White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
12:05 P.M. EDT
GOVERNOR JUSTICE: Well, first of all, everyone here knows what an honor it is to have our Vice President here with us and have his great team and our senator and our great congressmen and all of my team as well.
But we all know, in West Virginia, we have worked really hard and we have worked proactively as we possibly can through this terrible pandemic.
And from the standpoint of the medical component of it, from the standpoint of the economic component of it, it’s — we all know it’s been a struggle. But absolutely, we could have never, ever, ever gotten out of the gate if it hadn’t been for this man right here, his team, and all the work that he puts in. It is unbelievable.
I’ve got to listen every Monday to him and everybody under the sun and see what all the work that they’re — they’ve been doing, but it’s only a fraction. What he’s done is remarkable — remarkable beyond belief — our President as well. And just all their team. How they have pivoted and how they have adjusted to something that came like a wave beyond belief is just incredible. That’s all there is to it. And what all y’all have done is just the same.
So we, in West Virginia, we have pitched good numbers. We’ve lost 157, and now I hear we may have lost three more. But from the standpoint of the numbers, we hate that we’ve lost 160, maybe 157. They are great West Virginians. And we’re just going to keep on trying to keep our numbers as low as we can. But we’re not going to let those people become a statistic either. You know, they are families and their names. And it’s really important.
And so we would have been — I mean, I can’t fathom what this battle would have been if we hadn’t had our President and our Vice President and all of his great people with us. And what they’ve done is unbelievable.
So thank you so much for coming today. And thank you so much for all you’ve already done.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Thank you, Governor Justice. Thank you for a — the briefing that members of our White House Coronavirus Task Force received today in West Virginia. But more importantly, thank you for your leadership during this extraordinarily challenging time for the people of this state and the people of this nation.
The President wanted me to be here with a very, very simple message to you, to the people that represent West Virginia in Washington, D.C., and most especially to the people of West Virginia. And that is that we are with you. We’re going to stay with you until the day comes that we can put this coronavirus in the past once and for all.
I want to commend not only you, Governor Justice, but also your team. It’s an honor to be here with Dr. Clay Marsh and also with General Hoyer and to hear the detail of the response that you’ve been able to marshal to protect the health and wellbeing of the people of this state.
I want to join you in saying that while West Virginia’s record has truly been extraordinary, given many of the vulnerabilities that the people of West Virginia have faced with regard to being an older population for states around the country, but also having — having many conditions, what doctors call comorbidities. Nevertheless, we still grieve the loss of more than 150 West Virginians. And on behalf of our task force and our administration, I want to express my deepest sympathies to all the families that have lost loved ones.
But I truly do believe, Governor, that because of your leadership and because of this team that you’ve assembled and because of the cooperation of the people of West Virginia, that you’ve saved lives in this state. And our commitment is to continue to partner with you in that cause.
Because of the cooperation of the people of West Virginia who’ve taken the guidance from your administration and from health officials in this state, because of the way that you’ve tested aggressively, it is — it is a testament to your efforts and to President Trump’s efforts in reinventing testing in this country. We’ve now done more than 70 million tests across the country. But it’s remarkable to think here in West Virginia, you’ve tested more than 350,000 citizens, roughly 20 percent of this state, which has given health officials and the people of this state the information necessary to continue to protect the vulnerable.
I also want to commit to you that as we — as we’ve directed hundreds of thousands of PPE supplies, we’ll continue to do that, but I also want to tell you how impressed we are at the innovation that you’ve demonstrated here, literally working with your National Guard and with businesses in West Virginia to manufacture masks and collection swabs and other equipment so vital to our healthcare workers.
And finally, I also want to say how grateful we are to your leadership and representatives in the House and the Senate. Senator Shelley Moore Capito was in the forefront of early efforts to forge bipartisan agreement around recovery and relief efforts.
Senator, I want to thank you personally, for the — the way you’ve really helped bring people together in a — in a very divided time in the life of our nation, politically. You were one of the voices that you, in one bill after another, you helped bring people together in the Senate. And we continue to be hopeful that as we discuss and debate an additional recovery bill, that we’ll — we’ll be able to speed even more relief to families in this state.
I also want to thank Congresswoman Miller and Congressman Mooney for — for your efforts and really putting the health of the people of this state first.
But — but, ultimately, as a couple members of our team will reflect momentarily, I just want to assure you, Governor, and the people of West Virginia that we’re going to stay with you. And we’re going to stay with you to support your extraordinary healthcare workers that have done an incredible job through the course of this pandemic. But we’re also going to make sure that West Virginia has the best guidance and the best resources to protect the vulnerable.
Seema Verma heads up the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and we’re encouraged by the fact that nursing homes all across West Virginia, at your direction, have — have instituted measures that have saved lives. But we’re going to work closely with you to make sure that we continue to protect those that we know are most vulnerable to serious outcomes of the coronavirus.
And I — with your permission, Governor, I’m going to recognize Seema Verma to speak a little bit about — about efforts that West Virginia has done and that we want — we want nursing homes around the country to continue to do as we focus our efforts.
But again, I just want to say to you, Governor Justice, we are truly grateful for the — for the leadership that you’ve shown, your team has shown, your delegation to Washington, D.C. has shown, but we’re probably most grateful for the way that it is clear that the people of West Virginia have put the health of your neighbors and the health of those most vulnerable first.
And our pledge to each and every one of you is we’ll continue to make sure your governor, your healthcare workers, and your communities have the resources you need not just to protect the vulnerable and save lives, but to continue to open up — to open up your economy. West Virginia has been going back to work. And very soon, West Virginia will be going back to school. And we’re absolutely determined to partner with you until we bring West Virginia all the way back — back to work, back to school, and come to that day that we can — we can put the coronavirus in the past.
So again, thank you, Governor. Thanks for your great leadership. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Seema Verma for some thoughts on nursing homes.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Thank you. And, Governor, I know you’re used to hearing me talk about nursing homes, but I am going to talk a little bit, just for a second, about the schools as well, because when I’m not the Administrator, I am a mom. I’ve got two kids, and one in college and one in high school. And as a mom and you know that my husband has underlying health conditions, so, you know, the opening of schools is just so critical. And I just really appreciate everything that you’re doing to open up the schools. I think that means a lot for the kids and the parents and keeping the kids safe and the teachers safe in the communities. But it’s just not the same having your kids in — on an online experience versus being in the classroom. So I just want to commend you for everything you’re doing for the schools.
But as the Vice President said, nursing homes have been a critical area that we’ve been focused on from day one. The President and the Vice President, you know, said that we’ve always known that nursing homes are the most vulnerable. And so, very early on, we asked nursing homes not to have visitors in, and that’s obviously been difficult for the nursing home residents and their families. But it really, kind of, speaks to our commitment to keeping these nursing home residents safe.
So we’ve put out guidelines to all the nursing homes, a series of those. We’ve stood up a new reporting system. We’ve increased fines and penalties, and I know your state has done an incredible job of surveying all the nursing homes, which is great, because that gives us a — an opportunity to assess how the nursing homes are doing. And we’ve also put out about $10 billion for funds directly to the nursing homes to support their efforts.
I was very encouraged talking to Dr. Marsh. I think some of the partnerships and the work that you’re doing around strike teams and actually working with each and every nursing home directly. And you’ve also been one of the first states to do the testing in the nursing homes, which is absolutely critical. So you’ve been a model for a lot of other states, and we hope to share some of your best practices, especially around those strike teams, with the rest of the country. So thank you for your efforts.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Secretary Perdue?
SECRETARY PERDUE: Mr. Vice President, Governor, I think it’s just phenomenal what you’ve done here. And here, I saw the results. We knew the data, but I didn’t know all the things that had gone in. Leadership does matter. And obviously, we’ve talked about the compliance nature of West Virginians. They followed your lead and in complying with the rules; it really made a difference that way.
And so I can tell you there are a lot of states in this country — while we mourn the death of almost 160 people, there are a lot of states that would just love to have those kind of numbers. And what you’ve done, as Seema said about the schools and your — your color coding of what they can do, and the gradation of keeping them safe while they’re returning to that classroom experience is important.
So I was very impressed with your — your tag here on the — what the National Guard had done on innovation in the economy, as well as the points that Dr. Marsh made about — Vice President, I said this is Debbie Birx’s model on steroids. They’re doing exactly what they did here. She would be extremely — she’d be up — chanting up here, cheering about what you all have done within the state because that’s what she’s been advocating for so long for everyone to do.
But I think it’s a testament to not only your leadership, but to the people of West Virginia to follow that and to really have those kind of results. They are truly blessed in that regard.
I’m happy to be here and hear the details. We’ve seen the numbers, but seeing the policies and leadership behind it really inspires me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. Thanks, Seema. And Dr. Birx will actually be here, as you know, meeting with your team on August the 19th. And — but we are — we’re very, very grateful for the efforts the people of West Virginia have taken and your leadership.
I also want to commend you. As I turn it over to your senator and members of your delegation, I want to commend you for the way West Virginia’s economy stayed open in so many ways and essential businesses, but already recovered 47,000 jobs and put people back to work since the outset of this pandemic.
I was informed on the way here that 83 percent of West Virginia small businesses are open today. That’s a demonstration of the resilience and the character of the people of this great state.
And as I said before, over the last three months, at the height of the pandemic, we lost 22 million jobs all across America, here in West Virginia and all across this country. Because of the foundation that we have poured and because of the resilience of our people, we’ve actually added 9 million jobs back. And so — but to open up America again, as Seema was saying, President Trump and I believe very strongly we’ve got to open up our schools.
And, Governor, I want to thank you for the thoughtful and careful way and guidance that you have given to communities about how we can safely reopen schools. And I want to pledge that we’re going to continue to work with Senator Shelley Moore Capito and the members of Congress to make sure you have the resources to be able to safely reopen those schools. But we really do believe it’s best for our kids and it’s best for children with special needs, learning disabilities, nutrition programs that are available.
President Trump and I believe, as you do, Governor Justice, that we need to get our kids back to school, and back to school this fall. And I want to thank you for your leadership in that regard.
SENATOR CAPITO: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. And it’s always great to have you in West Virginia. And I — great to have the team here and to be able to bend their ears on certain specific areas that I’m particularly passionate about. The Governor and his team — Dr. Marsh, General Hoyer — and many others have done a great job for our state, for West Virginians to be able to figure out, you know, how to act and what to do and how to best protect.
And once we saw our numbers become manageable — I mean, we don’t want to lose anybody, but manageable — you know, success breeds success. And we found that what we were doing was really beginning to work.
And so — but there’s still a lot of work to do. I think that’s why we’re all here. And certainly my part, as you and I discussed — and the Governor and I discuss quite frequently — is to make sure that he has the resources to reopen the schools; that our cities and counties have the resources to recover some of their tax revenues; that we have the testing; that we have the vaccine development — because if we get healthy, the economy can then keep going and going and going, along with more PPP and other things.
So I pledge to you all here today that I’m going to continue working in the manner in which you described to get to a resolution so that we can give everybody here in this room the reassurance that you have the resources and the confidence. I know the President is very committed to this, as you are, Mr. Vice President.
And so I’ve got my job, and I am going to continue to do it through the summer, and hopefully we’ll reach a resolution here quickly so everybody can plan.
Thank you so much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator. Congresswoman?
REPRESENTATIVE MILLER: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for being here today. Your team has been incredible. What you’ve done since January has — is wonderful.
We are team players in West Virginia. And without repeating what my dear senator has already said, West Virginians do work together, and the National Guard, how they stepped forward, and in any issue: “Do you need help with this? Got it covered.” “Do you need help with this? We’re doing this.” The new masks, the various things. They — they’ve even helped staff our food banks. They just have gone above and beyond. And, you know, all the way to the county level with our health departments — everyone is working together.
And I think the brilliance of what our governor has done with the new system that he’s doing for implementing our schools — and I’m sure you already thought about it, but I didn’t until I was sitting here — that you are giving the schools, you are giving the students responsibility. You’re letting them know that they are in charge of how they behave in order to get to play sports, in order to get back to class, to get to hang out with your friends, because then they understand that their behavior is very important. How they make sure they wash their hands. You know, if they’re playing team sports, how they handle themselves. You’re giving them responsibility, which I think is a really good move to helping get us back in the schools.
But again, I want to thank everyone today for being such a great team. And we — to be given this pandemic, that hasn’t happened in over 100 years, we know we will get it — just like we handled polio, we will take care of this. But it’s just getting through the final hoops.
And as far as Congress goes, we need the money in the right places, in the right hands, to deal with the COVID issue and with the education and with the small businesses because they are the heart and soul of West Virginia, as well as the rest of the country, and not try and cover everything with the money, but put the money where it needs to be.
And thank you all so much for being here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Congresswoman.
REPRESENTATIVE MOONEY: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for coming again. Your administration has shown West Virginia more attention and support than, I think, any past administration. So we appreciate you coming. It’s been a great roundtable discussion.
I think, you know, some of our colleagues had wanted the federal government, the President, and you to essentially declare martial law and take everything over, use the Defense Production Act, and just — like a socialized country would do, have the federal government run everything. And that’s just a terrible idea.
And as we discussed here today, our governor — you know, local control is better. Our governors come up with a system that works for West Virginia. It may be different for different states. Frankly, it’s different for different regions of the state within our state. You know, southern West Virginia has different issues than the northern panhandle, for example. So we need that flexibility. I appreciate the flexibility. I appreciate having a governor that we can talk to about, you know, our congressional districts and what’s needed. So thank you for that. Both of you, thank you for what you’re doing there.
On my way down here yesterday, I stopped in Hampshire County. I toured a small business. The lady there has four sons, and she’s also raising her niece and nephew. And she’s working in the small business that she co-owns, and she needs those schools to open because she has no other, really — you know, no other option. And she asked me to bring that message here today, so I’ve done that.
I know there could be some negative consequences, but the good about opening the schools is going to far outweigh any negative consequences. So it’s great to hear today that we have ideas in that regard to get the schools open. And I hope we can get some support from the federal level through there, overcome an unneeded Democrat filibuster in the U.S. Senate over everything, and actually pass education funding would be nice so we can be there to support our states as we can.
So thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Congressman, thank you. I’m going to let the Governor have the last word, but I thank you. I want to thank all three of you for your great leadership.
And you make a wonderful point about working families. I mean, to open up America, President Trump and I believe we got to open up America’s schools. I actually saw a statistic, like the family you spoke with: Only 1 in 5 single parents in America can telework. That means 8 out of 10 single parents in this country can’t go back to work if their kids don’t go back to school.
So the President and I believe it’s important to get kids back to school because we don’t want them to fall behind academically, we don’t want them to miss out on critical services, whether it be nutrition or special needs or learning disabilities, or any of the counseling they receive at schools. But it’s also — it’s also important for working families that we open our schools.
And, Governor, I just want to echo the appreciation for the careful, thoughtful way you’ve really empowered local communities to have the information, to have the mitigation efforts to be able to go back to school and back to work.
But thank you again. This has been a very informative briefing for members of our task force. We look forward to continuing to work with you in the weeks and months ahead.
GOVERNOR JUSTICE: Well, like I said, in wrapping this up very quickly, we can never thank you enough. And I know how much our Vice President has worked. I know how much our Congress has worked, all of his team. I know that. I know how great our team has been.
And I would just end by just saying just this: West Virginia has been a model in a lot of ways. And a lot of people may say, well, the reason things have been bad in West Virginia is because of our mountains or because we’re apart, you know. But it doesn’t matter. We see — we see an outbreak in a 30-person nursing home. You know, if you’ve got 50,000 people in a city, it could affect our city just as well as it could affect a city with millions.
We’ve done the right things here, and we’ve done them from the standpoint of just this: We have stayed together. And I could never be more proud of what the people of West Virginia have done. But we could have never done this without the Trump team and all the work that everybody has done to make it become a reality for West Virginia.
And everybody knows that I’m great friends with the Trump family and everything else, but everybody else knows, you know, that, really, I don’t blow smoke in anybody. I don’t have time to do it, and I just tell it like it is as best I possibly can.
I am telling you, without any question, the help from this government has been unbelievable for the state and the people of West Virginia. And we’re going to win this battle. We’re going to get across this finish line. And we’re going to go back to school, and we’re going to do all things, but we’re going to do it safely. We’re going to do it in a way that is safe for our teachers, our service personnel, our kids. That’s — all of us want the same thing.
But, absolutely, we just don’t want to sit over in the corner and wither up and die, because that’s what we would do, is wither up and die.
And so I just, again, thank you for everything. And want to be a part and want to be supportive, and — as you lead this country forward. Thank you so much, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor. Thank you all.
END 12:29 P.M. EDT