The United States has lost tens of thousands to COVID-19. In today’s Congressional Corner, Democrat Anthony Brindisi of New York’s 22nd Congressional district wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.
This interview was recorded May 11th.
Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Congressman Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat from New York's 22nd congressional district. As we speak, the US has had more than 80,000 deaths from COVID-19. What do we learn from this experience, and about our preparedness, our public health system and our leadership?
Representative Anthony Brindisi: Well, I would say first and foremost, my heart goes out every one of those deaths is tragic. And certainly as people continue to suffer from this virus, and we continue to look for ways to respond to the public health crisis, we need to be mindful that people's lives are at risk right now, and people have lost their lives, and lost the lives of friends and family, and we need to be mindful of that. But we also have to do a better job in our preparation going forward here, not only in terms of fighting this virus but also future pandemics because this is something that may be a new reality for us as we move forward here. And we certainly live in a global economy. So one thing that I'm very mindful of and I'm taking away as a lesson out of this is that we as a, as a nation cannot be so reliant on adversaries like China for medical supplies and things like personal protective equipment or pharmaceuticals. Our supply chain right now is so over-reliant on countries like China, And that's why we've seen so many of the shortages that we've seen over the last couple months in terms of the PPE, and the face masks, and the equipment that's needed to test people for COVID-19, the supplies. We have to start making this stuff back in our country again, and that's why I introduced legislation with a Republican colleague of mine from Pennsylvania, called the Made in America Emergency Preparedness Act, to make sure that going forward here, we have a better industrial base here in this country of these supplies that are deemed essential during a national emergency?
How did we get into this situation? Was it just pure greed on the part of American companies that didn't want to do this work?
Yeah, quite frankly, that has a lot to do with it, Alan because in many instances, it's cheaper to manufacture overseas in third world countries and import that equipment back here to our country. So you look at pharmaceuticals and other things that are that we’re in need of right now. A lot of it's made overseas. In fact, I can tell you, because I've had conversations with a number of these companies across our country that do make this stuff, I can think of one here in my district, in Utica, it's a medical supply company, they make medical gowns and other types of personal protective equipment. And I remember visiting this company actually back in the fall and talking to the owner there and he said, you know, 99% of the stuff that he makes is actually made overseas. He's part of the 1% of companies here in our country that actually manufactures this stuff. So the bill that I have introduced would require our federal government and our federal agencies who have to procure this equipment that's essential during a medical emergency, or a national emergency, to buy it from companies here in this country. Hopefully, that would incentivize some of these manufacturers to stay here and produce here. And in future pandemics, or perhaps if we're at war, we don't have to be so over reliant on an adversary like China.
Anthony Brindisi, you are on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and I know it means a lot to you. Now we know there's some real problems here. Disease, the COVID, has recently decimated many veterans’ nursing homes. What are we doing about that?
Well, first, we have to have better protocols in place for all of our nursing homes. As you've seen, those have been a real hotspot across the state. And the state has to do a better job of making sure that the owners of these nursing homes, many of them are privately owned, are held accountable, and are supplying not only the proper equipment for their workers, but also making sure that they're conducting testing and working with the local hospitals to make sure folks are staying safe. And one of the big problems that I've seen talking to nursing homes in the district that I represent is many workers are going into these facilities without the right protective equipment. And they're following you know, the owners of these nursing homes, are following CDC guidelines or in many instances, whatever the bare essential is, and many nursing homes are doing a better job and going above and beyond what the guidelines require, getting the N-95 masks for their workers. So we got to make sure we're keeping these workers safe, who then can keep treating and caring for our veterans and our loved ones who are in nursing facilities. So we need to have stronger safety guidelines in place to make sure that that folks are kept safe in these facilities.
And speaking of being kept safe. What about you? Obviously, you already experienced having to be quarantined, you know, you didn't get the disease, but it showed you how careful you have to be. So now, what about remote voting from members of Congress? Is that a good idea? I mean, 435 people in one room?
It doesn’t make sense to have 435 people in one room to vote. I think that some form of remote voting is appropriate. Only in cases like this of national emergency, I would not recommend doing this all year long, but in an extreme situation like this, there should be some form of remote voting, and also some ability to conduct hearings, virtually, you know, there's technology available now to be able to conduct hearings and oversight, virtually. And we should be doing that. I expect that we're going to vote on something in the near future here to allow some form of remote voting capability. But it's long overdue. And I would I would only exercise this kind of ability in an extreme situation like a global pandemic, but it's something we need to do.
What does Speaker Pelosi seems to think about it, this whole idea?
Well, she's trying to build consensus. This is there's been dispute between Democrats and Republicans over this. And I think she's trying to get us to a consensus here where both sides will buy into some form of remote or virtual hearings, or remote voting. There's been talk about proxy voting, or perhaps voting over telephone or you know, some form of communication that can't be hacked into. So the House has been looking into that. In fact, we're going to head back to DC to vote on the next relief package. And the last one we voted on, we had to stagger the votes, so you know, you don't have 435 members in the in the House chamber at the same time you go alphabetically and you do, you know, series of votes, depending on your last name, and you just have to try and do it that way to keep people safe.
Well, we're running out of time, but I want to know something. What's the chances that the blues the Democrats will maintain control of the House of Representatives?
Well, you know, a lot can happen between now and November. And I'm not always the best pundit on these types of things. There's people far smarter than I am in predicting. But for me, I think that we've had a good last year and a half. I've done everything I said I was going to do, holding town hall meetings, working in a bipartisan fashion, in really representing everyone in this district, regardless of party. So hopefully, hopefully people will recognize that in November. But in the meantime, it's 100% focused on doing the job, and being able to help people, especially now during their greatest time of need.
I want to ask you one real fast question, because I don't even have the time for it. But I'm gonna ask you, what's should Joe Biden be doing right now?
I think it's hard for anyone who's running for office right now, especially a non-incumbent, to be able to communicate their message. Some people have criticized he to be doing more, doing less. I think that folks want to hear your vision for the country. They want to see what you would be doing in a pandemic, a national emergency like this and I think he's communicating that the best way he can right now, and there's gonna be a lot of a lot of time this summer and fall to further the debate. But right now I think he's doing what he needs to be doing in terms of getting his message out there.
Representative Anthony Brindisi a first term democrat from New York's 22nd congressional district. We treasure his appearances here at WAMC. Anthony, I want to thank you for all your hard work, and it's not an easy situation to be in, but you're doing it and we appreciate it.
Thanks, Alan. You stay safe.