AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Sen. Kelly Loeffler joins Brad Means on The Means Report to discuss Georgia and DC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the reopening of Georgia. She also shares details of her USA RISE Program, an effort to grow jobs.
Brad Means: Senator Loeffler, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. It’s been an incredibly busy first four months on the job for you, and we appreciate your time.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well it’s great to be with you, Brad. Certainly time has gone so fast but I feel like I’ve gotten to get a lot done for Georgia. There’s a lot more to do, and I’m really glad we’re going back into session on Monday.
Brad Means: Well, I know a lot of people are excited to see you all back in session as well. What about the reopening of the state of Georgia? Do you agree with the governor’s decision to do that and how’s it going so far?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well look, I think the governor has taken a very measured data driven approach. It seems to be going well so far and look, I think the president, the governor, and I, we all have the same goal for Georgians, which is to be safe and to find ways to start to resume some of our normal activities in a new way and that means by social distancing, wearing a mask, and monitoring the numbers, and making sure- I’ve spent a lot of time with hospitals over the last two months checking in with them continuously, not only in terms of what their needs are but so that we can make policy decisions and we see that that effectiveness in flattening the curve has played out.
Brad Means: Well Senator, I know that the virus is not leaving us, even as we get permission to go back out into society. So tell me if this is a correct way to look at it. It’s not that the virus is gone, it’s just that we are now and certainly will be better equipped to test for it and to treat it. Is that right?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: That’s right, Brad The goal with flattening the curve was to make sure that we don’t overwhelm our hospitals, our front-line healthcare professionals who we rely on to care for us at that moment of illness that requires hospitalization. That is being achieved, however, we’re going to be vigilant and continue to watch out for that. So I think the first step is making sure we have good command of the numbers, not just infections and deaths, which are so tragic to see but hospitalization and ICUs, ventilation usage, testing. Now we’re monitoring testing as it continues to rise dramatically in our state. So these are all good metrics that will help us ease back into this when we each deem that it’s right for us, while making sure we each take personal responsibility for being safe.
Brad Means: Let’s take a look at China if we can, Senator. Do you think that that country bears any responsibility for this pandemic, and if so, what kind of repercussions might China face?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: China, absolutely, will face repercussions from this. They bear a lot of responsibility and we’re just fortunate that at the very end of January, that President Trump took an unprecedented measure to ban travel from China. Unfortunately, if China had been truthful with us and forthcoming about what the numbers that they were seeing and with their own people, we could’ve stopped this pandemic before it became a worldwide health emergency. I mean, we are looking at a situation where they prevented travel within China but not to other countries. I mean, they have to answer for this. This has not only impacted their economy but worldwide economy. It’s cost lives, I mean, this is something that I felt so strongly about that I wrote the president a letter urging him to hold them accountable in phase two trade agreements, and to make sure that they deliver on the phase one trade agreement that the president fought so hard for to help level the playing field.
Brad Means: Do you think the virus just randomly occurred? Everything seemed to be going so well, economically speaking, especially in our country before it showed up.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Yeah look, what happened in Wuhan, whether this came from a lab, whether this came from the wet markets, we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. China needs to open up to our health officials that need to get in and understand the origins of this virus but right now, our attention needs to be faced squarely on how do we treat it? How do we get a vaccine? How do we prevent further outbreaks coming out of China? Keep in mind, this is the third outbreak that we’ve had from China. It’s a wake-up call, and we’ve got to take measures to protect the health of all Americans at this point.
Brad Means: You’ve recently announced the USA RISE Program, an effort to grow jobs which we need for sure, and to reinvest in America. Senator Loeffler, it’s a great program. When might we start feeling and seeing some benefits from it?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: So, the origins of USA RISE was around my nearly 30 years of business experience in the private sector saying, what does it take to stand up American free enterprise again? How do we empower the private sector? And importantly, make sure jobs are protected. The thrust of much of what we’ve done in the senate has been to protect lives and to protect livelihoods. And so, the idea behind, that I came up with around USA RISE was really to make sure that we’re looking at supply chains. For example, why are so many of our pharmaceutical drugs made in China and India? We should be looking at protecting the safety of that supply chain, grown in the USA. So we’re looking at made in the USA, and also grown in the USA. Our Ag. Industry in the United States is the world’s best. How do we protect and preserve it? Because frankly, what we see now is that food security is national security. We’ve got work to do there. And then hiring in the USA, making sure that employers aren’t bound by red tape, that they’re not bound by litigation that could come out of COVID-19. And then finally, families in the USA. Addressing the societal cost that this pandemic has had, whether it’s domestic abuse, substance abuse, mental health, suicide, these are tragedies that come out of this crisis that we need to address.
Brad Means: How about the paycheck protection program going forward, Senator? The first time around, there may have been some loopholes, big businesses got the money that may not have been entitled to it, some gave it back. How do we make sure that only business that qualify, the true small businesses, get that help?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well, and I think that the majority of loans that went out clearly were small businesses. And so much so, that we needed to pass the second round, which we did another 310 billion on top of 350 billion but I think, as details on that program emerged, it was important that we took quick action to make sure that the framework was clearly communicated and there will be oversight as the president and Secretary Mnuchin have been very clear and the SBA is going to be focused on particularly doing an audit before any loans over a certain size are dispersed that will take place. And look, some of this has just been rules of the road, not knowing in a fast-evolving environment as we’re all trying to adapt to this. Learning what these programs have has been a part of it. So I think, making sure that things are clearly communicated and that people are held to account, I think that will happen.
Brad Means: Let me hit the supply chain thing again real quickly. When are our grocery store shelves going to look normal again?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Yeah, I mean, food supply is so central to this whole pandemic. I mean, look at the work that our farmers, truck drivers, store clerks, those stocking the shelves and making sure our supply chains operate smoothly, and it’s really been a tragedy. And this is one that I’ve spoken with Secretary Prado about and also proposed some things within my RISE Plan to enable farms to deliver their produce, their poultry, their cattle. I mean, we’re dealing with a situation where there’s real hunger in the United States. Food banks have seen a 40% increase in demand but yet, they have shortages at the same time that we’re dumping milk and euthanizing chickens. This should not be happening. I know Secretary Prado is focused on this, President Trump is focused on it and I think, me as a member of the Senate Ag. Committee, this is going to be front and center because we don’t have time to wait for Washington, typical bureaucracy to move through this, we’ve got to address it in real time. And I just commend those that are working in our plants, helping deliver the food that we need, and for taking the measures to stay safe, that’s all critically important.
Brad Means: Senator, let me take just a moment and get you to comment on this stock market story. I know that you’ve been asked and you’ve answered questions about it but for the viewers who didn’t read your piece in The Wall Street Journal, who’ve heard just bits and pieces of this story, that your third-party financial advisors sold some of your stocks, bought some others right before the pandemic impacted our stock market. There’s no indication whatsoever of any wrongdoing. I want to make that clear to our viewers and I know, of course, you know that. My question is, have you had a chance to talk to your money people at least about the timing of those trades?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well, I’m glad you asked because since the moment that this truly false political attack story broke from a left-wing blog that is really focused full-time on bringing the president down, his administration, his family, I have been transparent in saying I welcome anyone to look at anything. I have been blessed with success. I knew my success would be attacked politically. I came to Washington to make sure all Americans have the same opportunities and freedoms that I had to live the American Dream, to do the things I wanted to do, and that’s why the only thing that we’ve ever said to our advisors is, as I said in the Wall Street Journal, we’ve decided to exit, and asked them to exit their securities’ positions and just be in mutual funds because this is an avenue for political attack. It’s being used by career politicians in the left for their personal gain to stoke fears on a pandemic and just take it off the table. Look, no activity was any different than it had been in any month leading up to it. No one knew that this pandemic, at that time, was coming. There was, even our health officials unfortunately, and I so wish that we had known more. I wish China had not withheld information and that we were on a very different place but I can tell you that this has not distracted my work for Georgia. I have been fighting for them since the day I got sworn in on January 6th. And I can assure you that 18 days later, I was not thinking about my stock portfolio and have not since. In fact, I donate my pay in the senate, I don’t work for financial gain there. I am working for Georgians to preserve the American Dream, to fight against socialism in our country.
Brad Means: Well, I appreciate you commenting on that and speaking of donations, this isn’t really a question. It’s just a thank you. Thank you for you and your husband donating one million dollars recently to purchase protective equipment for healthcare workers down in Albany, a city that’s been hit hard by this. Mighty generous of y’all, Senator Loeffler.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well, thank you for saying that but I just want to draw attention to the front lines, our healthcare workers and all Americans who are doing acts of kindness across our country. This is one part of this moment, I hope, that we don’t forget and that we don’t lose as part of the culture of the fabric of our country. Having been raised on a farm, when someone’s barn burnt down, the neighbors would come over with a casserole, they’d come over with backhoes and tractors to help. This is the spirit of America that I hope we never lose.
Brad Means: You know, I hope we don’t either. And yeah, the senator who used to be a soybean farmer, I don’t know how many of our viewers know that but a lot of respect from the farming industry for your help to them. Last question, Senator Loeffler. And you might not be able to answer it but maybe just give us some hope, when will we have sports again?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Well, I was excited. I’m glad you asked about that. I’m so happy that the Masters was rescheduled, instead of canceled. So many events can’t be rescheduled but that’s exciting. NASCAR coming May 17th. We’ll be able to watch some of the racing remotely. It was great to have the NFL draft done. I know folks are watching the Michael Jordan, the last dance episode. We’re seeking out sports where we can and we’re all hoping that the SEC comes back in full force this fall but we’ve got to be safe and that’s the first priority. So, I appreciate you asking that question because I think sports is something that brings us together as a country. No matter what side of the aisle [you’re] on, it inspires people and at a time like this, we are definitely missing our sports.
Brad Means: Well, we sure are. And we are so anxious for its return. Senator Kelly Loeffler, thank you so much for your hard work on behalf of our country and in the fight against this pandemic. And thanks for taking the time to be with us today. We appreciate it.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Thank you, Brad.
Brad Means: Absolutely Georgia Senator, Kelly Loeffler.