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CONNECT TO CONGRESS: Titus talks relief package, Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, talks with News 3 in our "Connect to Congress" series.

News 3 spoke with Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, about several issues in Washington, including the status of a COVID-19 relief package, the questions still unanswered about President Donald Trump's case of the coronavirus and how the Postal Service is preparing for the election.

What are your thoughts on the president’s coronavirus diagnosis and what are your thoughts on the activities around Walter Reed?

I wish the president well and the first lady and all the people in the White House the staff around them who have been exposed. The White House has become a super spreader event. But when you saw all those people sitting so close together and not wearing masks would have been a miracle if that hadn't have happened. I think he's doing better and that's good for him and good for the country.

Do you think his trip outside the hospital was worth the risk? He said it was so he could thank his supporters who had been out there for hours.

Well that’s nice but it certainly puts other people at risk. They have to be in the car with him or getting him outside. I think he just was needing that adoring attention and that's why he probably did it. I don't believe the doctors would have let anybody else do it if it hadn't been for the president.

What are your thoughts on the characterization from doctors that the president is doing fine, like they did with President Reagan? That’s not accurate?

It’s very unfortunate for the American people that they aren’t getting the truth. Not only do they not know what kind of condition the president is in leading up to the election but if you don't tell the truth about the difficulty of surviving this virus or what you need to do to get over it or to keep from having it then the public is not well served and those doctors are being vague. The more vague they are the more that just lends to speculation about what the situation is.

How much weight do you think the president’s own comments on coronavirus has with the American electorate?

Well, the president's voice is heard and his words have weight when he says "Oh don't let it bother you, you can get over it, look at me," that just minimizes the seriousness of it and it also Insults those families who have lost loved ones who were just as tough and just as brave as this president, but that's not how the virus considers its victims.

What’s your sense of the status of the economic relief package/stimulus talks?

Well, for a long time you had McConnell saying we need to take a pause. We need to take a break. People in my district can't afford to take a pause because they are out of a job or their business is shutting down. So that was terrible. Then the talks began to have a little momentum when Pelosi was speaking to the some members of the administration. Then the latest word is the President says stop all the talks. I think that was just in a fit of pique saying well when I come back After being re-elected will get the biggest best most beautiful package there is that's what he always says, then he had to walk that back some and say will send me some pieces like for the airline's has he forgotten that it was the Republicans who pulled the airline bill that we were willing to pass the last day we were in session. So just like with the virus there doesn't seem to be any plans to pull this economy out of the doldrums and it's here. They're all over the place.

With the airline help still on the table, do you think there’s a sense of a “we’ll take what we can get" kind of approach?

I don’t, not at this point. You don't want to bargain against yourself. And Pelosi has said I don't want to piecemeal try to recover. We've got to do this as a kind of an overall way. Certainly, we need help for teachers. We need help for local government, need help testing. All of those things are critical. So the airline piece was just something that was hitting up against a deadline that was to expire and that's why that piece went forward. But now I think she says we want to do a package. We don't want to just pick winners and losers which is what the president now seems to be trying to do.

Do you think the talks still have some hope?

I sure hope so and I just cannot figure for the life of me why they think this is a good thing to do, either good for their constituents are good for themselves politically. Those senators who are in tough races need to take something home to their districts. Why wouldn't they want to do a package that would bring some relief?

Mail-in voting is about to start in Nevada. Is the postal service ready? Are the people ready?

Well the ballots will go out shortly, I was with the Secretary of State yesterday. She seems pretty confident. I believe the post office is ready. We offer a lot of options to people in Nevada. You can mail in your ballot. You can vote early. You can drop it off. You can vote on Election Day with a number of different sites many more than during the primary so that we don't have those long lines so you just need to make a plan and do it. There lots of options available And in Nevada there's no record of fraud. We didn't have a problem in the primary. We've not had a problem in the past. So that's a false argument.

And of course in Nevada, this isn’t your first rodeo.

That's exactly right, and a lot of western states have been doing mail-in balloting for a long time, Utah, Oregon, Washington. We did it in the primary.

How do you think the president did in the first presidential debate?

It didn't do the president any favors to just be belligerent, to be pouty, to make faces, to attack Joe Biden and did not talk about the substance. Joe Biden was there to talk about his plan how we going to recover from the virus how we going to get this economy back up how we going to help seniors how we're going to deal with global climate change, none of that was discussed and it was most unfortunate and the people lost out by not hearing the plan, but they won by seeing such a contrast between those two characters their demeanor their empathy their approach, their ability to serve as president.

Do you think the vice presidential debate might give undecided voters more to chew on in deciding who to vote for?

This debate will be certainly more substantive, we hope and I suspect. Pence is a good debater. He did well last time in the vice presidential debate. He's had a career as a radio talk show host. But Kamala Harris is too. she's been a prosecutor as attorney general. She took on those big Banks and big oil companies and won. we've seen her as questions as a member of the Judiciary Committee. She will prosecute this case for the American people against the administration’s handling of the virus and the economy.

Do you think gender will play a role in this debate?

She's going to be measured she knows what her role is. She's going to lay out the Biden Harris agenda and that the focus on facts and policies and she'll be very good at that. You know, they're going to be 12 feet apart and behind plexiglass. The vice president didn't want to do that. But certainly now he's come around. He has been in charge of the administration's virus task force. And so he doesn't have a very good record more deaths have occurred. The White House is turned into breeding ground and he let his own boss get sick. So that's a lot to have to defend.

Vice president Pence doesn’t have the warmest reactions with women. Do you think that will figure into the character of the debate?

I don't think he's going to attack her for being a woman but he has said he can't be alone with a woman and certainly his wife has certainly had some pretty conservative positions when it comes to women's rights. I think you may see Kamala Harris talk about being the first woman vice president on the ticket and talk about their agenda for protecting women’s healthcare issues or right to choose or equal pay for equal work. It'll be hard for him to kind of counter that because that has certainly not been anything that he's been in favor of.

Do you think the successor for [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] will come up and what are your thoughts on who’s been nominated?

I believe it certainly will come up and it will come up not so much in the gender issue, even though Reproductive Rights are certainly going to be important and her position is counter to what the majority of the public wants the big issue with that is the healthcare. The healthcare Obamacare is on the court docket for the week after the election and she was chosen because she has written and she has stated that the court should overturn Obamacare. And so while the President says, oh we're going to rebuild and reform and redesign Healthcare. They come with nothing and they're meanwhile in a pandemic trying to take away people's Health Care by overturning Obamacare. Over 60 times I have voted to keep it in place. They can't win it in the Congress. So now they're going to try to win it in the courts and that's why she's been chosen.

Do you think Democrats will have to do something to re-balance the court?

Well, that's something that they do in the Senate. The house doesn't have any role in that but depending on how those decisions go I would say probably everything's on the table.

Do you see the idea of expanding the number of members on the Supreme Court as a possibility?

It may be a possibility. They'll have to decide. Certainly FDR threatened to expand the court when they were overturning all of his new deal proposals. He didn't have to go that far because then they started backing off. We'll see if it's leverage or if it's reality.

You’ve eliminated some hoops people have to jump through to get SNAP benefits. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, when people are out of a job, they’re about to lose their home, they need certain benefits having food on the table for their children is a priority and the snap Provisions you had to go back in to renew your application in person. We tried to get a waiver for that. So you didn't have to go in person because that exposes you through more likelihood and it takes up more time and bureaucracy from an agency that needs to be getting food out as fast as possible. We were successful with getting that in the CR and I'm very proud of that and We found out it wasn't just Nevada many states are experiencing the same problem.

Does that still have to take effect or still have to move through somehow?

No, it’s been done through the continuing resolution.

I wonder if any of your constituents are tipping their hat to you now that they can get their benefits more easily?

Well, we work closely with the food banks here in Nevada like Three Square in the south and they certainly were appreciative of it and so was the state agency that oversees this so I don’t know if any individuals know it or not, but we're proud that is making a difference.

Do you have faith that the postal service is ready for this upcoming election?

I believe the post office is up to it. It'll be a challenge be a lot more mail right now, but they're used to be a lot of Christmas cards during that season. So I think they'll do it. But it’s no thanks to this Administration and this Postmaster General who had no experience in dealing with the post office when he got in there. He tried to strip postal workers from overtime. He moved mailboxes from convenient locations. He got rid of sorting machines, it was an attempt I think the star of the post office and perhaps make them not be able to do it. But some of that has been walked back and that's something else that's in the heroes Act is more money for the post office to be able to pull this off and that should be part of the settlement because the bipartisan postal commission bipartisan has said they need those additional funds.

The FDA has come out with new stringent guidelines on coming out with a vaccine, do you think that brings back some of the credibility that it should have?

Oh absolutely, the CDC has been all over the place, they put out one directive, then they take it back, then the president criticizes them and they do something else. Again, there is a lack of a national plan and lack of good information that's got people scared and not knowing what to do. If you had a vaccine that had only been tested on a few people, people will be hesitant to get it. And so having the confidence of the healthcare industry and experts will help the public have confidence to go and get that vaccine. We've also got to put a plan in place to distribute the vaccine when it is ready, you know that it doesn't distribute itself and you got a lot of people wanting to take it. Are you going to set priorities? Is it going to be geographic? use the National Guard again? That needs to be a plan as well.

Anything else to add?

No, our economy is coming back slowly, the governor has gradually opened up more things, for the first time some people were able to go to mass in person this past weekend. The airport here has recovered more quickly than some of the major airports but we have a long way to go. When the economy is hit, we’re hit harder and our unemployment is still double the national average.

Were you discouraged that the Disney properties had to re-close, because Nevada has the same sort of industry with tourism? Is this a foreshadowing of what you might face?

Well it’s something we’re going to try our best to avoid but you are right. When you come to Las Vegas, you want to have a good time, you’re with friends, you’re with family. We don’t want to have another situation again where we’d have to close down because then it will take us longer to recover and be more expensive. I think that’s why the governor has done this in a very gradual sort of way, and the hotel industry has kept up working with the culinary union to try to make it as safe as possible, both for visitors and for employees and that’s very important