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How San Diego's Lawmakers Handled Trump's Second Impeachment

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CREDIT: POOL PHOTO VIA FOX 5 SAN DIEGO

Above: Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA 51) in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego on Jan. 9, 2021, calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

San Diego's congressional representatives split on impeachment, a new COVID-19 vaccination center opens near Petco Park, and the vaccine arrives in short supply in Imperial County.

Speaker 1: 00:01 The rightest riff between hardcore Trump supporters and those backing impeachment shatters the tradition of cooperation among San Diego's congressional delegation. The pandemic surge continues to tack San Diego health systems, some restaurant owners, buck restrictions, but there's hope for older residents and the situation remains dire and Imperial County as vaccinations are merely trickling into the region suffering California's highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations. I'm Mark Sauer and the KPBS round table.

Speaker 2: 00:31 No, [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:42 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me on this remote version of the round table, columnists, Michael Smolins of the San Diego union Tribune, Jonathan Wilson, who covers biotech for the union Tribune and I new source reporter Jennifer Bowman. It was called the red Mirage early vote tallies in the half dozen closely contested States favored president Donald Trump. He had told his supporters to vote in person on November 3rd, knowing those votes are counted quickly later, returns favor Joe Biden because they reflected ballots mailed in or dropped off, which take longer to count to declare a winner and close races before all votes were counted, was irresponsible even dangerous, but that's what Trump did at 4:00 AM. On November 4th, that action telegraphed for months set up Trump's big lie about how the election was rigged. That Biden's clear victory was a fraud. The big lie caused an angry rift among Americans within the house of representatives and among the five members San Diego congressional delegation, Michael Smolins columnist for the San Diego union Tribune joins me now, Michael, welcome back to the round table. Talk to me again, Mark. Now you wrote this week that a though members of opposing party San Diego's congressional representatives, I've had a long reputation for working together and important issues like those involving water and cross border sewage and commerce, but now Republican Darryl ISIS, strongly supports Trump's baseless claims about the election fraud and the four Democrats just voted to impeach the president. It looks like the era of cooperation is over

Speaker 3: 02:14 Well. We'll have to see feelings are pretty raw right now. And you know, there's been a lot of changes in the delegation. There. We have a very new member who was just elected last year, Sarah, Sarah Jacobs and Mike Levin, who elected in 2018 actually took over ice as district ISO is in hot political water, decided to just not to run for reelection. So there's a lot of dynamics, but I think what's happening here. It's, you know, it's different than just a tough presidential election. I mean, these people are on different sides of issues all the time, but historically, as you mentioned, they've come together for local issues, uh, you know, and delegations before them. There's been sort of the San Diego way and there's been a collegiality of it. That's gotta be a little tough to get back. Will they ultimately come together for big things in San Diego? Probably it gets gotta be in their best interest for re-election for one thing. But, uh, the relations are going to be a little bit dicey for a bit

Speaker 1: 03:04 And remind us what San Diego Democrats that'd be. Scott Peters and Jacobs and Levin, who you mentioned along with Juan Vargas. What have they said this past week, following the deadly insurrection at the Capitol?

Speaker 3: 03:14 Well, they, they, they said Trump was responsible. They, they, uh, quickly came out to endorse, uh, you know, both the invoking the 25th amendment to have Mike Pence in the cabinet remove him. And if not that, um, uh, impeachment, uh, sorry, Jacobs, you know, I mean, she was sworn in on a Sunday and like three days later, she came out very quickly to call for impeachment. You know, they call this a, an assault on democracy. I think Mike, uh, I'm sorry. Scott Peters used the term a coup uh, they didn't, uh, sugarcoat it, uh, while, you know, Daryl IC, even as of today posted a statement, uh, you know, basically calling this all a political gambit by the Republican and the Democrats rather, uh, that, that they've been trying to get them for four years. And this had nothing to do with, uh, with, uh, what happened at the Capitol, which is a pretty remarkable state.

Speaker 1: 04:01 Now ice is among Republicans calling Democrats hypocrites for not condemning vandalism and fires set during some BLM protest last year, even though they called the protests to be peaceful. Now, those protests STEM from the actual killing of blacks by police, the insurrection at the Capitol for which Trump was just impeach was based on the president's big lie. Uh, how do Republicans like ICIC get away with that?

Speaker 3: 04:24 Well, because people believe what they want to believe. You know, we're in this era of, uh, of alternate realities of, uh, you know, sort of alternative facts, so to speak. And that's what they're appealing to. I mean, do they get away with it with everybody, obviously not, but, uh, the court Republican supporters they, they do now, you know, having said that there's certainly something to be said about some of the violence that was associated with some of the black lives matters protests, uh, and the people that committed it, you know, the protests were largely peaceful. Most people went there for the reasons you said to, to protest, uh, you know, basically needless deaths of black people at the hands of police. So, you know, the motivation is different as what's happened here. That's not to excuse violence in any regard. And you know, maybe some Democrats to weren't quick enough to speak out about that, but it just seemed to be an odd time to be bringing that up months later at the time where, where the, you know, the Capitol was almost, uh, uh, taken over

Speaker 1: 05:22 Now, it's one thing to not have a collegial working relationship, but quite another to suspect some of ISIS colleagues that they collaborated with members of the mob. And we're seeing reports about that this week. How does that rift every Hill?

Speaker 3: 05:34 Boy, that's a good question, Mark. I guess, you know, every day it seems like we see details more videos that are just horrifying about happened to, you know, at the Capitol to poor police officers. Uh, but yeah, the fact that there was, you know, inside coordination on this, not only in the run-up to it, but you know, there's reporting that the day before some might have been, you know, giving tours and one democratic member called it reconnaissance to people that were involved in these, um, uh, in the assault on the Capitol. So there's going to be a lot to, to, uh, you know, sort out. And I think that's directly responsible for a speaker Nancy Pelosi putting in the, uh, the metal detectors at the door of the house chambers. You've got some people that are queuing on followers and very, uh, conservative people that talk about carrying guns. Some have openly talked about wanting to carry guns on the floor of the house and the notion that some of these people may have helped this assault that was in some quarters, uh, you know, aimed at harming members of Congress. You know, people are very concerned about their safety there.

Speaker 1: 06:42 ISO were to declare now that the election was fair, the Biden one Trump loss, it's time to work with the new administration. What impact might that have with an ISIS conservative district and across the nation, given as long services, a Republican income,

Speaker 3: 06:55 I think he'll get there. You know, he's been trying to kind of thread the needle a little bit. He said that he's going to be at the inaugural on, on Wednesday. And, uh, you know, he hasn't, you know, full throated. Lee said, uh, Trump lost and, and, and, you know, Baidu was legitimately elected, but he's moving in that direction. I don't think that's going to hurt him in his district. I think that he will ultimately, he he's going to go to the inauguration. He's acknowledging that Joe Biden is going to be the next president. It's a very conservative Republican district, but I don't think that, that, uh, you know, what he's doing and his approach will, uh, will hurt him, uh, with that district. But, you know, again, he hasn't been really open about Biden being the winner.

Speaker 1: 07:37 Now, finally, as he was being impeached, Trump this week issued a video denouncing violent protests generally, but he notably has not conceited. He hasn't backed off his claims. The election was stolen. Uh, hasn't even expressed remorse for the deaths and injuries that occurred in a riot following his stop, the steel rally speech. Does there come a time when Eissa and those refusing to certify Biden's election finally, disavowed Trump, or is this kind of a new loss cause caucus going forward?

Speaker 3: 08:04 Well, I, I think what the issue is is that Trump is still going to be pretty influential, uh, among the Republicans. I mean, he's got a core, uh, you know, fanatical following that's very large and, uh, a lot of people don't want to alienate those folks. So, you know, I mean in a pure political sentence, and I'm not wanting to show a lot of sympathy here, but there are sort of in a tough spot. Uh, you know, a lot has been written that, you know, for the Republicans, many wants to divorce themselves from Trump. That he's just going to be a problem for them. If he sticks around and is influential for them to, you know, to distance from Trump, they really should have voted for impeachment. That that would have totally marginalized him. Well, maybe, but, you know, we've seen in the past that, that Trump has survived certain political death that would have knocked down more traditional politicians. He survived if not thrived. So I think that they, they view that as a very risky thing, which is why a lot of people didn't do that. Uh, you know, they would run into, uh, primary challenges based on voting to impeach Trump and so forth. So I think that that as if Trump's influence wanes and his profile wanes, you'll see more people distancing distancing from him. But I think in the meantime, they are very leery of, uh, the power of his supporters in their future.

Speaker 1: 09:23 We'll see how it all plays out soon enough. I've been speaking with union Tribune columnist, Michael Smolins. Thanks, Michael. Thanks Mark. As COVID cases stemming from holiday gatherings, work through the San Diego hospital system enforcement of restrictions at public places as being beefed up. There's good news for people 65 and older, but a distressing report from the Safari park here to explain it all as Jonathan Wilson, who covers biotech for the San Diego union Tribune? Well, COVID continues to dominate headlines. Jonathan, let's start with vaccinations big news this week, for those of us 65 and older, we can now get vaccinated for COVID to the trouble is availability. What's going on there.

Speaker 4: 10:02 Basically, what just happened is that the number of people who can get vaccinated has doubled, but the actual amount of vaccine in the County has not. So we heard the state government and the federal government this week say that people 65 and up, uh, cannot get vaccinated. And then we heard the County say during their Wednesday briefing, basically, well, if you can get a vaccine through your healthcare provider, yes, you can get vaccinated. But the County doesn't plan to actually begin immunizing people 65 and up until maybe the week of January 25th. So a couple of couple of weeks from now, and it basically comes down to supply and demand. So up until now in San Diego, we've been focusing on vaccinating healthcare workers and people in nursing homes. And collectively that's a group of about 620,000 people. And there already wasn't enough vaccine for everybody in that group. So now you're tacking on, you know, nearly almost 500,000 more people, uh, older adults in the County who, uh, on paper are eligible to get vaccine if they can get access to it.

Speaker 1: 11:12 And I know you'll be reporting on a president, elect Joe, Biden's a big push for emergency manufacturing and a big push for vaccines nationwide. We'll see how that all plays out. Now, the County opened a big drive-thru site near Petco park downtown. How's that working out so far

Speaker 4: 11:27 So far? It seems to be working relatively well. This is what the County is calling their vaccine super station that they launched on Monday in partnership with UC San Diego and the San Diego Padres out in the tailgate parking lot, uh, by Petco park. And, uh, so this is a vaccination site for healthcare workers who don't otherwise have access to a vaccine, maybe because don't work for one of the big hospital systems in town. I spoke with a couple of healthcare workers who had just gotten their shots and set that within about a half hour. They were able to get in and out of there. So for the most part, things have gone pretty well. And we know that the County has said they want to have three more massive vaccine sites like this one, including possibly one of them in the South Bay, starting in February. So this is basically become a sort of test case for whether or not the region can smoothly run and operate these mass vaccine sites that we'll need more of in the months ahead.

Speaker 1: 12:30 Uh, give us an update on the COVID-19 numbers in San Diego County, we're seeing the surge continue as expected post holiday, right?

Speaker 4: 12:37 It's almost become like clockwork in the sense that each time there's a holiday, we we've come to see that you know, about a week or so later, you'll see cases go up a little bit later, you'll see hospitalizations go up and, uh, unusually the last thing will, will often be a bit of a bump in the number of people who are dying from, uh, COVID-19 around the start of the new year we saw, but at the time was, uh, you know, record number of cases. Well, over 4,000, since then, we've been seeing, you know, three to 4,000 new cases reported a day. And it used to be that 2000 was, was a big deal. So we're seeing things generally go up and up. Uh, we're seeing the percentage of, of tests that come back positive for the Corona virus also going up. So that gives you a sense that we're not just finding more cases because we're doing more testing and we are doing more testing, but that there's, you know, a real increase, uh, growth in the pandemic in San Diego. Uh, that's something that makes it hard to do contact tracing. So if you want to figure out all of the people that that person who tested positive, spent time with, so you can make sure they get tested, or they go into quarantine. Uh, it's hard to do that when you're getting thousands of cases a day. So we're definitely seeing as we've come to expect, uh, unfortunately cases, uh, you know, continuing to be higher.

Speaker 1: 14:05 Now let's turn to restrictions on public gatherings, your stories this week noted the continued tension between some business owners and health officials. There's defiance by some restaurant owners causing officials to respond with more enforcement what's going on there.

Speaker 4: 14:18 Right? So, I mean, one of the issues throughout the pandemic has been, you know, how well can the County actually enforce any of the public health guidelines that it's put in place? And, uh, you know, it also puts businesses in the tough position of closing, reopening, closing, and reopening, and, uh, you know, that that's continued to be a kind of a source of tension there. So, you know, we know the board of supervisors voted this week for a more proactive approach to enforcement. Uh, they've hired, I think about 17 more staff to actually looking for violations rather than waiting for the public to file complaints. If, for example, a restaurant is continuing to have people come in for indoor or outdoor dining or, um, or a gym, um, is still up and running. So they're adding 17 more people and saying that their, their posture is going to be a little more proactive. You know, I think we'll have to see how that plays out.

Speaker 1: 15:18 Finally, you reported the troubling news about gorillas at the San Diego Safari park, East of Escondido. What did animal keepers discover out there this week?

Speaker 4: 15:26 Well, they discovered that gorillas can get COVID, which is something that had never been conclusively shown until this week. Uh, basically what happened about a week ago was that one of the, uh, staff, one of the zoo keepers at the San Diego zoo, Safari park tested positive for the Corona virus as somebody who had no symptoms, but was still infected. Uh, so at that point, uh, the Safari park team started monitoring the gorilla troop. So there are eight gorillas at the Safari park and, you know, they noticed a couple of them started coughing, uh, seemed a little more lethargic. You know, we're breathing a little differently. We're, we're huffing a little bit, um, you know, some of the same symptoms actually that you might expect from a person from a human with COVID. Uh, so they did a, uh, COVID test on fecal samples last Friday, got back an initial positive result and then confirmed that on Monday morning. So this is the first example that we know of, of gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, uh, testing positive for this virus for the moment they're just going to be monitoring the gorillas and essentially hoping that they recovered on their own as long as they're eating and drinking enough. Um, they have been talking with physicians and in San Diego who treated human cases of COVID to look at those treatment options. But, uh, for the moment they're just keeping a close eye on this situation and seeing what happens there.

Speaker 1: 16:53 I hope for their sake and for our sake that this a pandemic surge starts to flatten out and the numbers start getting a lot better, a lot sooner. I've been speaking with Jonathan Wilson who covers biotech for the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks, Jonathan, thank you much has been written about the COVID-19 surge in Southern California, but one place that's been heavily hit throughout the pandemic is Imperial County. These are mostly farming communities tuck next to the borders with Mexico and Arizona, like their larger neighbors to the West Imperial County is also struggling with a recent surge in cases and not nearly enough vaccines. I new source reporter Jennifer Bowman has been following the situation out there and joins us for an update. Hello, Jennifer. Hello, Mark. Thanks for having me. Well, set the scene for us. How's the vaccine rollout going so far and how does the supply fall short in Imperial County?

Speaker 4: 17:43 Well, like you said, you know, what Imperial County is experiencing? Is it unique? You know, officials, there are kind of the same thing

Speaker 5: 17:50 That we're seeing here in San Diego County. You know, the demand exceeds supply Imperial County has received about 6,200 doses of the vaccine so far. And that includes both the first and second rounds, the second doses, um, and that doesn't cover everyone who's currently eligible for the vaccine. They're under this first phase that we're seeing right now. And it certainly doesn't cover the demand now that the state is opening to those 65 and over to get vaccinated. So the County says they're working hard to get more vaccines, but they're acknowledging that they believe the limited supply will continue

Speaker 1: 18:24 No, a president election to be president. Uh, Joe Biden is talking, uh, this week about an emergency order immediately focusing on vaccines and beefing up manufacturing. Is there hope out there that, uh, this, that help will quickly come and at least on the vaccine, front

Speaker 5: 18:41 Imperial County, um, they did get some good news this week, actually the County wasn't expecting to see any more shipments this week. And they actually, I received word a couple of days ago that they have another 500 doses coming. Um, but you know, as, as officials say, they're advocating for more vaccine, they're working with the hospitals, they're working to coordinate this and they're certainly in favor of more. Um, but as they're planning right now, they're really planning for, um, that supply to be limited. And for them to have to prioritize in the way that they are right now,

Speaker 1: 19:13 I'll have to see what happens in the weeks to come. Now, healthcare workers are among the first to get the vaccine, but there's a priority list even among them. How does Imperial County decide the pecking order?

Speaker 5: 19:22 Yeah, so workers in certain healthcare settings, um, and residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes right now are eligible to get the vaccine under the state's guidelines. Um, but the County knew ahead of time that the supply was going to be limited. So they had to prioritize, they did a baseline assessment of those healthcare facilities to determine, you know, which of the workers were at high risk or the highest risk. So frontline clinical staff, respiratory therapists, the emergency department, staff ICU, those caring for patients with COVID that's who the County put at the front of the line. And so what we're seeing right now in Imperial County is most of those vaccinated, so far work at the two hospitals in the County. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 20:06 And of course, uh, most deaths here and across the nation are among the oldest, uh, among our citizens and residents and nursing facilities are, are getting the vaccine first. How are pharmacies helping out with that?

Speaker 5: 20:18 Yeah, this is welcome news. I think in Imperial County, the County has three skilled nursing facilities, which saw severe outbreaks and deaths during the pandemic. Um, and so two of those three skilled nursing facilities are set to begin onsite vaccinations this week. Um, one of them started Tuesday and that's part of the federal program known as the pharmacy partnership for long long-term care, Walgreens and CVS, some other pharmacies they're handling the process at these onsite vaccinations. You know, they're doing the storage, uh, administering the shots, uh, handling any reporting requirements they may need after. So I think it's welcomed for, uh, facilities that have been hit pretty hard in Imperial County. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 21:02 And you report that Imperial County had the highest hospitalization rate in the state this week. How are the hospitals coping? They're several months into the crisis. You know, we've had stories and you've reported about having to ship patients out of Imperial County of San Diego as far North as the Bay area what's happening now. Yeah.

Speaker 5: 21:21 I think, you know, the impact on these hospitals in Imperial County, I think, really show how dire it has been there during the pandemic Imperial County had the highest hospitalization rate earlier this week that that's a statistic that we see change a lot, especially for Imperial County because of its small population, but it's almost always in the top ranking. So these hospitals have been badly hurt the El central hospital. Just to give you kind of a, uh, an example. They have 161 licensed beds last month. The number of just COVID-19 patients reached 131. And in total, that was the most patients the hospital had ever seen in at least 20 years. Um, and so they've learned some lessons to help them, you know, they had this second wave, uh, in the fall. Um, we saw additional beds arrive. We saw 50 bed tent, for example, set up in the parking lot of the El central hospital. Um, they reopened an alternative care site that was stationed at the community college there, but they've struggled to deal with that caseload because, you know, you need staff to help the people who are in the beds. So they've gotten help from the state in that way. And they're now starting to see the numbers go down slightly. Um, but they haven't had to do those major patient transfers that we saw early in the pandemic.

Speaker 1: 22:36 San Diego is getting slammed. You wonder if they did have to do some transfers if we even have the room over here?

Speaker 5: 22:42 Yeah. So the County Imperial County officials said last week that, uh, a few patients were sent to the, uh, field hospital at Palomar in Escondido. And I think when that opened, that came at a critical time because, um, Imperial County was seeing their numbers, uh, their caseload just skyrocket at the time. But, but this is a lot different, I think, than the first wave because, um, you know, the, the hospital leaders tell me that they acted, uh, proactively and getting a lot of these set up to increase capacity ahead of time.

Speaker 1: 23:12 The line workers are exhausted. CNN reported on turnover at a hospital near LA this week, staff deciding to quit because it's become too much. You heard anything about the morale among workers in Imperial County? How are they dealing with it?

Speaker 5: 23:24 I don't think it's a surprise to anyone. When, when I say that they just seem very tired. The, the head of the El central hospital, Adolf Edward, um, he tends to be very optimistic in his regular updates to the community. They do Facebook live videos. He's often said, Hey, we're confident the hospital can handle the case load. Let's work together as a community. Um, what think is a very optimistic tone? I think I saw a shift in that tone last month in one video. And that was when they were seeing these triple digit case numbers at the hospital. And of course, he's still telling people, you need a mask up. You knew you need to stay home during the holidays, but it was a lot more dire. Um, and he warned people that, you know, if you don't stay home, if you don't follow social distancing, if you don't wear your mask, you're going to be killing someone.

Speaker 5: 24:09 And he mentioned how he was in the emergency room one night, uh, when this was really bad, last month and 44 people in the emergency room were there just waiting for beds. There weren't beds at that time. Um, and so the whole central hospital, like I said, they've regularly communicated with the public. They did a Facebook live video this morning, for example, um, a worker at the hospital, her parents had contracted the virus and they were, um, discussing on this video, how they underwent treatment at a new antibody infusion center. So in that way, I think with these updates, you, you really do see these workers as people in your community who are, who are dealing with this on a, on a daily basis.

Speaker 1: 24:46 And before we wrap up anything, I new sources working on the days ahead related to COVID-19 here or in perio County,

Speaker 5: 24:54 They keep covering Imperial County as it continues to grapple with the pandemic. Um, and we're going to keep digging here in San Diego as well. My colleague, Jill Castillano, she just published a report today, um, about new federal data that shows, um, how troublesome our COVID, our COVID situation is here in San Diego. So both Imperial County and San Diego counties, they're, they're hard hit regions right now. And our family and our friends and our neighbors. They live there. They're, they're being impacted. And, um, especially during COVID-19, I think these people deserve, you know, the accountability and an investigative journalism that, you know, we had a new source, um, proudly bring to the table.

Speaker 1: 25:29 Well, we all certainly hope for better days ahead for everybody. I've been speaking with I news source reporter, Jennifer Bowman. Thanks, Jennifer. Thank you. That wraps up another week of top stories on the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Michael Smolins and Jonathan Wilson of the San Diego union Tribune and Jennifer Bowman of I news source. You can find links to all the stories that we discussed on our website, kpbs.org. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for listening and join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.