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House Democratic Leadership Lays Out Coronavirus Aid Proposal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

From Capitol Hill to the White House to Wall Street, everyone is trying to figure out how to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the fallout that's coming with it. At the White House today while meeting with the Irish prime minister, President Trump tried to, once again, reassure nervous investors as the Dow plunged.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have remember the stock market, as an example, is still much higher than when I got here. And it's taking a big hit, but it's going to all bounce back, and it's going to bounce back very big at the right time.

CHANG: And in a news conference at Capitol Hill, this morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out the House Democrats' plan to ease the economic pain that has come with the virus.

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NANCY PELOSI: We have to operate not as business as usual, but in an emergency status where we have to get the job done.

CHANG: Democrat Katherine Clark of Massachusetts is the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and she joins me now from the Capitol. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KATHERINE CLARK: Thank you, Alisa.

CHANG: All right, it looks like this proposal your caucus has put together could amount to the largest government intervention in the economy since the 2008 financial crisis. Are you telling Americans with this bill that the situation really is that bad?

CLARK: We know that we cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in this country is tested and that they know they can get their test free of charge. And we cannot slow the outbreak, which is critical for us to do at this juncture in this pandemic, when workers are stuck between the terrible choice of staying home or avoiding spreading illness.

CHANG: But the scale of the assistance that this bill is asking for is tantamount to what - how much the government intervened in the economy since the 2008 financial crisis. Is that - are you saying that the situation that we are in is commensurate with that?

CLARK: We are. We are saying that we want people to prepare, not panic. But at the same time, we know that slowing this outbreak is going to mean social distancing, and that is going to put people into a terrible choice. Do they stay home to avoid spreading the illness and forego the paycheck their family can't afford to lose? So we are putting forward this piece of legislation to tell the American people that we are putting their interests first. That is our...

CHANG: Do you know how much this legislation, how much this proposal is actually going to cost?

CLARK: We do not because we do not know the full extent of how this pandemic is going to play out. But what we do know...

CHANG: Well, how responsible does it feel to make a policy without knowing how much the policy will cost?

CLARK: It is our absolute responsibility to take actions of this degree and this magnitude when we are facing a crisis like this. We have squandered the chance when this administration did not proceed with containing this virus with the proper testing that was needed. And now we are in a situation where we have to take dramatic changes in our lifestyles, move to social distancing, and that is going to take a real economic toll on families.

CHANG: Well, Republicans are pushing back. They say that this bill is opportunistic, that Democrats are taking advantage of a public health crisis to advance long-term Democratic goals like federal guarantees for paid leave. What do you make of that argument against this bill?

CLARK: It is way past time that the Republican colleagues take their heads out of the sand. This pandemic cannot be wished away. The president is approaching this like he's approached everything. Let's build a wall. What we heard him say last night was this is a foreign virus and institute travel bans. That's not how public health works. We have to put the American people first, give them the resources and the tools to help stop the spread of this virus.

CHANG: Well, in order to give the American people the resources and the tools, President Trump is saying he's not going to support this measure. So what compromises are Democrats willing to make to ensure that some assistance package can get quickly passed?

CLARK: We have been working, and we will continue to work with the administration and our colleagues across the aisle to make sure that we have free testing, that we have paid emergency leave and unemployment insurance and that we're strengthening families' ability to get food and clear protections for frontline workers. These are the basics that American...

CHANG: All right.

CLARK: ...People need, and we have to make sure that we get this done today.

CHANG: We'll have to leave it there. That's Democrat Katherine Clark of Massachusetts. Thank you very much.

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