The Issue Is: Talking VP picks and COVID-19 with Rep. Karen Bass, Mayor Garcia, Bob Shrum, and Mike Murphy

Nearly five months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, a grim milestone, as the number of virus-related deaths in the United States surpassed 150,000.

This, as the nation mourned the losses of Congressman John Lewis and broadcasting legend Regis Philbin.

In an effort to navigate the grief, and to breakdown the latest moves and headlines in the 2020 Presidential race, Elex Michaelson is joined this week on The Issue Is by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, as well as political strategists Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy for a discussion any political junkie would be foolish to miss.

Listen to the Issue Is Podcast here


The conversation kicks off with California Congresswoman Karen Bass, who in recent weeks has shot to the top of many prognosticators’ lists as a one of the most likely picks to serve as Joe Biden’s running mate.

RELATED: Rep. Karen Bass says VP speculation is surreal

The possibility of a Biden-Bass ticket seemed far off when Bass appeared on The Issue Is on June 12, the five-term Representative telling Michaelson at the time that she was not being vetted, at least not to her knowledge, but that, if asked, she would “of course” accept the offer.

Michaelson asked the Congresswoman if she ever imagined as a little girl that she’d have a realistic chance at being named the Vice Presidential nominee on a major party ticket:

“No, I can’t imagine that as a big girl,” Bass laughed. “It’s still very, very surreal, but it’s an absolute honor that people would talk about me in the way that they have.”

And the people talking about, and advocating for, Bass are a diverse group, ranging from Conservative columnist George Will to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

On Monday, even Conservative pollster Frank Luntz advocated for Bass’ selection, directly to Biden, as the three converged at the Capitol during a memorial for Congressman John Lewis.

“She is the best person,” Luntz can be heard telling Biden on tape, although Bass said she was not in earshot when the video was recorded. “I can’t believe I’m doing this, she is so kind, and she is so decent.”

“I think it’s just that I’ve always tried to focus on the work, I’ve always just tried to focus on the issues, that’s it,” Bass said of the new-found attention.“What I’m most moved by is that people have recognized that my whole reason for doing the work that I do is that I’m deeply concerned about the American people, period. It’s nothing more than that.”

One of those issues is relief for Americans impacted by the ongoing coronavirus, especially as this week the $600 in additional weekly unemployment insurance mandated by the CARES Act came to an end, with no sign that Congress is close to agreeing on a continued relief package.

“I just think that it is downright mean-spirited, there was no reason for this money to run out,” Bass said. “The hangup is that my Republican colleagues in the Senate really believe that people are not going back to work because they’re making so much money at home being unemployed that they won’t go back to work, and they continue to deny that until we deal with the virus, we cannot get the economy back on track.”

Bass advised that the public put pressure on elected officials in the Senate to get a deal done.

The conversation with Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, wrapped up with a tribute to Bass’ former colleague, the late John Lewis.

“The most important thing I learned from Mr. Lewis was just his lifelong tireless commitment, and his love for the people,” Bass said. “He’s just the humblest person, it never went to his head, never stroked his ego, his eyes were always on the prize.”


Next, Michaelson is joined by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.

Garcia last appeared on The Issue Is on July 17, shortly after his mother and step-father were diagnosed with coronavirus and placed on ventilators.

This week, Garcia returned with the devastating news that his mother, Gabriella O’Donnell had passed away at age 61 from the disease.

RELATEDLong Beach Mayor Robert Garcia honors his mother who died of COVID-19

“My mom was an amazing woman, she immigrated to the US, like all immigrants, with the American Dream,” Garcia said of his mom. “She worked hard, she cleaned houses, worked odd-end jobs, and then landed in health care, and worked at the same clinic for over 25 years, taking care of people, and she took care of thousands of patients during her career.”

“It’s been very hard to lose her, but it’s been an honor to tell her story,” the Mayor continued.

When Garcia last spoke of his mother’s condition, he had been hopeful that she would pull through, but he now cautioned that doctors, despite their heroic efforts, still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, which can be unpredictable, becoming quite deadly very quickly.

“My mom was actually making steady progress, she was moving forward, we thought she would come out, the doctors were very optimistic, but then pretty quickly, she got worse,” Garcia said. “That’s something that can happen with this disease, it can really attack different organs, different parts of the body, so that was just devastating, to see in days her condition worsen.”

To honor his mother’s legacy, Garcia has now set up a scholarship at his alma mater Long Beach State aimed at helping women and immigrants in health care fields, who like O’Donnell, want to help others.

As he deals with the loss of his mother, as well as more than 8,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Long Beach, Garcia did receive some help this week from a prominent figure, as presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden called to offer his condolences.

“He’s known, I think, for being someone that has experienced a lot of grief, and has reached out to people that are experiencing grief,” Garcia said of Biden. “His words were very comforting, and I just appreciate the support for my family, for my brother, and for myself.”


The episode wraps up with a discussion of the state of the 2020 race with two legendary political minds. 

Mike Murphy hosts the “Hacks on Tap” podcast with David Axelrod, he has advised the likes of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. Bob Shrum serves as the director of USC’s Dornsife Center for the Political Future and counts Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry among the candidates he’s worked with.

Given their storied electoral pasts, the conversation begins with an examination of who Joe Biden is likely to tap as his running mate, an announcement which is reportedly set to take place the week of August 10, if not sooner.

The first contender: Congresswoman Karen Bass.

“I think she’s clearly one of the three finalists,” Shrum said, citing Senator Kamala Harris and Ambassador Susan Rice as the others. “One of the rules of Vice Presidential picking is ‘first, do no harm,’ and she’s the kind of candidate, I think, who does no harm.”

Shrum admits that Bass does have one problem, past praise for Fidel Castro. Bass has since apologized for the remarks, but Shrum said they could still hurt her with Florida voters.

“If I had to bet, and I wouldn’t want to, I would put Bass at the top of the list for three reasons,” Murphy responded. “One, I think Biden feels at this moment in history he has to pick and African American candidate, she’s an exceptional one… Two, she, like Biden, is a legislator, low-key, no theatrics, liked even by Republicans behind the scenes on Capitol Hill… And finally, unlike Kamala Harris, and a lot of the other candidates, she doesn’t want Biden’s job, she’s not a political problem, she’ll be very loyal.”

The other California Democrat atop many oddsmakers’ lists, is Harris, the first-term Senator who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination this cycle, but dropped out before primary voting began.

“I think she’s still the most likely pick,” Shrum said, adding that recent negative press against her has only made her, and her chances, stronger.

Whoever Biden chooses, the electoral landscape will look vastly different this cycle than in any past, as with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there has emerged a push for mail-in voting. That shift in voting methods could mean voting kicks off earlier in some states, and that results may not be known until days, if not weeks, after the election.

“Some states that have not had as much vote-by-mail, I mean we know it well in California, are going to be doing it for the first time, so it means the count will be slower, which will unfortunately give our demagogic President time to attack institutions as he knows he’s losing ” Murphy said.

“We have to get ready for a very long election night, in fact, what I should say is a very long election week, unless Biden wins overwhelmingly, because in a lot of places, these ballots aren’t going to be counted for days,” Shrum added. “It’s going to be like California, where we didn’t know the real results of the 2018 Congressional races for a couple of weeks.”


The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to