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Congressional Corner With Jim McGovern

MA Congressman Jim McGovern
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern

In hindsight, the U.S. did not act quickly to prepare for the novel coronavirus.

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

This interview was recorded April 28.

Alan Chartock: We're here in the congressional corner with Congressman Jim McGovern, one of the brightest and frankly most important people in the House of Representatives. He'll reject that. But it's true as the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, the traffic cop of the House of Representatives. Okay, so Jim McGovern, I said the last time we spoke, I was gonna ask you a question. Why was the U.S. so unready for this pandemic?

Congressman Jim McGovern: Well, we were unready, in large part because of the lack of leadership coming out of the White House. I mean, I don't want to sound like I'm making partisan comments. I'm not I mean, because, again, as I said in the last time, we spoke, Democrats and Republicans are actually working together in the Congress to try to pass legislation to help small businesses, to help get our hospitals the equipment they need, and help our first responders. But the bottom line is the president knew about this beginning in December, his daily briefings in June, we're being told these issues were raised. They talked about a pandemic, they talked about the possibility that this could end up costing many, many lives here in the United States, and we need to be prepared and he chose to go into denial. And that denial actually has been deadly. I mean, through January and February and into March, you know, he did briefings on regular basis and rallies in which he spread bad information. You know, he told people, things that were just not true. And even as a result of that, we were not invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of PPE. You know, we were not preparing our communities with best practices. And we just missed out on a lot, and then one day he tells us, oh, you know, this is terrible. And then, just when you think, okay, he now he's got it, he's listening to our doctors, we have daily press conferences again where he spreads, misinformation, disinformation telling people to take these anti-malaria drugs. Oh, that's the cure. That's going to help everybody. We had some people take them and they died. We heard from the VA that they actually killed patients who, you know, so it doesn't work. Yet, he pushed this false narrative out there and for states to buy this excess anti-malaria medicine. Well, I guess if we have a malaria crisis, we'll be prepared. But you know, rather than relying on those who know what they’re talking about, he just gets out there and says these things that aren’t true. The other day does, we should be maybe injecting disinfectant into our bloodstream. I mean, the company that owns Lysol issued a statement saying please don't drink Lysol. You know while you’re at it, don't drink bleach either. But yet, we're now told from a bunch of states that our public health departments are being inundated with calls whether they should drink disinfectant. I mean, when the president speaks people listen, when the president speaks. People expect that the president knows what they're talking about. And this president doesn’t. So my advice to everybody is when he does these press conferences, mute the TV, and then when Dr. Fauci comes on unmute it, so you get some real information

If Dr. Fauci comes on. I have a feeling Fauci’s in trouble with his president. And we're seeing him less and less because he tends to tell the truth.

You know, these doctors, are supposed to be doctors and not politicians. So their job is not to get out there and make the President feel good. Their job is to get out there and tell the medical facts

TIMA government foods insecurity has always been a major concern of yours. As I know that during the pandemic, we have seen food lines literally stretching miles. How can we make sure that people can feed their families during the pandemic? And I asked you that because there's also an awful lot of talk now, about having too many animals and too many chickens and too many cows, and people are espousing killing them. What do you think?

Yeah, well, I mean, the bottom line is, we don't have a food shortage. But we have a food distribution problem. And, we need to, you know, I'm on the Agriculture Committee. I was talking to the chairman of the committee today, Thom Petersen, about doing hearings on our distribution center. I mean, I mean, my grandmother, my mother growing up, if we left food on the plate, she'd say, it's a sin. You know, how can you leave food on the plate, there are people who are hungry in the world. I mean, the idea that we are dumping milk that we are destroying livestock, and we are letting vegetables rot, when we know that there are places in this country where they're needed, but we don't have the distribution capacity to get them there. It's just ridiculous. The Secretary of Agriculture should have put money into an emergency distribution account, and send trucks out to wherever there is an excess, and take that take whatever they produce and get it to wherever it needs to go. You know, and we also while we're at it, we ought to be increasing SNAP benefits for people on SNAP. We know food banks are at capacity. We also know same with food pantries. We also know that some of the traditional places where these anti-hunger organizations have received food, restaurants, hotels like that, well, they're not in business right now. And so again, they end up having to buy food outright, and that gets expensive as well. So let's, let's figure this out. I've been doing, a good friend of mine is Chef José Andrés, who has some great ideas about how we can deal with this issue. We can deal with it, but we need some imagination. You know, from the Secretary of Agriculture, I mean, he's, I just haven't heard a creative idea or a good idea from him in years. And by the way, as we are speaking, the Trump administration is still trying to move forward with their new regulations on SNAP, which would throw maybe three or 4 million more people off the benefit.

 Jim, just because a lot of people don't know it. SNAP is of course, the program that feeds the poor people, isn’t this right?

They used to be known as food stamps. It’s now SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is the premier anti-hunger program in this country. And you know, I was at a at a food pantry and lemon stir. The other week ago just stopped by and you know, it's a small group of people that are working there, but they're telling me that the people showing up are people who have never seen before and the demand is over the top and so we, if we don't respond to this in the next package that Congress is going to deal with, then we are going to, we're going to have a humanitarian crisis on our hands here in this country, the likes of which we haven't seen before.

Our experience in Great Barrington, your next door neighbor is the same. These people are doing wonderful work. I only got one minute, but can you do a one minute question, and that is, our kids. Our kids have been out of school. What are we gonna do about this? So they've lost a lot of time?

Yeah. Well, they have lost a lot of time. And we have some great teachers that are trying to engage these kids in remote learning, but my two sisters are school teachers in Worcester, and they represent their schools in an economically challenged district. These kids, when they left didn't have the technology to be able to do remote learning. And some of these kids have special challenges that remote learning doesn't work. And there's a whole bunch, so we need to be figuring out whether we talk about summer courses or whatever or something, but we can't let all these kids fall behind. And again, each school is not just a place to learn. But for a lot of kids, it's a safe place. And I'm worried about a lot of kids who have gone back to places that, quite frankly, are unsafe, and we need to be very concerned about that.

Jim McGovern is the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. He is an outspoken member of Congress. And I love talking to him because there's a very small, low B.S. quotient in what he says.

Thank you.

So I thank you so much for being with us, Jim. We'll come back one more time. And when we do the next time, I got some questions about the Congress itself, okay.


Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.