U.S. Representative Steve King told constituents this week he doubts Americans will be able to get “back online by Easter” and urged them to follow medical advice to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
King’s Congressional office organized the telephone town hall focused on COVID-19 on the evening of March 24. A resident of Iowa’s fourth district recorded most of the call (missing the first several minutes) and shared the the audio with Bleeding Heartland. You can listen here:
At the beginning of this clip, a woman who identified herself as Lisa asked about Trump’s comments on March 23. The president said he’d like to see most of the country “back to work” by Easter, which most Christians will celebrate on April 12. Lisa expressed concern about “all these spring breakers coming back” from vacation, possibly spreading coronavirus, and wanted to know what King thought.
My transcript of the exchange:
King: Well, when I heard the press conference–I didn’t get to watch it, but I heard of the press conference–it concerns me a bit. I think the president might be too optimistic. And as I kind of play this thing out, and what I see–from charts also of previous pandemics, and what we know about this one, that getting back online by Easter is, is a pretty optimistic position.
I think we can’t–the priorities need to be, number one, address the health aspect of this thing full bore, with all we can bring to it, and to shut this virus down as quickly as we can and as effectively as we can.
And then the second part of it is the business side. And the ones I’m most concerned about are the small businesses, [Lisa tried to break in] because they generally don’t have the capital to bridge. Go ahead, Lisa.
Lisa: My husband and I own a janitorial service, so we understand that too. But then again, the health of my family and my grandchildren is more important, you know their lives, than keeping our business running if that’s what it takes. I’m just so worried that if he [Trump] opens everything back up, we’re going to see a much [more] devastating event than we would have if things would have been kept shut down.
King: I do agree with that. And you know, what I’ve said to people is, that there’s no upside to being a contrarian on the health side of this anymore. If you look back to two months ago, it seemed like it was a very rare case, it looked like it might [not] get over here even to the United States, maybe then there was a case to be made that we shouldn’t overreact. But there are so many cases coming at us now, and the growth of these cases is coming at us so fast, that there’s no longer an argument that it’s not here, or that it’s not a very aggressive, quickly-spreading disease.
So we’re following all the guidelines for Centers for Disease Control and the Iowa Department of Public Health, and adding on to this, trying to add to services, like expanding testing in Iowa, making more of the personal protective equipment available, and also some sanitation techniques that haven’t been widely spread. So we’re doing as much as we can do for this.
I didn’t expect to be as busy sequestered in my house as I am. And I’m not afraid to go out if I need to. But I’m not going out unless I need to. I’m going to stay here and address as much of this as I can.
So I’m going to pass this message along: let’s not let Easter be, you know, a drop-dead date. Let’s let Easter be maybe an aspiration, that things break in that direction. Maybe we’ll change our mind by Easter. I don’t think so, but something we can surely hope and pray for, Lisa.
The last questioner during King’s town hall expressed a contrarian view. Starting around the 42:30 mark, a man identified as Larry from Eagle Grove (Wright County) said he’s 70 years old and believes Trump “is on the right track of getting things restarted, even though I’m in that area of peril.”
Larry: I think that the economy is so much more important right now, to get it re-energized for my children and my grandchildren than this virus. And yeah, it’s going to affect my group a little bit harder. I’ve heard about the herd mentality deal [“herd immunity” had been discussed earlier in the call]. Well, there’s also a thinning of the herd. And that’s just nature’s way.
But we have to take a look at keeping the country strong, really strong, economically, or we’re, we’re not going to make it. So this can’t go on for another two or three months. It’s just not viable. I just wonder what you think about that, Representative King.
King: Thank you, Larry, and I’m almost down to the last 60 seconds here, so I appreciate your input on that. I’d sure like to get the economy rolling as soon as we can. But in the short term of this, between now and Easter, let’s see how this unfolds. And if our data starts coming in that we’re turning this in the right direction, then we can maybe make a different decision.
But I do think that life is the most important value. And we need to protect as many lives as we can. There’s no upside to pulling back too soon, because we go back into a second wave. If you look historically on the pandemics, the countries, and sometimes the locations or states within our country, that let down their guard too soon, there was a second spike that was at least as bad or maybe even worse.
So I don’t want to see that happen. But I’m going to listen to the professionals on this, and really pay attention to the data. They don’t all agree, but we do have common sense and we can evaluate this ourselves.
So getting that economy going, yes. But not at the expense of life. And, but sooner or later we will get this adjusted to, we’ll have a vaccine, and we’ll have herd immunity, and so I appreciate your call in on this. […]
Earlier in the call, King had referenced a quote from Martin Luther. He or a staffer got hold of it in time for him to read during his closing remarks. (It’s an excerpt from a pamphlet the famous theologian wrote on “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague.”)
King: I’m just going to try something here. I don’t know if I’ve got the full minute it’s going to be, but I told you that I would try to find the statement that was written by Martin Luther–and I’m Catholic, but I think he got this right. And he wrote this in 1527 in the middle of the plague in Wittenberg. And he wrote this:
“Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy, and does not tempt God.”
Close quote. I think Martin Luther got it right, and let’s us get it right with a level of good judgment and safety and to get us all back on track. […]
No regular reader of this website would confuse me for an admirer of King, but it’s extremely valuable for him to get this point across to his supporters. Like U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, who expressed similar views in her own telephone town hall this week, King has been a Trump loyalist and is very popular among the president’s fans.
Another controversial House Republican, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, has used his social media feeds to criticize precautionary steps governments are taking, like closing certain types of businesses. Influential social conservative commentators like Matt Walsh and Glenn Beck have argued this week that policies intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 are causing too much economic disruption.
By refuting such arguments, King may reach people who would be skeptical of mainstream media reports about the dangers posed by coronavirus. By emphasizing that saving lives is more important than the economy, King may convince some listeners to avoid unnecessary trips away from home.
Final note: During the telephone town hall, King defended his vote against the second coronavirus bill members of Congress considered. He cited a rushed process that left many drafting errors in place and didn’t allow House members to read the bill before voting on it.