A conversation with Sen. Mark Warner on COVID-19, a second stimulus package, health care and his race against Daniel Gade

Virginia Senate Debate

Sen. Mark Warner

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) called the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic “a failure” in an interview with 8News ahead of his second debate with Daniel Gade, but said that he’s encouraged by the response to the economic fallout brought on by the pandemic and believes a bipartisan effort can get a second stimulus package passed.

The former Virginia governor is seeking a third term in the Senate and will face off with Gade, a professor at American University and a retired Army lieutenant colonel who had his leg amputated after being wounded in Iraq, in November’s election.

Warner is running in a state where Republicans have not won a statewide race in over a decade and has outraised his GOP challenger by a wide margin. According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, he’s raised over $10 million and Gade has raised nearly $983,000.

The senator challenged Gade to three debates, including one specifically focused on racial equality and justice at one of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. That debate will be held at Norfolk State University on Saturday.

Sen. Warner addressed several issues in his conversation with 8News, including the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, his thoughts on the economic recovery and what it will take to get a second stimulus package approved, the Supreme Court vacancy and its impact on health care, whether he supports expanding the court or adding term limits for justices and his reason for calling for a debate on racial inequality and election security.

You can find and watch his responses, including edited and condensed excerpts, below:

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic?

“Well, I’ve been very disappointed by the response of the White House to the COVID virus. Before there was a single case of COVID in Virginia, I wrote the Trump administration and said, “Do you need extra resources to get through the virus?” We now have 200,000 Americans that are dead. We’re seven months in, we still have no national testing plan, we still have no plan on PPE…

“So, I think our response has not been strong. I think we now have the majority of Virginians who would even question a vaccine. I hope there will be a vaccine and I’ll take a vaccine as soon as Dr. Fauci says it’s safe to take one, and I hope we get there…

“I think we need another relief package. I’ve never seen a time – I’ve spent longer in business than I have in politics – I’ve never seen a time when the stock market is so much different from the real economy. And the federal government, whether it’s for that independent restaurateur, whether it’s for that small business that needs additional assistance, at somebody whose been on unemployment for now a couple of months, we need to provide that extra assistance because if we get the virus under control, we can get the economy reopened.

“But that means we need to give our schools and local governments the assistance they need and unfortunately the plan that was put up by the Senate Republican leadership, which was even a third of what President Trump had suggested, would have frankly allowed our local governments in Virginia, our cities and counties, to go bankrupt and would have laid off firefighters, and teachers, and cops and I think that would be crazy to do during the midst of a pandemic.

“So, I think we have not managed this well medically. Thank goodness, if we follow the science I think we can get it under control. I think the first round of economic assistance was critical but I do think we need another round.”


QUESTION: How encouraged are you that another stimulus package will be passed?

“I absolutely think there’s a way to get to a deal. Again, I’ve spent much longer in business than I have in politics and it’s almost a crazy argument to be arguing about the top line number. We can have these programs end a little bit earlier, they can start a little bit later. There has got to be a will to get to yes, and I think the House proposal is a good starting point.

“I’d be even willing to make some additional compromises to get to yes, because the idea that we’re going to wait until after the election, when so many people’s lives are in such economic turmoil, doesn’t make sense to me…”


On the odds that the $2.2 trillion price tag could doom the latest coronavirus relief package proposed by House Democrats.

“These top-lined numbers are not where the argument ought to be, because if we end the program a little bit earlier, obviously the top-line number goes down. There are hundreds of billions of dollars that were in certain programs in the last CARES package that could be reallocated…

“So, I think there is a way to get to yes. I think on the unemployment, there needs to be a phased down as the economy gets better…

“I do hope calmer heads will prevail. I’m going to be continuing to urge that we get to yes. If the house passes a plan tomorrow, the Senate ought to take it up and if there are places we ought to amend it, let’s amend it, but let’s not just reject it out of hand.”


On the Supreme Court vacancy, President Trump’s nomination of Judge Barrett and how her appointment could put the Affordable Care Act at risk

“Judge Barrett is, got a distinguished legal career. I disagree with her on many things but I don’t question her qualifications. What I find so offensive, is that when leader McConnell changed the rules four years ago and said the Senate should not be voting on a Supreme Court nominee during an election year and now has completely reversed course when Virginians have already voted…

“Why this brings home to me so much is that, the second week after the election the Supreme Court will hear a case on the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, I’ve got ways I’d like to reform it. But it did provide health care coverage for over 20 million Americans. I did protect 3.5 million Virginians, including my daughter, who has got a preexisting condition. It did allow for the expansion of Medicaid…

“The law of the land that protects people with preexisting conditions is the Affordable Care Act. And this is, again, an area where I dramatically differ with my opponent. I respect my opponent’s service, his sacrifice, when he served in the armed services. But he can not say he is for protecting people with preexisting conditions when it’s the ACA, is the law that protects that…”


On whether he supports expanding the Supreme Court or putting term limits for justices

“I think that, I agree with Joe Biden on these. I think he is appropriately been reluctant to change the rules around the Senate. I think one of the strengths of the Senate has been the need to find bipartisan compromises…”


On why he challenged Daniel Gade to a debate specifically on racial equality and justice at Norfolk State University

“Because we’ve seen with the murder of George Floyd, with the concerns about what happened with Breonna Taylor, with the recognition that our country still grapples with race…

“I think our country still deals with systemic racism. I think we have to acknowledge that Black lives matter and I particularly felt it was important to have one of these debates at a historically black college. I used to serve on the board of one of Virginia’s historically black colleges, Virginia Union. They are great schools. They produce great talent. And what I hope we can have a discussion, with Mr. Gade on Saturday night, is how do we make sure there’s more equality of opportunity in this country…

“My history as a business person, I failed my first two times. The third time I was fortunate enough to get into the cell phone business and did better than I could have ever expected. But I’m not sure I would have three chances or two chances or even one chance, if I hadn’t been a white man with the appropriate education…”


On election security, social media’s role in preventing misinformation and if major tech companies have done enough to help

“This is an area where, while we’ve made progress and our government’s gotten better, our intelligence community has gotten better, the social media companies are trying a bit harder and I think our election machinery, we still see foreign nations, Russia, China, Iran, try to interfere.

“And I don’t think the social media companies have gone far enough. I think we live in a world where too much misinformation and disinformation takes place where we see efforts to radicalize people over social media in unprecedented ways.

“I think we need basic privacy rules around the internet. We need to say if I’m tired of how I’m treated on Facebook, I ought to be easily move my data to a new site. And I do think when Americans get 65 percent of their news from Facebook and Google, that it’s time for these companies to bear a little bit of responsibility and not simply feed us reinforcing information on either end of the political agenda. So, I think there needs to be a real moment of reckoning with these social media companies…”

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