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Congressional Corner

Congressional Corner With Jim McGovern

MA Congressman Jim McGovern

Western Massachusetts has a lot of clout in the House of Representatives these days.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from the second district, speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Congressman Jim McGovern, one of the most important people in the House of Representatives who's chairman of the Rules Committee, which is the great traffic cop of the House of Representatives. Welcome Jim McGovern.

Congressman Jim McGovern: Happy to be with you.

How are things in the second district? I live in the first district you live in the second district? You know, I think about this all the time. You know, Richie Neal in the first district is the head of the one of the most powerful committees in the Ways and Means Committee, and you're in the second district in lonely Western Massachusetts, and you're in charge of the of the Rules Committee. That's some powerhouse we've got up here.

Well, we're lucky to be on two very important committees that I think that are gonna be very helpful, obviously to Massachusetts, but also are particularly important during this crisis that we now find ourselves, and we want to make sure that we're helping people you know, who don't have powerful lobbyists who really need the help, people who are struggling, small businesses. And so we're working very, very closely together to try to ensure that that's the case,

Jim McGovern, you've always been outstandingly open about things. And I really appreciate that. So let me ask you this. What are our particular needs in your district, the second House district, when it comes to combating the coronavirus? What do we know about the number of infections and deaths in the district?

Well, you know, I mean, I don't know what the latest is today. It just keeps on rising every, every day. Look, the challenges that we're facing, are not dissimilar to the challenges that everybody's facing, every state is facing across the country. And what really puzzles me is that based on many conversations with medical experts, with scientists, with those who have studied this disease, they keep on saying that if you really want to get this under control, in addition to practicing social distancing, we need to do testing, testing, testing and we seem to not be aggressively moving forward on tests on a national level. The president is now saying the governors have to do it. But we need to provide the governors money, if they're going to do all that. And then this last package that Congress passed, you know, basically, against the president’s wishes, we put in a whole bunch of money there to help with testing. But the challenge with this disease is that some people get it and they get very, very sick. There are some people who may have it, who may be carriers, but are totally asymptomatic. They look great, everything's wonderful, but they could be spreading it. So unless you do the testing, you know, you're not gonna be able to control this in a way that will enable us to safely kind of go back, as close to normal as we can. It's gonna take us a while to get back to normal. But what we do not want to do is to prematurely end these precautions that we have put into place, only to have another surge, and then we're in even worse shape as a result of that.

What do we know about the number of infections and deaths in a district? Is the district better off or worse off than the rest of the country? I say that because, you know, I wrote a column saying, hey, people who own second homes here in the first district, Great Barrington, should not be seen as pariahs. And boy, did I get it from people around me who said, don't let those people in here.

Well, first of all, we can’t approach it like that. It's not us versus them.  I mean, we're all in this together. And this is one of the things that has really bothered me about the approach from the White House is that it's pitting one state against the other against the other. And one of the challenges that we have had, you know, in the western part of my district is making sure that everybody has enough, you know, PPE and I'm not just our hospitals, but also our first responders. That's also been the case in western, by the way, it's like the movie The Hunger Games. You have hospitals and states competing with other states and other hospitals. You have them, have the states competing with the federal government. I mean, we're, you know, we're tracking down leads when people call me up, say, I know a guy who knows a guy in China, who makes these protective face masks. Can you help facilitate a connection so we can try to get them? I mean, that's the kind of stuff that's happening. It's ridiculous. And again, I mean, look, here's the deal right now. I mean, we really need to be looking at what went, what is going well and what is not going well. And we need to learn from our past mistakes. I mean, it is unforgivable in my book, and there's a front page story in the Washington Post today, saying that the president was warned about this in December and January on a regular basis during his daily national security briefings, I mean, and he seemed to have no interest in it because it was an inconvenient truth. It messed up the narrative that he wanted to put out there. So he kept on changing the subject. And as you know, in February, he didn’t do anything and continue to downplay it. Tell us, tell everybody how wonderful the Chinese government was, and all of this, then he even called it a hoax. In early March.

He said it was a Democratic hoax, even worse, Democratic.

Right here we are probably in the next, probably today or tomorrow, the number of deaths in the country will be more than those who are who died in the in the war in Vietnam. And that's the milestone that we are approaching right now. And so his denial was deadly. I mean, what should have happened, when he first found out about this is he should have been having his healthcare experts come up with a plan to figure out how we can contain this. He should have reached out to all the states to have them do an inventory of what they had in terms of PPE. What they had in terms of ventilators. He didn't do that. And he should have invoked the Defense Production Act early on, if there was a shortage, they were scrambling still, to get this equipment because we don't know what's going to happen next week or the week after. And the other thing we’re concerned about right now is that if you look back to the Spanish Flu, back in 1918, you know, the worst of it was in the fall. So we may see a little bit of a downward trend, but then we may see it go back up again. Are we prepared to have, have we have we figured all this out? I talked to a doctor the other day at NIH who was saying, yes, we have to start planning, you know, for the day we get a vaccine that may not be for a year or a year or so away. And I say, well, what do you mean by that? What I want is, if we find a vaccine, we're going to have to ramp up production incredibly swiftly. Are we prepared to do that? And then he says, we need things like needles to be able to inject people with the vaccine. Do we have enough to cover everybody in this country? And you know, we should be doing an inventory now. We should be producing these things, so that we have them. I mean, we have people who would tell you, they can't get these swabs to do the virus test. I mean, so you have to remind you, so we're the United States of America, we're not some developing country. I mean, this needs to be coordinated at a national level. And it's just isn't and it is frustrating as all hell, because we actually have Congress working together. I mean, all these bills that we have passed, have been bipartisan. I mean, Congress had the reputation, well, we couldn't even agree on lunch. But here we are. We are passing major bills. They’re not perfect. They’re not the way I would have liked them. But they were helpful. And we're going to have to do more together. And so, you know, we're sending money to the White House. And we can't be confident that it's going to where it's supposed to go. I mean, we've seen the stories about luxury steak houses and I think the Los Angeles Lakers getting money from these PPP accounts that were meant for small businesses. I mean, we need to make sure we're doing oversight. I had a bill last week that actually passed to create a select committee to do the oversight in real time as to how this money is being spent. It’s modeled after the committee that then Senator Harry Truman put together in World War II to make sure all the money that Congress was appropriating was actually going to help win the war. We need to do that kind of oversight now, making sure that those who are in need get the help. And those who don't need it are not getting money that really should go to smaller businesses and to average people.

I love your reference to Truman, Jim McGovern, because that's how he got to be vice president and eventually president because he did such a good job on that committee.

Very true. And also you know, he had the line “the buck stops here”. That true leaders take responsibility. Boy, it would be nice if we had a true leader right now, because we need people to take responsibility at every level. Andrew Cuomo is doing a, I think an incredible job in New York. And, as always, Charlie Baker in In Massachusetts, and I mean, I am a Democrat, but I see how many Republican governors have been good, like Baker and Hogan in Maryland, I mean, they have stepped up and they've taken responsibility and look, these decisions that people have to make are not easy. Lock downs are not easy. And the uncertainty is not easy to deal with. I was in the supermarket yesterday and people were very concerned about when we get back to work and how what's going to happen, in a month from now, if we're not in all that, I mean, there's a lot of uncertainty out there. But we need to make sure we're listening to the doctors and the medical professionals. They're the ones who are going to help us get out of this. We're not going to save the economy by going back to work prematurely.

It's so true. We've been talking to one of the best members of the House of Representatives, a guy who I have so much respect for, Jim McGovern. Jim, thanks for being with us today. And when we come back the next time I’ll ask you the following question; why was the US so unready for this pandemic?

Okay, thanks.