The Issue Is: Top policymakers weigh in on coronavirus

This week, as Congress debated the next phases of relief, others debated the timeline by which to reopen cities, states, and the country as a whole.

This, as the number of Americans testing positive for coronavirus jumped some 200,000 in a week, the number of deaths ballooned by 15,000, and the number of those claiming unemployment rose by 4.4 million to 26.5 million Americans.

This week, Elex Michaelson and The Issue Is continued to follow the latest developments in the coronavirus fight, speaking with some of the most powerful leaders from California and DC.


When House Minority Leader McCarthy last appeared on The Issue: Is in January, the main topics of discussion were Iran, Impeachment, and the upcoming Democratic primary. Three months later, the world has completely changed.

This time, the discussion kicks off by diving into the $500B relief package passed this week in Congress to offer support to small businesses and hospitals across the country.

"What this does, it replenishes our program, the Paycheck Protection Program," McCarthy said. "We've already loaned 1.6 million businesses, and saved 30 million jobs, but that was so popular it ran out of money."

McCarthy added that the replenished PPP funds will allow small businesses to pay their employees, hopefully serving as a first step on the road to reopening the economy. In fact, the package stipulates that 75% of funds granted to a business must go towards salaries, which in many cases may allow businesses to bring back employees they were otherwise unable to pay during the shutdown.

Between this package, three previous Congressional relief efforts, and the work of the Federal Reserve, McCarthy said that some $7T has been infused into the US economy during this crisis.

With that in mind, Elex asked if McCarthy agrees with the sentiment of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who this week called this a "blue state bailout," saying "I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated."

McCarthy said this relief effort was not a bailout.

"The thing that we want to make sure we do here, because these are hard-working taxpayers' money, that states do not utilize this money to pay for pensions or others. But if there is a concern here over COVID, that's the place we should look and work together."

On the subject of working together, McCarthy also hailed the blossoming relationship between President Trump and California Governor Newsom, echoing the sentiment of the President that Newsom is doing a tremendous job leading California through the crisis.

"I think he is doing a good job," McCarthy said of the Governor. "And that should not be weird, that's how the American public expects us to act and work together. Remember, this COVID virus does not attack one party over the other, it attacked our entire world, and what I like to see is how our President is interacting with our Governor and our Governor is interacting with our President."

On the subject of the President, McCarthy was asked whether President Trump could have addressed the subject of the virus differently at the outset, potentially adopting a different tone or phraseology.

"If you talked to Dr. Fauci during that time, Dr. Fauci said it would just be the flu, these are the people who were advising the President. The World Health Organization said it would not even transfer from human to human."

Still, McCarthy said, despite the ensuing criticism, the President took major action, banning travel with China in late January.

"He took actions that went beyond what those experts were telling the President. Why were those experts saying what they were saying? Because China was lying to the rest of the world."

"You know, what China did to us, the deception that China did, directly led to Americans dying. This is where people should be upset."

McCarthy continued, saying China influenced the WHO to lie about the virus, allowed 5 million people from Wuhan to fly around the world, and even though they control 50% of the supply chain of Personal Protective Equipment, still sought to garner even more as they downplayed the global potential of the virus.

"The one thing that all of America should wake up to is that we should never let China control any supply chain again… this is something that President Trump, as Candidate Trump, warned us about.”

To wrap things up, McCarthy talked about quarantine life. The Bakersfield Representative said that he has been watching documentaries like "Bill Gates' Brain," catching up on the third season of the Jason Bateman-led "Ozark," and looking forward to Dodger baseball whenever the MLB returns.


Next, Elex is joined by Speaker of the California State Assembly, Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

As coronavirus creates a very uncertain future for Californians, one thing that is certain, is that in a few short weeks, Rendon will need to submit the state's budget.

"Priority number one in terms of the budget, it needs to be to stabilize the budget," Rendon said. "There are a lot of unknowns, a lot of unknowns with respect to our revenue projections, a lot unknowns with respect to how much COVID is going to cost. Those unknowns, once we figure those out, will then determine how much money there is for other things."

One unknown for many Californians is employment. That, as more than 3.4 million have lost their jobs in the wake of coronavirus, and many are left unable to get through to the Employment Development Department, which Rendon said is "playing catchup."

"[The EDD] can process a lot information more quickly, they can do a better job of getting back to constituents," Rendon said.  "We understand that they're under a tremendous crush, but at the same time, they need to be responsive."

Despite the praise heaped upon Governor Newsom, praise that has led to him to the highest approval rating of any governor in the country, Speaker Rendon also responded to some controversies that have swirled throughout Newsom's response to the virus, such as a $1B deal with a Chinese-backed company to purchase PPE for California. Rendon also commented on Newsom's plan to provide $125M in relief to the state's undocumented population.

"These are folks who are in this country, these are folks who are contributing to our economy, these are folks who have kids in our school, these are folks who, in many instances, are hurting like a lot of Californians because of COVID, we need to make sure they're taken care of."

Like McCarthy, Rendon's discussion also ended on baseball, namely the confusion over the fact that the newest member of the LA Angels is also named Anthony Rendon. Speaker Rendon welcomed the former Washington National to California, but implied he would have preferred the other Rendon play for his LA Dodgers instead.


Elex wrapped things up this week with Dr. Deborah Birx, the renowned physician who has gained even further acclaim as Response Coordinator to the White House Coronavirus Task Force where she spends most days fielding questions beside Dr. Fauci, Vice President Pence and President Trump at the daily coronavirus briefings.

Dr. Birx began by explaining what California has done right in combating the pandemic and flattening the curve.

"I think California acted very early, and really got communication out to the public about what they need to do to protect themselves, and protect their families, and protect their communities, and I think getting information out early and being proactive was really key," Birx said.

The praise came with one caveat though, as Birx said the state's public health website could be improved by adding more data regarding community spread.

Dr. Birx also commented on research out of USC, research that found through antibody testing that potentially hundreds-of thousands have already been infected with COVID-19.

"This is a difficult one, because it's not 100% sensitive or specific, so you can get false positives when you test in, what we call, low-incidence, low-prevalence areas," Birx said. "So, in the White House guidelines that we recently put out, we really suggested that you start testing in areas where you think people had greater exposure, first responders, health care providers, essential workers."

On the subject of essential workers, the conversation shifted to the string of protests that have sprouted up across the nation, out-of-work Americans calling for their states, and the country, to reopen so they can get back to work.

Citing the White House's "Stop the Spread" and the "Open Up America" guidelines, Birx said people need to continue social distancing in order to protect themselves and other at-risk groups.

The conversation wrapped up with Elex asking Birx about her new-found status as a fashion icon, as her daily choices of scarves have been profiled in multiple publications and have even inspired a bevy of social media accounts.

"I have no idea what to make of that," Birx said. "I grew up as the girl that carried all the slide rules, that got the first calculator, and was always a bit of a nerd, so this is both shocking to me, and very shocking to my two millennial daughters."


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