JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Rep. Phil Roe defended Tennessee’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and said one South Carolina congressman who questioned the state’s response should “butt out” and focus on his own state.
He also said politics is to blame for Congress not agreeing on a plan to send out a second round of stimulus checks.
“I think Gov. Lee is doing a great job,” Roe said. “This virus is very contagious and it’s going to be out there and we’re going to have to learn to live with it, it’s going to be with us.”
The congressman’s comments come after Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), chairman of a House committee on the coronavirus pandemic, sent letters to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and other Republican governors claiming they have failed to implement recommendations by the White House Coronavirus Task Force and requesting they provide documents detailing how their states are handling the pandemic.
Roe, who is a doctor himself, said he does not see a discrepancy between the White House’s recommendations and Tennessee’s actions to combat the pandemic.
“I would suggest that Mr. Clyburn butt out and go to South Carolina and take care of his own state,” Roe said. “I think we are doing a fine job here in Tennessee.”
He also lauded the governor’s decision to leave mask mandates up to local officials.
“I think we’ve been really smart at pushing those decisions down to the local level,” Roe said. “Let Washington County and Johnson City figure out, let Sullivan County and Kingsport and Bristol find out what’s best for their areas. I think that makes absolute sense.”
On the federal level, Rep. Roe said there is a lot going on behind the scenes to combat the pandemic, such as sending more than 15,000 rapid test kits to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
He also mentioned Operation Warp Speed, a strategy to accelerate the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. It involves the FDA receiving real-time information on vaccine trials and the manufacturing of syringes, needles, and other items in advance.
“There will be tens of millions of doses, we believe, by the end of this year,” Roe said. He explained that one type of vaccine will require two doses 21 to 28 days apart. The congressman said the cost of getting a shot will be comparable to getting a flu shot.
Regarding ongoing negotiations over a new COVID-19 relief package, which could involve another round of stimulus checks, Roe said Republicans and Democrats may not reach an agreement before the election.
“Why in the world I am sitting here in Tennessee right now and I’m not up in the Congress working on this, I do not know. We should be having hearings, open hearings. We can attend them. If somebody’s afraid or if they’ve got a problem they can attend virtually, they can use technology to do that,” Roe said. “There is absolutely no reason but politics that we are not in Washington DC working right now.”
The six-term Republican congressman laid some of the blame with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I will be up there tomorrow if the speaker will open it up and get started,” Roe said. “She has not done that and I think she’s failing the people of this country dramatically for political gain, I really believe that. The president is ready to work on it, I’m ready to work on it, other congressmen are ready to work on it.”
Roe believes Congress would have already acted if it wasn’t for the upcoming election.
“I will say that there is one thing that the Congress did right this year and that was the CARES package. In about ten days we put that CARES package together. It was not perfect, but it did help this country and I saw literally hundreds of businesses in the last several months that I visited virtually or in-person that it helped, and it helped a lot of people,” Roe said.
“We could do the same thing right now. If this were not a presidential year, an election year, I think that Congress would have already acted.”
The congressman encourages the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“And yes it’s an inconvenience and this is sort of the way I look at it: I wore one in the operating room for 31 years here in Johnson City, every time I went into the operating room I did that,” Roe said. “I hope I didn’t waste my time for 31 years. I don’t think I did. And it’s a small price to pay if we think we can help lower the rate.”
Roe said he looks at the latest COVID-19 data counties in the 1st Congressional District almost daily.
“I would encourage our folks to pay attention to this, to mask up when you can, when you can’t distance, and be safe and wash your hands,” he said.
Roe said he wears a mask when he’s in public places, like the grocery store.
Still, he said he’s not going to let the pandemic keep him indoors. In fact, he’s planning to hike part of the Appalachian Trail this weekend.
“I’m not going to close my door and never go outside, I’m going out and doing the things I’ve done, but I’m going to do it smart,” Roe said. “And that’s what I would recommend everyone do.”