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Democratic senator says he broke with party on coronavirus bill because 'the clock is ticking'

Posted March 23, 2020 6:01 p.m. EDT

— Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said that he voted to advance Senate Republicans' controversial coronavirus package -- the lone Democrat to do so -- to highlight that progress is being made on the bill and time to act is running out.

When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper why he voted for the legislation Monday after voting against it on Sunday, Jones replied, "Because I think there's been great progress."

"That is exactly what the message has been from everybody on both sides -- we've made progress," Jones said. "That was the message that I wanted to get yesterday because quite frankly I think we'd had about a 24-hour period where there was no progress, where Sen. McConnell pulled his people off to write a bill."

"But there has been significant progress in the last 24 hours," he continued, adding, "I believe that we needed to really send a message to the American people and to both side of the aisle that the clock is ticking, that we need to get this done and we need to get it done now, and the best way to do that is to proceed."

Jones' comments come after Senate Democrats on Sunday and Monday blocked action on the comprehensive stimulus package -- "phase three" of the legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak -- as lawmakers continue to negotiate bipartisan agreement on the bill.

Jones, a moderate Democrat up for reelection in deep-red Alabama, stressed that his support on a procedural vote did not indicate his support for the bill.

"We shouldn't have taken this vote ... everybody knew this vote was going to fail, we should have just stayed behind closed doors and continued to work until we have a deal," he said, predicting that such a deal would have broad bipartisan support.

Additionally, he said, "no one should see my vote today on a motion to proceed, saying we've got great progress, no one should see that as a vote of yes on a final package."

Jones appeared to criticize the roughly $500 billion in funds for loans and loan guarantees in the current proposed bill for distressed companies, states and localities without enough guidelines or oversight to satisfy Democrats.

"The biggest problem that we're seeing, and I see this as a huge problem, is a $500 billion fund that will go to the secretary of the treasury to basically do what the heck he wants to with it without even notifying or telling anybody or having any transparency," he said.

But he said he saw progress on getting increased funding to hospitals, health care providers and local governments "because they're hemorrhaging right now, they are on the front lines bleeding just like businesses that we've got to do something with."

While he lamented "games on both sides" by Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Jones stressed, "I don't want there to be any misconceptions with these games that are being played with these votes back and forth -- there is a lot of work going on and a lot of progress is being made."

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