Jewish Journal: Adam Schiff Skewers Trump for Deeming Virus “A Public Relations Problem” (Interview)

By March 18, 2020 March 20th, 2020 2020 Campaign, COVID-19, Democracy, Good Government, Labor

At the beginning of the week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) announced that one of his former staffers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Schiff said the staffer had left his position 10 days earlier and was believed to have contracted the virus at that time.

While Schiff did not name the staffer, Daniel Goldman, the attorney Schiff hired to lead the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, revealed over the weekend that he had tested positive for the virus.

Speaking with the Journal by phone from his home in Washington, D.C., Schiff said after discussing the former staffer’s case with the attending physician, “It was the attendant’s physician’s conclusion he likely could track the virus to after he left our office, but out of an abundance of caution, I am trying to stay away from others to the maximum degree possible, which means, essentially, sequestering myself at home.”

Jewish Journal: When did you first realize the virus was not something remote happening only in China?

Adam Schiff: I don’t remember exactly when because I’ve lost my sense of time these days — [but] we could see the virus was coming into this country, and given the paucity of testing it was probably much more widespread than we knew, and the first solid indication of that were cases in Washington state that were unrelated to anybody who had traveled to China.

So there was community spread and if that was going on with people who were undiagnosed, then it was only a matter of time before it spread like wildfire. And that’s what has happened in Washington, and even today I think we only know about a tiny fraction who have tested positive. It shows what a global environment we are in when something from a market in Wuhan, China, within a matter of, really, weeks touches people you know, like my former staff member.

JJ: Has this uprooted everything that was happening in D.C.?

AS: It has been a real upheaval for everyone in government [and] outside of government. I am deeply concerned about the health of all Americans, the economic damage that is being done, the closing down of restaurants, bars, movie theaters. All the places where we have social interaction has a huge impact on the economy and on people’s psyche. I am particularly worried about the elderly that are most at risk, but also hourly workers and small business owners who don’t have much of a safety net and now are struggling to provide for themselves and their families, or are struggling to keep their businesses open or trying to figure out how to hunker down, making difficult decisions about whether to lay off people.

JJ: What kind of conversations are you having with your staff about the how to handle this?

AS: We are all doing our best to work from home these days and trying to find the right balance between informing our constituents without alarming them. We are talking several times a day. We have unique challenges in the [House Intelligence] Committee because we deal with classified information, so we can’t work from home with some of our responsibilities, and at the same time we want to make sure that we don’t take any unacceptable risks.

JJ: What about with your family? Your father, I believe, is among the most vulnerable to the virus?

AS: Yes, he’s 92. I just got off the phone with him and I want to make sure he is restricting his movements, and he is. His life revolves going to the club, as is true for everyone in Boca [Raton, Fla.], and he is staying home from the club, which I am glad to hear. He takes walks, gets exercise, but really [he must] limit his interactions with others.

JJ: How would you rate the response by the Trump administration thus far to the spread of the coronavirus?

AS: I think the initial response was very poor and the most important time for the response was early on when steps needed to be taken to surge our hospital capacity, to surge our testing. We should have been doing testing like South Korea for weeks now and we are still not doing it. It is still way too slow and people who need to get tested can’t get tested. For weeks, the president tried to talk this down and viewed it as a public relations problem. The late response is going to cost us dearly.

I think at the agency level there are some very good people like [Dr.] Anthony Fauci [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] and others who are putting out good information and are doing the best they can. But there really is no substitute for good leadership at the top and we haven’t had that from the president and people lack confidence in whether they can believe what he says. That’s bad enough when you’re not in crisis but it is catastrophic when you are in crisis.

JJ: What message would you like to send to your constituents about the coronavirus?

AS: First of all, we are going to get through this. We need to come together at least metaphorically if not in person. The country has been through more severe challenges in the past. What we do right now will have a big impact on how long-lasting a crisis this is, and we can all be part of the solution by maintaining a smart distance from each other right now, helping those we know are in need and then also searching out good information. I urge people to go to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website [cdc.gov]. We have a lot of useful links on my website [schiff.house.gov], so they can be well informed.

JJ: What’s been your go-to entertainment to make home isolation more bearable?

AS: I am watching [Amazon Prime’s] “Hunters,” which I just started, and also watching “Westworld,” which I left off in Season Two. I have to say, watching just the first episode [of “Hunters”] … made me very queasy about the whole idea of the show. Anyway, I am reserving judgment.

This piece was originally published at Jewish Journal.