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Coronavirus in Texas

Watch: U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia discusses the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on workers and families

We sat down with Garcia, D-Houston to discuss how Congress plans to address the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak on workers and families across the state.

The Texas Tribune's Washington bureau chief, Abby Livingston, sat down with U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, for a discussion about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economic impacts facing Texans and Garcia's thoughts about recent news that could shape the 2020 election cycle.

Here's a look at some of Garcia’s responses.

What are your thoughts about the recent allegations of sexual misconduct made toward Vice President Joe Biden and her role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump? Does she think that Texas will be in play for the 2020 election?

  • Garcia said that it is important for women who come forward with allegations to “be heard and supported,” and she said she believes Biden has handled the matter well up to this point by being open, calling for an investigation and asking for the results to be presented to the public.
  • In light of recent events, Garcia said that her role as an impeachment manager “just feels like it was so long ago.” Nevertheless, she said that many of the arguments she made during Trump’s impeachment trial are relevant to his handling of the current pandemic. “This pandemic is ... showing people [the] true person that the president is ... someone who does think he’s above the law" and who puts personal interest before the public interest, she said.
  • On the subject of whether she believes Texas will be a viable state for the Democratic Party to make gains in the 2020 elections, Garcia said that the probable increase in digital ad buys coupled with Biden’s recent poll numbers in the state make her hopeful that Democrats will be able to make major inroads in the state.

What economic impacts should Texans expect to face, and how is Congress planning to address the current downturn?

  • Asked whether the current economic crisis would trigger a second Great Depression, Garcia said the rising numbers of unemployment, business closures and bankruptcies strongly indicate that the U.S. is, “already in the middle [of one].” Particularly, Garcia said the possibility of local governments going bankrupt will be something that Congress will need to address when it returns from recess. “We cannot let them crumble, we cannot let them go bankrupt.”
  • Like many families across the state, Garcia’s constituents and even members of her own family have been affected by the fall in oil prices, which she says were sluggish even before the outbreak. Garcia said she’s concerned about what a drawn-out recovery in the energy sector will mean for the financial stability of workers and families in her district.
  • The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is estimated to cost taxpayers over $2 trillion, and Garcia said she believes Congress will need to pass another trillion-dollar bill to offer Americans and local businesses additional support. Asked how Congress would or even could pay for it, she said, “We’re just going to have to find a way to do it.” She later added that "if it’s a choice between death or debt, I’m gonna choose debt.”
  • Garcia said that she and her U.S. House colleagues intended for the Paycheck Protection Program funds to be more accessible to small businesses than it has been in practice, which is why members of Congress have since asked that the remaining funds be set aside for smaller lenders. She added that ultimately, “this Payroll Protection Program is about putting money in people’s pocket ... it’s about taking care of people.”

What does Garcia think about Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to begin reopening the Texas economy?

  • Adequate testing provisions continue to be a topic of interest for many Texans, especially as Abbott and his "strike force" proceed with plans to reopen the state. Garcia said she found the governor’s decision to reopen the state to be baffling because “when you look at where we are in [terms of] testing ... when you see that even yesterday we had all those record number deaths … [and also] the jail population in Harris County [and across the state] having so many positive tests [for the virus] ... it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
  • Garcia also said that it was “regrettable … [and] almost shameful” that the governor has not released the number of deaths in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, particularly in light of fact that he has begun to reopen the state. “[He] keeps saying [he has] relied on data and doctors, but [he isn’t] showing us the data.” She also said that she would have hoped that the governor would have made pandemic planning a requirement for all major companies being able to reopen.
  • Garcia said that she’s concerned about a possible second wave of cases and that she advised Texans to continue taking precautions even as businesses in the state begin to reopen.
  • Garcia also said that she hopes the governor will decide to use the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund, as well as recently passed federal funding to support schools and students like the ones in her district — many of whom she says still lack the tools to access educational resources from home.

What lessons has Congress learned from its response to the coronavirus outbreak?

  • On the subject of how she believes this pandemic will continue to shape Congress’ broader work, Garcia said that she believes that social distancing measures will need to remain in place as Congress is “not quite ready yet for remote voting,” which will require technical infrastructure as well as changes to procedural rules in Congress. Yet she also said that she believes that Congress “should stop at nothing” in order to address the economic and health crises that have arisen from the outbreak.
  • Another challenge to Congress being able to resume its legislative work is the ability of congressional staff to balance both their individual duties and compliance with the stay-at-home orders of their respective communities within the D.C. metro area.
  • Asked how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted her outside of her congressional work, Garcia said numerous members of her own family have recently been laid off. “As we see the [unemployment numbers] climbing ... across the country ... and it touches you and so many other families, then you know that we’ve gotta do more from Washington to help the average, working family,” Garcia said.

Garcia is currently serving her first term representing Texas’ 29th Congressional District, becoming the first Latina to represent the district. She sits on the House Judiciary and Financial Services committees. Garcia previously served in the Texas Senate. Before that she also served as director and presiding judge of the Houston Municipal System and was later elected Houston city controller and a Harris County commissioner.

The interview was streamed on the Tribune’s website, Facebook page and Twitter, as well as by our media partners at KXAN and KPRC2 to a live audience of more than 2,800 viewers.

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This event is presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, TEXAS 2036 and AT&T. Media support is provided by KXAN and KPRC2.

Tribune events are also supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.

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