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Governor Baker rips Washington for focusing on Supreme Court pick instead of COVID-19 relief



By Matt Murphy

Days after urging the U.S. Senate to wait until after the election to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, Gov. Charlie Baker lashed out at members of Congress from both parties on Wednesday for potentially allowing a vacancy on the court to close the door to a compromise on coronavirus relief funding for states.

Baker, a moderate Republican whose politics often diverge from the national GOP, also defended his endorsement of Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins, but said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would likely confine their political activities between now and November to campaigning for some local legislative candidates.

Baker said the partisan war that has broken out over the vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of Ginsburg on Friday — the same day he endorsed Collins — was indicative of why many Americans have a low opinion of Congress.

“One hundred percent ends justify the means, classic Washington behavior and it’s a big part of why most people in this country think Washington is a problem. Period,” said Baker, his voice rising in anger during a press conference at Mill City BBQ and Brew in Lowell.

While talks over another round of coronavirus stimulus spending had all but stalled prior to Ginsburg’s death, Baker said finding ways to help states and municipalities is where Congress’s focus should lie right now.

“And I sit here as the governor of the commonwealth of Mass., where we have basically been playing this hand around COVID as best we can with a really uneven, inconsistent response from the federal government, who has far more tools in their tool box than any state is ever going to have to manage their way through this, and they are now going to wrap themselves up in a conversation about the Supreme Court, which is important, but nobody looks good with respect to how they’ve chosen to position themselves over the course of the last four years on this issue, at a point in time when what I’d really like to see them focus on is the pandemic, which has killed 200,000 people in the United States of America so far and continues to wreak havoc on our economy and our communities across not just the commonwealth, but across the country,” Baker said.

“So, yeah, I’d like to see them focus on the pandemic,” Baker concluded, as people in the audience started clapping.

The administration and legislative leaders in both the House and Senate on Beacon Hill have been waiting to see if the federal government would send more relief as they look to Oct. 31 when a $16 billion interim budget expires and pressure grows to develop a spending plan for the remainder of fiscal 2021.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues has said the state could be looking at a revenue gap of $5 billion without new federal aid, but at least one economic model out of Tufts University has pointed to a smaller fiscal challenge of less than $2 billion in fiscal 2021.

Baker said Wednesday that he was confident in being able to close out fiscal 2020, which ended in June, and manage through fiscal 2021, but expressed concern about where Massachusetts would be financially in fiscal 2022.

“Long story short the FY20 budget is going to be fine, alright,” Baker said.

“Generally speaking, we think (fiscal 2021) we can work our way through. But (fiscal 2022) we believe it’s going to be important for the feds to support states and municipalities,” he added.

The governor pointed out that in Washington both the House and Senate, despite being far apart on an overall bottom line, had about $100 billion for K-12 and higher education in their respective stimulus bills.

“Really? You can’t figure out how to get a deal done in part around school reopening, colleges returning, education, which everybody believes is a critically important element of what we lost last spring because of COVID?” Baker asked.

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to keep the House in session until a stimulus bill is done, senators have begun to express their skepticism that a deal is within reach following Ginsburg’s death.

Collins is one of only two Republicans who has said the Senate should not confirm a nominee for the Supreme Court put forward by President Donald Trump before the election. She is also one of the Democratic Party’s main targets this cycle as its tries to regain control of the Senate, and she trails in most polls to Sara Gideon, the Democratic speaker of the Maine House.

Asked if he factored control of the Senate into his endorsement, Baker said, “”No, my calculus was based on the fact that I think Susan Collins has been a terrific senator for Maine and a terrific senator for the region.”

Baker said Collins has been a go-to phone call for him when he’s needed to talk to someone with “a lot of standing and lot of history in Washington about how to accomplish goals and objectives for Massachusetts.”

“She doesn’t represent Massachusetts, but she’s always been there to support the commonwealth as a member of the New England region,” he said.

The governor credited Collins, who once worked as a deputy treasurer of Massachusetts under Joe Malone, for her work to support wind energy, Medicaid, transportation and COVID relief spending.

“The work she did, which she spearheaded, to remove the tariffs on lobsters was a huge issue not just for Maine but also for the lobster community here in Massachusetts as well, and she pretty much did that one all by herself,” Baker said.

The governor, however, said not to expect him to start getting involved in other out-of-state political campaigns, including the race for the White House.

“I think it’s likely that the LG and I will try to do some things between now and election day to help some of the folks who are running for the state Legislature, but I think that’s sort of going to be the extent of our political activity,” he said.

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