Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney has been urging people to social distance and to follow health orders ever since COVID-19 became an issue in this country. This sets her apart from some of her Republican colleagues. She joins us to discuss COVID-19 and what we might expect in the future.
Bob Beck: Representative Cheney, I follow you on social media and on this COVID-19 issue, you've been very consistent and very concerned about people doing the right things, washing their hands, social distancing, and all that. And I guess the only reason I find that notable is that I don't see every politician doing the same kind of thing. Have you felt that that was an important thing to do?
Rep. Liz Cheney: I have. And look, I think that what we have seen is that this is a very serious and deadly virus. And I think it's important that we take it seriously when now over 90,000 Americans have died.
I think that one of the things that is really a real attribute of our system in the United States is that at the end of the day, the decisions about how our community's response to the virus really is something where the decisions are made at the state and local levels. I've been very supportive of what governor Gordon has been doing. I think that it makes complete practical sense that the rules for us in Wyoming will be different than the rules that are being put in place in places like California and New York.
But I think it's important for us to be very cautious and very careful and recognize that we're making huge strides towards therapeutics and very fast progress towards vaccines. And, you know, we need to be sure that we continue to do that, and that's sort of what Congress stays focused on. While people undertake all of the guidance that we've seen in terms of social distancing and what you mentioned, hand washing and crowd size, things like that so we can keep people safe.
BB: It's been interesting. I guess I shouldn't be surprised in this day and age that everything does become political. But even this has become very political, which surprised me.
LC: Yes, it has.
BB: I've been just amazed. Here's some good, solid, safety advice for you and that turned into a partisan issue. What has been your thoughts on our response here in Wyoming and to the closing of businesses? Was that a good idea for at least a while?
LC: You know, I do think it was necessary. And I think that, you know, we have to make assessments and we have to make judgments, we have to balance the risk that people might have to take, I think that what we have also recognized is the huge economic devastation that has come across the board.
When you look at the unemployment numbers for the whole country, certainly, when you look at the impact it has, when an economy just comes to a complete standstill. Now I think if we had not taken those steps that we would have seen far greater deaths and the real concern was always that you'd end up in a situation where the healthcare system couldn't support the people who were sick.
Now for us in Wyoming, we've had a different problem in a number of places. Which is that we stopped elective surgery and did not have the numbers of COVID cases. And so obviously, some of our local hospitals and some of the rural hospitals have been affected economically by not being able to do elective surgery and also, not having any COVID patients.
So, (Senators) Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and I have been working very hard here in Washington to make sure that the resources that we're providing for the hospitals, for example, can be targeted towards our rural hospitals. We've also made sure, you know, as you're looking at things like the program that's provided loans for small businesses, we've had over 12,000 businesses across Wyoming be able to get access to those funds. You know, similarly with the insurance programs. It's been important for us to make sure that there are resources that people can take advantage of and can get access to, to help while we get through this economic crisis, because it is an economic crisis as well as a public health crisis.
BB: We were talking before we started about our legislature passing some legislation for handing out some of the Cares Act funding which obviously was critical. I mean, one of the things that's really interesting here is that we had to do something for the states, but it seems like there's going to be a comeuppance at some point. Is there a concern that, you know, we're trying to bail states out, but at the same time there's going to be some tough decisions all of us are gonna have to make isn't there?
LC: Well, certainly in terms of you know bailing states out, I think it's really important that we not go down the path where, you know, states like ours end up on the hook for bailing out states that have not made good fiscal decisions, responsible economic decisions. And I think that's why you've seen with this latest piece of legislation that passed the House of Representatives on Friday. And it passed, I think, with only one republican vote and most of the democrats. It's a $3 trillion package of new spending that didn't go through a single committee hearing and isn't going to go anyplace in the Senate. And part of the reason is because of, you know, the resources that would be required to bail out states that, you know, as I said, have not been responsible.
I think the way that we look at this in terms of the delegation, the way I look at it, is the immediate emergency relief has been really important for people and it's been really important to help keep people employed, it's been important to help our businesses be able to stay functioning and our small business owners not have to go under. But we need to look at it as temporary and the real solution here is to get the economy going again. To get to a place where we have testing and treatment and ultimately a vaccine, although we're not saying you have to wait for that. So that the economy itself can start functioning again. And we don't want to be in a position where these programs become permanent, because, you know, that would be really devastating economically for the nation as a whole.
BB: What is the view from the federal government? What are you being told? What can we expect in the fall and winter? Is it optimistic or not?
LC: People are optimistic. I think that because we've been able to make progress in terms of getting testing supplies out more broadly. And looking at how we've all sort of become accustomed to operating. You know, people are hopeful that we will begin to be able to open up here. I think there are different assessments about what's going to happen in the fall in terms of whether or not the virus is going to sort of have a resurgence and come back. And I think that may be entirely possible. But we'll have to see what happens.
I also think, though, that if it does sort of have a resurgence in the fall, we'll be in a different place in terms of therapies and treatments by then. And we'll be better able to handle it. Because we will know more. And I also think it's important to remember who's to blame here…
BB: Yeah, you're on this committee that's looking into whether China was behind this. Why is this important to blame them?
LC: Well, it's important to hold them accountable. I think that what clearly happened, you know, you can set aside all of the discussions and debates about whether the virus came out of the wet market and Wuhan or whether it came out of the lab and Wuhan, it came from Wuhan.
And also, we know that the government of China knew that they had human to human transmission. They did not tell the world that, they hid that from the world, and then they shut down travel from Wuhan into the rest of the country. While they allowed travel from Wuhan into the rest of the world. And that, you know, to me, that is the key issue. And that's the key moment at which they were very clearly culpable. And you can't say that it was accidental, because they took such clear steps to protect themselves.
I think that it is very important for us, given the devastation this virus has caused, given the lives it's taken, and I'm sure that it's far more global than we're seeing reported, this can't happen again. And any country that would do what the Chinese government has done has got to be held accountable for that.
And I think we also have to make sure we protect ourselves. We can't allow the Chinese government, knowing their intention and knowing what they're willing and capable of doing, we can't allow them to control for example, our supply chains of critical pharmaceuticals. For defense related products, other things that we need to protect ourselves, we can't be in a position where they can blackmail us.
BB: Do we also need to do a better job of being ready for something like this?
LC: I do think that it's important, I think that we absolutely have to look at the lessons that we're learning from this experience. I think that you know, whenever you go through a crisis it's important to do lessons learned. And I think we do need to make sure that we're taking every step necessary to protect ourselves from biohazards and from future pandemics. And making sure that we've acted responsibly.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Bob Beck, at firstname.lastname@example.org.