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Federal Relief Efforts, Coronavirus in Virginia, and Concerns Over Liberty University: Political Analysis for Friday, March 27, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.

FRIDAY, MARCH 27, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include Virginia’s share of the federal relief package, continued fine-tuning of state reactions to the coronavirus, and Liberty University’s reckless action to invite students back to the Lynchburg campus.

Craig Carper: From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro: Good morning, Craig, and COVID-19 is breaking up this gang of ours.

Carper: That's right. I hope you're doing well in your isolation. We're taking it day by day.

Schapiro: Yes, now three weeks point-to-point.

Carper: That's right. So now the U.S. Senate has approved a $2 trillion relief package for the COVID-19 epidemic. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on that legislation today. And we're starting to get a picture of what Virginia's slice of it may look like.

Schapiro: Ah yes, a very tentative picture indeed. At least $1.5 billion dollars for Virginia. This is per Michael Martz who covers the budget for the Times-Dispatch. Virginia’s senators have been active in this package. Mark Warner, the senior senator who is running for re-election this year was the point man for Senate Democrats in negotiations with the Trump Treasury Department over aid to small business and nonprofits. Tim Kaine was a player in talks over strengthening health coverage under this bailout bill. And as you point out, it is now the House's turn to act on this in anticipation of the House vote. There were overtures made by the Senate, principally the Senate Democrats to the House Democrats, of course the House controlled by the Blue Party, and that included engaging another Virginian, Bobby Scott, the congressman from the third district, who is the Chairman of the Education and Health Committee. One of the things about this handout, these bailouts, if you will, it'll be at least a welcome fix for the state budget. The Secretary of Finance, Aubrey Layne, had indicated earlier this week that the coronavirus is likely to carve at least a billion dollars out of the state budget. The question, of course, is, what is this going to mean for some high dollar promises in the new budget, and that includes pay raises for teachers and public employees? We'll be hearing more about that, and other potentially imperiled spending initiatives from the Northam administration.

Carper: And of course, Governor Northam has been toughening restrictions on public gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus, but thus far has resisted total shutdown.

Schapiro: That is correct. One of the things that we're hearing from the governor is that, well, he sort of trusts us to use our best judgment. This is, of course, the doctor in Northam speaking. The governor's restrictions are those imposed by executive order, you know, largely apply to essentially anywhere where people will be gathering. Of course, schools will be closed for the balance of the year. That applies to public and private schools, though a number of private schools are trying to use distance learning to keep these kids in good nick. But otherwise, you know, gymnasiums and tattoo parlors and barber shops and massage parlors are going to fall victim to the governor's order. It does not mean that one could not welcome a hairdresser or a manicurist in his or her home for those services. The governor has also said that elective surgery at state hospitals is on hold, and that is to make sure there is ample space for this anticipated wave of COVID-19 patients and also to preserve that much needed PPE, personal protective equipment, masks and gowns. One of the things that the governor has made an exception for - forgive me for ending my sentence with a preposition - of course, grocery stores are still open and state liquor stores. And Karri Peifer over the Times-Dispatch is reporting that in these lean times, liquor sales are spiking better than 60%.

Carper: And the governor and Jerry Falwell, Jr., had a bit of a tussle this week over Liberty University's decision to reopen to its 5,000 students.

Schapiro: You know, and I wonder if this is sort of a proxy hissing match, if you will, for the hissing match that has been going on between Donald Trump and the Democratic congressional leadership and the would-be presidential nominee, Joe Biden. Jerry Falwell, Jr., has said that he will be reopening the school. The City of Lynchburg, where of course this religious institution is located, doesn't like this one bit. As well, a number of Liberty parents are sort of put off by this. The governor has said that it is unsafe, and it is irresponsible. We have heard Mr. Falwell say that this pandemic is, forgive the pun, nothing but another instance of trumped up media hype. The governor, of course, has been invoking scriptures in slapping back at Mr. Falwell saying that Liberty is taking unnecessary risks.

Carper: Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week. Be safe.

Schapiro: Back at you.

 

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