Doublespeak in Washington, D.C., isn’t just a common phenomenon — it’s the norm. That said, even by that low linguistic standard, the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill has to set some kind of record.
Yes, President Joe Biden wants to “go big.” We’ve been told that frequently. The problem is that he’s “going big” on things that have absolutely nothing to do with COVID, and his party plans to pass it via budget reconciliation, which means they can bypass the filibuster.
It’s gotten to the point where even CNN is getting Democrats to admit some parts of the bill are “embarrassing.” Yes, CNN.
On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York appeared on the network to talk about the relief bill, which has been criticized as a wish list of Democratic policy prerogatives. Espaillat thought pointing the language of the bill out was a “gotcha” tactic.
Just so we’re clear, in case you’ve been scanning the first few paragraphs of this story idly: A Democrat pushing for a spending bill filled with liberal goodies had to resort to saying CNN was trying to “gotcha” him.
Marinate in that set of facts for a second. If you didn’t understand the insulting largesse contained within the $1.9 trillion bill the Biden administration plans to push through Congress before, let this be your wake-up call.
The interview itself started CNN-ish enough. Espaillat was asked by anchor Poppy Harlow whether he would vote against the bill if it didn’t include a $15 minimum wage, according to a CNN transcript of the conversation.
Espaillat said he would have to “take a look at that possibility,” which becomes moot when you consider the Senate parliamentarian ruled the minimum wage hike can’t be included in a Senate reconciliation bill. If he wants this to pass, he’s going to have to do more than “take a look at that possibility.”
Espaillat marketed it in the usual terms. This was money well-spent that was going into the pockets of hard-working Americans like you and me, who were going to be using it to put food on the table.
“[A] couple that were bringing home $600 a week in my district now is bringing $1,200 a week. They can pay rent. They can go to the store,” Espaillat said.
“They’re not going to go on a Caribbean vacation. They’re just going to buy emergency items at a local grocery store.”
Now, if the spending in the $1.9 trillion proposed COVID relief bill is defensible, Harlow’s next question should have been a softball among softballs: She quoted those miserly Republicans who thought the cost was just too darn high.
“I’ve got to ask you about some other stuff in this bill because you’ve got folks like Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, saying it’s got to be more narrow,” Harlow said. “He talks about aid in there for arts programs, peace programs, etc.”
“But then specifically, there’s something in your state here in New York. There’s $1.5 million of funding toward the international bridge between New York and Canada. A bridge,” she continued.
“And then right around San Francisco in the bay area, there’s $100 million to fund the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART. I mean, Steve Scalise, your Republican colleague, said ‘who said a subway to Silicon Valley has anything to do with COVID?’ Are you comfortable with those in here?”
If you think those are defensible, you leap right to it: Of course he’s comfortable! We need infrastructure! The real risk is not spending enough. Didn’t we listen to the president at his town hall?
If you’re comfortable with this kind of spending, that’s all you have to say. That’s not what Espaillat said.
“Look, a lot of people will get into this ‘gotcha’ attitude about this provision — this budget, right?” Espaillat began.
I want you to look at Harlow’s expression at being called out for “gotcha”-questioning a Democrat on CNN. This is beautiful:
“I’m not ‘gotcha!'” a visibly surprised Harlow said.
“It’s just — it’s what — it’s there. It’s, like, right here, I actually went back and read it –“
However, the congressman insisted this was just a few errant lines in the legislation.
“I’m saying that in any bill that has $1.9 trillion, there will be one line that will probably be somewhat embarrassing, right, Poppy?” Espaillat said.
“So, you’re saying it’s embarrassing, and that’s $101.5 million of taxpayer money, and I’m just saying, are you comfortable with it?” Harlow said.
“Yes, there’s — the answer, no, I’m not comfortable. I’m never comfortable with it,” Espaillat responded.
“I tell you what I’m comfortable with. I’m comfortable with the fact that the past initiatives came from the Senate. And we had to adjust to them. This is the first time we have a vision that comes from us, from the House. And it’s a robust vision.”
He added that “the American people and the country certainly and $1.9 trillion will get us back on the right track.”
These interviews are rapid-fire and don’t necessarily produce dialogue that rises to the Socratic level, but little of what Espaillat said was particularly cogent and the rest of it was an acknowledgment the bill was larded up but, you know, shrug emoji.
There was once upon a time when even saying something was a “gotcha question” opened you up to ridicule — if you were Sarah Palin, of course. In Espaillat’s case, he was appearing on CNN to talk up a relief bill which has been roundly criticized for including gobs of funding for things that have a grand total of zero to do with COVID relief. And yet, he makes it sound like: A) this is the first he’s heard of it, and B) this is just an errant line or two in the bill.
The congressman isn’t wrong — this is ridiculous.
If the part that would “get us back on the right track” was included in streamlined legislation, we wouldn’t have to talk about $100 million for a BART subway extension that’s little more than a sop to California Democrats. And yet, Espaillat acts surprised that we’re surprised Congress is horse-trading with our money as they’re supposed to be solving a pandemic.
Harlow is surprised Espaillat thought this was a “gotcha” question. I’m surprised he came on TV this unprepared.
What no one should be surprised about is that, with leadership like this, we’ll likely end up with a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package which won’t do a whole lot to relieve the burden of COVID.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.