On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package this week. How could it impact our region? Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA, 10th District) joins us to talk about what it will mean for her constituents. Plus, Wexton sits on the House committee looking into the January 6 insurrection. We get her take on what went wrong.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is lifting some restrictions on businesses in Maryland effective Friday at 5 p.m., in a move that caught local leaders by surprise. Restaurants and bars will no longer have capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, and large spaces like concert halls or sporting arenas will be allowed to open at 50% capacity. Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) talks about the lifted restrictions and disparities in the county’s vaccine rollout.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour today starring Martin Austermuhle. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Martin Austermuhle is an Editor and Reporter for WAMU. Martin Austermuhle, thank you for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me. I'll try to do my best Tom impression as I can.
NNAMDIBecause Tom Sherwood has the day off today, he'll be back with us next week. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Nancy Navarro, a Member of the Montgomery County Council. Joining us now is Jennifer Wexton. She's a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Virginia's 10th Congressional District. Congresswoman Wexton, thank you for joining us.
JENNIFER WEXTONIt's great to be back, Kojo.
NNAMDIBefore we get to what's going on in Congress, Tom Sherwood, the new D.C. vaccine site seems to be finally working well. It registered a large number of people in a fairly short period of time. On the one hand, but on the other hand there's some confusion about the site apparently requiring people to provide employment verification when the D.C. Health Director had indicated that it would not.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. So some quick background here. Obviously if anybody has been reading the news they've seen that vaccine registrations in D.C. were a bit of a technical nightmare over the last couple of weeks. Until the city rolled out this preregistration this week, which allows people to do just that to preregister, not get an appointment immediately, but at least preregister, essentially start standing in line. And I just checked the numbers, 100,000 people this week have preregistered. It's supposed to be folks with preexisting conditions, essential workers. But the system surprised everybody, it worked really well.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd we were actually debating this in the newsroom. We always cover the bad news when things go wrong. And we were like, well, we should certainly cover the fact that this thing worked. I mean, this preregistration site actually got off the ground. It didn't collapse. It didn't -- under the weight of traffic. So that's a at least good news. Now people still have to get their appointments, which is the next step.
NNAMDIAnd the problem with the employment verification, what's going on with that?
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. So one of the things is, again, they're limiting it to certain people ages 18 to 64 with a preexisting condition or essential workers. Now, the website asks you to say which essential worker you are and then it says you may need to provide employment verification to prove that you're an essential worker. But there's been mixed messages from the city on whether you'd actually have to show up with a piece of paper or an ID badge when you actually show up for the vaccine. Apparently you don't have to, but they still have the question, which is throwing some people off.
NNAMDIHow about the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress on Thursday? How is it likely to affect -- you did a piece along with Jordan Pascale about how it could affect business, Metro and child poverty in the D.C. region. Go ahead.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. I mean, this is loads of money obviously and a lot of it is going to come to the Washington region just like it is other parts of the country. And we looked at the different buckets of money. A big one that is going to impact the region is Metro. Metro is going to get, you know, a good chunk of money that is going to prevent service cuts, massive service cuts that could have been coming. Lots of folks are going to be getting stimulus checks. And that actually has a big benefit for local economies and for local government budgets. Also if you have a family, you're in line for money if you have children.
AUSTERMUHLESo there's just a lot of kind of different money that's going to be coming at different times, and there's going to be a lot of benefits to be had. I know for the last stimulus rounds local officials have said this really helped them avoid the worst case scenarios with their own budgets.
NNAMDICongresswoman Wexton, how will it affect the residents of your district?
WEXTONOh, it will be huge for us here in Virginia 10 and Virginia as a whole. You know, just for Virginia 10 we're going to receive about $576.4 million. And our school systems are going to receive over $333 million. So that will really help them reopen safely and do what they need to do to address learning loss over the summer perhaps. And for Virginia it's even bigger impact. You know, we're going to receive about $3.8 billion for the Commonwealth. School systems across the Commonwealth are going to receive about $2 billion total.
WEXTONAnd more important about seven million Americans are going to benefit from the stimulus checks, 85,000 of Virginia's kids are going to be lifted above the poverty level. We have 250,000 adults whose unemployment benefits aren't going to run out next week. About $2 billion on the whole for Virginia schools to help them reopen safely. So it's a huge, huge benefit to us and it will really help our local governments.
NNAMDIWell, Kathrine in Virginia has a question about exactly what it will do. But, Kathrine, I'll let you ask the question yourself. Go ahead, please.
KATHRINEHi, Congresswoman Wexton. This is Kathrine from Lake Frederick. And I wonder if you can explain whether this relief bill is going to make a difference on how many vaccines Virginia can distribute and if so how soon will we start to see that?
WEXTONThank you, Kathrine. It will make a big difference in terms of how many vaccines we receive to be able to distribute those. And it's got about $20 billion just for -- to enhance the vaccine distribution. And, you know, the Biden administration just announced that they have made plans to receive another 100 million doses of the J&J vaccine, which is already being deployed throughout Virginia 10 and throughout Virginia. And that will really help move this process along. So, you know, getting everybody vaccinated and making sure that it's done in a very expedited way and with equity throughout the Commonwealth is something that has been very important to us and the administration. And you should see some increases in those vaccinations taking place very soon.
NNAMDIAnother part of this bill is the child tax credit. Can you explain why it was a priority for Democrats?
WEXTONWell, because it benefits people at the lower end of the income range, who really need it most, so much more than it does those at the upper end. So families with children would receive an average tax cut of more than $6,000. It would be a $3,000 tax credit for kids for families with kids, a little bit more for those with children under six. The poorest 20 percent of Americans are going to see a 20 percent boost in their income from the relief plan. Primarily due to stimulus payments and the child tax credit. So, you know, it's going to cut child poverty in half in this nation, which is pretty remarkable.
AUSTERMUHLEI'm just curious, Congresswoman, the debate when it was up on the Hill was about the merits of the bill, to a certain degree, whether this is necessary, that sort of stuff. Now, you've shifted into it's passed. The president has signed it. You guys have to do it -- your job to a certain degree selling it. I mean, you may not have as much trouble, because, again, a Democratic leaning part of the country. But still there are parts of your district that may not agree with you or may not agree with your politics. Like how do you sell the bill -- the stimulus bill to them? What are you going to say?
WEXTONBy talking about the merits of the bill, you know, there are people all across the Commonwealth and all across the nation, who should start seeing those stimulus checks as soon as this weekend. You know, there are families who are going to see a real increase in their income, because of this child tax credit. You know, schools will start opening. Vaccines will start being distributed more quickly. And I think that the proof will be in the results that show from what the results are that the bill is able to deliver.
WEXTONYou know, we will have schools that don't have to lay people off, local governments that don't have to lay people off. Things like here, you mentioned Metro in this district and, you know, the national airport, Dulles is a hub for United Airlines. They've announced that they have delayed their layoffs or they won't have to lay people off. So I think when we start seeing the great results from this it will speak for itself.
NNAMDIWell, no Republicans voted for the package. And I suspect that's one of the things that Jim in Alexandria would like you to address. But, Jim, go ahead. Speak for yourself.
JIMYes. Thank you for taking my call. Kojo, Congressmen -- so nice to speak with you. I'll be really quick. Two years into President Clinton's election, you know, first term Senate and the House went Republican. Same thing happened two years into President Obama's administration. There was a leak of Congressman Spanberger, your colleague, where she said, we have got to tap down the word socialism, socialistic policies, otherwise we're going to have a repeat or words to that effect. Are you -- is there a cadre of you that are going to work with Congressman Spanberger to make sure we do not get a repeat of, you know, in two years what happened during President Clinton's first term and President Obama's first term.
WEXTONWell, we're going to deliver results for the American people regardless of their political affiliation. And I think that, you know, we'll be able to run on our records. The Republicans, they're just the party of "no." They just want to obstruct and just throw stones and gaslights to the American people about what this bill really does. But the fact is it has broad bipartisan support, you know, about 75 percent of the American public supports this bill. And when they start seeing the results that will be delivered, I think that they will feel the same way.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. On the politics of the Democratic Party, here is Peter in Leighsburg, Virginia. Peter, your turn.
PETERJennifer, this Peter Rush. How are you?
WEXTONI'm well. How are you?
PETERExcellent. And, of course, thrilled about what's just happened. My question tees off the sudden chatter in the media including today's Washington Post that after this unanimity of Democrats on this one bill that we're not going to face a much more divisive situation. And even though I'm a lifelong progressive Democrat, I consider myself to be non-ideological in the sense that I don't have a position with a fixed star. And I'm concerned that we might some members of our caucus to be essentially making the perfect the enemy of the good or the better of the enemy -- the best of the enemy of the better.
PETERAnd I'm wondering to what extent you think that the prospect of doing a lot of good may allow us to be more unified than is being said right now. I'm not asking you to comment on individuals who might be more ideological than you are, because I think you are much more pragmatic in the sense that I think is the proper way to go. But...
NNAMDIAll right. Allow me to have Congresswoman Wexton answer the question. Congresswoman?
WEXTONWell, Democrats are united more than we've ever been in my time in Congress. And, you know, the progressive caucus they weren't pleased about the parliamentarian's decision to strip out the minimum wage increase. And they weren't pleased about the decision to drop the enhanced unemployment level from $400 to $300 and cut the duration somewhat. But they ended up going along with it, because, you know, it's better to have a very good bill for very many people than to stand on, you know, principle for getting the perfect -- making the perfect the enemy of the good as you just indicated. And I think that that will continue throughout this term.
AUSTERMUHLEAgain, I mean, obviously, I'm sure there's discussions on the Hill that don't make into the public, don't make it to the press. Where there any behind the scenes discussions between you, between Democrats, between Republican members of the House where these Republicans were saying, listen, I'd love to support the bill, but I just can't because of the current environment that we have to stand to on principle on this one. Like I'm just curious if it's as good as you say it is like is it really that Republicans just are the party of "no" or did people want to support it in the party do you think?
NNAMDIOnly have about 40 seconds in this segment.
WEXTONI believe that some did, but a lot of them realized that that's going to be -- that obstructing and gas lighting is going to be their path forward in 2022. And they were going to stick with the party one way or another.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Virginia's 10th Congressional District. Our guest analyst today is Martin Austermuhle, an Editor and Reporter for WAMU. Tom Sherwood is off today. He will be back next week. Congresswoman Wexton, you sit on a House committee looking into the January 6th insurrection and what went wrong from a security standpoint. What are the major issues that your committee is reviewing?
WEXTONWell, we're trying to look into what went wrong and remedy them. You know, I serve on the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Sub-Committee and we control the funding for everything on the House side of the Capitol for things like the architect of the Capitol, the physical structure, the Capitol Police. And so we have been working through some of their requests for this fiscal year. And also what we're going to need to do for security supplemental. And we were briefed last week by the General Honore and his commission about what their recommendations are. They have a lot of recommendations. Some are for the short term. Some are for the long term, but there's definitely a lot of reforms that need to be made.
AUSTERMUHLESo now that you mention his report, one thing that was interesting was that he advices or he suggests that you have not a permanent fence like you have around the Capitol right now, but a retractable fence. But also he wants to expand the size of the Capitol Police Department. And what caught my eye about that is that it would increase the size of the department to the point that it would rival D.C.'s Police Department. And that's a police department that, you know, polices a city of 700,000 people.
AUSTERMUHLESo where do you stand on both this idea of a retractable fence? Do you think it's a good idea? Do you think it's necessary? And what do you think especially about having that many more police officers in the Capitol Police Department?
WEXTONWell, for the fence, I think that I can't stand the fence that we have right now. I know this is something or at least I hope this is something we all agree on that that is not a shining symbol of our democracy when we have these 10 foot fences with razor wire on top of them. I feel like I'm going to work every day in an occupied zone. So, yes, the sooner they can come down the better. They also were costing us $1.9 million a week for those fences, so now $1.2.
NNAMDII hear Tom Sherwood applauding in the background even though he's not on the air. But, go ahead, please.
WEXTONBut one of the things that was most glaring about General Honore's report that I learned was just how understaffed the Capitol Police are. You know, there are 233 vacancies right now. They had 720,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year '20. So the officers that we have are, you know, they're overworked. They're unable to go through training programs or have any sort of leadership training.
WEXTONSo they are recommending another 350 plus another 524 for a total plus up of 874. I'm not sure that they need all of those. But some of them will be necessary. And I think bringing our Capitol Police force numbers up so that we don't have all this overtime and our Capitol Police officers have an opportunity to actually get the training that they need and not be completely overworked is important.
WEXTONBut, you know, he had a couple other recommendations, which I think were very useful and we should look into. One is the establishment of a dedicated quick reaction force for the District of Columbia so that we have them on call all the time. And they're able to deal with these disturbances when they take place. Better coordination between the intelligence agencies and the Capitol Police, better coordination among the Capitol Police themselves. I mean, there are so many different reforms that have to be made. It's really less a matter of how many bodies there are and more a matter of the processes that they have and their ability to utilize the people that they have in the most efficient and effective ways.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Megan who says, "Please thank Congresswoman Wexton for co-sponsoring the background check bill. Well, done Megan." The House passed two bills to tighten gun laws this week. One expands background checks to all commercial gun sales. The other closes a loophole that allowed some sales to go through before a background check was completed. Why were these gun bills at the top of the priority list and how much Republican support did they get, Congresswoman Wexton?
WEXTONWell, gun violence prevention is something that's top of line for me and so many of my constituents. And universal background checks are something that over 90 percent of the public supports. This is another example of something that's very bipartisan out in the public, but not so much within the halls of Congress. But we did pass the bipartisan background checks act with Republican votes yesterday as well as the bill to close the Charleston loophole, which has been championed by my colleague Jim Clyburn from South Carolina in the wake of the tragedy that took place there.
WEXTONBut, you know, it is such an important thing that is supported by the majority of the American people. So we're going to keep pushing to implement these common sense gun violence prevention laws across on the other side of the Capitol as well.
NNAMDIHere is Amanda in Virginia. Amanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMANDAHi, I was calling to ask the congresswoman, I know you're a mother too. I'm a mom. I have two school age children and I'm really anxious to get them back in the classroom, but I'm worried about their safety and frankly mine and my husband's safety. What's in the American Rescue Plan that's going to help our schools?
WEXTONWell, thank you, Amanda for your question. There's millions of dollars -- billions of dollars across the country for localities to open their schools safely and in a way that works best for them. So we're giving them the autonomy to figure out what works best for them. So what happens here in my home county of Loudoun is maybe different from what they do in, you know, Buchanan County down in Southwest Virginia. But the most important thing is that they do it safely.
WEXTONSo we're giving them the freedom to use that money for things like hiring more bus drivers, because they need to do more bus routes, more custodians, more ways to retrofit their schools for better ventilation programs whatever it takes for them to be able to get reopened. And I think that from what I've heard from my localities around here they're very excited for this opportunity.
NNAMDIAmanda, thank you for your call. Your district is home to one of the largest Uighur communities in the U.S. Uighurs are an ethnic minority in China that apparently faced persecution by the Chinese government. You co-introduced legislation to speed up the ability of Uighurs to apply for refugee status in the U.S. Can you tell us a little bit more about the hardships they face in China and why you think this bill is important?
WEXTONYes, absolutely. The Uighur community is suffering, you know, basically genocide and attacks in China in the Xinjiang Province and beyond. They have been scooped up out their homes, placed into these camps and forced into forced labored and actually moved all around China. So they end up working in factories where the conditions are terrible and where they end up producing products, which we end up buying here in the U.S. without any knowledge of what's happening in their supply chains. But I also serve on the State and Foreign Operations Sub-Committee of Appropriations and I and one of my colleagues from that committee Mario Diaz-Balart from South Florida and I co-sponsored this legislation to speed up the asylum process.
WEXTONSo we have people here in our community who are on our case load who have been waiting for their cases to win their way through the system since 2014 and 2015 with no word. And these are people who fled China and who can't even communicate with their families back home, because it puts them in grave danger. So, you know, some sense of permanence and some sense of, you know, the ability to have a safe haven is really important for this community. So I'm going to keep fighting for it.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. I just wanted to -- before we lose you for the day, I just wanted to ask you about Virginia politics, because Virginia politics is interesting this year because you guys have a gubernatorial election, which only New Jersey also has. So where are you on -- in the governor's race? I mean, do you have a preferred candidate? Are you endorsing? Will you endorse? Like where do you stand in what's a pretty diverse and could be a very competitive Democratic field?
WEXTONWell, Virginia politics is interesting every year as you know, but especially in these off years. But, you know, I have way too many friends in that race to weigh in. So I'm watching and I know it's going to be a spirited and very thoughtful and deliberate kind of campaign, but I'm not weighing in.
NNAMDILast month the National Republican Congressional Committee released a list of nearly 50 House seats that it will target in 2022. Notably your district was not on that list. Last year you handily beat challenger Alicia Andrews. Do you think Virginia's 10th District is now solidly blue?
WEXTONWell, we'll see. You know, I mean, I certainly hope so. But Virginia is going to go through its first round of non-partisan redistricting this year. So a lot will depend upon how they redraw the districts. But I think it's a very positive development and, you know, my district I know if you look at the map of Virginia 10 you see that it was definitely drawn in a creative way. That's there's different parts that are not connected to one another. So I think I will forward to representing a compact contiguous and communities of interest within my district in 2022.
NNAMDICongresswoman Jennifer Wexton, thank you very much for joining us.
WEXTONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIUp next Nancy Navarro. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Martin Austermuhle is our guest analyst today. He's an editor and reporter for WAMU. Tom Sherwood will be back next week. Joining us now is Nancy Navarro, a member of the Montgomery County Council, representing District 4. Nancy Navarro, thank you so much for joining us.
NANCY NAVARROThank you for having me, Kojo. It's good to talk to you.
NNAMDIBefore we get to Montgomery County, Martin Austermuhle, what's going on in the District? Under the former police chief, Peter Newsham, the Metropolitan Police Department used to boast about how many guns they were seizing. Now, the new chief, Chief Robert Contee, or the acting Chief Robert Contee III, apparently doesn't think that these aggressive gun seizures are such a great idea. Why?
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLWell, I mean, this is one of those small piece -- it could look like a small piece of news, like some technical change and some department regulation, but it's actually a big deal. So, basically, the Gun Recovery Unit has been the police department's kind of, like, shining unit that goes out there and gets illegal guns off the streets. They tweet pictures of all the guns that they recover. And it's kind of the sense of like, people are killing each other with guns, we're getting guns off the street.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLBut acting Chief Contee has essentially now said he's reconsidering whether they should be going after just the number of guns, versus targeting specific people that may be most dangerous with those guns. So, he's essentially rethinking what the unit could do. And there was a lot of criticism at the unit, because apparently -- I mean, some of the stuff that they did created conflict with the communities they were supposed to police. So, this could be a way for him to keep focus on guns, but also try to mend some of those relationships with the communities he needs to have.
NNAMDIOn to Maryland, apparently that, in Maryland now, people who were sentenced to life imprisonment while they were juveniles will now be able to have their chance -- have a chance at parole. How did that come about?
AUSTERMUHLI mean, this was a lawsuit -- this is, again, one of those things, it seems like a small headline that you may miss in the paper or miss on the news, but it's actually also a big deal. That it's just going to give people who committed crimes when they were much younger the chance to argue that I should get parole because I was young and dumb and didn't know better when I committed this crime.
AUSTERMUHLAnd this has been something that's been happening across the country. And this all came from a lawsuit that was filed by the ACLU back in 2016 on behalf of three Maryland residents. So, now, Maryland is going to have to start considering age when parole requests come up.
NNAMDICouncilmember Navarro, is that something you favor?
NAVARROI think that is a very important step forward. I think, you know, our state legislature has been taking on some really important issues, some very important bills this session. So, I'm glad to see a lot of the incredible steps forward that are being taken. It's pretty historic, in many ways.
NNAMDIMaryland Governor Larry Hogan is loosening the coronavirus restrictions statewide, effective at 5:00 p.m. today. Restaurants, stores, gyms and places of worship will no longer have capacity limits. Instead, they'll just need to ensure physical distancing between patrons. Big venues like theaters and concert halls can reopen at 50 percent capacity. Councilmember Navarro, what do you think about that decision, on the part of Governor Hogan?
NAVARROWell, this was quite a surprise for us. You know, we didn't have a lot of time to, obviously, digest all of this. But, at the same time, you know, we are always ready to respond and do what we believe is in the best interest of our county. And we're very happy with the fact that our residents have really stepped up to follow guidelines. And that's why our positivity rate is at 2.75 at this moment. It is why, right now, it is really, you know, considered to be moderate risk of transmission compared to January, when we were at 7 percent.
NAVARROAnd so, I think, in many ways, we have a really great story, but we're not ready to go to the level that the governor is proposing and, you know, will become effective at 5:00 p.m. In about an hour, the County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, will be reviewing, considering debating a Board of Health regulation to determine where we're going to land. The proposal is not, of course, as, you know, flexible, if we will -- can describe it that way, as the governor -- but it's also, you know, taking into consideration where we are and how we can begin to relax some of the restrictions, while monitoring the metrics.
NAVARROAnd so, we will be -- I think, at the end of the day we will be relaxing some of the restrictions but it will be in a, you know, cautious manner. And we're always mindful of the notion that, you know, the state of Maryland and Florida are the ones that have, at this moment in time, there are three variants present. And that is a concern for us. We also understand that we're a very tight region, so whatever happens in Prince George's County affects Montgomery County, etcetera. So, we're monitoring all of these issues, but at the same time, recognizing that there are some things that we can relax, and that there are some things that we'll be monitoring, as well.
NNAMDIIn other words, you're not going to go as far as Governor Hogan would like you to go.
NAVARROThat's correct. We're not going to do that.
AUSTERMUHLI'm curious about this, though, because there was going to be an announcement yesterday. That got postponed until today. Obviously, there was just a whole lot of scrambling happening, because a lot of people said they didn't expect the governor to actually announce what he announced this week. Had he not announced that, would Montgomery County even be having this conversation? Or do you think you were forced into it? Because the governor has said, listen, this is what we're doing. Counties have some flexibility, but they have to lay out their own requirements.
NAVARROWell, there are a couple of issues to also note. One of them is that the governor basically rescinded the authority of the county executive. So, up until now, the county council had been adopting, or basically blessing, what the county executive would stand as an executive order. That authority has been rescinded, which means that now, the County Council sits as the Board of Health, adopting a Board of Health regulation.
NAVARROAnd that shifts that dynamic somewhat, which is why we needed to take -- you know, work around the clock to figure out how we were going to address that. And this is why we have this meeting at 1:30, to actually deliberate and vote on our own Board of Health regulation.
NAVARROWe had already -- you know, we knew that the county executive was going to propose some, you know, flexibility, relaxing some of the restrictions. But obviously, this announcement took everybody by surprise, and then we had to take into consideration what the governor was proposing in light of where we are, and also take into consideration the notion that we are this, you know, regional metropolitan area and our borders are, obviously, very porous. I always say, you know the virus or the variants are not going to stop at the border with Prince George's County and say, let's stop here. It's very fluid.
NAVARROSo, that's the reason why we, you know, had to take a little bit of time in this such short notice, you know, period to shift to the council as the Board of Health versus just adopting or blessing the executive order, as we used to be in the past, given that the governor has rescinded that authority of the county executive.
NNAMDILike other localities, Montgomery County is struggling with disparities in its vaccine distribution, and that disparity is greatest with the Hispanic/Latino population. While 20 percent of Montgomery County residents are Hispanic or Latino, they make up only 9 percent of those who have received the vaccine. White residents make up 43 percent of the county's population, but they've got 52 percent of the population that have received the vaccine. What are some of the reasons for this, and is there anything that you and the council can do to address this disparity?
NAVARROAbsolutely. This has been, you know, front and center for many of us, since the very beginning of the pandemic. That's why, last June, I worked with my colleague Gabe Albornoz and other colleagues to launch a Latino COVID-19 initiative. So, this is to be absolutely strategic and targeted. We also did that with our black community, because we understood the disparities were already showing up, and they have not let up. And so, this is when we were talking about cases and mortality rate and then testing. Now, we're pivoting into the issue of vaccines and, which you just mentioned, has been an absolute concern.
NAVARROSo, the good news is that we do have, you know, infrastructure that we have established. We are working with all of our partners. We have these hub -- you know, these service delivery hubs that have been stood up around the county. We also have activated our Census Count Committee and pivot that into also reaching into all of our communities. And we have a lot of bilingual, bicultural components to all of this. But there's no doubt that that continues to be a major concern.
NAVARRONonetheless, I think we have some, you know, good news. We are briefed twice a week, and there are already some steps being taken. And we're seeing some good results with both pre-registration, as well as vaccine access. But, you know, the challenge has been that because people have to pre-register -- and obviously we don't have centralized program here in the state. That's been part of the challenge, is that people have had to be very sophisticated and, you know, access different points to try to get a vaccine slot. And then you have, you know, the mass vaccination sites in other parts of the state.
NAVARROAnd so, for communities who perhaps are, you know, low income or not technologically -- you know, don't have access to technology readily available, perhaps they're working, you know, out there, frontline workers, etcetera, it has been a real challenge to navigate this hopscotch of ways of accessing vaccines. But, as I said, we're moving forward. We got, you know, some really good updates, actually, this morning of initiatives, programs that will go to where people are. So, for homebound individuals, for example, partnering with these hubs who are throughout the county, those are some of the things that are happening right now. And I feel pretty good about that.
NAVARROOur partners who have been part of (speaks foreign language), which is the Latino COVID-19 initiative, have been extraordinary. They include people like, you know, organizations like the Mary's Center, Care for Your Health, you know, these organizations that are well-known in the community, Identity, Inc., CASA, in Maryland, all of them are working strategically to make sure that these communities are not left behind.
NAVARROBecause equity is super-critical if we are going to mitigate the impact of this virus throughout the county, and most specifically to make sure that these communities don't continue to suffer the way that they have throughout this pandemic. It's a national challenge, but, you know, we have acknowledged this from the very beginning, and we have, I think, you know, put forth some infrastructure that I know the state has looked at, and other jurisdictions have looked at, as well.
NNAMDIYou mentioned mass vaccination sites in the state. The Montgomery County Council has been pushing the state to open a mass vaccination site in the county, and health officials think that Montgomery College could host that site. What can you tell us about potential plans for a mass vaccination site in the county?
NAVARROYeah, you know, this is a rumor of hope. We have been pretty vocal, given who we are, given that it's the largest jurisdiction, given that we are the most diverse county in the state and given that we also have these disparities we keep talking about. You know, geographic access is really important. And we did identify a few areas which we, you know, have communicated to the state.
NAVARROThe good news is that, you know, we have been told that, yes, they're going to be scheduling a site visit to the Germantown campus, where they believe that could be a good fit. And I hope that that means that pretty soon we'll get an announcement, you know, that a mass vaccination site is coming to our county. And that would be important just to know, because as President Biden has announced, you know, they're definitely wrapping up now the volume of vaccines the jurisdictions will be receiving, given his announcement of, you know, all adults receiving a vaccine by May 1st. And so, we want to be ready, and we stand ready. So, again, we're very pleased that there seems to be a step forward in that direction.
NNAMDIHere's Mark in Silver Spring. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKYes. Good afternoon, Councilwoman Navarro. I do support the council for not rushing as the governor is, and there are three basic reasons. One, people should be direct in understanding what COVID is. One diagnosis from a CT scan used by the doctor to see what's called (sounds like) a crush glass appearance. Please understand, your lungs will be -- are decimated by this virus.
MARKSecondly, over a thousand nurses, according to American Nurses Association, have died fighting this virus.
NNAMDI(overlapping) So, Mark, we don't have a great deal of time. I need you to get where you're going.
MARKThe point is slow down, don't rush, follow what the scientists say and be prudent. Don't...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Councilmember Navarro, care to comment?
NAVARROYeah, no, Mark, I appreciate your comment. I think you're absolutely right. You know, this virus has hit everyone, you know, personally. We all understand very clearly what is at stake and I think that, you know, Montgomery County has fared better, because we have been very methodical in how we address this issue of relaxing some of the restrictions. But you're absolutely right. You know, we're not there yet.
NAVARROAnd in so many ways, it's also a race against time. Because the fact that there were two states in the country that have identified the three variants, and those have been identified here in Montgomery County, means that, you know, as we're hopeful because of the vaccine rollout getting better -- and better and the Biden administration has absolutely made this a priority -- it is a race against time in terms of also dealing with these variants.
NAVARROSo, we want to be measured. We want to understand very clearly and listen to our health officer, understand that there might be some, you know, easening (sounds like) that makes sense. And so, we'll be deliberating on this, but we're definitely not ready to go to the same level as the governor has proposed for the rest of the state.
NNAMDIMark, thank you for your call. Martin Austermuhle?
AUSTERMUHLCouncilwoman, I'm just kind of curious about this one. This is just getting a little personal on the issue of easing restrictions. As this is all happening -- I mean, and it's been a year -- like when restrictions had been eased in the past, like, have you been to a restaurant to eat inside? Have you gone to a gym? Like, how has your life interacted with these restrictions and the easing of them? I'm just curious, because it came up in a recent debate in the council that some members were voting for or against whether they should ease some restrictions, but they were also saying, okay, I'll vote for this, but I'm not going to go to a restaurant.
NAVARROThat is true, and I think has been, you know, the difficulty of managing, you know, and navigating this pandemic. I mean, I always say, you know, none of us got a manual to say this is exactly the way, you know, that, as a policymaker, they should address these issues. Everybody has been looking at the data, looking at the science, you know, figuring out, okay, how do we move forward? Different states that have adopted different measures and have ended up in different places, or in similar places with different measures. I mean, this is just a real puzzle, in many ways.
NAVARROAnd so, again, I point to, you know, where we are at this moment in time in terms of our cases and in terms of our transmission. You know, we're at moderate risk of transmission and that is good news, but we're not completely there. And to answer your question, I have not gone to eat at a restaurant. I've done takeout, all the way through. You know, I haven't been vaccinated, and so I tend to want to make sure that I am extremely cautious. You know, when I go out, I double-mask.
NAVARROYou know, very, very cautious, and that's what I would say to everyone, is that you should continue to adhere to those mandates. I know the governor is, you know, retaining the mask and the social distancing mandate. I think that's great, because we definitely don't want to see the wrong signal. But at the same time, you know, as we are easing some of the restrictions, I have to be mindful that I can't also just impose everything on residents, necessarily, that if the data says that we can ease a little bit then, you know, we should do that, because there are a lot of people that are asking for that. But at the end of the day, it's going to be a personal decision and a decision that you make for your family.
NNAMDICan't you get a vaccination under the government continuity provision? And, if so, have you chosen not to at this time?
NAVARROWell, it is interesting. So, it seems that we could probably try to get that through a mass vaccination site. And, you know, I've looked at that. I know it's a difficult process. We here locally have not been invited by our Health Department yet, and I understand that, because obviously, we still have quite a ways to go for folks who are very, very vulnerable.
NAVARROSo, I continue to, you know, to be cautious and do my work and do everything I can. But I understand that until we get to a point where there's a lot more, you know, vaccines available, there are a lot more people who need a vaccine who are in much more vulnerable state than myself and my family. And so, for now, I think, you know, I will wait until the vaccines become available.
NNAMDIYou made national headlines recently for addressing a microaggression during a county council involving two IT workers. Can you explain what happened and how you addressed it?
NAVARROSure. So, actually, this was during our council session, during our COVID-19 briefing. And, precisely, we were discussing the issue of these disparities and how glaring they are, and the fact that, as you pointed, Kojo, you know, the Latino and black communities, when it comes to pre-registration and also vaccine, as received, are very, very low percentages. I mean, you know, when you compare 8 percent of Latinos versus 53 percent of our white population haven't been vaccinated, and in pre-registration 10 percent Latino, 64 percent white, 9 percent black, 64 percent white, it is pretty startling. And we were discussing this.
NAVARROAnd I was making some comments regarding this data, and it turns out I didn't hear it, because I was maybe talking too loud, but it turns out that we did have these two folks who were making comments about my accent and giggling, laughing about the fact that I, you know, seem to pronunciate words the way I think they're supposed to be pronunciated.
NAVARROSo, it was public, and they were, you know, journalism and listening to, you know, reporters that were listening to this, etcetera. And began to call me during lunch, and that's when it just dawned on me that I think we have a responsibility -- you know, especially when it comes to our county council, you know, local government, etcetera, this is where decisions are made that have extraordinary impact on our constituents. And it means that we have to promote a culture throughout that is respectful and that is understanding of what it means, what microaggressions are, what open racism is, etcetera.
NAVARROI take that responsibility greatly, because, as I've said in some of the interviews, you know, structural racism didn't happen overnight, but it happened because there were decisions after decisions made, especially in legislatures, in places where, you know, these kinds of structural initiatives and regulations are adopted that have led to this moment. And so that, to me, was a moment -- it was an example and an opportunity for folks to also understand the connection.
NAVARROAnd I hope that it has, obviously, created a space for people to feel it, identify, but also to figure out ways to just do better. And that's what has happened. It was very surprising to me that it became a national story and also an international story, because I've received messages from throughout the country and from other countries, as well.
NNAMDIHere now is Chris in Wheaton, Maryland. Chris, your turn.
CHRISCouncilwoman Navarro, thank you for your leadership on the renaming of the middle school in the (word?) neighborhood from its inglorious past, to name it after a much more appropriate leader. Can you talk about that, as a teaching moment?
NAVARROAbsolutely. Yes. So, now, it's Ms. Odessa Shannon, who was the first African American woman to be elected to the Montgomery County Board of Education and a mentor of mine, actually. So, I thought it was a wonderful selection. Very important. I think that we need to, you know, understand, once again, who we are in Montgomery County. Our Montgomery County Public School system, right now, it's about 72 percent children of color. That is just so extraordinary.
NAVARROAnd it is so critical that as children enter these spaces, that they have an understanding of what these names mean. And in this case, in particular, you know, was somebody who was responsible for a lot of the redlining that happened in Montgomery County's housing policies, you know, something that to this day we see some of the impact, when you look at the east county, for example, you know, an issue that I'd worked on for so long to bring amenities and to bring opportunities to that part of the county.
NAVARROSo, the past has a connection to the present, and it is -- you know, for me, it seems so important that our, you know, beautiful children, all of them -- but in particular our black and brown children who, you know, seem to continue to be affected by so many disparities -- that when they enter a space like this that they can feel inspired by the name of those particular spaces. And the community was amazing in coming together and clamoring for this change.
NAVARROAnd, you know, I played my role in terms of writing to the Board of Education and pointing this out. It is in my district. I also fought so that the school could be completely renovated, because it was embarrassing the state that it had, you know, achieved. And so, that's a really great story for that community, I think, and for our county. Thank you for bringing that up.
NNAMDIWell, you were the first Latina to serve on the Montgomery County Council and the only woman -- as was pointed out in a recent article for a county that has a reputation for being progressive -- you are still the only woman on the council. But you are now term-limited and, I guess, rather than ask you the Tom Sherwood question, I will have Chuck in New York City ask it. Chuck, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHUCKHey, Ms. Navarro, I'm a big fan. I used to live in Montgomery County for about seven years. I used to work in the council room for MPM Media. And I am a big champion, because you started this BIPOC initiative of really, you know, saving, in a sense, racial disparity...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Okay. We're running out of time very quickly, but, Chuck, what's your question?
CHUCKMy question is, will you please run for higher office?
NNAMDIThere you go. That's the Sherwood question. Nancy Navarro, what are your plans? We only have about 40 seconds left.
NAVARROI'm working on my plans right now. It has been so extraordinarily overwhelming, the sense of responsibility to respond to the, you know, issues of this pandemic and everything else. But I still have so much that I want to do. And so, I'm still evaluating those plans, but I appreciate, you know, the support, here, and hopefully will be making a decision soon.
NNAMDICouncilmember Navarro, thank you so much for joining us.
NAVARROThank you very much. Thank you.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Amazon's latest HQ2 design plans have received a lot of buzz. Later this month, Arlington County will begin its public review of those plans. We're talking with Amazon's VP of Public Policy, Brian Huseman.
NNAMDIThen bam, oof, vroom, cartoonist and graphic novelist Judd Winick joins Kojo for Kids to talk about the newest book in his best-selling series "Hilo," and about how kids can jumpstart their own creativity. That all starts at noon, Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. Any big plans this weekend, Martin Austermuhle?
AUSTERMUHLI'm evaluating my plans, as all good politicians say.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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