LOS ANGELES - In any other year, this week would see millions of Americans preparing to travel for next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.
In 2020, as a second wave of coronavirus batters most of the nation, and new curfews and stay-at-home orders are put in place, the nation is preparing for a turkey dinner like no one before.
Meanwhile, on the political stage, more than two weeks have passed since the Presidential Election, and as President-Elect Joe Biden looks to forge ahead with a transition, President Trump and his legal team fight to show the election was fraudulent.
To break these stories, and others, down, Elex Michaelson is joined on The Issue Is by Dr. Deborah Birx, Congressman-Elect Darrell Issa (R-CA), and businessman Tom Steyer.
On a week that saw record surges in coronavirus cases across the country, the conversation kicked off with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Despite a record 187,000 new infections on Thursday alone, this week brought positive news, on the vaccine front, as Pfizer’s 95% effective vaccine filed for emergency use authorization with the FDA, meaning it could be deployed to the most vulnerable members of the population as soon as December.
“We now know that two vaccines have really extraordinary effectiveness and safety, and so now as those move through the approval processes at FDA… and the CDC is working with states to prioritize who will be immunized first,” Dr. Birx said, while saluting the 77,000-plus Americans who took unknown risks and volunteered for the trials.
Offering up even more positive news, Dr. Birx added that in addition to the previously announced Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, two other potential candidates, from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are currently in trials.
“This is very encouraging to every American,” Dr. Birx continued. “That’s why we’re asking every American, and particularly every Californian in this moment, you know what to do, you did it in the summer, and we need you to do it again, and we need you to protect one another, and we need you to physically distance, and we need, most importantly, not to gather without masks on, outside of your immediate household.”
The conversation then shifted to California, where, this week, to combat rising infections and hospitalizations, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a nightly curfew from 10:00 PM through 5:00 AM to go into effect starting November 21 in all counties in the most-restrictive “purple tier.”
Michaelson asked Dr. Birx if the curfew order made sense, from a scientific perspective.
“I don’t ever second guess a Governor,” Dr. Birx said. “I’ve been to 42 states now, talking to Governors and Mayors, and it’s really important, Governors know their unique situations in their states. I’m always happy to provide advice on what we’re seeing, but we’re seeing significant spread throughout California and something needs to be done now.”
In dealing with that spread, Dr. Birx pointed to actions taken in many states this past summer, actions that proved effective already and may prove effective again, such as mask mandates, the closure of bars and indoor dining, and restrictions on community gatherings.
Michaelson pressed Dr. Birx on curfews specifically, noting that many critics claim that, with businesses closed, the order may result in more unregulated gatherings that cause further spread.
“In Miami, they had [a curfew] because they continued to have spread despite closing the bars and closing indoor dining,” Dr. Birx responded. “But then they realized that where that spread was happening was in personal gatherings, households, and communities, and families getting together, and they weren’t taking precautions, so they had their masks off, and that was the source of significant community spread.”
Given all that has been learned about the novel virus in the past months, Michaelson asked whether it continues to be wise to keep many students out of school, especially in Los Angeles, where the LAUSD has yet to return to in-person instruction.
“What we’ve learned through the fall in the colleges, the universities, and K-12 schools that opened, that the in-physical classrooms, with masks on, was a safe environment,” Dr. Birx said.
“Colleges did not see spread in the classroom,” she continued, leading Michaelson to ask why younger students, who are less susceptible to the virus, haven’t been able to return yet.
Dr. Birx said that in many states they have, and having traveled to some 30 universities in recent months, she further applauded students for adhering to masking guidelines, and university presidents for not only taking the risk to reopen, but for doing so by creating safe environments that have protected faculty and students.
The conversation wrapped up with a discussion of the future, specifically 2021 and a Biden-Harris administration, Michaelson asking Dr. Birx, as coordinator of the White House Task Force, if she had been in contact with President-Elect Biden’s transition team.
“I haven’t had that opportunity yet,” Dr. Birx said, “I’m someone who’s been in government for 40 years, through six or seven different Presidents and their transition, and supporting who’s ever President at the time with your best judgment, your best determination, your best work, that’s how I’ve lived my life.”
“I stand available to, if they think I am useful in the transition, or they think I’m useful in the future,” Dr. Birx continued. “That’s been my work ethic from the beginning in service, and in service of this country, and it’s been a wonderful life of work.”
Next, Michaelson was joined by Darrell Issa, the former, and future, Republican Congressman from California.
After serving in the House of Representative for 18 years, Issa announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018. Two years later, Issa decided to run again, defeating Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in his bid to represent California’s 50th District.
Issa’s return to Congress comes as House Republicans gained as many as 12 seats in the chamber, defying prognosticators who anticipated Speaker Pelosi and her caucus would expand their majority by as many 10 to 15 seats.
Some of those Republican gains came in California, where Republicans Young Kim, Michelle Steel, and David Valadao all defeated Democratic incumbents, a feat which hadn’t been accomplished in California since 1994.
“The bounce-back, with my winning by eight, and several of these others, up to four other seats, returning, is really a return to normal,” Issa said. “I don’t want to claim some sort of a resurgence of Republican dominance in California… but it is an example where people went too far, and the pendulum is now swinging back, closer to normal.”
Despite the Congressional gains in California, on the Presidential level, President Trump is set to lose the state by some 29%.
Still, this week, Issa received thanks from President Trump for comments Issa made comparing Trump to Presidents Lincoln and Reagan, saying all three are on par with their value-added to the Republican Party.
“Donald Trump came in, and in my hometown, my birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio, and suddenly blue-collar workers are seeing the Republican Party as the party they should belong to,” Issa said. “President Trump has added a whole group of voters who believe that the Republican Party can, and do, care for them.”
Given Issa’s support for President Trump, Michaelson asked who Issa believes won the election, and whether he agrees with the President that the election was stolen from him.
Issa responded that, as was the case in 2000, the courts should be allowed to do their job. On the issue of voter fraud, Issa said that the patchwork of election systems across the country is something that should give Americans pause, and that should be remedied by Congress.
“We have, in every election, in every state, in every county, different rules, so the lack of common rules give people around the country a reason to be concerned.”
Of less concern to Issa were photos obtained this week by FOX 11 Los Angeles that show Governor Newsom contradicting his own coronavirus restrictions, as he dined out at The French Laundry for a friend’s birthday. The photos show a large group, including Newsom and lobbyists from the California Medical Association, sans masks, seated tightly at a table that appears to be indoors.
“I think I’m going to surprise you a little bit,” Issa reacted. “He made a mistake, he’s apologized, certainly it seems pretty hypocritical when you look at this, and I think this is one of those gotcha moments that shows maybe ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ means you don’t have to do what he says.”
The conversations wrapped up with a game of Personal Issues, giving viewers a chance to get to know the once and future Congressman a little better.
Among Issa’s responses, he said his favorite movie is The Godfather, steak is his favorite meal to cook, and skiing is his favorite way to relax.
When asked for his favorite Liberal, Issa said “it’s probably going to be the President,” before clarifying that his favorite Democrat is General Wesley Clark.
When asked by Michaelson if, by “President,” he meant President Trump or President-Elect Biden, Issa said Biden.
“If Joe Biden becomes President, he will be a person that we have an obligation to work with, push back at times, but there’s an awful lot of legislation that needs to be done, including election reform, transparency in government, there’s a lot of those things.”
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.