Sen. James Lankford On Economic Recovery And Coronavirus

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Sen. James Lankford speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Trump on Feb. 4, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
Sen. James Lankford speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Trump on Feb. 4, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Some states are beginning to open up after two months of shutdowns due to the coronavirus. But Dr. Anthony Fauci warned this week that reopening too quickly could lead to a resurgence in the virus, which could set back the country's economic recovery.

Republican Sen. James Lankford, who is a member of President Trump's coronavirus economic task force, says states must strike a “very difficult balance” between protecting those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus and restarting their economies.

“But you've got to be able to reengage business,” he says. “Spain, Italy, Germany, South Korea — many countries that have been very hard hit by COVID-19 — they're also in the process of reopening. So it's not just happening here. It's happening around the globe right now.”

Interview Highlights

On whether more government aid is necessary

“I can't imagine any state or any city or county saying they wouldn't like more help from the federal government. The balance that we have is every layer of government has to be able to figure out what they can do at this point and how they can actually try to get through this. And what we can do to actually get restarted again. So there will, I'm sure, be things that will happen in the future to try to help cities and states try to be able to get through this in very specific ways, but certainly not a $3 trillion package or $1 trillion of that going to cities and counties and states with unlimited ways that they can be able to spend that.

“In the bill that has been proposed by the House, there's quite a few issues that are in it that are non-COVID-19 related: immigration issues, permanent changes in voting, environmental justice grants. There's a lot that was added into the bill that is disappointing to see during this season. Let's not add partisan things into this. Let's keep it focused on the areas around COVID-19 because we need to be able to deal with the problem as much as we can and not drift into a partisan issue at this point.”

On convincing people to engage again in the economy

“That’s going to be something individuals make the decision to do. There are some individuals that live with someone that's a high-risk individual or they are personally high risk. For those individuals, we’re discouraging them from getting back out and trying to be able to reengage in the economy. They will need additional help for a longer period of time because it will be more difficult for them. Other facilities, it is their responsibility to be able to make sure they're cleaning, they're getting masks, they're helping people try to be able to make that transition so they can slow the spread.

“The virus still exists. It is still out there in multiple parts all over the country. I should say, not in multiple parts, more in some parts than others, but it's something we're gonna have to pay attention to. But each location has to be able to pay attention to say, ‘We are open. We are clean. We are continuing to be able to protect our customers as they come back and forth and to be able to help people gain some confidence, to be able to reengage in the economy.’ ”

On assistance to Native American communities in Oklahoma

“So the CARES Act that was passed a month and a half ago now actually was the largest aid package to Native American tribes in the history of the United States. It was an $8 billion package that's gone out just in Treasury grants that would go to all of these tribes to be able to help them. There was Indian Health Service money that was done that was very significant. There's been mental health money. There's been substance abuse. There's been everything that we could get out the door that's gone out generically to every hospital has also gone out to Native American tribal areas as well into their health facilities.

"And so the engagement has been very, very strong to be able to help as much as we can in those areas. And for the tribal leaders that I've talked to in my states, their tribes and their councils are sitting down, working through the best way to be able to get that help to individuals that are within the tribe and also tribal facilities to be able to make sure. Tribes are also open for the Paycheck Protection Program. Tribal members are also receiving the $1,200, the same as every other American is receiving. And so there's been a significant amount of aid that's been directly focused in on tribes and on tribal members.”

On pushback that “thriving” doesn’t describe anywhere right now

“Other than grocery stores thriving, no, there's not a place that's really thriving as there were if you went back just three months ago. But they're open again in the sense that their restaurants are starting to be able to open for a limited sit down. They're starting to allow some events again. But you're correct, there's nowhere that's thriving at this point. But they're open in cleaning and preparing and rehiring staff, bringing folks back on to try to get things back open again after a very long, difficult season.”

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 14, 2020.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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