Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Lee Zeldin

The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinWyoming county votes to censure Liz Cheney for Trump impeachment vote GOP divided over Liz Cheney's future READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-N.Y.).

Excerpts from the interview are below:

Clemons: What do you think it's gonna take to get the high trust environments that workers and consumers and your community want to have as we think about reopening the economy?

Rep. Lee Zeldin: We want to reopen smartly and precisely. We want to do so in a way that prevents another outbreak. That includes the ability to do diagnostic testing, the ability to do antibody testing. Also for the individual business owner to utilize its own mitigation efforts, not just to protect their own employees, but also the public. One example is a retail store that might be able to open. If the retail store is able to do curbside pickup, that would allow that business to start making money again, and for those employees to get back to work. At the same time, prevent the densely populated scenario inside their store to be avoided. So it's not just what government does at all levels, but it's also what businesses will do as well as the steps that individuals will do to make it possible to continue that reopening along the phases. 


Clemons: You have been an active part of the legislation, the various CARES packages and the CARES legislation that have come out. What do you think Congress still needs to do that it hasn't done so far? 

Zeldin: Well, we want to drive additional support, for example, to state and local governments. I have governments in the first congressional district between Albany, the state capital, our county, our towns, our villages. They’re on the front lines of this fight against coronavirus. And they're seeing hits, not only with coronavirus-related expenses, but also with revenue losses. And because of coronavirus, directly because of coronavirus, you're seeing these gaps being blown much larger in their budgets. Maybe some of these governments were cash strapped going into this, I understand that, but this is about survival. Bankruptcy is not an option. Some of these local municipalities are run by Republicans. It's not just Democrats, and you have great bond ratings. Some of these local governments were in very sound fiscal shape going into this. 


Clemons: Yesterday I spoke to Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Georgia keeps Senate agenda in limbo Spending bill aims to reduce emissions, spur energy development MORE, and he said there had been $150 billion appropriated to state and local governments that hasn't even gone out yet so that he thinks it's too early to begin looking at more money right now. Do you think he's wrong? What are the aspects of this that you think that those people in that camp don't understand about this moment? 

Zeldin: Well, I would say a few things. One is that the funding formula under the CARES Act only allows the money to be spent for COVID-19-related expenses, so the funding formula needs a bit more flexibility. Two, is that the CARES Act caps the population threshold at 500,000 which means that Brookhaven Town, which is the largest town in my congressional district, with a population of 480-something-thousand people, they haven't gotten any direct aid as a result of the CARES Acts, so driving support to that lower level of government is important as well.


Clemons: Is New York anywhere near the threshold that it can begin thinking about testing asymptomatic people and opening that which everyone tells me that that's just a vital part of getting us back to work. 

Zeldin: I very much agree with the need to be testing individuals, not only those who are most ill, but also those individuals who are asymptomatic. When you hear of community spread, it's not just from that individual they come in contact with who is showing symptoms. But the community spread that's been happening over the course of the last few months since this all started, in many cases, was directly resulted by coming in contact with people who are showing no symptoms. So, where there was a policy at the beginning of this, where there was a limited amount of tests, and tests can only be given at that time they say to individuals who we're showing symptoms or came in direct contact with other people who had tested positive, now that we've seen testing capacity increase as much as it has daily, where several 100,000 tests now can be conducted each day in the United States, we need to look at the next level, the next phase of how testing should be conducted, and that would certainly include the ability to identify people who are asymptomatic 


Clemons: Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSlew of Biden orders on COVID to include resuming WHO membership Biden to sign flurry of executive actions in first hours of presidency COVID-19 is a precursor for infectious disease outbreaks on a warming planet MORE is testifying remotely in the Senate and he's issuing a lot of cautionary warnings about moving too quickly on reopening around the country. And I know we have an uneven patchwork about what that will look like, but he's saying he is worried that there are too many places that are going to jump the gun. Where are you in that?

Zeldin: I certainly wouldn't want to paint the entire country with the same broad brush, which means even in a place like New York, you might see parts of upstate reopening this week, in the coming days, and maybe there will be other parts of upstate or other parts downstate that may be reopening in the days and the weeks after that. So, as you see with New York, where all different parts of the state are trying to meet these seven different dimensions, these seven factors for entering into that phase one, I think that that's a better approach than telling people upstate that they have to wait until every corner of New York is ready to move into that next phase. 


Clemons: You're a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and China is a big part of this equation we're struggling with. China is now a matter of political debate. What do you think we should be doing right now with regards to China and this pandemic? 

Zeldin: Well, for one, step one is about issues, and investigation, and answers. We have questions. There are issues related to early detection, one. And for us to understand why China was censoring social media content. Why China was forcing confessions and putting criminal charges on individuals who wanted to tell China and the world about what they were seeing. Why they weren't letting the public know about human to human transmission. Why was the World Health Organization utilizing Chinese Communist party talking points as we were going through those first few critical weeks? That's one component of this is early detection. Another component, another issue, more questions with regards to PPE and ventilators, our supply chain. What should we be doing to be prepared for a next pandemic, better than we've been prepared for any pandemic in the past, to ensure that we don't have to rely on foreign countries like China for ventilators, for PPE and to the maximum extent possible medicines as well. Between our national stockpile, our state stockpiles and an emergency domestic manufacturing plan, we should have an ability within our own borders to be prepared for the next pandemic. 


Clemons: Congressman Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse poised to override Trump veto for first time Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE said we can't just think about recovery, we need to think about advancement. We need to think about 5G, technology and cyber. Rather than going back to where we were in November 2019, we have to put the resources we need to move this forward so that we're safer and better, but that there's more agility and more capacity in the United States. Do you support that sort of approach of advancing the economy as opposed to recovery?

Zeldin: Yeah, absolutely. It should be our goal to recover stronger than we have ever been. Recovery is also about rebuilding. It's also about advancement. ... We should be looking to the future as we're tackling these issues, not to go back into time, but to go forward stronger and for our country to be the best version of itself, for our economy to rebound as quickly as possible to get people back to work. But also, as you referenced 5G and Huawei, this is an issue for the future. We'd be doing a real disservice for our own national security interests and other dynamics if we were looking at the 5G and Huawei issue as an issue of the past as opposed to an issue of the future.