Durbin: Democrats should hold virtual convention, not gather in Milwaukee

In an interview with the Sun-Times, the Democratic senator also said he wants transparency in the new payroll loan program. Companies with “no losses because of this COVID are still qualifying for substantial forgivable loans.”

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Sen. Dick Durbin

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., thinks his party should hold a virtual national convention instead of gathering in Milwaukee as planned.

Sun-Times file

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Friday Democrats should pull the plug on their national convention in Milwaukee, already pushed back to August because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hold a virtual event instead to officially tap Joe Biden as their presidential nominee. 

In a telephone interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Durbin discussed the coronavirus crisis as the nation faces another week under stay-at-home orders.

Lockdown life

Durbin’s been working out of his Springfield home the past three weeks. Congress is on recess to avoid spreading COVID-19. He wears jeans, khakis and sweats most of the time.

Durbin started putting on a mask the past few days and says he feels like a bandit going into a store. He goes to his office for Facebook sessions with Illinoisans because the internet connection is better. Durbin and wife Loretta order take-out often to support local restaurants.

Small Business Administration loans: Sees controversy on the horizon

On Thursday, after just two weeks, a stampede of applicants exhausted a new $346 billion Paycheck Protection Program appropriation. The PPP is designed to help employers meet payrolls, pay some operating costs and have the loan forgiven.

Durbin said shoveling so much money out the door so fast means “the day we take a look at the loans that were given and the loans that were turned down, there’s going to be a controversy, I’m just sure of that.”

Democrats and Republicans agree about pouring another $250 billion into the PPP pot, though Democrats want some changes to fix what appear to be inequities in loan approvals. “We definitely need it,” Durbin said. A key issue for Democrats is to make sure a portion the second round of  PPP loans go to minority-owned businesses squeezed out of the first round of PPP because they did not have strong relationships with lenders, who gave priority to their best customers.

Durbin also wants more transparency. He is concerned, he said, that “companies that suffered no losses because of this COVID are still qualifying for substantial forgivable loans.”

Milwaukee convention

Asked about the national convention, Durbin said: “I think it will be a virtual convention. I think the likelihood that we’ll be able to assemble any kind of crowds, whether it’s for a convention or for a football game or a baseball game is really at this point highly unlikely” until “we have a vaccine that is effective and widely distributed.”

Earlier this month, the Democratic National Committee postponed its presidential nominating convention to Aug. 17. The gathering at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee originally had been scheduled for July 13-16. The GOP convention is set for Aug 24-27 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

“God bless the people of Milwaukee. We’ll have a big party up there with bratwurst at some later date but I just don’t think it’s practical to ask people to travel from all over the United States to gather in a large crowded group,” Durbin said.

On joining Trump’s Opening Up America Again Congressional Group

Durbin was on a call with President Donald Trump and many other senators Thursday for this newly created White House group that is without — so far — a specific agenda. He said he urged that state and local governments get substantial financial assistance in the next round of emergency funding; that issue is part of the debate over extending the PPP.

Durbin, founder of the movement to legalize the status of “Dreamers,” people brought to the U.S. illegally while underage, said he asked Trump to avoid deportation threats during the COVID-19 emergency. Trump yanked Dreamers’ legal protections, and a case protesting his action is pending in the Supreme Court.

Trump “says what he always says,” said Durbin, who has been to this rodeo with the president before. Trump, according to Durbin, said: “‘We are going to take care of those young people, don’t worry about that.’ He told me that the day he was sworn in, and we know what has happened since. He didn’t do what he said.”

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