Marie Newman: Coronavirus Makes ‘Medicare For All’ More Likely To Happen

Marie Newman thought she was surely going to lose last week’s election. With the coronavirus hitting the country in full force, her campaign couldn’t knock on doors or turn out the vote. Voters were scared to go to the polls. 

Instead, she won. The progressive Democrat beat out longtime incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski in the primary election in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District, located in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago. It was one of the few wins for a progressive challenger this election cycle.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, infecting tens of thousands and threatening the livelihoods of millions, Newman is convinced the pandemic will lead the country toward the progressive policies she campaigned on.

“I think ‘Medicare for All’ is going to be much more likely to happen as a result of having the tragedy of the pandemic on our hands,” Newman told HuffPost, adding that she’s buoyed by the bipartisan support behind an emergency expansion of the social safety net.

“It’s really a logical thing. If you’re not going to do it for moral reasons, do it for logic,” she added.

Newman ran and won on Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, expanding union membership and raising the minimum wage. Lipinski once voted against the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood and stood firm on the right wing of his party.

Progressives have already made the connection between universal health care and an adequate response to the pandemic, arguing that a Medicare For All program would lead to a healthier population less susceptible to the disease and protect Americans from astronomical treatment costs. Still, not all states have expanded public health programs in response to the outbreak.

Newman, who had the backing of both Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is very likely to win her general election in the blue district and join the ranks of other progressives like Reps. Katie Porter (Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) in Congress.

In an interview with HuffPost, Newman laid out an optimistic path forward for progressive policies that she said will be seen as the practical option — even if a more moderate Democrat is at the top of the presidential ticket.

You’ll very likely be in these Congress members’ shoes next year. What do you make of the coronavirus relief legislation being negotiated right now in Congress?

Because I have a union background and taking care of everybody is really important to me, right now I think we have a good start. I think we are finally coming together. I am buoyed by the fact that we are coming together as a nation — that’s the most important thing. I hope that our leaders in the Democratic Party continue to fight for paid leave for wage workers. Some industries are being left out. Some parts of industries are being left out, and that’s really distressing me. 

Are there specific industries you are particularly worried about?

It’s been alerted to me that some of the airline workers are not covered in this package. There are folks in the service industry and in the public sector that aren’t covered in the package, and we have to cover everybody. These are not people that have huge savings.

I am more hopeful, though, because I think the Republican Party is coming to their senses a little bit and realizing that working families have been let out of the economy more than they had thought — that 80% of our economy is workers and working families. By the way, if we inject them with this help, it will help the economy overall because they are the first ones that spend because they need things. So it’s really a logical thing. If you’re not going to do it for moral reasons, do it for logic.

A lot of the ideas that progressives have been running on are now being talked about in real terms in Congress with this stimulus. I’m curious, you’ve said in the past that you ran on these ideas because you saw them aligning with your district. When did you realize that these ideas, many championed nationally by Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, aligned with your district?

Let’s credit Bernie, for sure. But this is about many progressives. I just want to be clear and inclusive. He has been doing a fabulous job, I have no quibble with that whatsoever. But this is not just Bernie, not just Elizabeth Warren. This is many people, frankly outside of politics, that have been pushing these notions that we have to make an economy that works for everyone. Just period.

What I am thrilled about is that the party is finally getting back to its roots. If you look back to the 1930s and the Great Depression, why these ideas became popular and worked really well is because they worked really well. It’s that simple. When we inject jobs into the economy and transportation and infrastructure and health care in all these places, guess what? The economy booms and families thrive. This is not a new concept at all, but just one that we are going back to.

The reason I brought up Bernie was because he brought these ideas to the national conversation in 2016 in a way that hadn’t been done in a long time, the cycle before you first ran. I was curious, when did you see those policies aligning with your specific district?

I see what you mean. I would say that these ideas around working families and the middle class having a better economy to work from — I think it became glaringly apparent that when the economy did recover and we did see good recovery in spots, but it was clear to me going back to 2014 that, wow, you know what? Our average hourly wage hasn’t increased in 15 years. That’s troublesome. We were so busy getting out of the worst recession we’ve ever had that we were forgetting that many parts of the economy stayed in place. They didn’t move. And that struck me in 2014. And for 25 years — you can test this with my husband — I’ve been saying CEOs make far too much money. The executive suite makes far too much money. And I mean large companies. There are parts of our economy that are ridiculously overpaid, and greed has taken over the economy. I’ve been saying that for 25 years. Let’s be clear about that.

But what was nice — I’ve been politically active for the last 25 years, but in the last 10 years I would say that throughout our district, everyone is in agreement that it was great that we recovered. But guess what? Everyone else stayed in place.

What is the future for some of these ideas — like Medicare for All, like a Green New Deal — if there isn’t an explicitly progressive candidate backing these policies at the top of the Democratic ticket in the presidential race?

I think they’re still going to live on. In fact, I would put this forth: I think Medicare for All is going to be much more likely to happen as a result of having the tragedy of the pandemic on our hands. Because it is very clear to me and everyone, even people who have been somewhat against Medicare for All, that if that had been in place, this probably wouldn’t have gone as poorly as it has. Secondly, if we get that into place, it will be universal care, which could insulate us from something like this again. I actually think Medicare for All is going to be easier to pass.

The number of people that are worried about the climate is growing exponentially, and they’re not willing to back down. The sadness and tragedy of the pandemic will bring us together. I already see unity in Illinois-3 — of neighbors helping each other. It’s nature or God’s way, depending on who you talk to, of bringing us together to solve problems.

How do you see the organization around progressive policies in Congress?

It has to come from the grassroots, because nothing in this country that brings change comes from the top. It always comes from the grassroots. My campaign was emblematic of that — we were full grassroots and very powerful. And infrastructure is now in place — we will push issues, we will push each other and we will work together. Similarly, at the national level, I think the progressive caucus has done a really good job. Now they will have more members — well, they will have at least one more member. That’s me. They have momentum, they should use that momentum. They have three great leaders in Reps. Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna, and I think they are making a difference.

What are the examples of their successes?

I don’t think we are seeing full-on legislation come through, but when you look at Medicare for All’s acceptance in my district, it’s very high. In many districts, it’s very high. Despite conservatives of all stripes bludgeoning it, it is very resilient if you look at the polls. It’s extremely resilient. What that tells me is that the progressive caucus and its members have done a good job of telling their constituents and America that this is a tried and true program that we can make better and more robust and roll out in a measured fashion. It will allow full choice of doctors instead of restricted networks. It is the only, and I repeat, only health care system that by all studies shows will bring down costs. That in itself should be commended, and the progressive caucus should feel good about that.

Where do you see the room for improvement?

I think we do need to put more focus on wages and empowering unions and the economy that works for anyone. But if we don’t get health care moving alongside the coronavirus package, it won’t have sustainability.

What do you want to hear from the Democratic presidential nominee?

Our job is to make that whoever the nominee is, we make sure they move these ideas forward. I believe there is power in numbers. The progressive caucus is the largest caucus in Congress today. There’s 90 and soon to be 91. There’s power in numbers and power in solutions and there is power in spirit, and using all that will be powerful in getting the nominee to move toward these things. This is neither left nor right nor center. I keep stressing this — stop putting labels on things. These are ideas that are very, very, very, very practical. Just stop. Stop with the labels of “Oh, this is socialist” or “Oh, it’s this or that.” It’s the only one that’s practical. Let’s go with practical.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

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