President Joe Biden is meeting with a group of Republican senators today to talk about a counterproposal to Biden's nearly $2 trillion stimulus plan, which many believe is already overdue. GBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, about where she stands on a potential stimulus compromise. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Republicans are proposing a smaller deal worth around $600 billion. Are you worried that this plan could be watered down?
Rep. Katherine Clark: Well, Joe, I think we have to decode some of the language Republicans are using to describe their plan. The word they're using is "targeted." But when we hear targeted, I think we have to think about who is that going to leave behind? At this point in the pandemic, we need to be putting every resource that we can muster into crushing this virus. So when you say targeted, are you saying that you are not going to fully fund the vaccination campaign? Or is it safely reopening schools? Is it feeding hungry families? We've seen a 59 percent increase in hunger here in Massachusetts since the beginning of this pandemic. Which part of addressing and crushing this virus are you willing to sacrifice for a lower price tag? So those would be my questions for my Senate Republican counterparts about their proposal.
Mathieu: Well, it's an interesting point. With the new administration there is, of course, going to be an attempt at compromise here. I just wonder where are you on the balance? As a Democratic leader in the House, how important is compromise — a bipartisan deal — versus getting the dollars out the door?
Clark: Our number one priority has to be getting this funding to the American people. We have waited for months and months to have the type of response that is needed. We are seeing that play out right now here at home in the vaccination program. We had a Trump administration and counterparts in the Senate who were not serious about getting the vaccinations in the numbers needed to develop herd immunity and stop the spread of this deadly virus. So in the last week that Joe Biden has been in the White House, he has taken enormous steps forward and we have to continue on that progress. This is about crushing this virus, getting people vaccinated, expanding testing, opening our schools — they can be the safest place in our communities — stabilizing child care [and] putting all the fundamentals in place to reopen our economy and get people back to work and back to physical health.
Mathieu: How large should checks be to individuals, Congresswoman? I know last time they weren't as large as some had hoped, but with a chance to do another round now, it's maybe something you won't have a chance to do again for months. Should those be $2,000 checks again?
Clark: I agree with the proposal put forth by Joe Biden: let's add to the $600 check that came and make sure that everyone gets a $2,000 dollar check who is eligible. We need to put money in the hands of people who are hurting, make sure they can afford the rent and the mortgage [and] make sure they can put food on the table while we work to get the vaccination program and the testing and treatment to a level where everyone can safely return to work or find new employment. These are the fundamentals of how we address this deadly virus. And my counterparts in the GOP are still holding over some of the very bad lessons they learned from the Trump administration that this will somehow magically go away. I stand with the Biden administration in saying this has to be our top priority and I do not believe we can overinvest in ending the suffering of the American people.
Mathieu: I'd like to ask you about security in the Capitol, Congresswoman. Now that the inauguration is behind us, we all remember those images from the attack on the Capitol and we are now seeing that fencing around the building will be made permanent around the Capitol building. There's a continued threat of violence, according to the FBI. There have been calls from members like yourself to have security details. Do you feel safe at work, and do you need a security detail as a member of the Democratic leadership?
Clark: Our goal and my goal as a member of the leadership team is to make sure that the Capitol is a safe and secure workplace. Obviously, that needs full investigation. I am very grateful to General Honoré, who is helping us look at security at the Capitol. We have to make sure that we are not only protecting members of Congress and our staff and the people who work in the Capitol itself, but that we in turn [protect] our democracy. The threats of violence continue. We see many members who have received serious threats.
Mathieu: But we're hearing reports as well that some members are threats themselves. The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, talked about this, pointing to Marjorie Taylor Green. Do you worry about people you're sharing the halls with?
Clark: Well, I do worry about members like Marjorie Taylor Green, who has been online condoning assassination and violence, denying that the mass shootings of Newtown and Parkland even took place, blaming Jewish bankers for forest fires in California. This is not only conspiracy theories run amok, but very dangerous behavior. And so the fact that we have members who are bringing guns to the floor of the House is a serious matter that we are addressing. And it all goes to not only making sure that our members of Congress and the staff that work in those buildings [are safe], but also making sure that our work continues and that what we saw on January 6th — an insurrection by a violent mob incited by [former President Trump] and enabled by those who continue to spread the big lie about our elections — never happens again. But it really comes down to: are Republicans going to tell the American people the truth? Are they going to side on science and facts about our election, and about the threat of this pandemic and climate change? Or are they going to continue to worship Trumpism over the needs of the American people?