‘Shoulder to shoulder with you’: Pelosi and Schumer tell AFT members they’ll fight for a COVID-19 relief bill that puts science, safety and American families first

After weeks of inaction, Senate Republicans returned from vacation to unveil their latest coronavirus economic relief package—a proposal that falls far short in almost every area where funding is needed for reopening and recovery. On July 29, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made special appearances at the AFT convention, pledging their fierce advocacy for a relief package along the lines of the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May—a bill centered on reopening schools safely, protecting frontline workers and helping America’s working families get through the COVID-19 crisis.

Randi Weingarten and Speaker Pelosi on 2020 Convention zoom call

Weingarten praised Pelosi for winning passage of the HEROES Act in the House 10 weeks ago and offered a pointed contrast with the delaying tactics of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Pelosi reiterated the sharp values difference between the two parties as reflected in their stimulus proposals. Comparing Democrats’ “bubble-up,” pro-working-family priorities to Republicans’ corporate-cozy, “trickle-down” agenda, she called Senate Republican leaders “pathetic to resent” putting $600 a week in unemployment benefits in the pockets of American families while doling out money to big business. (Senate Republicans have proposed cutting the benefit to $200 a week for the present.)

“Millions of children in our country are food-insecure. Families don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table,” Pelosi continued. “You’d think [Republicans] would support food stamps, the SNAP program, WIC, initiatives for food security.” Baffled by their resistance, she said, “I myself cannot understand who you are if you don’t understand that we have to feed the hungry in our country.”

Pelosi is demanding that the Trump administration fund the needed resources for schools to open as safely as possible. The $46 billion in the McConnell proposal goes to helping schools reopen for in-person instruction, Pelosi pointed out—more than half the entire amount earmarked for K–12. “What are they thinking? You’d think they’d say, ‘Safety first, [so] how do we use our resources to open schools safely?’ It takes money, spent the right way.”

Weingarten added, “Science is how you open. Science is how you tackle the virus. When did it become the obstacle?”

Pelosi also called out the Republican proposal for offering zero new funding to help states, cities and towns recovering from cratering tax revenues. “If you want to help schools, help state and local government,” she said. “But they don’t believe in governance. They don’t believe in science.” She added, “Anyone who tells you there’s not a big difference between the two parties hasn’t spent a day in Congress.”

The Republican package features a generous bailout for corporations and other employers to limit their liability if employees get sick on the job. It also, as the Associated Press reports, “stuffs $8 billion into Pentagon weapons systems built by defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.” (Earlier this week, McConnell backed away from a push by the White House to include nearly $1.8 billion to rebuild the FBI headquarters.)

Pelosi said that she looked forward to a “peaceful transfer of power” after the November presidential election, with a new administration that will work with the Senate to make progress against the virus and toward recovery and equity in America. “We don’t agonize, we organize,” she said. “We all have to get out the vote.”


Schumer and Pelosi at SCOTUS
Photo by Pam Wolfe

In a videotaped message to AFT members, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We’re less than a month away before the school year begins, likely under the most difficult circumstances of our lifetimes. The disgrace of Donald Trump! Saying you have to open or we’re going to cut off funds. What planet is he living on, hurting millions and millions of children and hundreds of thousands of teachers and education workers for his own petty, political, nasty agenda?”

Schumer cautioned against reopening without the right resources in place—the same “only when it’s safe” condition that is a cornerstone of the AFT’s reopening plan. He said, “When states opened too early a few months ago, it set off another stage of this disease, and we will not—not—repeat that same mistake when it comes to our teachers and our students. To prepare for the fall, we need to make sure all of our schools have the resources they need to keep our teachers, our staff and our students safe.”

He said, “We will work hard to make sure you have the funding, the technology, the PPE and other supplies necessary to continue teaching our children without needlessly putting yourselves or your students in harm’s way. Democrats are hard at work making sure that Congress finally passes desperately needed COVID relief policies that we outlined in the HEROES Act. Sadly, our Republican colleagues can’t seem to get it together. They’d rather help the big corporations.”

He told AFT members, “Senate Democrats are shoulder to shoulder with you. We will stand with you every single step of the way.”

[Christina Bartolomeo]