SEN. KAINE: You bet, Karen, and I'm really glad to talk, and there are a lot of things to talk about. You're right.
MS. TUMULTY: But the first thing is this impeachment trial that begins tomorrow in the Senate, although we still don't know--maybe you could tell us. We still don't have a sense even of whether witnesses are going to be called or what this thing is going to look like as unprecedented as it is to impeach a president for a second time.
SEN. KAINE: It is unprecedented, Karen. We're in uncharted waters. About all I can tell you today is that it's likely to last into early next week. We will likely go through the weekend, at least one of the two days of the weekend, possibly Sunday.
But the issue of witnesses, I think evidence will be presented, but it will largely be video evidence because the insurrection at the Capitol was so well covered by so many people that we'll be able to look at that. But whether we'll actually see live witness testimony, not yet completely clear.
There has to be accountability for the actions of January 6th, and my belief is that President Trump basically fomented this insurrection, and there have to be consequences. But no surprise, I have been very, very worried that we get to the end of this trial and the result will be Trump acquitted again because my Republican colleagues in a test vote about 10 days ago suggested overwhelmingly that they did not believe an ex-official could be impeached.
So, you know, I hope there can be some light shed and some truth found, but ultimately, I think there need to be consequences for these actions and I'm a little bit nervous about that going into this trial.
MS. TUMULTY: Yes. And if there is an acquittal, if you cannot get those 17 Republican votes that it doesn't look like you're going to have, Trump and his allies are going to claim once again that he was vindicated by this trial, by this acquittal. Would that be the end of it or do you think that there's any way censure could still be on the table after this?
SEN. KAINE: Karen, as you indicated when the show kicked off, Susan Collins and I put together a resolution that we've shared widely among our colleagues, that it's more than a censure, but it's not an impeachment conviction.
Basically, it condemns the president's behavior, but then it makes two factual findings under the 14th Amendment: first, that the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States because they were trying to stop Congress from doing a constitutional duty, counting electoral votes; and second, that Donald Trump gave aid and comfort to the insurrectionists. Those two findings under the 14th Amendment would pose a major hurdle in Donald Trump's way should he ever run for office again because Section 3 of the 14th Amendment says if you engage in an insurrection or give aid and comfort to those who do, you can't run for office ever again, state or federal.
Susan and I shot that to our colleagues, basically said, "Look, rather than going through a full trial and having it end in acquittal, what about having this resolution as a vehicle where we could impose some serious accountability on Donald J. Trump?" When we shared it around, though, frankly, there weren't many Republicans who want to block Donald Trump from running for office, and there weren't many Democrats who viewed this as acceptable because they want to go through the impeachment proceeding.
Your question is, is there another option? I think Susan and I understand that we could get into this trial. The evidence could be so graphic that it might make some Republicans say we have to do something; and Democrats contemplating the prospect of an acquittal that would embolden Trump might decide, well, maybe it shouldn't be impeachment or nothing. Maybe there is an alternative we could consider.
So, I think that it's still very much a live option that people understand. The question is will it get a new look and maybe some momentum as we get into the trial.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, the other area where it looks like Democrats are going to have to go it alone is the $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package that President Biden has proposed. Do you think there is--now that it has been put into the reconciliation project--
SEN. KAINE: Yes.
MS. TUMULTY: --or under those rules, that you only need 51 votes in the Senate. Do you think there is any chance of getting much significant Republican support on this at this point?
SEN. KAINE: Karen, I think there is a guarantee of getting help in one way, and then I'm still optimistic we could get help in a second way. So, the guarantee is this: Once we Democrats have said to Republicans in the Senate, we're doing this by reconciliation, just like you tried to end the Affordable Care Act or do the Trump tax cut or we together did the CHIP bill a number of years ago or the earned income tax credit--once we've made it plain this is what we're going to do, look, Republicans are very actively engaged with us and talking about things they would like to see in the bill. So, I can guarantee that the ultimate bill that's voted on in this reconciliation process is going to have not only Democratic priorities but Republican priorities, too.
What I'm not sure about is, at the end of the day, will Republicans vote for it. They could meet and make a decision like they did when Obama and Biden came into office that, well, no matter what they say, we're going to vote against the recovery bill or other bills they put on the table. But I think that some of these priorities are going to be so important to their states and to their voters that, at a minimum, you'll see Republican priorities reflected in the legislation, and I think we might get some Republican votes.
MS. TUMULTY: So, let's talk about a couple of issues in this sprawling crisis that the country is facing that have been of particular interest to you. One of them is housing. What do you see going on out there in your own state, and why do you think that this is an area that really needs a lot of focus?
SEN. KAINE: My hope is that as much of this bill can be targeted to those who really are in need, and one of the areas of the most intense need right now, Karen, is housing. As you know, housing is an awful large component of every household's budget, and maybe, particularly in some places in Virginia where housing costs are high, it's really significant. As people have lost jobs or their businesses have suffered, it's increasingly difficult for them to pay mortgages and to pay their rents.
Now, we've taken some steps in the bills that we passed beginning with the CARES Act in March to put some moratoria in place on evictions and on foreclosures, and states have partnered with us in that. But there's sort of a hidden trap in this because if you give somebody a moratorium on eviction and foreclosure and they're not able to pay--and I just saw some statistics that maybe nearly 5 to 10 percent of those who were renting were not able to pay their rent in the month of December--if you just give them the ability to put off foreclosure--well, what about when you get to the end of the moratorium, and they have a big back-rent obligation due or a big back-mortgage obligation due? If they've lost their job or their business has shut down or even if their income has been reduced, it's going to be virtually impossible to come current on their obligations, and so then what happens? Do you get kicked out? Do you get foreclosed on? Do you enter into some kind of payment plan that then leads you to have impaired credit for the rest of your life, which makes it difficult to borrow for a car or buy a next house if you're moving from an apartment to a house?
So, I think the housing crisis is a slowly building one that if we don't put some dollars on the table to help people keep current with their obligations, they'll suffer for years.
In addition, in the rental market, think about landlords. An awful lot of small businesses have 3 or 4 or maybe 10 or 20 rental properties, and that's their business. They have obligations to pay their mortgages, their creditors. They have an obligation to try to keep a rental unit habitable and safe so that people can live there in dignity. If they're not getting rent coming in because we've, you know, given a long-term moratorium on evictions, then they can't keep the properties up, and then they may run into the risk of defaulting on their own loan.
So, it's very important that this COVID bill have direct money to pay--not just to stop evictions and foreclosures, but to have direct money to help residents come current on their obligation so they don't run into all kinds of problems down the road.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, another area that you have focused on is mental health, and the mental health of--among other people are front-line responders and health care providers in this pandemic.
You've got a piece of bipartisan legislation that is named for a constituent of yours, Dr. Lorna Breen. Can you tell us a little bit about her and a little bit more about what you see as the issues that, you know, the people who have been the real saviors and heroes in this epidemic are facing?
SEN. KAINE: Karen, I'm glad to. It's an emotional topic, but the punchline is we've got to keep our healers healthy. We've expected so much of them since this started. We've got to keep them healthy.
Lorna Breen, a very, very talented emergency room physician in New York City, family from Charlottesville, deep Virginia roots, and she was a rock star by all indications. But when COVID hit her hospital in early March and April when we were still trying to figure out and the guidance about what to do was changing every day, her emergency room was just overrun with COVID, people suffering from COVID and people dying of COVID, and she caught COVID and had to take weeks off work.
And then, she came back wanting to save people, but the scale of suffering was so intense that she had critical need for a mental health intervention, which some friends and colleagues helped her do, but then sadly, in the month of April last year, she died by suicide when she was home with her family in Charlottesville.
I've gotten to know Lorna's sister and brother-in-law pretty well, and they said this was what she was worried about. She was worried that if she sought mental health treatment, she'd lose her job. She might lose licensing to practice at a hospital. She'd have to inform the state medical society, and they might pull her license. She wanted to save people, but she was suffering because she didn't believe that her profession would allow her to seek mental health counseling.
And this is a very common thing. Surveys before COVID started show that huge percentages of medical practitioners do not believe they can seek mental health counseling without it affecting their employment.
I've had conversations with nurses and doctors around Virginia, and, Karen, some of these will just break your heart. A nurse told me, "I'm used to death. This is what I do, maybe one death a week in my ward at the hospital, but three deaths a day, day after day, is just too much."
Nurses tell me about having to now manage the end-of-life discussions between COVID patients who are dying and their family members holding up an iPad to have a Zoom conversation with family, "Normally, we escort the family in, and we try to make it a sacred place for family members to say goodbye to a loved one, but now it's a nurse with a mask on who can't even smile, with gloves on who's not even supposed to hold somebody's hand, who has to manage that on an iPad." And so, you just think about the repetitive effect of this challenge that our health care workers are under.
So, I've introduced a bill called the Lorna Breen Act, and it's designed to really focus on certainly suicide prevention but more broadly on making mental health treatment easily available and non-stigmatized and encouraged among our health care professionals. I'm trying to get funding for grants to train providers and to assist those on the front lines in the COVID bill that we're negotiating right now, and I feel very, very passionately about it.
MS. TUMULTY: And how broadly does this bill define the groups of people who might be eligible for this kind of help? Is it just health care providers, or does it go beyond that?
SEN. KAINE: No. Great question, Karen. This bill is just for health care providers. There's a piece of it that's about the current providers, and then there's also a piece of it about training our up-and-comers in medical schools and nursing schools who need to understand strategies for keeping themselves healthy and that there's no stigma or shame in seeking mental health.
But you are going to see this COVID bill have massive investments more broadly in mental health. I'm sure you're following this. You know, people who have substance use disorders, who part of their treatment was group therapy sessions where they could hold each other accountable and support each other, because substance use disorders are often diseases of isolation, well, COVID has caused many of those really important therapies to be canceled. You can do them by Zoom, but it's not the same as sitting in a room with people and really sharing, up close and personal, the struggles you're going under and then giving people support so they can succeed in the struggle.
So, we're seeing substance use disorders spike up. Obviously, anytime people have loved ones who die or get ill--my wife, Anne, and I, we both had COVID, and we know nine people who died of COVID. When so many people are surrounded by death or illness at an unprecedented scale and then you compound that with job losses or businesses closing and things like that, there is a tremendous amount of suffering going on right now in our society.
And Karen, when the day comes and we say, okay, enough people have been vaccinated, we can say COVID is in the rearview mirror, the mental health consequences of COVID will not be in the rearview mirror. They will continue unless we devote significant resources to it.
And Joe Biden and my Senate colleagues really understand that, and you'll see mental health funding being a significant part of this relief package.
MS. TUMULTY: And you know, lot of people compare the urgency of the crisis we're in to the Great Depression and to what FDR confronted when he came into office in 1932, but he did things that didn't just deal with the crisis at hand. For instance, he started the Social Security system, which is the reason that, you know, poverty among the elderly has fallen to pretty low levels.
SEN. KAINE: Right.
MS. TUMULTY: There is a proposal--there are a couple of proposals, including one by some of your colleagues--Senator Bennet, Senator Brown--that would target resources to children. Do you think that this is an opportunity to do something that profound and permanent that would last beyond this particular crisis?
SEN. KAINE: Karen, I think you raise a great question, and we not only want to get out of the crisis we're in, but we also want to prepare a way for a better future. And I can't think of many things that would have as powerful an impact as the child tax credit proposal, which I strongly support.
We are a nation--and you did a great job by pointing out Social Security. Before we passed Social Security, you'd work your whole life. You not only work, but you'd raise kids and you'd be the little league coach and the PTA chairperson, and then you'd retire. And about 50 percent of our seniors would then retire into poverty.
Well, with Social Security and its continued advance, that senior poverty level is not 50 percent. It's down more in the 10 to 15 percent, still too high, but that was a transformative change.
But look at the poverty rate of children in the United States. The poverty rate in children is up around 30 percent. and so, I think this child tax credit could have the same impact on moving the needle on child poverty as Social Security did in moving the needle on the poverty of our seniors. So, that's why I strongly support it.
Now, you asked about making it permanent. The first bill we're going to do is this emergency COVID relief bill. The second bill is likely to be a more structural set of reforms that could be long term. It might be infrastructure, broadband investment, things that we can benefit from for decades.
I think my goal would be to get this child tax credit done, and if we can just get it done in the emergency bill for a period of time, that's fine, but I'd love to make it permanent. And maybe we can learn some things by putting it in place quickly as part of an emergency relief bill that will enable us to refine it and really make it permanent going forward. I think it would be transformative.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, in the little bit of time that we have left, I wanted to ask you a question about your home state, Virginia, a state where you are currently the senator, but you used to be the governor.
At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, I think Virginia was either dead last or close to dead last in its ability to distribute the number of doses of vaccine that it had in hand, and now, in a very, very short period, it is now one of the leaders in the country. What exactly did Virginia figure out it was doing wrong, and what's it doing right now?
SEN. KAINE: Karen, we talked to Governor Northam, a doctor, about this a lot. We had a call last Thursday night. Let me tell you a couple of things that are going on.
First, Governor Northam and the other nation's governors have been hampered by the lack of a national plan. Thank goodness, an effective vaccine was developed promptly, but the Biden administration basically said, when we came in the door, there was not a plan for distribution and deployment of this vaccine. In fact, they couldn't even find where a vaccine was sent by the Trump administration. I think there's about 20 million doses of vaccine that are still unaccounted for.
Here is one change that Virginia made that Governor Northam, I think, wisely made, and President Biden is now suggesting the same: Virginia was getting vaccine, and because it's two-dose vaccine, they were holding some vaccine back on the theory that we want to make sure that people who get dose one, 21 to 28 days later, will get dose two, so we'll hold back some of the vaccines to enable that to happen.
What Governor Northam eventually decided--and I certainly was urging this, and others were, too--go ahead and deploy all of your vaccine, doing dose ones to as many people as you can, and then let's count on the muscle of the United States manufacturing capacity to produce enough for dose two.
President Biden has announced he's going to use the Defense Production Act to help produce probably less so the vaccine itself but all of the, you know, vials and the syringes and everything you need to actually vaccinate people.
And so, I think switching from--we have to hold some back to give the second dose to, let's just vaccinate as many as we can, Virginia did, indeed, go by some measures, you know, bottom 5 now to top 15, and I have a feeling we're going to continue to perform very well.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, Senator, that's about all the time we have, and we thank you very much for being with us today, and we hope we'll see you back soon.
SEN. KAINE: I look forward to it, Karen. Thanks so much.
MS. TUMULTY: Thanks.
And thank you for joining us. Washington Post Live will be back at 3:30 with the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Dr. Raphael Bostic, for a conversation about getting the economy back on track with my colleague, Heather Long. You don't want to miss it.
Once again, I'm Karen Tumulty, and thank you for joining us today at Washington Post Live.
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