House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on Congress to pass a $1 trillion relief package that would go directly to states and local governments. And while some Republicans on Capitol Hill are balking at that number, Rep. Ayanna Pressley has been calling for special attention to go toward some of our most vulnerable frontline workers. WGBH News Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Pressley to learn more about what she wants to see in this next relief package and to get her response on another big story of the moment. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: I want to ask you right off the top if you're satisfied with Joe Biden's response to sexual assault allegations from a former staffer in the Senate. It's become a big story this morning, and he says that it never happened.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley: Well, honestly, I haven't even seen the news. I'm head down, focused on my district right now and how I can best support my constituents as we deal with the scale and scope of this pandemic and lobbying accordingly to make sure that the next relief package meets the needs of my district. So that's what I've been focused on.

Mathieu: Understood. And that's, of course, what I want to ask you about. But obviously, when the potential standard bearer, the apparent Democratic nominee is accused of something so severe, we wanted to make sure that we asked you about it. We'd love to get your response when you do hear more about that. A former staffer is making some very serious accusations. ... Well, Congresswoman, I guess we'll move on to other matters this morning. I'd like to ask you about that other possible round of relief funding. As I mentioned, Speaker Pelosi wants a trillion dollar package, and you've said that you want to require that employers offer emergency paid sick leave.

Pressley: Absolutely. Last week, Sen. Warren, Rep. Ro Khanna and myself introduced the Essential Workers Bill of Rights. And just to be clear, we didn't just get the memo that essential workers are essential. Unfortunately, they have been treated as if they are disposable for a very long time. And in the midst of this crisis, I think the critical role that they play in the community and ... the fact that they're putting themselves in harm's way — that point has been made more acutely. And so they deserve health and safety protection, robust premium compensation, protections for collective bargaining agreements and universal paid sick leave, family and medical leave. Whistleblower protections — I could go on — support for child care.

We just need to honor them and treat them with the dignity and the protections that they deserve. And I see paid sick leave as being one of those things that we should make sure they all have. I've gotten calls from essential workers at 11 o'clock at night saying I don't feel well, but I've been told I need to report to work tomorrow. The schools are closed, and I'm a single parent. I don't have anyone to take care of my child. Can you promise me that if I stay home because I don't feel well and I need to care for my child that I won't lose my job? And it breaks my heart that I can't give them that guarantee when they are putting themselves in harm's way. They need PPE as well. They're very afraid about not only putting themselves at risk, but putting their families at risk when they return home.

Mathieu: We're talking grocery store workers, janitorial staff, tipped restaurant workers, Congresswoman. Should they essentially be treated like first responders?

Pressley: Oh, absolutely. I would include custodians in that as well. Again, they are essential. Whether you're a grocery store clerk, whether you are a custodian, whether you are a home care aide [or] whether you're a transit driver, these are all essential jobs because again, they're keeping us going. And they've always done that, but that is especially true in the midst of this pandemic.

Mathieu: More than 60,000 Americans have died now in this pandemic. I think it's 63,000 this morning, Congresswoman. More than a million people are infected nationwide. You took a lot of criticism recently and were, in fact, labeled "villain of the week" by Fox News for suggesting that President Trump's response has been akin to war crimes when you look at the number of dead. That is a serious allegation. What did you mean by that?

Pressley: Well, I think the constant science denials, dangerous predictions of alternative cures [and] the sluggish response, it's criminal negligence and it has cost us tens of thousands of lives. That's what I meant. And so I do think that that is criminal.

Mathieu: Do you feel like Gov. Baker and local authorities are doing a good job trying to take care of Massachusetts, Congresswoman, if the federal government is not?

Pressley: Well, I partner certainly with Gov. Baker and all the mayors throughout the Massachusetts 7th congressional district. As much as I'm tempted to have a permanent heartbreak in the midst of this pandemic given the scale and scope of this unprecedented hurt, my heart is also made full by the unprecedented coordinating that we see happening. And it's unfortunate that states have to stand in the gap in this way. The fact that Donald Trump said that the federal government is the backstop. No, you're supposed to lead from the front, and we're supposed to be ahead of any crisis, especially a pandemic.

But we have been from the beginning in the unenviable and the worst position possible: being behind. So we're playing catch up. The fact that the last relief bill did not include aid for states and municipalities when they are going bankrupt, the federal government is supposed to be leading. They're not supposed to be the backstop. But states and cities, including in our own commonwealth and the mayors that I work with throughout our district, have been stepping up and standing in that gap because they know that lives are quite literally at stake.

Mathieu: If I could ask you Congresswoman as well, we learned recently about 600 inmates now have been released from state prisons since a court ruling allowed that to happen to slow the spread. It's something you've been calling for. Should that ruling be expanded?

Pressely: Let me to say, in the same way that we recognize that there are vulnerable populations — the virus doesn't discriminate [and] anyone can contract the virus — but there are certainly some populations that are more vulnerable and more susceptible given congregate living situations. So I advocated for those individuals experiencing homelessness and for their shelter system to have the resources that they need — to be able to get them a billion dollars in one of the relief packages. We need to do more so that they can employ containment and mitigation strategies. You see what's happening in our nursing homes — also congregate living situations — and I joined legislative efforts to make sure that we were collecting data of infection rates in our nursing homes and then recalibrating our public health response in real time. That is now happening. Health and Human Services is doing that with our nursing homes.

And so I'm asking the same for another vulnerable population: incarcerated men and women. It is overcrowded, densely populated. They're not equipped to be hospitals, and they often don't have sanitary environments to do the things that [are] necessary to stay safe and healthy. And they certainly can't be physically distant. So out of concern for our incarcerated men and women and also our corrections officers and the staff who work there, yes, I do think that we should be decarcerating, prioritizing elders — which is about 10 percent of the population who have underlying conditions which make them more susceptible — and looking at commuting the sentences for those that have less than a year of time left and who pose no threat.

And clemency, I do think we should be considering that. And just to be clear, I introduced the People's Justice Guarantee resolution several months ago, a radical reimagining of our criminal legal system. These things that I'm talking about now are consistent with that. And we were able to get, in one of the relief packages, $850 million for states and cities and $100 million for the Bureau of Prisons to make sure that staff have PPE, to do testing and containment or mitigation strategies. But it's not enough, and we see rates rising throughout our prisons. So I'm pushing the Federal Bureau of Prisons and also I'm lobbying and working with our governor closely when it comes to our state prisons. And I thank Rachel Rollins, our district attorney, for her leadership and her advocacy in this space.

Mathieu: She was just here talking about it last night on WGBH. I know we're talking about a lot of heavy stuff this morning, Congresswoman, so I'd love to just ask you before you leave us. I know you're home with a family. You've got a young daughter just like I do. How's the sequester going? Are you getting by in quarantine?

Pressley: I appreciate the question very much. Honestly, what I'm thinking about are the essential workers that we were just talking about. I'm fortunate. I can work from home, and that's not true for so many people. So we are adjusting to the constant co-habitating. My husband is on marathon Zoom meetings and teleconferences all day, and I'm doing the same. We're just feeling grateful that we're fortunate enough that we can work from home and that we can be together, and I'm just going to keep fighting for my district in unprecedented times.

I've got to say, I've been [in Congress] a little over a year. I came in in the midst of a federal government shutdown. A year to that date, I voted on articles of impeachment. Weeks after that, we said we were on the precipice of war and now we're in the midst of a pandemic. And people ask me all the time if I'm growing weary given these challenges that our country has been confronted with. And honestly, I'm more grateful, humbled and proud than ever to be serving right now, to be doing my best, to be a responsible and compassionate steward during this trying time for our country. So I'm doing all right and just trying not to eat everything!