Weingarten: ‘We need a Senate that does what people need’

As the political campaign season enters the post-Labor Day homestretch, thousands of callers from across the nation joined AFT President Randi Weingarten during a telephone town hall that focused on the effort to elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

Randi UFT school visits
“We are deep into the choices that will be made by Americans about whether we have a president, House and Senate that will do the people’s work,” Weingarten said. “We need a Senate that does what people need.”

Weingarten was joined in the Sept. 8 town hall discussion by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon, who is seeking to unseat Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

While electing Joe Biden and defeating President Donald Trump is everyone’s priority, Weingarten said, “to enact the change we need, we must flip the Senate.” She urged AFT members to get involved in their union’s election work. “No one can afford to be on the sidelines this year,” she said.

Information on the AFT’s election work, the candidates, get-out-the-vote efforts, requesting absentee or mail ballots, how to become a poll worker, and more are all available at the AFTvotes website. Members can also download the free AFTvotes app for access on their cellphones.

Americans are facing “agonizing choices” in their daily lives, Weingarten said. For millions across the nation, “survival issues” like food, shelter, healthcare and jobs are in jeopardy. “This is Donald Trump’s America,” she said. “It wasn’t like this four years ago.”

Under Mitch McConnell’s Republican majority, the Senate has refused to act to address the crises confronting the country. The House of Representatives, guided by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed the HEROES Act in May to provide federal assistance to help sustain people and essential public services through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican-led Senate refused to do anything, and then went on vacation.

Randi quote on senate

“We can win on Election Day,” Weingarten said of the effort to elect senators who are willing to move something other than Trump’s political agenda.

Schumer agreed. “Do we have a decent chance of taking back the Senate?” he asked. “Hell yes!”

He pointed to races in 12 states where incumbent Republicans are vulnerable and urged AFT members in those states to get involved. The states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Changing the Senate majority would lead to real support for the help Americans need as the pandemic continues, Schumer said. Earlier that day, he pointed out, McConnell and the Republican leadership had introduced their weakened version of a pandemic relief bill.

The Republican proposal is “cynical and despicable,” Schumer said. Noting that this approach to assistance is often called a “skinny bill,” he said the correct term to describe the McConnell bill is “emaciated.” The Republicans, he said, are “putting the health of teachers and kids second to their political agenda.”

That will change, he said, if we stay involved. “We’re on the path to victory,” he concluded.

In introducing one of the candidates campaigning to be part of a Democratic Senate majority, Weingarten said, “One of the reasons we are so hopeful is because of Sara Gideon in Maine.” Republican incumbent Collins masquerades as a moderate, but she votes with Trump nearly all the time, Weingarten said, citing Collins’ support for efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, provide tax cuts for the rich and her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She urged Maine voters to “look at what Collins does—not what she says.”

Gideon said she is running “to represent the people of Maine the way they deserve to be represented. People in Maine know Collins is putting special interests and her party ahead of us.”

In answer to a question from a town hall participant from Maine, Gideon said the pandemic has cast educators and healthcare workers into essential roles. “You deserve a federal government that will stand up and support you,” she said. “The McConnell Senate is not doing what Americans need.”

Peters, of Michigan, also joined the discussion. The Democrat is locked in a tough fight for re-election against an opponent who has received millions of dollars in support from the McConnell super PAC and the wealthy family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who lives in Michigan. In fact, Peters noted, the DeVos family created a new political action committee just to oppose him.

Weingarten praised Peters’ leadership on supporting the U.S. Postal Service and his sponsorship of the legislation that created the $600 weekly federal supplemental unemployment benefit—which has expired as Senate Republicans have failed to act.

In response to a question about the Postal Service, Peters said he believes Republicans want to privatize the agency. That would be a mistake, he said, pointing out that the USPS is the only service that delivers to every address in the United States.

“I’m also concerned,” he said, about policies pushed by the Trump-appointed postmaster general that have slowed mail deliveries. He urged those voting absentee or by mail to fill out and submit their ballots as quickly as they can.

Weingarten said she knows that people hear over and over that an election is the most important ever. But the stakes in 2020 make that true, she said.

“Our lives depend on this election,” she said. “Our nation has never been this close to authoritarian rule. I’m not sure what will happen if we lose this election.”

[Tom Lansworth]