D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) talks about D.C. being shortchanged in the U.S. Senate's stimulus package. And Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) talks about the state's response to the pandemic.
U.S. lawmakers have been working with the Trump administration to pass emergency aid packages in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined The Politics Hour to discuss.
Federal Emergency Aid Packages For Coronavirus Pandemic
- This week, President Donald J. Trump signed the second coronavirus aid package into law. It would put $100 billion towards unemployment insurance, paid leave and free testing and treatment.
- The first spending package — passed earlier this month — allocated $8 billion to respond to the virus. It increased funding for tests and helped lower the cost of medical treatments.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a massive economic stimulus bill this week that would include direct payments to many Americans. On The Politics Hour, Kaine said: “The cash payments need to be the heart of it. They’re not enough. … $1,200 for an individual is less than half a month’s rent for many people in this area.”
Kaine Blames President Trump For Delayed Response To Coronavirus
- Kaine blames the Trump administration for the U.S.’s delayed response in addressing the pandemic. “We lost six-to-eight weeks because of a series of horrible missteps by the administration,” Kaine said on The Politics Hour.
- “This President has dramatically amped up the hysteria,” Kaine said on The Politics Hour. “I don’t think any American should just sit back and be complacent and say, ‘Oh it’s normal that our response should be so far behind nations like South Korea and Australia.”
- On the Senate floor this week, Kaine told the president to “quit the inflammatory China-bashing.”
How Virginia Is Responding To The Coronavirus Outbreak
- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) has ordered restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to reduce their capacity to 10 people, but hasn’t forced them to stop dine-in service completely, like D.C. and Maryland have done.
- This puts some Virginia restaurants in a tricky situation, reports DCist’s Elliot Williams and WAMU’s Daniella Cheslow. Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, local governments cannot force restaurants or bars to close.
- Northam also hasn’t shut down childcare, but is encouraging caregivers who do not have essential jobs to keep their children home to ensure that childcare is available for frontline workers.
- But Northam has shut down all public schools for at least two weeks.
- Kaine thinks Virginia hospitals in particular need additional support from the federal government. He supported the president invoking the Defense Production Act, which gives the federal government broad authority to direct private companies to meet the country’s supply needs (in this case, things like face masks and ventilators).
Maryland lawmakers wrapped their legislative session in a three-day blitz this week after the session was cut short due to the coronavirus. Maryland Senate Majority Leader Nancy King (D-Montgomery County) joined the show to tell us about the last few days — and what legislation was passed.
- Maryland’s legislature ended its legislative session early due to concerns of spreading the coronavirus. They adjourned this week — more than two weeks early. According to The Baltimore Sun, it’s believed that this is the first time the session has been cut short since the Civil War.
- The legislature passed more than 660 bills throughout the session, the majority of those in the final three-day sprint. This includes emergency bills in response to the pandemic.
- WAMU’s Dominique Maria Bonessi wrote a roundup of legislation that passed and didn’t pass. The most noteworthy bills that passed included a $4 billion education reform bill, funding for HBCUs and expanding the state’s hate crime statutes.
- “It was kind of a blur there at the end,” King said on The Politics Hour.
Maryland Lawmakers Pass Major Education Bill
- One of the biggest priorities for Maryland Democrats this session was a sweeping education reform bill called the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future. It passed Tuesday night.
- Republican opponents of the bill have cited it’s expensive price tag as an issue — especially since the bill doesn’t stipulate how the state will fund the changes. This concern was particularly heightened in the last few days of the session, as lawmakers worried about an economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The big question: Will Governor Larry Hogan (R), who campaigned against the bill, sign the legislation when it gets to his desk? Hogan can either sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it. (The bill passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority, so lawmakers could override a veto).
- “We don’t know whether the governor will pass the education bill,” King said on The Politics Hour. She said that lawmakers will probably override a veto.
How Maryland Is Responding To The Coronavirus Outbreak
- Maryland experienced its first death related to the coronavirus this week: A 60-year-old man in Prince George’s County. And, a 5 year old in Howard County became the first child in Maryland to test positive for the virus.
- Hogan has limited gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, restricted access to BWI and passed an emergency order allowing restaurants, bars, distilleries and wineries to deliver and offer carry-out options for alcohol. You can read more about his latest action items here.
- Hogan chairs the National Governors Association. In that role, he’s submitting five requests to President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and leaders in Congress, including giving supplemental funding directly to states and giving governors maximum flexibility for using the National Guard.
- On The Politics Hour, King said that Hogan has handled the state’s response to the coronavirus well. “I think he has done for Maryland what we need to do or can do so far.”
Want up-to-date coverage of coronavirus in our region? Check out WAMU’s live blog here.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Tim Kaine Senator (D-Va.), U.S. Senate; Former Governor of Virginia; Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee; @timkaine
- Nancy King Senator and Senate Majority Leader (D-District 39), Maryland State Senate; @Senatornjk
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello everyone.
NNAMDIGood to have you aboard. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Nancy King, the Senate Majority Leader of the Maryland Senate, very shortly we'll also be talking with Tim Kaine. He's a U.S. Senator representing Virginia. But before we go to Senator Kaine, Tom Sherwood, tell us about Jack Evans withdrawing from the D.C. special election that was essentially triggered by his resignation. He is nevertheless apparently going to run in the primary, but why is he withdrawing from the special election?
SHERWOODHe has qualified with signatures to run in the June 2nd primary for a new four year term. And he would have put in signatures to run in the special election on June 16, which is simply to elect someone to serve between now or between June and the end of the year. He has told friends in The Post and other media people that he decided that he was getting pushback from some people. We don't know how many. That he was too quickly trying to achieve office again. And that he should let this play out and not immediately try to get back onto the Council. So he says it's not because he didn't have enough signatures to get on the special election ballot, but he says he's going to give time for the voters to adjust to what his problems have been and what he says he can offer for a new four year term. So that's why he says he did it.
NNAMDIWhich will put the District of Columbia Council in the odd position if he doesn't participate in the special election, which he won't and somebody else wins it and then he participates in the primary and somehow ends up winning the primary. Then we'll have someone essentially sitting in office for just a few months before the return of a Jack Evans.
SHERWOODWe'll have the primary for the new four year term if it's not postponed because of the virus. We'll have the primary for the new four year term on June 2. The special election is June 16. And you're correct. We could easy see someone be elected, who would only serve six months till January 2, 2021. It would be an awkward situation. The feeling is that the city must -- the D.C. Council must have on the Council the Ward 2 citizens represented.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, this is the first election in which D.C.'s public financing program is being tested and one of the candidates, a Ward 4 candidate for the D.C. Council Janeese Lewis George has apparently been able to max out public financing funds for D.C. elections. These funds are awarded at a five to one match. So what has Janeese Lewis George achieved?
SHERWOODWell, she has gotten a substantial number of Ward 4 voters, District voters, to donate to her campaign. The law is fairly simple. In a Ward level race in the eight wards if you give someone -- the most you can give a ward candidate is $50. If the candidate qualifies by getting the sufficient number of local people to give them $50, then for each $50 contribution they get an additional $250 from the city. So that's a $50 donation becomes $300. And she is the first to say she has qualified to get the full amount of money. So it will mean about more than $300,000. The public money will be $241,000 roughly. And she has raised about $100,000 more than that. So she is financially in good shape.
SHERWOODNow we all know the person with the most money doesn't mean they're going to win, but it does put her in a strong position if she challenges Brandon Todd, the incumbent, who is doing the campaign the old fashioned way under the old system. He's raising money without the public benefit. And he has raised about $450,000 to her $337,000.
NNAMDIBut in a way it is success.
SHERWOODThat makes sense.
NNAMDIYes. It does. And it is a success for this public financing program. Joining us now by phone is Tim Kaine. He is a U.S. Senator representing Virginia. He's a Democrat. Senator Kaine, thank you for joining us.
TIM KAINEKojo and Tom, good to be with you guys.
NNAMDII'll have Tom ask you the first question.
SHERWOODGood afternoon, Senator. Thank you very much. Today you have thanked on Tweeter and other places you have thanked medical and emergency people across the nation for battling the virus at their own risk and with terrible shortages. You and your office have also called the Trump administrations response abysmal. Briefly as you can because I know your time and ours is limited, what is your message to Virginians and all Americans about where we are now with this virus?
KAINEWell, Tom, yeah. That's a big question. So there's two pieces of it, the public health piece and the economic piece. So in the public health side, the United States lost six to eight weeks of absolutely critical time when other nations were racing ahead to deal with this pandemic. And we lost six to eight weeks, because of a series of horrible missteps by the administration starting with the most serious. President Trump downplayed it said it was hoax, said Democrats were creating it, blamed it on the media, said it was contained, said it was miraculously going to go away. He preached basically an anti-science cover his own behind message for six to eight weeks. And that sent a very serious and improper message out to our entire government apparatus and the public.
KAINESo when you see nations like Australia and South Korea, who got ahead of this and rolled out testing and, you know, rolled out prevention strategies we lost that time. The second mistake that the administration made was in the area of testing. As the WHO says, testing is the key to giving people information about their own health ...
SHERWOODThat's the World Health Organization.
KAINE... which reduces their anxiety, but also flattening the curve, reducing the amount of exposure at any one time, which helps create the ability of our health system to deal with it. The administration had the choice to use a WHO approved test essentially an open source recipe for the test that we could have produced. The U.S. decided not to use that and instead develop its own test, which isn't unusual. We often do that. But then when the CDC developed the test it was improperly put together. And so the initial results showed that it was not accurate and it had to be redone.
KAINEThose combined efforts together with the efforts of the administration to slash public health budgets and take people's health insurance away in the courts, mean that we have had an abysmal start to this. We're catching up quickly. The social distancing recommendations that the administration has made, the efforts to accelerate vaccine development, Congress has now passed two big pieces of legislation.
KAINEOne to put resources into the public health infrastructure and the second to try to provide some backstop for workers, unemployment insurance and sick leave. But now we're working on the big one, and then this gets to the second issue. There is a significant economic dislocation that's being felt in every part of the Common Wealth and every part of the country and every industry sector. And Congress is here in session right now trying to do what we can to protect workers and families and backstop the American economy.
SHERWOODIf I could ask you -- go ahead, Kojo.
NNAMDINo, you go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI was going to say since this is The Politics Hour as I like to say. A new ABC poll out this morning shows a 55 percent approval rating for the president and a 43 percent disapproval. Where in your mind is the disconnect?
KAINEWell, I've seen a lot of different polls. And, you know, so I've seen some polls that are much harder of the president in terms of the way he has handled this. But, again, the bottom line is, you know, he basically lied about it for weeks and weeks. When his own health officials were telling him this was going to be serious and when the leaders of other nations were taking appropriate steps.
KAINEI mean, this is the United States of America. People are used to going to their doctor and getting a test to see whether they Strep throat or the flu or pneumonia. And when they see people in other nations like South Korea and Australia getting tested and they see the president on TV saying everybody can get a test. But then they're being told by their own healthcare provider that's not the case. It's shameful. When hospitals can't get masks or gowns or even when they get tests they don't have the swabs that they need to administer the test to patients, again, this is the United States of America. Why is our public health response so much worse than South Korea or Australia? We're going to have to figure that out, and assign accountability when the time comes.
KAINEBut the bottom line is we started six to eight weeks late, because of the administration's denial of the extent of this crisis. I mean, they gave us a budget on the 10th of February long after the crisis was known that slashed spending on all the healthcare accounts including cutting funds to the WHO by 52 percent. So we're six to eight weeks behind, but we've got the greatest healthcare providers and the greatest healthcare institutions in the world and they are now doing yeoman service and trying to help us catch up.
NNAMDISenator Kaine, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a massive economic stimulus package yesterday including direct cash payments to many Americans. Some of your colleagues oppose cash payments all together. How do you feel about it and how likely is it that we'll see checks issued?
KAINESo, Kojo, let me talk about the package. The cash payments I think is the right strategy. The White House likes it and the Senate Republican proposal includes it as the heart of the plan and we like it too. Here's what I would say about the package. The cash payments need to be the heart of it. They're not enough. The proposed cash payment is $1200 for an individual, $2400 for a family. It's means tested at the top end, but $1200 for an individual is less than -- you know, half a month's rent for many people in this area.
KAINEAnd when you think about grocery expenditures or you think about childcare expenditures that people now have when their kids are out of school. It's entirely insufficient. And it also cuts out the lowest wage workers, people who are working and making very little money are not eligible to receive cash payment. We should be -- the heart of this package should be to backstop the earnings lost by low and middle income people 100 percent. Not, you know, two weeks of rent in a presidentially declared national emergency that could go on for three months. So we should be setting the goal of backstopping the financial losses experienced by low and middle income families 100 percent.
KAINEThe plan has loans for small businesses. That does need to be a key component. I worry that the proposal is too heavily focused on the loan side, because if we get through this emergency and small businesses limp through it and then they get out of it. And they just have a lot more debt on their balance sheet. That's not going to be positive. The proposal to help big businesses, we need to help the airline industry and others, but it's too much money and too little strings. We saw when we gave the unnecessarily tax break to big businesses they used it for things like stock buybacks. If they're going to get money in this proposal it should be to protect their workers.
KAINEAnd then finally, Kojo, what's not in the proposal. Here are two really important things that are not in the proposal. We should be during this presidential emergency protecting everybody from defaults, evictions and foreclosures. And that means renters and it means homeowners and it means the corner shop owner or the restaurant owner. We should protect everyone, businesses and residents from evictions, foreclosures and defaults during the period of this presidential declared emergency. There's nothing in the bill to do that.
KAINEAnd the second thing that's not in the bill at all is child care. The one area of our economy that is going to see an upsurge in hiring potentially is healthcare, because there is a huge healthcare need. But a lot of our healthcare workers have kids who schools have been closed. And so at a minimum we need to provide some expansion of childcare during this emergency so that our healthcare workers and other critical workers can have child care so that they can continue to do their jobs.
NNAMDIPat in Alexandria, Virginia has a comment about the stimulus package. Pat, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATHi. I have two questions. First, I agree with you about backstopping lost income. So to me instead of giving everybody a check it would make more sense to expand the existing unemployment compensation system both in terms of the people, who are covered such as independent consultants and in terms possible of the duration for which benefits would be available. And then the second question relates to what you said about strings for large corporations. Would Congress consider asking companies or requiring companies, whose officers make more than say a million dollars a year, to voluntarily reduce their compensation and to put the savings into either avoiding layoffs or providing an income for people, who have been laid off?
KAINEYeah, Pat, both parts of the question are really important. So on the individual side I agree that just the one, you know, check that you would get as an individual that would like be for two weeks rent that's not going to be sufficient. We should say the goal is to backstop lost earnings. And you raise a really good point about the current unemployment insurance system. It applies to a smaller and smaller percentage of Americans. It doesn't apply to -- in an easy fit to people have multiple part-time jobs, to Uber drivers, to Independent Contractors, to gig workers. And so you have to make sure that you're backstopping all lost earnings and so you're very right about that.
KAINEAnd with respect to the strings on it -- yes, it is likely that there will be strings on compensation of the highly compensated executives. But we also, I think, really need -- and there are some strings on that in the original GOP proposal, probably not sufficient. But the area where it's weak is it's not really requiring that the dollars be used to protect the employees and the payroll, and we really need to make that the key.
KAINEThe tax break -- the tax cut bill that was done by the Republicans in the White House in 2017 didn't include such strings and it was hastily put together. And so what we saw is airlines, for example, using the money not to protect their employees, but to do stock buybacks. And we have to make sure if we're going to, you know, basically support them yet again that the dollars go to support their employees.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Pat. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODSenator, your colleague Congressman Don Beyer was on the show last week when he was self-isolating himself. He said this morning in a message that he thought the president should act quickly on the Defense Production Act. Not to get too wonky about it, but that would allow private corporations to pivot and start making the supplies that we need. Where are you on that?
KAINEI think that Don is right on that. And, Tom, let me just tell you. I was on a conference call yesterday. Senator Warner and I, we're keeping social distance, but basically we're just on the phone all day long. And we talk to Virginia hospitals. And it just was so shocking to her their stories. You know, we don't have tests at all. We were given enough tests for 40 people and we asked our supplier, We'd like more, they said, We don't have more. We have the tests, but we don't have the swabs that we can use to, you know, to get the sample from the patient that we can use on the test, or we have the test, but we don't have the chemical reagents that we need to run the swabs to determine whether somebody is infected. We don't have masks.
KAINEIt was painful that in the United States of America hospitals in a fairly well-off state. I mean, Virginia is top quarter per capita income are lacking basic supplies, and some of that is because overtime a lot of the supply chain for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, medical supplies is overseas in nations that are under their own intense healthcare need right now. And if they need supply for themselves they're going to do that first before they export to us.
KAINESo I think there is an immediate and then a longer term question about whether we need to consider the supply chain for medical devices, pharmaceuticals and supplies, kind of like we consider, you know, weapons manufacturing. We don't make weapons in other nations that are adversaries, because we consider it a national security issue. And we may need to do the same here. And the DPA is one way to accelerate that.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood mentioned politics. That's what Glenn in Alexandria, Virginia wants to object to. Glenn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GLENNGreat. Thank you. Hello, Senator Kaine. So yeah, I mean, when you first came on you spent several minutes attacking President Trump. You know, to me it seems like water under the bridge. And, you know, I'm no fan of the president, but I would prefer that my senators and representatives spend more time on looking for solutions than, you know, going back weeks and finding fault.
NNAMDITim Kaine, how do respond to that?
KAINELook, finding solutions is why we passed a half billion dollars supplemental appropriation bill two weeks ago to put money into the public health network. And it's also why we passed two days ago a significant bill to deal with unemployment and sick leave. But I still have hospitals, Glenn, that can't get masks. I have hospitals that cannot test people when Americans are used to being tested. They go to a doctor and say, I think I have the flu. I think I have pneumonia. I think my kids have strep throat. When they watch other nations testing their populations and then they see the president on TV saying, it's a hoax, you don't need to worry about it, and, oh, by the way, everybody can be tested. And they're being told that's not the case. This president has dramatically amped up the hysteria.
KAINEI mean, I don't think any American should just sit back and be complacent and say, oh, it's normal that our response should be so far behind nations like South Korea and Australia. We're not going to have a response in some ways like a China or a Singapore, because they are more authoritarian nations and they're going to do some things that we are not going to be able to do with the consent of the governed.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you wanted to say.
KAINEBut a South Korea or an Australia? I just don't think Americans should take it sitting down that we were basically lied to for six to eight weeks and now we find ourselves so far behind.
SHERWOODSenator, I did ask you that political question along with the policy question, but now I want to ask you a personal question. We talked to Don Beyer about the impact on him, and he acknowledged that being a well to do person was far less than on others. As you've traveled in the state and talked to people around the state, the personal stories are very important, families trying to do what they can. Have you yourself, your family, have you had any particular issues? How are you personally managing and coping with this when you have to be out in public for the Senate job? But also you have to live your family life.
KAINEWell, Tom, that's a good question, and, you know, the issue isn't me. It's more others, but I have basically been sick for about seven weeks. I got diagnosed with the flu in the middle of -- flu type A in the middle of February and was on a, you know, medication deal with that. And then when I got over that I've had a cough, chest congestion, and so I've been talking to my doctor for the last seven weeks trying to get over what I have.
KAINENow I haven't had the core symptoms of coronavirus. I haven't had a fever and I haven't had a dry cough and I haven't had shortness of breath. Nor have I been exposed to anybody that I know has coronavirus. So I haven't sought a test. But, you know, I've been trying to both get well myself, so I can do my job. I've been doing my job. I've been following my doctor's advice. I got members of my direct family, who have lost their jobs at least temporarily because of this.
KAINESo I'm like every American family. I mean, my family is like every American family. My wife is a university president at George Mason, who has spent all of her time -- she's an interim president for a year trying to figure out what to do with that institution of 38,000 students. Students who were abroad who are trying to come home. Foreign students, who are here who are worried about going back to their homes, which are in countries that have coronavirus, but maybe don't have the healthcare options we do.
KAINESo I'm just like every American family now dealing with it in my own life and dealing with it here. We are trying very hard to be responsive to pass the first bill to put money into the public health infrastructure, to pass the second bill dealing with unemployment insurance and sick leave. And now to deal with this economic backstop that is going to be so critical. So, yeah, everybody right now their personal and professional lives are all wrapped up with can we get over the public health crisis and can we protect the American economy?
NNAMDISenator Kaine, I know you're in a very tight timeline at this point, but several of our callers and emailers raise a question about this. I'll just read what Bill emails. "There are news reports that some senators have used their privilege insider information to protect their stock portfolios. Will you support investigations of these allegations under the stock trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012?"
KAINEAbsolutely, Kojo, I was outraged when I saw these stories last night. You know, they're stories and people need to tell their side of the story, but the Senate Ethics Committee at a minimum needs to investigate. We had our first presentation from the White House on the 24 of January. I'm on the Health Committee. I'm on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The two committees together held a hearing that was available for all senators, not senate staff, but all senators to get briefed from the administration, and it was very apparent at that time how serious it was going to be.
KAINEThat may be why you could hear the emotion in my voice as I responded to Glenn's question. We had the administration telling us how serious this was likely to be at the same time that the president was out there saying it was a hoax and we didn't need to worry about it. And I'm furious about the fact that we lost time. But that members would sit through that hearing and then go out and try to make money off it, at the same time as they were parroting the president's misstatements about the severity of this, I'm deeply deeply worried about it. The Senate Ethics Committee needs to investigate this.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have.
SHERWOODSenator, I know you have to go. Can I get one quick question in, Senator?
KAINESure, and I'll answer a question.
SHERWOODOkay. Joe Biden swept Virginia in the Democratic primary. He said he wants to pick a woman to be vice president. You were the vice presidential candidate in 2016. Who would you recommend?
KAINEOh, my gosh. Too many of them I like, but I do think the vice president is very smart on that. If you look at, you know, A., the great candidates that he would have to choose from who would be super qualified to do the job. But you also look at, B., who are Democratic voters? Who have been Democratic voters, year after year after year after year? I was so proud to be on a ticket with the first woman nominee to be president, and I would've loved to had the chance to support her in doing a good job as president on issues like COVID-19 response. But I think the vice president is smart to be looking that direction. And he's got excellent choices out there.
NNAMDITim Kaine is a U.S. senator, representing Virginia. He is a Democrat. Senator Kaine, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIYou're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Joining us now by phone is Nancy King, the Senate majority leader of the Maryland Senate. She's a Democrat representing district 39 which is Montgomery County. Senator King, thank you very much for joining us.
NANCY KINGThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we start talking about what the Maryland General Assembly did, Tom Sherwood, let's talk about what the D.C. Council did. The D.C. Council passed an emergency bill having to do with the economic downturn that the city is seeing as a result of the coronavirus. What would that emergency legislation do?
SHERWOODWell, Kojo, it's a nice example of how a lot of the local politics was put aside for this virus. And the mayor and the council worked together well, even though the mayor and Council Chairman Mendelson do not have a very good relationship, if one at all. But the emergency legislation empowers the mayor to be more -- to take stronger actions. She initially started out by asking businesses to close, recommending that people don't gather. And the, with more power she was able to say, you must do this, and we will take action if you don't close, those types of things.
SHERWOODThere's an emergency power for extending social benefits to families and most in need so they will not lose out on monies and what food stamp, SNAP coupons can buy or not buy. There's just a -- it's a three- or four-page list of things that were done to try to keep the society working while we get through the virus.
NNAMDIAnd now we turn to Maryland Senate Majority Leader Nancy King. Senator King, according to the Baltimore Sun, the Maryland legislature passed more than 650 bills in the last three days. So, I've got to ask...
KING(overlapping) We sure did.
NNAMDI...I've got to ask, did you read all of them? (laugh)
KINGI have to say no, I sure did not. It just went so fast. We spent about five days, 15 hours a day on the floor. And things were moving so quickly that, no, I for sure didn't get to read them all. And will be interested to see, when we finally get the report done at the end, actually, what we did do, because it was kind of a blur there at the end. (laugh)
NNAMDIBut what were those final three days like? How did you strategize on which bills to focus on?
KINGWell, the main things we had to do, we had to get a balanced budget done. That's the thing, constitutionally, that we have to do. So, that was number one. And I think number two was we really wanted to get this Kirwan Commission bill, the education plan. We wanted to get that propped (sounds like) before we went home, mainly to get the policy part of it into place. We weren't really as concerned about funding at all at this point, knowing that the economy could take a bad turn on this. But we wanted to at least have the policy part in place. So, those were our two major priorities.
KINGBut then there were just a lot of bills that people really felt strongly about that we just -- each committee just worked like crazy to get out what they could. And we have to really trust in the committee system that it will all work out.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODSenator King, thank you for joining us today. It's unfortunate the virus has overtaken the country and the world. But this has been a historic session of the legislature with a new House speaker, a new Senate president, a more aggressive Assembly, maybe, than the last few years, cooperation with Republican Governor Hogan where you need to, but a great deal was done. What is your feeling about how this legislature worked, other than to speed up the last hundreds of bills?
KINGI think it went really well.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) How did it work?
KINGI mean, it was just historic in that, you know, Mike Miller, the Senate president, had been there for 33 years, and had just run things like a well-oiled machine. So, we got a new Senate president, Phil Ferguson, who jumped into that and was, like, right on the note from the second he started, like he'd been there forever. It was just astonishing, really. And so he's such a bright young man that he jumped into those shoes really easy.
KINGAnd the same with Adrienne Jones. Mike Bush was an icon in the House, and Adrienne Jones jumped in and really -- she's just doing an amazing job over there. Plus, we had a lot of new leadership people. Years ago, when I first came to the legislature, we had the same people that were in leadership for several years. And that's all gone. We have a lot of new people in there. And it was done amazingly well. Everybody worked hard. We've got smart people over there, and I was really impressed.
NNAMDIHow do you think...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're part of the old guard.
KINGI was one of the only ones left that was part of the old guard. But Mike took over the Senate majority leader position and kind of made that into a position that I'm pretty happy with. Senator Ferguson and I have a really good relationship, and he's really kind of given me free rein to help out in a lot of leadership issues. So, it worked out well for me, too.
NNAMDIWe're all, of course, focused on the coronavirus pandemic. How do you think Governor Hogan has handled it so far? Has he communicated with legislative leaders like yourself?
KINGHe hasn't with me, but he has worked really closely with the Senator president and the House speaker. And I think he's handled it really well. I think being the chair of the National Governor Association helped a lot in that he was kind of in tune with what was going on. I know he was speaking to Vice President Pence on a regular basis, so I think he has done for Maryland what we need to do or can do so far as to protect ourselves from this. So, I'm feeling really good about that. And I think we put some good things in place.
NNAMDII was about to say, you passed an emergency bill in response to the coronavirus. Can you tell us a little bit about what that bill does?
KINGWell, we authorized the governor to access about $50 million from the rainy day fund, so we figured that would help a lot. And then we also asked the governor to take a series of actions that would facilitate access to the healthcare and just to make sure that people could get the care they need for diagnosis and treatment. And I think that will help a lot.
NNAMDIHere now is Stephanie, in Gaithersburg. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHANIEHi. I'm a student at the University of Maryland, and I was wondering if other people in, like, the public University of Maryland system are going to get refunds for our room and board that we won't be using this semester because of the college closing. Because even though I think my family will be fine, I know a lot of people personally who could use that extra money in this time.
KINGI'm sure. I have not heard anything from the university system about that. I know they're going to be learning online from now until the end of the semester. But I have not heard anything so far about tuition and housing refunds.
SHERWOODSenator King, I think you were on the Budget Committee, the chair of the Budget Committee, but you're not, anymore.
SHERWOODThe legislature, politically, will have to come back, I think, in May, if you possibly can, to tie up some loose ends of this fast-paced ending that you did. What is your understanding there, and are you guys getting any kind of advice that this emergency will last far longer than the two or three or four weeks that people right now are expecting?
KINGWell, we've gotten some advice, but so much of it is speculation, because we really just don't know how long this will last. If you talk to some of the other countries, I guess they're saying that, you know, to look at more time than this, but so much of it is speculation. So, we will have to come back in May, most probably, to tie up any loose ends. We may have to adjust the budget, at that point, just depending on how things go between now and then. And we don't know whether the governor will pass the Kirwan -- the education bill. And so if he does, then we'll probably come back and override that veto.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned the Kirwan Commission, because in the education category, three major bills that passed, the first was the law implementing the Kirwan Commission's education recommendation, which would boost teacher pay, expand vocational training in high school and much more. What was it like, getting that passed in the last few days, and what changes did you make to the bill?
KINGOh, there were about 50 different amendments added onto the bill. That was what got so crazy, just little things that various different education groups saw that needed to be tweaked. Nothing really major, but just small tweaks here and there. I think the main reason we really wanted to get this passed -- because we don't know how long our kids are going to be out of school. We don't know how long it'll be before they get back into the classroom and back into the routine. But this plan is kind of a -- it's the blueprint. It's the guide for how we want to do education into the future. And what better time than to start right away, when the kids get back, to bring our kids back to where they need to be?
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODSenator King, getting the Kirwan bill done, and even the initial financing of it, there was concern and there were accommodations made for, like, Prince George's County and Baltimore, and they would not be able to...
NNAMDIOh, I think Tom Sherwood dropped off for a second there. He'll be...
KINGWell, I lost him, yes. (laugh)
NNAMDIHe'll be -- here he is.
SHERWOOD...would not be able to fund as much as the bill. Okay. Am I -- okay.
KINGWell, and there's a chance that that can happen.
SHERWOODI'm back. I'm back. I'm sorry, let me summarize my question. Some of the counties were...
NNAMDIOh, oh, we lost Tom...
SHERWOOD...their budgets now will be even worse, because of the virus. I mean, the District of Columbia is thinking it may have to cut -- I don't know what's happening here, folks.
NNAMDITom Sherwood's call is being interrupted.
NNAMDIWell, try it one more time, Tom. Oh, he's...
SHERWOODOkay. I think it's -- I believe it's -- okay. I apologize (all talking at once)...
NNAMDIYou should know that we're broadcasting from our homes, and so those...
SHERWOOD... (unintelligible) for the Kirwan report. Now, we'll have even less money than they thought.
KINGWell, I think that's why we may take a look in May, or we may have to take a look next year. We have the first two years of this blueprint plan. We have to have the first two years funded, already. So, the future funding is something that still needs to be worked on, and we have time to do that. But we did want to get the policy part of it passed, just so that we're ready to start on it when we need to.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, you know Governor Hogan has campaigned against the Kirwan Commission recommendations. What do you think he'll do when the legislation gets to his desk?
KINGWell, I think he'll take a good look at it. I think one of the reasons why he was concerned about it was how we were going to fund it. And, you know, he was worried about us raising taxes, and all of us were worried about raising taxes, too. In fact, most of the taxes that had been brought up got voted down. So, we wanted to be sure and have the policy plan in there. And we will work on funding it when we come back.
NNAMDIOur guest is Nancy King. She's the Senate majority leader of the Maryland Senate. She's a Democrat, representing district 39 which is in Montgomery County. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call. Here is Barbara in Bethesda, Maryland. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBARAHi, thank you. Yeah, Senator, the Maryland Department of Transportation has promised that their plan to add four private toll lanes to I-270 and the Beltway will not require taxpayers to subsidize the private toll company. But now we learn that customers at the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission, the WSSC, will have to pay $2 billion to move water and sewer lines to accommodate the highway construction. What are you going to do to make sure that the toll company pays these costs, and not the WSSC customers in Montgomery and PG Counties?
KINGWell, honestly, that's the first I've heard about it. But, for me, I will be working with anybody that we need to, to make this work out for us. I'm a big proponent of getting some changes on 270 and 495, especially 270. And I'm just willing to work with anybody that I can just to try and figure out what the best way is to get through this, and the easiest way for our residents.
KINGSo, my big concern is that there's been a lot of conversation over the last year or so of people just not wanting to do anything. And, for me, watching the traffic on 270 and listening to the employers that have employees having to do that traffic every single day, I just don't think that the answer is not doing anything. We have to move forward with some plan. And so I'm open to working with the state and with the citizen groups to find a solution. I think that's the only way to do it.
NNAMDIYeah, well, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission says that the water bills of residents of Prince George's and Montgomery Counties under the current plan are likely to go up by 277 percent. And I know that is something that would be of concern to you, since you are from Montgomery County yourself.
KINGAbsolutely. And my water bill's high enough. (laugh)
NNAMDIHere, now, is Claudia in Silver Spring, Maryland. Claudia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLAUDIAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wondered, I heard that the emissions testing stations are going to be converted into COVID-19 testing stations. I wondered when that's going to happen. Do we have to have symptoms in order to qualify to get a test, and what will the cost be?
NNAMDIDo you know, Senator King?
KINGWell, all of that is relatively new. I mean, they're working on it, and I know the state people are working on it now to get all the details figured out. And, so far, I don't have any more details than that. They don't have a date or how it's going to work yet, but that's what they're working on.
NNAMDIYou should know all of our listeners...
KINGSo, hopefully it'll be soon.
NNAMDI...you should know, all of our listeners, that because of the coronavirus, Tom Sherwood and I are both joining this broadcast from our homes. And so when you hear Tom's call drop for a minute, that's because we're still working out some of the kinks. This is the first time we've ever done this, but it looks as if we'll be doing it for a while to come. So, those kinks will be worked out. But it's my understanding that Tom Sherwood is back. Tom.
SHERWOODI am back, thank you. Senator King, I'll ask you, as I've asked other people, you have three daughters, you have grandchildren. What can you tell us about your personal situation as you've been trying to deal with the virus? So many people are trying to juggle so many responsibilities.
KINGWell, it was a worry for me, being in Annapolis all week. Of course, we -- and though the public wasn't happy with it, we kept people out so that we could just be in there and get our business done and go home. But it was a concern for my family, for me to be in Annapolis, and them to be home. And I have a daughter and a granddaughter that live here with me at my home. And we're going to just stay put where we are, until further notice.
KINGBut my concern in my neighborhood, and in Montgomery County -- I'm sure it is everywhere -- is people aren't taking this seriously enough. You see the crowds of people out. We've had kids out at the schools, playing football and soccer, all in a crowd. And I understand that parents will get frustrated having their kids in the house and home with them all the time, but this is serious. It's not a joke, and it's not an overreaction. And people need to stay home and keep themselves safe. And what we're told from every expert is that the only way we're going to be able to stop the spread of this virus is for us to stay home and let it level out. And so I'm doing my part and staying home.
NNAMDIHere is Moez in Hyattsville, Maryland. Moez, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOEZHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. My question to the senator leader is, we heard like we're dropping a lot of fees like late fees for a lot of things you do or foreclosures. And we are stopping them. Why -- I mean, we are (unintelligible) to the new rental, because I'm about to renew my rental. And there is another $50. And why we don't freeze the rental...
NNAMDIYou're saying that you have a new rental, or you're about to renew your rental and they're about to add a $50 fee for your renewal?
MOEZYeah, that is $50 every month because every time we renew the rental, they make it, you know, more than...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Senator King, is that something the legislation is supposed to address?
KINGNot that I know of, no. I'm not sure what the situation is there, but I don't think we passed anything to do with that. One piece of legislation we did pass was to make sure there was no price gouging, that people couldn't just jack the price up on things that people needed just to survive this thing. So, I think that's something we need to keep an eye out for, but we did passed legislation to make sure that wouldn't happen.
SHERWOODSenator, you live in Montgomery County, you represent a substantial portion there in district 39. How is County Executive Marc Elrich doing in what he's doing on a county level? Are you keeping up with that?
KINGWell, I've gotten a couple different emails from Mr. Elrich. He's, of course, just -- he's following everything that's going on at the state level. And I think our county health people are really on top of things, as far as the county goes. And, you know, this is all so new. It's not like there's any guidebook that tells you how to do it. So, we're kind of -- all of us just kind of taking a day at a time and figuring things out as we go, and all sticking together.
KINGAll of us are at home, working. I've been on the phone half the day with people calling about various different issues and wanting to know if I can help. And we've been given some phone numbers and people to call through various different things that we get calls about. And that's just what we're going to do, is -- the constituent service is huge, at this point. It's what we're here for, so that's what we're doing.
NNAMDIThe legislature passed a bill that would provide $580 million to Maryland's historically black colleges and universities. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. How did it finally gain bipartisan support?
KINGWell, it's a case that's been going on for 16 years, for a lot of the time that I've been in the legislature. And we've tried so hard over the years to find a way to make that fair for everybody. And I think we just got to the point where this was a decent settlement. I know there were lots that would like to have had more money put into that, but I think this is fair, and so did everyone else. And we've decided to just go along with it. And I think the black caucus was very happy with the result, and that way we can move on to other subjects.
SHERWOODSenator, I had to go back to the virus again, but Governor Hogan had said this week, last couple of days, the state is short about 6,000 hospital beds. In your constituent calls, are you getting calls from particularly senior citizens, and are people -- everyone is subject to get this virus but are you getting any particular calls from senior citizens?
KINGNo, not really. The main calls that I'm getting is people that are worried about whether they're going to be able to get tested or not. And I don't think, at this point, that we have the number of test kits and supplies that we need to have. And I know that people are working like crazy to find a way to make that happen. That's the most calls I get.
KINGBut I've had a lot of people calling me, asking about whether barbershops are open and what's closed and where they are allowed to go and where they're not allowed to go. And, you know, if it's an emergency, if you need something from the grocery store or you need to go and get medicine from the pharmacy, then, by all means, go out and do it and then go home. But if you don't have to be out, I would say stay home and keep not only yourself, but your neighbors safe.
NNAMDIGovernor Larry Hogan postponed the April 28th primary to June 2nd. He did not postpone the special election for the 7th Congressional District, but is shifting to mail-in ballots. Is it your understanding, the Board of Elections is equipped to do that?
KINGI'm hearing that they are, and we passed legislation so that the postage -- it'll be postage paid for -- anybody can do an absentee ballot. So, we're hoping that it'll be successful, that people will be able to vote, and their vote's heard.
NNAMDIWe got an email from one listener, who said: I'd like to know what'll happen if the country is not physically able to go out and vote for the presidential election in November. Is the government set up for citizens to vote electronically? Well, obviously, we're not there, as yet, but I guess, Senator King, you're hoping we will be.
KINGI'm definitely hoping we will be, yes.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about 30 seconds left.
SHERWOODWell, I think she -- any brief message to your constituents and to the people in Maryland that you believe everything is being done that can be done. Are you worried that not enough is being done?
KINGI really believe that everything that can be done is being done. And, as I said, we're learning more every day. And as we learn things that we have to do, we just have to do it.
KINGAnd we're committed to that.
NNAMDI...Nancy King is the majority leader of the Maryland Senate. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIThis show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, the coronavirus has thrown the digital divide into stock relief. What can be done to close it? Plus, the arts industry is bracing for the long-term economic impact of cancellations, as concert goers and art lovers stay home to avoid COVID-19. How is the entire arts ecosystem dealing with this disruption? That all starts at noon, on Monday. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy your weekend. That also goes for you, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThank you very much, and the best to everyone.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
People are forced to change their spending habits. How long will it last?
What to do if you think you're infected, when a vaccine may be ready, how to "distantly socialize" and flatten the curve. It's your turn to ask questions about coronavirus and get answers.
Set a daily routine. Monitor your media intake. Exercise. And remember that social distancing doesn't mean cutting off social contact.