Candidate Conversations | Sen. Gary Peters: Facing Dual Crises, "We Have To Deal With Both"

Jul 31, 2020

In the U.S. Senate race Democrat Incumbent Senator Gary Peters is polling ahead of his Republican opponent, but continues to be outraised. Senator Peters spoke to WKAR about the race and the biggest issues voters are facing during the coronavirus crisis.

This is part of a two-day series talking to the U.S. Senate candidates ahead of the August primary. Below is a full transcript of the conversation with has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Gary Peters: Well, there's no question, folks are focused on dealing with the COVID crisis and the fact that it is a simultaneous public health crisis along with economic crises. And so, we have to deal with both. I’m the ranking number, which is the top democrat, on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. So, I oversee the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management [Agency] folks who are charged with the national response.

So, I am working on issues to make sure we have a personal protection equipment necessary for the country, and I've been fighting every day to get more testing. We still do not have adequate testing. Because I've been traveling around Michigan, for example, folks are saying what used to get down to two days to find out whether or not you're sick or not, is now being stretched to six or seven days. In many cases, that's simply unmanageable [for] health care providers, it's extremely difficult for employers. And so, we have to get through both.

But certainly, all tied to that is the economy, and people are concerned about future jobs and whether they'll be able to put food on the table and a roof over their head, particularly as some of the unemployment benefits come to an end.

Abigail Censky: As we move into a stage of trying to reopen things while we're very much still dealing with this pandemic: unemployment claims in the state are falling, and we haven't had to roll back, you know, reopening, but our seven-day rolling average is increasing. What are your specific plans for Coronavirus recovery?

GP: Well, certainly first and foremost, we have to make sure our small businesses survive this crisis. That's why I fought aggressively for the Paycheck Protection Program. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to quickly reopen economy if our small businesses don't survive. They're the engine of growth. They're the folks that create the opportunity for our communities all across the state of Michigan. It's going to be critical for us to make sure that those hardest hit are able to survive.

AC: Outside of the scope of the coronavirus. If you're given the chance at another term in Congress, what are your top priorities for Michigan?

And one thing this pandemic has really shown is that we have to have resilient supply chains. We cannot be as dependent as we are right now on foreign countries, particularly China, particularly for critical medical supplies.

GP: Well, one thing I am focusing on is to make sure that we strengthen jobs in Michigan, particularly in manufacturing, this is certainly critical. And one thing this pandemic has really shown is that we have to have resilient supply chains.

We cannot be as dependent as we are right now on foreign countries, particularly China, particularly for critical medical supplies. I put out a report last year in my committee, concerned about drug shortages and critical medical supply shortages and the fact that we were overly dependent on China. And clearly that's where we are right now. We've got to be fixing that. Plus, we need to continue to create economic opportunity.

But certainly, the other thing that this pandemic has clearly shown that we need is that we have to make sure that everybody in this country has access to quality, affordable health care. And that means preserving the Affordable Care Act and building on the Affordable Care Act. And that's why I think it's unconscionable that we have a president now, who refuses to open up enrollment in state exchanges so that people can have access to that quality healthcare.

We're in the middle of a pandemic. People should be able to get into that now so that they have the security to know that they have the health care that they will need should they contract COVID.

So, I’m going to continue to fight for strong health care. The Great Lakes are absolutely critical for us to make sure that they keep safe and clean and I will continue to be a loud and active advocate for Great Lakes and environmental protection, including dealing with the existential threat of climate change.

AC: And recently, Real Clear Politics moved your race to toss up, and the Cook Political Report names your race the only GOP offensive opportunity that remains on their map. How do you plan to connect with Michigan voters in these remaining 100 days while in person campaigning is so difficult?

GP: For my view campaigning can happen later because I have more important things to do. The people of the state of Michigan sent me to Washington D.C. to work hard to get things done. And that's what I need to focus on as we are hurting, you know, here in the state.

And I'm very proud that the Center for Effective Lawmaking, which is a nonpartisan group, they actually rank all members of Congress on how effective we are at actually getting things done: passing legislation and how significant that legislation is. I'm in my first term, I'm a new member of the Senate, but of the 48 Democratic senators. I'm ranked the fourth most effective member of the United States Senate and the Democratic Party. That's what I think Michigan voters are looking for.

They want someone who's pragmatic, who’s common sense, someone who does their homework and someone who has a proven track record of getting things done. That's what I'll run on. But in the meantime, I'm going to keep doing my job here and be as effective as I can to make sure small businesses survive that our families get the resources that they need, putting food on the table and a roof over their head, and to make sure our health care providers have the resources they need in order to treat those who are most seriously impacted by the virus.