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Coronavirus in Texas

Watch: Julián Castro and Joaquin Castro on coronavirus in Texas, Democrats’ chances in November and the fall school semester

We sat down for an interview with the Castro brothers to discuss the federal and state response to the coronavirus, its tougher effects on Blacks and Latinos, and the possibility of Texas going Democratic.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, joined Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on Wednesday to discuss the recent surge of coronavirus cases in Texas, the federal and state response to the growing outbreak, and what it means for Texans and for the Texas economy.

Joaquin Castro serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Education and Labor Committee. He is chair of the Texas Democratic Caucus. Previously, he served for 10 years in the Texas Legislature.

Julián Castro served as U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017 and as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014. He was a Democratic candidate for U.S. president in 2020 and recently endorsed his former opponent Joe Biden.

Smith: MJ Hegar defeated Royce West in the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate. Will you endorse and support her as she prepares to take on Republican John Cornyn in November?

"I'll do everything that I can to help her beat John Cornyn," Joaquin Castro said. "I think that she's got a great chance. ... I am endorsing her."

Julián Castro also said he is endorsing Hegar, saying he feels good about her campaign and that she has great ideas for the future.

The state Democratic Party is crowing about the historic turnout in the runoff, despite no expansion of voting by mail, as more than 955,000 Democrats voted, obliterating the previous record. In the middle of a pandemic, what does that tell you about this election cycle?

"I think it tells you there's a lot of energy, there's incredible energy among Texas Democrats and we've hit the tipping point where Texas could go Democratic," Joaquin Castro said. He added that he believes Democrats will pick up three to four congressional seats and take back the state House from Republicans.

"Joe Biden has even got a good shot in the presidential race at this point," he said.

On Tuesday, Texas reported a record high of new cases and coronavirus hospitalizations, hospitals are struggling to keep up and morgues are starting to fill up. How did Texas get to this point?

"There was a slow response at the national level and at the state level," Julián Castro said. "We have a president who wanted to pretend like this really wasn't an issue, who said several times that it would go away."

Julián and Joaquin Castro also criticized Abbott for reopening Texas too soon, saying his plan to save the state's economy actually hurt it even more.

"The number of deaths, hospitalizations and infections could have been significantly reduced," Joaquin Castro said.

Julián Castro said he thinks mayors and county judges have to be more assertive if it's in the interest of public health to defy the governor. He also thinks Abbott should order another statewide lockdown in order to stop the surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

"The question is, are you going to manage this with a pretty severe lockdown, but one that will help get you around the corner? Or are we going to do what we've been doing, which is basically taking half measures and doing it in a piecemeal kind of way?" Julián Castro said.

As parents of school-age children, are you comfortable sending your kids to school this fall?

Both Julián and Joaquin Castro said if they had to decide today, they would not send their kids.

"I think a lot of parents feel as though the distance learning hasn't been very effective. It's hard to do it effectively," Joaquin Castro said. "But at the same time, there's a great concern about sending kids back into a physical environment where you just have so many people clustered, and it could lead to more infections."

This also affects adults, Julián Castro said, because parents who work outside the home are unable to stay with their children, and that "damages our economy further."

Hispanic and Black Texans, like Hispanic and Black people in the U.S., are being affected by the coronavirus at a much higher rate. What do we do about this?

"We have to have policies, make investments to have universal health care, to make sure that people have better economic opportunities, better benefits," Julián Castro said.

He added that because many Black and Latino workers are concentrated in essential jobs at farms, meatpacking plants, grocery stores and fast food restaurants, the U.S. needs to address those industries to make sure workers have a "better livelihood" in a way that is "astute and nuanced about the differences."

Do you believe inmates in Texas prisons deserve to be treated equally to those outside of them?

“Sending somebody to prison for three years or five years is not supposed to be a death sentence for them,” Joaquin Castro said. “They’re supposed to be able to do their time, and in some of these prisons, the coronavirus has run rampant.”

What do you think about the Democrats' chances in November's presidential race?

"I think Democrats generally have a great chance in November in Texas," Joaquin Castro said.

He added that President Donald Trump's persona, messaging and approach to politics have "always been very divisive" and at odds with "what is a very diverse electorate in Texas."

"But now you layer that on top of the fact that he's had three and a half horrendous years of a presidency and obviously his mismanagement of the coronavirus, which has literally cost Americans and Texans their lives," Joaquin Castro said.

Although Julián Castro ran against Biden and first endorsed U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts after dropping out, he now supports Biden, saying "he won the nomination because he's the candidate that meets this moment."

When asked who will be Biden's choice for vice president, both said they believe it will be either Kamala Harris or Warren.

What are the next steps in the fight for justice for Vanessa Guillén?

Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén's remains were found at the end of June after she went missing in April from the Central Texas Army post. The main suspect in her death, fellow Fort Hood soldier Aaron Robinson, killed himself when confronted by police. Across Texas, her death sparked protests against the military for its handling of sexual harassment allegations.

Julián Castro said he hopes to see "strong congressional oversight on the Army, including base leadership; strong inspector general oversight; changes perhaps to personnel if that's warranted." He added that he believes people were angered at the apparent lack of concern for her life.

"The military is failing its female service members, and the government has failed," Joaquin Castro said. "It may be time, for example, that we take the prosecution of these cases out of the military justice system and move it into the civilian justice system so that there's more independence and we can make sure prosecutions are had."

The conversation series is supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas 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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