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Sen. Coons On How New Administration Plans To Work With Congress


Joe Biden bid an emotional goodbye to the state of Delaware yesterday, but the new president will continue listening closely to Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who holds Biden's old Senate seat. Coons is a Biden confidant and will be a key ally in a divided Senate.

Senator Coons, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CHRIS COONS: Great to be on with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we talk about Congress, what was it like today to see this man you've been friends with for so many years sworn in as president?

COONS: Ari, this was a simply awesome day. I cannot convey just how joyful a moment it was. As the inauguration ceremonies began, there were flurries. It was cold. There was a gray and threatening sky. And about halfway through, I could see from the seat I was on above the platform that the sun was about to break out. I turned to my wife, and I said, I'm so hopeful this is going to happen. And just before now-Vice President Harris took her oath and before now-President Biden gave his inaugural speech, the bright sun broke out.

It was a beautiful day. It was an historic inauguration. And I think President Biden gave a great address that called on us to look at the moment in our history when we've overcome division, when we've tackled great challenges and when we've made progress together.

SHAPIRO: OK, so now comes the hard part, right? In the Senate, one of the first priorities of the Biden administration is this coronavirus relief package worth almost $2 trillion. How quickly do you think that could get passed?

COONS: Well, if Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer, seized by this moment, called to unity by now-President Biden, are able to hammer out an agreement where we can both confirm Joe Biden's very skilled, very seasoned Cabinet nominees and work through quickly an impeachment trial - responsibly but quickly - then we'll turn to this significant package, the American Rescue Plan, that was laid out last week. We have to because the pandemic is raging at its all-time worst, and we have millions of Americans unemployed, facing eviction, facing loss and other challenges. We could pass it within a month, but it's going to take a lot of work from both sides.

SHAPIRO: I'm chuckling because as serious as the situation is, as you point out, there are three enormous things on the Senate's plate right now, and the Senate is not known for working quickly. And so how realistic is what you're talking about here?

COONS: Well, Ari, I just witnessed Kamala Harris being seated to preside over the Senate for the first time as vice president and the swearing-in of three new senators, including Senator Jon Ossoff and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia. If you'd told me at Christmastime or in late December that we'd have a Democratic majority in the Senate and we'd have two new Democratic senators from Georgia, I would have said, you know, I'm hopeful. I'm optimistic. But it's going to take a miracle. Here we are.

And the fact that majority leader - outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Joe Biden for worship this morning and skipped Donald Trump's departure ceremony from Andrews Air Force Base and that he has indicated an openness to proceeding with impeachment is a small but encouraging signal.

SHAPIRO: And yet some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate just two weeks ago objected to electoral votes affirming Biden's victory. Why do you believe these same colleagues would work with your party and the Biden administration when a real number of them wouldn't even acknowledge that Biden won the election?

COONS: That's right. Two weeks ago, we had a horrific incident, I think in part stoked by former President Trump and encouraged by some in this chamber. But after the storming of the Capitol, half of them changed their position, changed their vote. Look, Ari. We've got a lot of hard work in the weeks and months ahead. But if anyone can lead us through this, Joe Biden can.

SHAPIRO: Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, thank you very much.

COONS: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.