Blackburn, Alexander split on COVID-19 aid package vote

By , Daily Memphian Published: March 19, 2020 3:23 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Tennessee’s two Republican U.S. senators split on Wednesday’s vote approving the second in a series of financial aid measures to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the law.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn tied her no vote to what she claimed are the origins of the virus. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he believed the package he voted for was “well-intentioned” but that he had problems with the impact on business owners.

The provisions include up to 10 days of paid sick leave for workers at companies with no more than 500 employees. It also guarantees free testing for the novel coronavirus and strengthens unemployment insurance provisions.

On the CNBC program “Squawk Box,” Blackburn said she is concerned about the impact on small businesses of extending paid sick leave.

“We are trying to work out the paid leave so that these small businesses do not have to shut down. We need to be able to have them come roaring back because we have got to be able to defeat this,” she said in an excerpt from the interview that she linked to in a Tweet. “This came from out of Wuhan, China. They knew they had it. They were not transparent. We’ve all heard those stories. We’ve got to defeat this and we’ve got to preserve the economy.”


The majority Democratic U.S. House approved the bill before Wednesday’s Senate approval. In the House, the city’s two Congressmen – Democrat Steve Cohen and Republican David Kustoff – voted for the measure. 

Blackburn was one of eight no votes in a 90-8 Senate vote Wednesday. 

Alexander voted with the majority on the bill despite concerns he expressed earlier as the package was taking shape. On the Senate floor Wednesday, Alexander said he still had “significant issues” with the package despite his yes vote.

“Washington should pay for it,” Alexander said. “This is no time to impose an expensive new mandate or unexpected new costs when they (states) don’t have the money coming in to pay for the normal costs.”

He and Blackburn say the result could be that employers will lay off employees to avoid having to pay for the sick leave.

“I would rather Washington work with the states and their existing programs to make sure states have sufficient funding on top of their own funds to deal with the large amount of auto workers, restaurant workers and workers at small businesses,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.


Asked by CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin about possible bailouts for the airline and cruise ship industries, Blackburn said independent contractors should also be included.

“What about all of these inspirational and motivational speakers and entertainers that are coming out of Nashville and out of Tennessee and they have lost every single one of their bookings for the next four months,” she said. “Their income went from healthy to zero. So you can’t just segment it.”

She also said such bailouts are different from those surrounding the 2008 national economic collapse or federal aid packages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

“We have to remember this is something that came out of another country,” Blackburn said. “It came from Wuhan, China. They withheld information and it has caused a global pandemic.”

Sorkin said the pandemic seemed similar to Hurricane Katrina because neither was manmade. Blackburn didn’t respond one way or the other.

“This package that came through yesterday had problems that I felt were going to pick winners and losers, and I do not want small business to be a loser,” she said.

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coronavirus Marsha Blackburn Lamar Alexander

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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