California Congressman Adam Schiff on how the government will provide economic relief amid coronavirus

Angelenos stockpile items from Costco in Los Feliz -- in preparation for a possible coronavirus quarantine. Photo by Ted Soqui for KCRW.

Congress hasn’t been spared from the spread of COVID-19. A former staffer for Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff has tested positive for the virus: Daniel Goldman, the Democrats’ lawyer during the House impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Schiff tells Press Play that Goldman is doing much better now: “I think he's almost completely over the virus. But of course, he's worried for his family. … It's our understanding, from talking to the House physician … he likely came down with a virus after he left our office. But nonetheless, we're taking our own precautions.” 

Schiff says he and his staff are self-isolating and working from home, and they’ve cancelled events. He encourages others to do the same. 

“It's going to mean a big adjustment, I think, to all of our lifestyles and our work habits for the near future. … But the more we do right now to flatten the curve, as they say, the better chance we have of really stemming the severity of this crisis,” he says. 

The federal government’s role in helping people who are suffering economically or physically from the coronavirus outbreak

The House passed a sweeping emergency coronavirus bill over the weekend. It includes paid sick leave and paid family leave for people working at companies with fewer than 500 employees. It covers testing for COVID-19, even for the uninsured. And it provides an extra $1 billion for food assistance programs. The bill is awaiting approval in the Senate. 

Schiff describes the bill further: “It extends unemployment for those who may lose their job. … It also makes sure that people can get tested at no cost to themselves. … We want to make sure that people are not deterred from being tested when it's warranted because they're afraid of the costs.” 

He says new steps will have to be made every week -- sometimes every day -- to address this health crisis and burgeoning economic crisis. He says for the House, the next major bill will probably address economics. 

Why didn’t this House bill go further -- to include paying people to stay home? 

Schiff says House Democrats tried to make paid sick leave universal, but the idea was met with resistance from GOP House members.

“We were in the position of: Do we protract this fight because Republicans won't go any further in terms of paid leave, and not get anything done? Or do we reach a compromise that gets a lot of what we wanted done at this period in time? And we chose the latter,” he says. 

He adds, “Frankly, we should come back. I'd like to see us with a direct cash infusion to all American families. I'd like to see us initially start out with at least $1,000 to each individual, and more for those with children, so that we help those that are hourly workers and gig workers, those that are going to be very economically insecure right now. But it's also good economics more generally. And I would rather see us overestimate and overstimulate the economy than underperform. Because if we do too little and it's too late, then this economic pain is going to be even more protracted.”

Trump v. governors 

President Trump told governors today that they should find hospital respirators and ventilators on their own. 

Schiff says, “The president shouldn't be picking fights with governors, and he shouldn't be basically telling the states, ‘You're all in it for yourself.’ He should be leading. And that means identifying what kind of supply does the federal government have? How can we help? How can we surge those ventilators to where they may be needed? How hospitals and states can coordinate with each other? We're all in this together.”

He says social distancing is so important because if Americans do it well, then the number of affected people will slow, and there won’t be impending crises in certain states, hospitals, and locales. 

“But that really requires leadership at the very top. And it's been -- to be charitable -- very uneven. And far worse than that, I think it’s at times been incompetent. And in this context where you have a real health crisis, a pandemic, incompetence kills,” he says.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy

Credits

Guest:
Adam Schiff - Democratic Congressman from Burbank, and chair of the House Intelligence Committee - @RepAdamSchiff

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin