Coronavirus Report

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews John Delaney

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.).

Read excerpts from the interview below.

Clemons: You’re such a pragmatist when it comes to thinking about problem solving. What does the pragmatist do in this moment?

{mosads}Delaney: It is a very tough time right now for our nation. I mean, our major cities are burning and there’s such anguish. And as you said, the president has been spewing kind of a venom and not showing the leadership that we need. I mean, clearly there are two things going on right now. One, there are protests, legitimate and incredibly important protests where people are stepping forward and saying, “We’ve had enough of this.” We need a sea change in how we think about race in this country and in particular, how we think about what’s happened to black men in terms of police brutality. But then, within these protests, we obviously have people who are engaging in looting and violence and rioting. And you really need the leadership to help the American people sort this out and to start trying to bring the temperature down and allow people to believe that we will actually finally make a difference on this terrible problem that so many people who saw that video who can’t unsee it. And it’s really triggered an emotion in so many Americans, that has been there for a while, but I think this is different. It was so graphic, so horrific. And, you know, just to see a murder like that, so clearly before our eyes, I think the American people are broadly demanding change. And we have to respond to that, we have to act on that. That actually does involve finding solutions and getting things done, because the time for talking about this stuff is long gone. We actually have to make some fundamental structural change. But we also need leaders to bring the temperature down, and to appeal to our better angels, not the worst side of where we are right now.


Clemons: What would you tell the president of the United States right now?

Delaney: I would tell him to lead. I would tell him to think about the great leaders historically in this country and what they’ve done at these kinds of moments. And again, to use the Lincoln phrase, “They’ve appealed to the better angels of who we are,” and that’s what we need from our president. And that’s not what we’re getting. I mean, you can condemn violence and looting while also leading and trying to appeal to the better sides of people.


Clemons: Before the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, we had the COVID-19 crisis. You have written that we need to find a way forward on that front. How do we bring the economy back online?

Delaney: So I think it starts by looking at actually the facts and the data. When coronavirus first hit this country several months ago, we didn’t understand nearly as much as we do now, and the lockdown was the appropriate response because we were particularly worried about hospitals being overrun. I mean, this thought of people in parking lot hospitals not being able to get care was really what galvanized the nation to shut down in many ways. Now, as we’ve seen this unfold, we’ve learned that this virus disproportionately impacts older Americans or Americans with preexisting conditions. And in fact, if you’re not a senior and you don’t have some kind of a preexisting condition that makes you vulnerable, the chances of you really having a very, very bad outcome from coronavirus are very low. So that, clearly number one, can inform how we approach this. People who are older, who have preexisting conditions, need to really stay isolated in quarantine. But it is important for the rest of the country to start getting back to work. Because to have good public health, you need a good economy, to have a good economy, you need good public health. So these things have to work together. We also know that masks work. Early on, we were told not to wear a mask. Now we know there’s a lot of data to suggest anywhere from 75 to 90 percent decreased likelihood of catching the virus If you wear a mask. A pretty simple thing. So we should be quarantining our seniors. Everyone should be wearing masks in public. We should be testing. You know, I’ve proposed Amazon sending a test to everyone’s home. I mean, Amazon can deliver something to everyone’s home once a week. You know, broad-based testing with a particular focus on people who are interfacing with seniors. But I think the rest of the country has to kind of start getting back to work because of where our economy is going and the negatives associated with that — not only the debt we’re leaving the next generation. If you look at what’s happening to global poverty, 20 years of progress in terms of lifting people out of poverty have been reversed in the last couple of months because of this. Mental illness, depression, domestic abuse, all these other negatives have to be factored into this decision. And we have to understand this decision fundamentally is about trade off. We wish we didn’t have to make this choice; we wish there was no coronavirus, but there is one.


Clemons: Tell me more about your Amazon proposal.

Delaney: Well it’s actually pretty simple. I mean, Amazon could deliver something to every house in this country, right? We all know that. And so imagine a situation where everyone was getting tests sent to their house. You know, you pick the frequency. You know, once a week, once every few weeks and they could administer a test at home.


Clemons: So how would you solve the production issues? You were running for president of the United States, so let’s just imagine, how would you fix this?

Delaney: What I would do right now is I would look at the most promising treatments and vaccines, and there are several out there. In fact, the case of innovation has been extraordinary, if you think about how much progress we’ve made on both treatment and vaccines. I would take a look at the five or 10 most promising ones, and I would ensure that we have a strategy for manufacturing whichever one becomes the most promising. Which may mean that we waste some money. Because imagine there’s five vaccines and you’re not sure which one’s the best. You actually want to start building the manufacturing capabilities for all five. Recognizing four of them may be wasted, but that’s what you have to do to accelerate getting a vaccine to people by two or three months, which really justifies whatever amount of money you spend standing up the manufacturing capabilities. More broadly, or more long-term, I think we need a new program in this country called we need it in America, where on an annual basis the federal government identifies manufacturing capability. It is important that we maintain in the United States of America, doesn’t have to be 100 percent, but some base level of capacity in things like chemicals that are important for pharmaceuticals, and high speed, powerful microprocessors, things that we’ve allowed to really leave our country from a core manufacturing competency. We need to make sure that we have public policy in place that incentivize some of this manufacturing capability staying in our country.


Clemons: How do we solve some of the legal issues around bringing people back to work and dealing with their unemployment? I think one of the two areas of law out there that interests me right now is that when companies begin to call back their employees and those employees don’t feel safe — my understanding is that their rights to unemployment will cease if they don’t return, even though there may be an ambiguous health situation. I don’t know who arbitrates that. The second legal issue, which has been debated, has been about liability, particularly in elder care facilities. Is there not possibly a deal in there where you could find flexibility on both sides because I’m not seeing that happen. I’m seeing people dug into various positions. What are your thoughts?

Delaney: We need some clear standards, and we need to recognize that standards will evolve over time. But to the extent that businesses are using good-faith efforts to comply with standards, then they wouldn’t have liability. Now, to the extent they ignore the standards or to the extent they’re negligent in putting the standards in place, then they would. So I think this conversation starts with some guidance, either at the state level or the federal level that says based on what we know now, and by the way, in three months we may update these based on new information again, we’ve got to get back to this trial and error. We gotta get away from this notion of second guessing everything and realize there’s risks inherent in everything we do. We need some clear standards based on what we know now, what are the best practices for a senior care facility, what are the best practices for retail business, those things need to be clearly laid out.


Clemons: Do you think the Biden team and Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, has those elements of “John Delaneyism,” in how he is likely to approach some of these challenges?

Delaney: One of the things that I think the American people should be most comfortable about the vice president is he’s committed to building a real team of experts around him and running the administration by relying on expertise. Your current administration is kind of a gut player, and I think the Biden administration will be very different. It’s gonna be people with expertise in their particular field, and the vice president is going to lean and rely on those people. So I think, for example, the vice president will have a very good forward looking policy around artificial intelligence. But it’s not gonna be based on his own intuitive understanding of AI. It’s gonna be based on relying on experts.


Clemons: If the president gets what he wants, which is an unmasked, lots of people, human jam convention and the Democrats have a virtual convention, not a human jam, people finding their digital space and making their choices that way. Do you think that sells to the American public for your team?

Delaney: I think there’s a lot of very creative ways, and we’re all learning them every day, about how we can connect without being physically present. So, yeah, I mean, everyone likes to get together, but I also think what the American people are looking for is smart leadership. And when we think about reopening our country, we’ve got to realize there’s certain things that we do that are super spreader events. Going to sporting events, going to concerts, going to bars and going to conventions. Those things spread this virus at a rapid rate, and it is not worth doing them. We’re much better off taking risks on things that have real value to society, like public school and university. I’d much rather us push the envelope on opening schools up, as opposed to pushing the envelope on opening up conventions or concerts.

Tags Coronavirus Report Joe Biden John Delaney

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