I ‘absolutely am’ worried that the President will withhold aid to California: Rep. Ted Lieu
California’s fire season has left the state devastated with an estimated 1 in every 33 acres burned. California’s Democratic Representative Ted Lieu joins Yahoo Finance’s Jennifer Rogers and Sibile Marcellus to discuss the impact of the wildfires, and the intersection between race, diversity, and the United States’ volatile environment.
JEN ROGERS: We start with wildfires in the West today, dozens dead, hundreds of homes destroyed, and millions of acres burned. California has never seen a fire season like this. An estimated one in every 33 acres has burned, and the season isn't over yet. Let's bring in our first guest, California Congressman Ted Lieu, who represents much of Western Los Angeles.
Congressman, thank you for joining us. On this show, we constantly are exploring race, diversity, and inclusion. And when it comes to wildfires, especially in California, I think the stereotype is largely that it's white. It's sometimes an affluent issue.
You think about Malibu. Or if you look at the Camp Fire with Paradise, that is a 92% white community. Those are the images that many people around the country see. But what is the reality, actually, in terms of wildfires and communities in California?
TED LIEU: Thank you, Jen, for your question. And let me first say my heart goes out to all the victims of the wildfires and to our brave first responders who are risking their lives every day to try to contain these fires. So just from the broader context, we know that scientists predicted this decades ago that with climate change, we would have more extreme weather patterns, more extreme weather events, such as wildfires.
And in fact, eight of the largest California wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years, and they've had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. There was a very interesting study that came out from the University of Washington and the Nature Conservancy that showed that, in fact, Af Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans are more vulnerable to wildfires, and that, like with many other environmental issues, we have environmental justice concerns, as well as the impact on people who are poor. And so wildfires affect everyone, but, in fact, has a disproportionate impact on minorities.
JEN ROGERS: We're actually going to have one of the authors of the study on later. And in that report, one of the parts that I found interesting is it's not just the area that you live in that makes possibly a community more vulnerable. It also goes to the rebuilding, in terms of insurance, or maybe you're a renter so you can't qualify for some aid that a home owner would. In terms of aid, you've had some choice words for President Trump, as it was revealed that he possibly has tried to hold aid from California regarding wildfires. Are you worried that the president will try to limit aid to California this season?
TED LIEU: I absolutely am. And this is a pattern with the president, where he divides America into red states and blue states. In fact, he just recently said, essentially, that if you get COVID in a blue state, it really doesn't matter. And he suggested that if you took blue states out of the equation, then America would have much better COVID rates.
That's just appalling for a president to say. And then with respect to wildfires, he told the former chief of staff to the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted to cut off aid to California wildfire victims. So I wrote a letter, along with other members, to the inspector general to investigate if, in fact, that has happened.
- Well, Congressman, about a month ago, President Trump approved a major disaster declaration for California allowing the state to access federal aid to deal with the wildfires. Has that been effective?
TED LIEU: That is. And I do commend FEMA for their hard work. There's actually two things going on, and I experienced this when we had the Woolsey Fire in my district that was particularly devastating. You had sort of the president of the United States saying things, and then you had everybody else.
And so everyone in the federal bureaucracy took their job seriously and did try to help disaster victims. So we want to make sure that that continues. At the same time, we know that some people do, in fact, listen to the president when he says crazy things. We want to make sure that that didn't happen with respect to California fire victims.
- And Congressman, I'd also like to talk about the issue of racial justice. You've said that Congress has a key role here when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system, when it has to do with ending police brutality. What is Congress actually doing right now? You would know, walking the halls of Congress herself.
TED LIEU: That's a great question. I'm on the House Judiciary Committee, and we passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and then the full House passed that significant reform measure. It has bipartisan support.
It is before the US Senate. And like so many bills that pass the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, for some reason, Senator Mitch McConnell does not bring those bills up. If he did, it would also pass. So we urge Senator McConnell to bring up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act because that is significant and needed reform.
JEN ROGERS: Congressman, can I get you to comment on some news that we've had, just claims of unwanted and-- and forced hysterectomies at ICE facilities. This goes to a lot of the immigration debate that we have been seeing here in this country. These reports, I mean, when you saw that, what did you think? And what are you going to do about it?
TED LIEU: Those are horrific, shocking reports. So Congress has already issued letters for an inspector general to investigate. We're also planning a congressional delegation to look at the facts on the ground.
I know the Congressional Hispanic Group is very interested in this issue, as are members of the Judiciary Committee, as are other members of Congress. And so we're all horrified by this. We're trying to get the facts and want to make sure we bring them out to the American people.
- And Congressman, looking forward to the election, can you give us a sense of what the dynamics are in terms of the Democratic Party and in terms of plans for-- obviously, you guys are rooting for Joe Biden-- for his victory, in that case?
TED LIEU: Well, if the election were tomorrow, I'm confident Joe Biden would win based on all the polling we've seen. But it actually is not tomorrow. It's in 40-some days, so we need to make sure that we get the facts out to the American people. And I'm confident that the American people will make the right decision.
And in terms of voting, it's very important that if you want to vote by mail, please request your absentee ballot early and send in your ballot early. And if you want to vote in person, have a plan. You may experience long lines, so bring a meal, bring a drink, bring whatever you need to stay in that line to cast your vote. Democracy depends on this.
JEN ROGERS: Congressman, you're in California, here in New York schools are trying to open. The mayor in New York City just pushed it back a little bit further. But it really shows-- I mean, we've seen just within states education is different from our state to your state. How concerned are you about children falling behind this year in schools that are not able to open and in some of those schools where kids need to be going to school more than anybody else?
TED LIEU: Many countries have suppressed the virus successfully. America has not. That's largely due to the ineptness of the Trump administration and just the outright lying by Donald Trump. Had he done his job, we wouldn't be in this situation. But here we are.
And so the best way to get people back into schools is to make sure everyone wears a mask, does social distancing, and washes their hands frequently. We've got to suppress this virus. My wife happens to be on the Torrance School Board. They are trying to physically reopen schools.
We all agree that is a worthy goal. But you have to do that safely. And so while we're trying to open schools physically, we can't do it in areas where there are high transmission rates of the virus. So the first thing we have to do is get this virus under control.
JEN ROGERS: Representative Ted Lieu of California, thank you so much for joining us. And as you said at the beginning, our hearts go out to all those in the West battling these wildfires. Thank you so much for joining us to discuss that and so much more.
TED LIEU: Thank you.