Bennet: Senate Will ‘Walk And Chew Gum At The Same Time’ With Biden’s Priorities And Trump Impeachment

January 15, 2021
Cory Booker, Michael BennetCory Booker, Michael BennetJ. Scott Applewhite/AP
After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., join other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

The way Sen. Michael Bennet sees it, the Senate will both manage President Donald Trump’s trial for “clearly impeachable” offenses and move forward on the Biden administration’s agenda simultaneously.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time,” the Colorado Democrat said. 

“We are a nation of laws, not of men, and if we don’t reassert that in a moment like this — political violence is what tears apart democratic republics and we shouldn't think that we're immune from that. We're not immune from that. We saw that last week,” he said.

The trial won’t begin until after Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. Senate leaders are negotiating a schedule to provide time for those deliberations and for Biden’s priorities — approval of cabinet nominees, COVID-recovery and an economic stimulus package.

There’s also talk of delaying the trial for several weeks while the Senate moves ahead on Biden’s plans. It’s an idea Bennet is open to.

“I want to make sure that Joe Biden gets off to a fast start,” he said. “If that enables us to do it that might be something that we should do.”

Bennet said he’s talked with Biden’s team recently on several issues, including the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to move the headquarters of the U.S. Space Command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama.

“We are in close touch with the transition about the unfairness of this decision, the politicized nature of this decision … Colorado has been home to the Space Command for years and it should continue to be. We are home to an unparalleled combination of military and intelligence space entities. We've got the workforce, we've got the industry, we've got the experience and we've got an incredibly supportive community.”


Interview Highlights:

What he’s told the Biden transition team about Colorado:

“After 10 years of town halls what I’ve heard is people are working really hard but they can't afford some combination of health care, housing, higher education or early childhood education. They feel like no matter how hard they work, they can't afford the middle-class life. It’s tough to get the kids out of poverty and they need help. COVID has only made matters worse from a health care perspective, from an economic perspective and from a mental health perspective.”

On Biden’s stimulus package, which includes Bennet’s proposed tax credit for families with children.

“This piece of legislation, which is called the American Family Act … would cut childhood poverty in America by 42 percent. In Colorado alone, it would pull 50,000 kids out of poverty. It would give a middle-class tax cut to working people, to hundreds of thousands of families in the state of Colorado.”

On improved chances for legislation with a Democratic administration and Senate majority:

“...The CORE Act, which would be the most important public lands bill that we pass concerning Colorado in a quarter of a century, something I could not get done during the Trump administration with Mitch McConnell as the majority leader. I think we've got a real chance to get that done now. I  think that there is going to be a real opportunity to pass a public option, to give everybody in America and Colorado the chance to have health care that's administered by Medicare rather than private insurance.”


Read The Transcript

Avery Lill: Senator, welcome back to the program.

Michael Bennet: Thanks so much for having me.

AL: In a statement after the House impeachment vote, you said, quoting here, "The House has done its job. Now the Senate must vote to convict." It appears the Senate won't even reconvene until next Tuesday, the day before Biden's inauguration. Twice this week, Biden has said he wants the Senate to get right to work on his agenda, cabinet appointments, stimulus, vaccines. Isn't it inevitable that an impeachment trial will delay and overshadow that?

MB: Well, I think we have to do everything we can not to allow that to happen. And I'm for working seven days a week if that's what it takes for us to be able to do the work of the trial at the same time that we're doing the important work and the long-overdue work of confirming a new cabinet and getting off to a fast start with the Biden agenda. So, we're going to have to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I think we can do that.

AL: And what are some of the ways that you would see that that's possible?

MB: Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are now in the middle of an interesting negotiation because Mitch McConnell is turning over the keys to Chuck Schumer. They're going to have to figure out how we schedule it. The new Georgia senators, it's my understanding, aren't even going to be sworn in until after the inauguration day. And that's when we'd be able to start on any sort of trial, but I've heard some discussions about setting aside half the day for the trial and half the day for appointments. We're just going to have to see what we can get negotiated.

AL: There's also been talk of postponing the trial for a couple of months to focus on the new administration. Would you support that?

MB: I want to make sure that Joe Biden gets off to a fast start. If that enables us to do it, that might be something that we should do. I think it's very important that Donald Trump be held accountable for inciting a riot on the U.S. Capitol, so we're going to have to do it all. Look, it's not like we've been very busy lately, so maybe this is a good time for us to roll up our sleeves and do some hard work.

AL: I have to ask, is it even worth it to impeach a president who is no longer in office?

MB: I think it absolutely is. We are, forgive the phrase because it's an old one, but a nation of laws not of men. And if we don't reassert that at a moment like this -- political violence is what tears apart democratic republics. And we shouldn't think that we're immune from that. We're not immune from that. We saw that last week. So, I think it is very important that we hold President Trump accountable for his insurrection, clearly an impeachable offense.

He was impeached by a bipartisan vote in the House, so this can't be an either-or proposition, either Joe Biden gets off to a fast start or we let Donald Trump off the hook. I think we need to strengthen our democracy, at the same time that we're pursuing an agenda that the American people and the people of Colorado desperately need after four years of Donald Trump as president and in the middle of the COVID crisis.

AL: And like you said there was a bipartisan vote for impeachment in the House. Ten Republicans voted to impeach the president. But others in the GOP, including Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado, have argued that continuing this will just divide the country more deeply. Do you think a trial could cause even more polarization nationally?

MB: I think that we are at a point in our country's history where we've had enough polarization. And polarization, which I've always thought was problematic, we're now having incredibly diminishing returns. So, it's very unfortunate that Donald Trump has been our president. It's very unfortunate that he chose to do what he did last week. But to then suggest that we, the people that are standing up for democracy and the rule of law against a tyrant, are dividing the country, I think is exactly the wrong way to look at it. We do need to unify this country and we have to come together around a set of principles that strengthens our democracy and strengthens America's role in the world. And I think that's what a Biden administration will do.

AL: A question now about another topic in Colorado right now, the Trump administration has decided to put the headquarters of the U.S. Space Command in Alabama instead of Colorado Springs. What could be done to reverse that decision and have you been in touch with the Biden team about it?

MB: We have definitely been in touch with the Biden team. I told them that I was worried that Donald Trump would punish Colorado because Colorado hadn't voted for Donald Trump. And that, unfortunately, I think is what has happened. So, we are in close touch with the transition about the unfairness of this decision, the politicized nature of this decision. I plan to work with Senator (John) Hickenlooper and the rest of the Colorado delegation to ensure the Biden administration reviews the recommendation the Trump administration made. Colorado has been home of Space Command for years, and it should continue to be. We are home to an unparalleled combination of military and intelligence space entities. We've got the workforce. We've got the industry. We've got the experience and we've got an incredibly supportive community. So, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to reverse this political decision.

AL: What other Colorado issues have you talked with the Biden transition team about?

MB: Well, one combination is economics. So, I reported to them what I've reported to everybody in Colorado, which is after 10 years of town halls what I've heard is people are working really hard, but they can't afford some combination of healthcare, housing, higher education or early childhood education. They feel like no matter how hard they worked, they can't afford the middle-class life, tough to get their kids out of poverty and they need help. The COVID has only made matters worse from a healthcare perspective, from an economic perspective and from a mental health perspective. That's something that I hear about all over rural Colorado.

So, I've carried that whole set of issues into the Biden transition. There are other bills that I'm interested in as well. For example, the CORE Act, which would be the most important public lands bill that we pass concerning Colorado in a quarter of a century, something I could not get done during the Trump administration with Mitch McConnell as the majority leader. I think we've got a real chance to get that done now. So, I think that there's going to be a real opportunity to pass a public option, to give everybody in America and Colorado, the chance to have health care that's administered by Medicare rather than private insurance. And I've spent a lot of time talking to the Biden folks about my ideas for that as well.

AL: Let's delve in to other aspects of President-elect Biden's agenda now and yours for the new Congress. As we mentioned, Biden's immediate priorities are vaccines and the stimulus. His stimulus package includes a proposal you sponsored last year, to expand the tax credit for families with children. Why do you think that's something that needs to be done immediately?

MB: Well, this is actually a piece of legislation that I've worked on for a decade. Because of those town halls, this piece of legislation, which is called the American Family Act, which has been included in the relief package that the Biden administration is putting forth, would cut childhood poverty in America by 42 percent. In Colorado alone, it would pull 50,000 kids out of poverty. It would give a middle-class tax cut to working people, to hundreds of thousands of families in the state of Colorado. And I think it's critical that it be done now, so that people can have a fighting chance to afford housing, to afford healthcare, to afford early childhood education and higher education. I could not be more pleased that they included this. This is something Sherrod Brown and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and I have been working on together for years. To see it in this proposal is beyond gratifying,

AL: Should that or any other parts of the stimulus be tailored to reach people who need the most financial help, that is to say means-tested?

MB: This is means-tested, but it's means-tested at quite a considerable level because the middle-class needs help too here. I think if we could pass this legislation and know that we cut the child poverty rate in this country by almost 50 percent, that we cut black kids’ poverty by more than 50 percent, that we cut Latino children poverty by almost 50 percent, and that we cut Native American children's poverty by over 60 percent. I think we'd be amazed.

AL: We're talking trillions of dollars in the stimulus package, and another that will likely be proposed later. Does it make better sense to direct the aid primarily to people who need it the most, perhaps to save some money?

MB: I think that this is a very well-targeted piece of legislation to the people who need the money. And I also think this is a time in the country's history when we have to begin investing in our people again and in our infrastructure again. We have spent the last 20 years at war in the Middle East. We borrowed $5 trillion, more than that to fight those wars, from the Chinese. We borrowed another $5.6 or so trillion to give tax cuts for the richest people in America, all borrowed from the Chinese. Now's the time when this country needs us to invest again in our people and in our infrastructure. So, there will come a time when we have to create a rational fiscal strategy for the country. That time is not when we've got a global pandemic and when our economy is suffering as significantly as it is.

I really think that the Trump administration and Mitch McConnell for that matter have colored so far outside the lines of conventional American political thought and have prevented us from making the kind of investments that are now long overdue. They've bankrupted, in many ways, the country, because of their policies. And I don't think they can now be heard to say, "We're not going to allow you to invest in our people, or in our physical infrastructure.” We just have to do it. And once the economy is growing again, once we've got an economy that's working well for everyone in the country, not just the top 1 percent or 10 percent, I think that'll be a moment when we can start talking again about how to create rational fiscal policy again in this country,

AL: Moving to vaccine rollout, that's been slower nationally and in Colorado than planned. What is the first step the president-elect should take to improve that?

MB: Well, to have a national plan and to implement that plan. Donald Trump, throughout his administration, throughout COVID, had no national plan on testing, had no national plan on vaccines. The Biden administration is going to have a national plan. They've got a plan to try to vaccinate, I think, 100 million people in the first 100 days. We have already passed billions of dollars of money to support the public health infrastructure and in Colorado, that's desperately needed. In fact, there's more that we need to do there. But I think that if we've got competent management with a strategic plan and the vaccines are actually being produced, we can begin to make progress. It's been shameful that the Trump administration hasn't... I mean, not only haven't they executed, but they've had no plan to execute because they don't believe that there's a federal or national responsibility here. If there's one reason, that we are one nation under God, that's to face a global pandemic. Donald Trump never understood that, that's why I think he was not reelected. Joe Biden and his people do understand that.

AL: Is Biden's stated goal of 100 million COVID vaccinations in 100 days feasible, given what you've seen of the rollout so far?

MB: Well, I think Joe Biden can't be blamed for Donald Trump's terrible rollout. And they're going to hit the ground running and I hope they succeed. We should certainly try. I mean, we got to try.

AL: If I can ask you one more question, it's clear this national divide extends far beyond Washington D.C. and the presidential election. President-elect Biden has talked about the need for healing. What is that actually going to take on a community or even individual level?

MB: To me, that's the exact right way to ask this question, because it's up to us. It's not up to anybody else. It's up to all of us, every single one who's lucky enough to live in this country. We've got an individual responsibility, each one of us. We can't continue to have the kind of divided government that we've had. We are going to have to confront directly the anti-democratic... I mean, that small D, democratic forces that exist in our country, that were unleashed on the Capitol last week. We're going to have to confront the role that social media has played in generating conspiracy theories all over this country, that have challenged our democracy and all Western democracies.

I mean, we have a lot of work to do. I'd say the great news in all of this is that Donald Trump was not reelected. And that is going to give us a real chance to honor what Joe Biden said, which is we got to come together, we got to unify the country. He can't do that by himself. I know he has every intention of wanting to be that kind of president, the opposite of Donald Trump. I hope every American, whether they voted for him or not, is going to give him a chance to succeed.

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

MB: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

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