only took 112 days for Ohio to hit 50,000 cases back in the summer, but 13 days to see another 50,000 case increase in the state here. And this is not something Ohio is alone in experiencing right now. So really when it comes to what we should be doing today, what are you pushing for, in terms of where the Senate can make its voice heard in trying to get something done?
SHERROD BROWN: I'm pushing with the administration-- more testing, contact tracing, and still scaling up using the Defense Production Act to the scale up all of that-- contact tracing, doing enough testing, and for protective equipment. There's still too much competition between and among hospitals and among the states because the president himself didn't take the leadership. And he essentially turned state against state and hospital against hospital. We can't do that again.
And we need to do the Recovery Act. We need to do a serious coronavirus act. We need to do both those things. Senator McConnell is still saying America, you're on your own on this. But we've got to move on this and keep the pressure on. And we can't wait until the new president on January 20th. Too many people will have-- as you say, 5,000 Ohioans-- we've had days where 5,000 Iowans have been diagnosed. And the deaths are growing. We're 1,000 deaths nationally now, when most days-- 1,500 I think was yesterday or the day before. And this is getting worse and worse as we enter the cold weather and people can't be outside as much. All of those things are contributing. And then we've got to see presidential leadership.
AKIKO FUJITA: Senator, a question-- a lot of investors watching this are looking to see what the legislative priorities of a Biden administration will be. You didn't get that blue wave that some had called for. And now you're looking at a divided Congress again. What's the conversation right now among Democratic lawmakers about what part of this agenda can in fact be moved forward? What can be prioritized, number one given the uncertainty around those seats in Georgia, and then just the potential for the Republicans hanging onto the Senate?
SHERROD BROWN: Well, obviously if Georgia comes out-- it depends on what Georgia does, how much more of the Biden agenda moves forward. There are some things-- we should be doing a major infrastructure bill. The first thing we need to do is coronavirus. Nothing else matters until we do that. We never get the economy back on track, we never deal with racial disparities, we never deal with income inequality, we never deal with climate if we don't get coronavirus fixed. That's the most important thing.
But there are a number of things that Vice President Biden, President-Elect Biden's already doing. He says we're going to join the-- he'll rejoin the World Health Organization. We're going to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. We're going to reintegrate into the world community. We're going to expand voting rights to what they were before this very conservative Supreme Court snatched away a number of voting rights from people. So there are some things we can do, some through executive order, some through the president acting internationally, but most importantly dealing with coronavirus now. And if we don't do it now, the first order of business come January.
- Yeah. And senator, what's interesting too is seeing all the shifting priorities right now. We saw a vote that was scheduled in the House on the Kamala Harris sponsored MORE act that would legalize marijuana at a federal level here that was postponed-- peer pressure coming from Republicans saying that Democrats weren't focusing on the pandemic at hand. And now we've seen that vote rescheduled for the House floor here in December.
Obviously a lot of that's not going to move anywhere if Republicans maintain control in the Senate. But we've seen kind of a shifting priority for a lot of Americans out there. Even South Dakota, a deep, deep red state, voters there voted to approve recreational marijuana. So curious to get your take on where the Senate might stand, even if it does remain Republican controlled, and what kind of the Democratic push is now that Kamala Harris is there as VP-elect and where the party sits right now in terms of marijuana.
SHERROD BROWN: I just don't think that's a major priority compared to so much else. I mean, the state of Florida increased the minimum wage to $15 on the ballot-- a majority, a strong majority of Floridians. So the country wants to see the Senate do way more than it's done in terms of wages, in terms of all kinds of other issues. I don't know if Mitch McConnell has gotten that letter in the mail, frankly, because he just wants to mostly sit tight, confirm more judges-- we did that this week again-- and tell Americans you're on your own.
So I just don't think there's any way to predict what he will do. He may be, as Akiko said, he may be the minority leader not the majority leader come January. And if he is the minority leader we will see the Senate move on all kinds of issues that matter to the American public. Otherwise it's just, um-- I really do think it's Mitch McConnell's view is you're on your own and we care about judges.