The Issue Is: Discussing COVID-19 with Dr. Fauci; and the issue of race in America with Karen Bass

Another busy week in the world of politics.

Another week marked by outrage, fear, and uncertainty.

Coronavirus deaths in the US surpassed 115,000. On Tuesday, the Georgia primary was marred by voting problems. On Thursday, the Dow suffered its worst day since March. The debate over Civil War statues was reignited. And depending on the source, a six-block area of Seattle was occupied by protestors and turned into either a “block party” or a “war zone.”

This week on The Issue Is, Elex Michaelson breaks through the chaos and noise, tackling the issue of Coronavirus with Dr. Anthony Fauci and the issue of race in America with Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA).


As California continues its phased-reopening, this week saw the announcement that nail salons and tattoo parlors may open in some counties as soon as June 19. As of June 12, LA County is ready to allow film and TV production to resume. With these milestones though, comes news that the number of positive cases of Coronavirus in the Golden State are on the rise.

With that juxtaposition in mind, who better to comment on the efficacy and safety of the California reopening than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the renowned immunologist who has gained global acclaim as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force?

Fauci cautioned that California, like the country as a whole, is large, and that the same blanket standards may not be applicable in all reopening efforts, but that following the national benchmarks and guidelines is the best policy.

“As public health officials, we recommend very, very clearly that the states, the cities, and those who make the decisions at the local levels abide by those guidelines as a framework by which to act,” Fauci said. “There are certain core things that shouldn’t change.”

He pressed that point by saying that while discretion is ultimately up to local officials, they should ensure that they have the manpower and structure in place to test, identify, and trace, so the current “blipping up” of new cases doesn’t turn into a big rebound.

So how would Fauci qualify California’s rise in cases, a blip or a rebound? Fauci did not want to commit to whether the spike indicated that reopening efforts were being undertaken too rapidly or not, saying that it will depend on whether the new cases are a result of increased testing, or a mix of testing and real new case: “if it is real new cases, then you really need to be careful as you open up.”

But the speed of California’s phased reopening has not been the only issue to raise concern in recent weeks, so has the fact that thousands of protestors, some masked, and some not, have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and injustice in the face of the killing of George Floyd.

Fauci was sympathetic to the movement, but did express concern of the health risk involved.

“I clearly can understand the need, and the Constitutional right, to peacefully demonstrate against the social injustices that are at hand now, and the questions of violence against African Americans, particularly those instances we saw with police violence,” the immunologist said. “Obviously, that’s something that you really have to, in your own conscience, object to, one of the ways to do that is to demonstrate.”

With an appreciation for the protestors’ cause, Fauci admitted that crowds, like the ones on city streets across the country, do create a real risk for an upsurge in infections, though we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if that upsurge takes place or not.

But protests aren’t the only types of mass gatherings being debated now, so are political rallies, especially as President Trump announced that he will resume his massive campaign rallies. Based on the established guidelines, Fauci was similarly concerned about the President’s plans.

“When you congregate people together, in a crowd, and there is infection dynamics in a given community, that is a risk for spreading infection,” he said, noting that he and the task force make public health recommendations to the President, but there are other inputs and factors that the President must take into consideration before making his own decision. 

On a hopeful note, Fauci also discussed the accelerated progress towards a COVID-19 vaccine, saying that while there are never guarantees, the data and progress he has seen so far, added to the fact that a large efficacy trial is set to begin in July, have made him cautiously optimistic a vaccine will be ready by year’s end.


Next, Michaelson was joined by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Last time Bass, a frequent guest of The Issue Is, was on the show, was just two weeks ago, and in that time much has changed. In major cities, peaceful protests turned to riots, then again to peaceful marches. Curfews were enacted and the National Guard deployed. Charges were brought against the three other officers seen on the George Floyd tape, and former Officer Chauvin saw his charges elevated. 

And in the midst of this, as calls for reform and justice rang out from coast to coast, around the globe, Representative Bass was thrust into the national spotlight as she was tasked to lead the charge.

“The world stopped for a minute when they watched George Floyd be slowly tortured and killed, and I think that has been the catalyst for just tens of thousands of people, not just around this country in every state in the union, but also around the world,” Bass said. “It presents an opportunity for us to make significant transformative change in policing in the United States.”

That transformative change may come in the form of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a sweeping reform package that Bass, along with other Democratic leaders, unveiled on Monday.

Among other reforms, the legislation would require the use of body and dashboard cameras, lower the bar for qualified immunity, and ban no-knock warrants in drug cases, as well as the use of chokeholds, something House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has similarly expressed support for.

Given that potential common ground, Bass said she and McCarthy have not only been having ongoing conversations on the legislation, but that their teams are set to meet and work together in the coming days. 

It’s that kind of bipartisan interest, from McCarthy as well as other GOP legislators, that Bass said gives her hope, that despite the size of the bill, it will pass quickly, with a committee vote potentially this coming week, and a floor vote the next.

“When you introduce a massive bill like this, it usually takes a long time to get enough votes to pass, and I’m talking about Democratic votes,” the California Democrat said. “Well, we’re already to the point where we have enough votes to pass off the floor even before it’s out of committee, and I think that’s completely because of the momentum in the streets… we’re going to follow this momentum to the finish line.”

Despite that momentum, there have appeared some cracks in support for the bill, as some activists don’t believe it goes far enough, namely on the issues of police unions and defunding the police. 

On the issues of police unions, which many feel are too strong and go out of their way to shield potentially bad officers, Bass said she does not know whether we could or should interfere directly, but that in creating a national registry and making it easier to fire, prosecute, and sue over misconduct, the Justice in Policing Act will get at a police culture that currently allows some to act with impunity.

Having answered the question on unions, Michaelson asked Bass if she agreed with activists calling to Defund the Police. 

“No, I don’t think it’s time to defund the police,” she said, pointing to the fact she believes that at the city, state, and national levels the budgets are out of balance, neglecting social, economic, and health needs of communities. “What has happened over the years is that we have not invested properly in the proper balance, when we don’t invest in society and address the problem, then the police officers are left to pick up the pieces, and that’s wrong.”

Bass said the bill is not anti-police, instead, by investing in communities, and not forcing officers to assume the role of social workers, health workers, and others, she hopes it can innovate public safety going forward.

As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Michaelson asked Bass what she made of the recent announcement that President Trump would begin holding rallies again, kicking off with a June 19 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The announcement caused controversy, as not only was Tulsa the home of a 1921 massacre that took the lives of dozens of African Americans, but also, the rally was set for Juneteenth, the anniversary of the end of slavery.

“Doing what he’s doing is like desecrating a statue of Martin Luther Kind, I consider it an aggressive move, I consider it despicable,” Bass said, as she wondered if the decision was made in order to fan the flames. “But, what can we say, he has been doing this since the moment he came down the escalator.”

Friday night, President Trump announced the rally would be moved, tweeting in part: “Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents.”

With her new-found place in the national spotlight, the conversation next turned to what is next for Bass herself.

Could she succeed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, as some have suggested?

“I certainly watch Madam Speaker, and she is an amazing leader,” Bass said. “I don’t believe she’s going anywhere, I don’t want her to go anywhere.”

As Joe Biden searches for a female running mate, and likely an African American woman at that, would she be open to the VP job?

“That’s a little overwhelming, obviously it would be an incredible honor,” she said, noting that the current list of supposed candidates is full of amazing women. And while she has not been vetted for the job, she said she would “of course” accept if offered.

The conversation closed with an examination of the cultural impact of the current moment. This, as the last week has seen the cancellation of Cops and Live PD, the temporary removal of Gone with the Wind from HBOMax, and the naming of the first African American Bachelor.

Bass said she believes those cultural moves are positive, and need to continue, but that they can’t simply be superficial and symbolic - corporations may express support for Black Lives Matter and racial justice, but real action would be something akin to increasing representation at the executive level.

“African Americans have been marching and protesting about police brutality for really over 100 years,” Bass said, noting however that this moment feels different. “I see the sea change, my job is to take that sea change and make it legislative and bring about transformative change.”


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