Sen. Michael Bennet On The Presidential Transition, Pandemic Relief And What’s Next For The Senate

November 13, 2020
Sen. Michael BennetSen. Michael BennetDavid Zalubowski/AP
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., waits to speak during a car rally for Doug Emhoff, husband of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, at East High School, late Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in Denver. Motorists took part in the rally to urge people to get out and vote in the upcoming election.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election is “embarrassing to our country.”

In an interview with Colorado Matters, Bennet added that the concession is hindering the transition for President-Elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, especially when it comes to intelligence briefings and COVID-19 preparedness.

Bennet also said that now is a time for Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass another COVID-19 relief bill. He said he hopes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t get in the way of the passage of a new bill.

He also reflected that he had a good working relationship with the outgoing Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, but he looks forward to working with his former boss and new colleague John Hickenlooper come January. 


Interview Highlights

Bennet on the transition:

“Joe Biden needs to have access to the intelligence. I can tell you that being a member of the Intelligence Committee, it’s vital for him to have access to that intelligence, but more than that, it’s vital for him and for his people to have access to the people that are working on COVID.

You know, I guarantee you that 99.999 percent of the people that are working in the federal government want Joe Biden to have a successful transition, believe that he’s been elected president and want to get on with their jobs as well. So the fact that Donald Trump continues to play these games is not surprising to me, but it is I think compromising the ability of the new administration to get off on a good start.”

Bennet on a second COVID relief bill:

“Our pandemic is worse today than it has been at any time during the course of COVID. This is a time when we should be coming together to address that. So I hope Mitch McConnell won’t stand in the way, and I hope we can pass a bipartisan bill and get it to Donald Trump’s desk and if he’s unwilling to sign it to Joe Biden’s desk.”

Bennet on John Hickenlooper:

“I’m really looking forward to John Hickenlooper coming. He brings a wealth of experience from business and from being mayor, and governor of Colorado. And we were just on the phone last night talking about some things that we could work on together from constituent service to battling climate change. So there’s going to be a lot for us to do. I saw John earlier this week — he’s going to hit the ground running here.”


Interview Transcript

Avery Lill: Sen. Bennet, welcome back to the program.

Sen. Michael Bennet: It's great to be back with you, thanks for having me.

AL: You worked with president-elect Joe Biden during the Obama administration. You also ran against him during the Democratic primary. Is there a story about him that stands out in your memory that illustrates the type of leader you think he'll be?

MB: Something comes to mind right now, which is I talked to him when he was in Las Vegas and he had not done well in Iowa and New Hampshire, and basically he had almost been given up for dead and actually was losing in Nevada to Bernie Sanders. And you could hear in his voice, the exhaustion on some level, but also the relentlessness. And just a couple of weeks later, he won in South Carolina and put the rest of us in his rearview mirror because people believe that he was the one that had the best chance of beating Donald Trump. So I would say that relentlessness is what comes to mind, and it's a ... I think inspirational in part, because he's been doing this for so long.

AL: Under the Obama administration, you were considered for the secretary of education. If Joe Biden nominated you, would you accept?

MB: I don't think he's going to, so ... my intention is to run for reelection to the Senate and that's what I'm going to do.

AL: All right, and if the president-elect Biden asked you to help with the transition, would you? And in what capacity.

MB: I certainly would help with the transition. I'd help do anything to have him be successful and also to make this exercising self-government, that has been so destroyed by Donald Trump and compromised by Mitch McConnell begin to work again for the American people. That's really what we've got to do.

AL: Of course, President Trump hasn't yet conceded the election. Is his refusal to concede, hindering the transition?

MB: There's no question about it. it's embarrassing to our country. It's embarrassing to democracy. I was just stopped by reporters on my way back to my office, having voted on the floor, asking whether the Republicans that were now saying that the president-elect Biden should get the intelligence that he needs to do his job. But that they're not yet saying whether he elected the president, whether that's a way of saying that he's been elected. These kind of semantics are not what the country needs. Joe Biden needs to have access to the intelligence.

I tell you that being a member of the intelligence committee, it's vital for him to have access to that intelligence, but more than that, it's vital for him and for his people that have access to the people that are working on COVID. I guarantee you that 99.999 percent of the people that are working in the federal government want Joe Biden to have a successful transition, believe that he's been elected president and want to get on with their jobs as well. The fact that Donald Trump continues to play these games is not surprising to me, but it is I think compromising the ability of the new administration to get off on a good start.

AL: And you mentioned access to the experts in the pandemic, and that's something that he says is his top priority in the pandemic, including COVID relief. That's something that's stalled in Congress. How will he and the Democrats address COVID relief, especially if Republicans remain in control of the Senate.

MB: I think it's very important for us to be very clear with the American people about what's at stake in a new COVID bill so people really understand it. And it really is just a few things, but let me give you a couple of them. One is, our public health infrastructure in Colorado and in America is being deeply, deeply challenged by this pandemic. We don't have the contact tracing that we need.

We don't yet have the testing that we need. We don't have the infrastructure that we need to administer a vaccine when one is actually developed and all of that we could do with a COVID bill. And why is that important? It's important because the likelihood of our being able to not just open school, not just open businesses, but keep school and keep businesses open is going to turn on whether or not finally we can address the COVID crisis.

Like we're the most powerful country in the world instead of being managed by a crisis that Donald Trump has basically ignored. In addition, there's a lot of opportunity to provide assistance to people and to small businesses that are flat on their back because of COVID and need help getting through this economy because of what we did in the last COVID bill. Millions of Americans that would have fallen into poverty, have not.

Hundreds of thousands of small businesses that might have closed sending millions of people to unemployment rules have stayed around and we need to do it again if we're going to get through this crisis. Our pandemic, is worse today than it has been at any time during the course of COVID. This is a time when we should be coming together to address that. So I hope Mitch McConnell won't stand in the way, and I hope we can pass a bipartisan bill and get it to Donald Trump's desk. And if he's unwilling to sign it, to Joe Biden's desk.

AL: Now the potential price tag for that bill is part of what stalled it out in Congress, especially between Democrats and Republicans. Would you support a smaller package and one that would gain support from Republican-controlled Senate during the lame duck session?

MB: Well, I want to make sure that it's a package that's actually up to the task. Mitch McConnell is an absolute master at pretending that he's passing something that's useful for the American people, that in fact is not. So I'm not going to negotiate that on the radio, but I do think that it is ... it's very hard for me to believe that there's not a number that we could come to between where the house was and where others have been, that could achieve the objectives the American people need us to achieve.

AL: Aside from everything that's been going on nationally, you've also been working on the Colorado Outdoors Recreation and Economy Act that would protect large swaths of public land. It's passed in the house and it's set to get a hearing next week. What obstacles does it face in the Senate?

MB: Well, we're really excited about the CORE act, which would be the most important public lands bill that has been passed for Colorado the quarter of a century. It's got huge bipartisan support all across the state of Colorado and I think its biggest enemy is disfunction in the Senate [inaudible 00:06:17] everything else, that is what we've got to find a way over the long haul to correct. In the short-term, I'm extremely gratified that we're having a hearing next week for the CORE act. And my hope is that we can actually pass it either sometime before the end of this year or the first quarter of next year.

And when we do that, we will have protected 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, 70,000 of which is wilderness. And some of the most important watersheds that we have in the state of Colorado. And we will have anchored it all around the preservation of Camp Hale as a national historic landmark. That would be a really exciting thing for our veterans and for our outdoor rec industry.

AL: You and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner worked together on a number of priorities for the state. How do you think you'll work with your old boss and new junior Sen. John Hickenlooper? Have you spoken about what you might work on together?

MB: Well, Sen. Gardner and I had a good personal relationship, but we did work well together. I think I'm really looking forward to John Hickenlooper coming, he brings a wealth of experience from business and from being mayor and governor of Colorado. And we were just on the phone last night, talking about some things that we could work on together from constituent service to battling climate change. So there's going to be a lot for us to do and I saw John earlier this week, he's going to hit the ground running here.

AL: Do you have any advice for Hickenlooper on how to become an effective Senator?

MB: I'm not sure I'm in a position to give him advice. I guess that ... I think that is, stick to what you told the people of Colorado, make sure that you're representing everybody in the state, whether they voted for you or not, and things have a way of working out. And of course that's the way John has always approached the work. So I'm not sure he needs to take that advice from me, but I think we're lucky to have him in the Senate and we're lucky to have him representing Colorado.

AL: Well Sen. Bennet, thank you so much for your time.

MB: Thanks so much for having me. I hope everybody stays safe.