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Coronavirus in Texas

Watch: U.S. Rep. Chip Roy discuss the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on workers and families

We sat down for a live virtual event with Roy, R-Austin, to discuss his take on how the state and the country should reopen in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith sat down with U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, for a live discussion about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economic impacts facing Texans across the state and his thoughts on how the state and the country should move forward.

Here's a look at some of Roy’s responses to questions during the interview.

What should the process of reopening the economy look like?

  • In response to the national debate that has set economic woes against public health concerns, Roy said that, “I think that framing misses [the mark] a little bit,” adding that “what we’re talking about here is what is the healthiest and best way to move forward.”
  • Roy said that one of his primary concerns about a prolonged closure of economic activity in the state is the limitations it puts on public access to both specialty and mental health care. He also cited current unemployment levels as another reason he believes that businesses should be reopened.
  • Roy also said that he believes that reopening social activity will build “herd immunity” to the coronavirus among individuals in a community. “We need immunity systems that can fight this, Roy said. "So we have to work through this together to get re-engaged so we can build that [herd immunity] up."
  • Texas continues to lag behind other populous states in terms of testing for the virus — which Gov. Greg Abbott has committed to addressing soon. Roy said that there has been “a significant amount of uptick in the ability to access the [COVID-19] test but ... people have a, I think, a misperception on what some of the testing ability can do for us,” saying that testing is only one piece of the overall puzzle to reducing risk.
  • On the subject of blanket immunity — liability protection for companies that reopen in the face of the pandemic — Roy said that, “It shouldn’t be negligence to say, ‘I’m opening my doors for business,’” adding that any debate on what businesses within the state should be doing to reopen responsibly should be among Texans, not federal lawmakers.
  • Roy later said, “We can’t wait two years for a vaccine,” and he called for a bipartisan approach to balancing public health and economic concerns.

What should enforcement of existing state and local orders look like? And how should we handle cases where people are found to be in violation of those orders?

  • Shelley Luther, a hair salon owner in Dallas, was sentenced Tuesday to seven days in jail for violating both county and state stay-at-home orders, which Roy had publicly criticized. Roy said that while “the rule of law matters ... I do believe steps should be taken, state or local, to make sure this woman’s not spending time in jail.”
  • Roy said that from what he has observed, “Most people are socially distancing” and taking steps to protect themselves, including wearing masks in public.
  • Asked whether he wears masks, Roy said, “Depends on where I am. ... I think it’s important for the American people to see your face, so when I spoke [on the U.S. House floor] I didn’t wear a mask.” He did, however, note that he has worn a mask while traveling to Washington and in other situations. Roy also said he encourages those who have higher health risks — including recent cancer survivors and people with compromised immune systems — to wear masks and use common sense and judgment.

What is Roy’s opinion about the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak?

  • While Roy voted for the CARES Act and Congress’ most recent funding bill aimed at helping small businesses recover, he voted against funding additional government measures, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — a measure that allocated funding for free testing for the virus, expanded food aid and expanded sick leave benefits for workers. Asked about that particular vote, Roy said, “I would do that [again] tomorrow,” citing his concerns about how the expansion of sick leave in particular would affect small business.
  • Roy said that the federal government has allocated roughly $3 trillion in relief funding, $161 billion of which has been expressly allocated to state and local governments — which makes up about a tenth of their collective tax revenue. Asked whether he would support additional federal funding going to the states, Roy said, “We don’t want to reward bad behavior [on the part of] states that haven’t been fiscally responsible...[So] I am not going to be advocating for an additional dollar out the door until we review all the money that’s been spent.”
  • On the subject of the Paycheck Protection Plan loans, Roy said, “there were a lot of things [in the measure] that were barriers to the little guys,” adding that, “it was a quick program, so there [are going to] be mistakes.” He said there are steps the federal government can take on “the back end” to ensure that more of the funding goes to businesses in need.

What issues has this pandemic raised about public access to democracy and health care? Does Roy think certain policy reforms are needed?

  • Roy said that while “we want as many Americans [that will vote] as possible [to be able to vote],” he believes preventing voter fraud is critical to preserving election integrity. So rather than expanding voting by mail — something over which Texas Democrats have recently sued — Roy said that Texas should look into adopting measures that make in-person voting safer.
  • Roy also said that while the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the need for reforms to the health care system, his overall views about what such reforms should look like have been more-or-less unchanged by the pandemic. “Do I think we need to overhaul our health care system? Absolutely,” Roy said, “Because I believe we need to maximize the ability of [individuals] to be able to control [their] health care without having to go to an insurance bureaucrat or a government bureaucrat."
  • Roy was asked about how the a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would affect people who have contracted the coronavirus. Proponents of the law have said a repeal would eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions. Roy said we've created a system "that’s created the preexisting condition issue,” and that “the real problem [being highlighted by the coronavirus outbreak is the fact that] your ability to get health care is tied to your employer.” Roy said that increasing individual access and reducing health care costs are key to improving the health care system.

Roy is serving his first term representing Texas' 21st Congressional District. He sits on the House Budget, Oversight and Reform, and Veterans' Affairs committees. He faces a reelection battle this year against Wendy Davis, a former state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Previously, Roy served as director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Tenth Amendment Action. He also served as the state’s first assistant attorney general and as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The interview was streamed on the Tribune’s website, Facebook page and Twitter, as well as by our media partners at KXAN to a live audience of more than 4,600 viewers.

Disclosures: The Texas Tribune, as a nonprofit local newsroom and a small business, applied for and received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in the amount of $800,000.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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This event is presented by AT&T and TEXAS 2036. Media support is provided by KXAN.

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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