April 29, 2020

Udall, Senate Democratic Committee Leaders Urge Sen. McConnell to Focus Senate Business on COVID-19 Matters and Legislative Oversight

As Senate returns next week, GOP-led Senate currently has zero scheduled legislative or committee business related to the public health & economic emergencies

Senate Democrats say oversight hearings must include look at nation’s testing capabilities, Paycheck Protection Program, best ways to protect health and safety of frontline workers, and more

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Senate Democratic Committee leaders in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urging Leader McConnell to focus the Senate on COVID-19-related legislation and oversight as the nation responds to the global pandemic and economic consequences. The Senate is scheduled to convene on May 4.

Despite the severity of the COVID-19 public health and economic emergencies, Senator McConnell has not scheduled any legislative or committee business related to the COVID-19 public health and economic emergencies. Udall and Senate Democrats requested a series of hearings for the session next week—under standards developed by the Office of Attending Physician—on the nation’s testing capabilities; the implementation of and access to the Paycheck Protection Program;  the implementation of and access to the Treasury and Federal Reserve’s Lending Facilities; the best ways to protect the health and safety of frontline health care professionals and workers; the implementation of the CARES Act’s Unemployment Insurance provisions; and confirmation of appointees to the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission.

Udall, as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, will follow the letter by requesting a series of oversight hearings on the implementation of emergency coronavirus response legislation in Indian Country. Despite the passage of the $8 billion Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act that Congress passed last month, the Trump administration has not yet distributed the first-ever Tribal set-aside funding. The Indian Health Service has reported over 2,882 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indian Country. 

The letter is signed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.),  Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Policy and Communications Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Senate Committee on Appropriations Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senate Committee on Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Senate Committee on Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Committee on Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Senate Committee on Budget Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Senate Committee on Aging Ranking Member Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT), Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI).

Senate Democrats’ letter to Leader McConnell can be found below: 

Dear Leader McConnell:

The Senate is currently scheduled to return to session on May 4th, 2020 to debate non-COVID related nominations.  There is currently no scheduled legislative or committee business related to the COVID-19 public health and economic emergencies.

Pursuant to your decision to convene the Senate during the week of May 4th, despite the public health emergency in Washington, D.C., we respectfully urge you to have the Senate focus on COVID-19 related matters and oversight of all COVID-related legislation enacted by Congress.  With respect to any Committee hearing, we also urge the Senate Leader to take strong actions to ensure the hearings are conducted in the safest environment possible, by requiring the Office of the Attending Physician to develop uniform standards on protecting the public health of Senators, employees, and witnesses for each Committee to follow, and charging the appropriate Senate support agency with assisting committees in implementing the guidance when necessary.   

We believe the Senate should immediately consider next week: 

- A public hearing with Administration officials and industry leaders and experts regarding our testing capabilities and capacity, and implementation of the requirement of zero out of pocket cost testing for all populations.
- A public hearing regarding the implementation of and access to the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program with the Small Business Administration Administrator Carranza.
- A public hearing regarding the implementation of and access to the Treasury and Federal Reserve’s Lending Facilities with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell.
- A public hearing regarding the best ways to protect the health and safety of our frontline workers with Administration officials and health and safety advocates.
- A public hearing regarding the implementation of the CARES Act’s Unemployment Insurance provisions with Labor Secretary Scalia.
- Confirmation of appointees to the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission, including the chairperson.

In addition, there are scores of other issues that require oversight and public hearings in the coming days and weeks ahead. We believe each Committee in the Senate has an important oversight role to play in responding to the COVID-19 emergency. The Ranking Members of the Senate, in consultation with their committee members, will be requesting a series of oversight hearings as a follow-up to this letter.

Sincerely,