With coronavirus cases and deaths rising across the South and West, calls are growing louder for another economic stimulus, as well as an extension of the unemployment benefits that expire this month, as Congress returns from recess. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Sen. Ed Markey about his plans to push for more assistance, as well as the ongoing Senate race between him and Rep. Joe Kennedy III. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: I saw a video of the fundraiser you held yesterday at Gracie's Ice Cream in Somerville. I was a little jealous I missed all the fun.
Sen. Ed Markey: Yeah, it was incredible. There were a couple of hundred people who safely distanced, came and bought a new ice cream they put together: Green New Deal With It Mint Chip ice cream. They raised several thousand dollars for the Black Lives Matter movement. And it was great — great ice cream. It was a great cause to be part of. I drove an ice cream truck to afford my way through college, so it was it was great. I consider myself an ice cream aficionado, but putting together the Green New Deal With It Mint Chip ice cream in the Black Lives movement for a good cause was just a great afternoon.
Mathieu: Well, I'm just going to be so bold enough to say that you're talking to another ice cream aficionado here, so let's get to it.
We're looking, Senator, at some very troubling numbers this morning: 64,000 more coronavirus cases in the US, [and] death rates rising in more than a half-dozen states. The mayor of Los Angeles says he may have to issue another stay at home order. The virus is still surging. Are you worried our economy may have to shut down again the next few months?
Markey: Well, we'll have to shut down wherever there are governors and mayors irresponsibly following the guidance of Donald Trump, who is not modeling what all of the best medical advice says that we should do — which is wear masks, self distance, be careful. He just continues to say as recently as yesterday, we know it's just going to disappear at some point. All of that is causing, obviously, crisis-like conditions across the Sunbelt. We can see it.
In Massachusetts, we've been managing it. I think that the message in our state is to be careful, self distance, don't go out if you don't have to. And this is going to be a real challenge, because ultimately it could cause a boomerang effect that comes out of those red states and comes right back towards the blue states again because of interstate travel. And I am very concerned because Trump has been acting in a criminally negligent way. He continues to do so. His demonization of Tony Fauci [and] his denier-in-chief role in our country, I think, is sending the wrong message to too many people who are not listening to the best medical advice.
Mathieu: And so you and many others think that we need another stimulus, another relief package. What would it look like, and should it include direct checks to Americans once again?
Markey: Well, I'm going down again to Washington this week in order to work on a new coronavirus stimulus package. Until recently, Mitch McConnell was saying the cities and towns should just declare bankruptcy, the states should declare bankruptcy, if they don't have enough money. That's, of course, completely and totally irresponsible.
So we're going to have to provide the federal funding — a minimum of $1 trillion in funding for cities and states — so that they don't have to lay off teachers, public safety, health care workers. The president says on the one hand, open the schools, and on the other hand has been saying, but no funding for local communities, when clearly that's going to be much more complicated.
We need to extend the $600 unemployment insurance benefits through at least January of next year. We have to extend the eviction ban so that people don't have to worry that they're going to be thrown out on the streets. And we have to vastly expand federal funding for testing, tracing and for personal protective equipment so that we can deal with this issue.
And I would also say that the president has to invoke the Defense Production Act. There are nurses right now in the Sunbelt that are using masks for days on end that they should not be wearing. And, in my opinion, we don't we don't need just a $1,200 additional one-time check, we need a $2,000 monthly payment that will go to each individual — $4,000 for a couple — in our country until we get to the other side of this crisis.
Mathieu: President Trump says he will not sign another stimulus, Sen. Markey, unless there's a payroll tax cut attached. Is that a deal breaker?
Markey: You never know with Donald Trump what a deal breaker is. He changes his mind so frequently that you never know what ultimately is a red line, so he should have already been negotiating. It hasn't even really started yet. That's why I'm going back down today to become hopefully a part of this process. But with Donald Trump, he doesn't really even know what he wants. He just draws lines and they immediately evaporate as soon as there's something newer and more interesting to him that shows up.
Matiheu: You're running for reelection in a race against Rep. Joe Kennedy III. You called him "a progressive in name only" during your last debate. And I know that you've known Joe Kennedy his entire life. He served with his father in the House. Do you believe Joe Kennedy is some sort of closeted conservative?
Markey: Well, being a progressive means that you lead on the issues and that you see the most pressing needs, the greatest challenges that Americans are facing and that you act. And Congressman Kennedy has not done that.
When Congressman Kennedy had a chance to talk about the climate crisis in his response to Trump's State of the Union, he didn't even mention the climate crisis. When he was a lawyer just before he ran for Congress, he was working for a right-wing Republican district attorney on Cape Cod — the most right-wing district attorney in a generation in our state. When he had a chance to cast a vote on whether or not to provide military weapons to local police, he voted to do so on the floor of the United States Congress.
These are issues on which we differ, but it's also a question of leadership. On top of that, in terms of my ability to get big laws passed and make a big difference in the lives of families in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Mathieu: It sounds like you do believe he's a closet conservative.
Markey: Well, he is not the progressive leader that our state needs at this time, especially with Donald Trump in the White House. He has not demonstrated that, and I have over and over again demonstrated that leadership ability.
Mathieu: You released your tax returns on Friday, Senator. You're calling on Congressman Kennedy to release his. Reportedly, he plans to do that this week. Is there anything you'll be looking for?
Markey: Well, I just think that we should be transparent with the people in Massachusetts. They have a right to know where our income is derived, who we are, and I hope that Congressman Kennedy releases his taxes, as have I.
Mathieu: Are you concerned the race may come down to a purity test, Senator, or is that the point?
Markey: No, the question is just transparency. It's just transparency. It's just that the people in our state have a right to know, in the same way that Donald Trump doesn't want to release his taxes, we need to make sure that the people in Massachusetts, especially, have access to all of the information which they need.
Mathieu:Senator Ed Markey, as he mentioned, is on his way back to Washington now in the middle of this reelection campaign and also in the middle of the debate over a second stimulus. We'd love to stay in touch with you, Senator, on progress there as we head into the fall with a lot of great unknowns.
Markey: Thank you so much. We are absolutely in the middle of a crisis and I'm returning to Washington for maybe the biggest challenge of my entire career: to make sure that our country is able to make it through a pandemic which has caused an economic crisis with an overlay of a racist president who is absolutely criminally negligent in the way he's been handling all of these crises.
And so I'm gonna be down there fighting and working for the people of Massachusetts for the next couple of weeks to hopefully put together a package that will help every family in the Commonwealth and the country.