COVID-19 | Dave Cavell for Congress

Leadership and Justice
for Fighting COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a national tragedy that has devastated our economy, cost tens of millions of people their livelihoods, and taken more than 100,000 lives in the United States. It has also reminded us that our nation is only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. This pandemic has exposed the devastating impact of the absence of national leadership, a healthcare system driven by profit, and systemic inequities that disproportionately harm communities of color, immigrants, and the poor. 

I served in the Obama White House during the Zika virus outbreak and worked alongside the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit under the National Security Council — the “Pandemic Response” team that President Trump decided to disband. We relied on health experts to drive our policy-making decisions. We emphasized public health over politics. And we measured results not through polls or TV ratings, but in communities protected and lives saved. 

As a member of Congress, I will draw upon my experience in the White House and in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to help guide the policies we bring to bear to fight this pandemic, fix our healthcare system, begin to address the system inequities in our country, and ensure that the kind of mismanagement and dereliction of duty we are seeing from this administration never happens again. 

Below are the key issues I will address as a member of Congress to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the beginning, this crisis has been compounded by a massive failure of presidential leadership. In the absence of such leadership, Congress must protect the public by using its legislative power to elevate the authority and resources given to public health experts and frontline workers to help drive our national policy. 


Congress must push back against the president when he undermines experts, workers, and the public interest. Right now, it is far too easy for President Trump and his propaganda team to sideline any health expert who provides bad news or disagrees with the president. Congress must pass legislation to insulate health experts at institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control from undue influence and require regular public reporting. 


The governors of the states are making the decisions whether to open and close their states, hopefully based on the best available public health data. Congress should resolve to support governors who follow the advice of public health experts. 


Congress must also allocate funds for the testing and PPE needed by frontline healthcare workers, and we must work to make sure that contacting tracing is happening in every state. These laws can require the administration to ramp up testing and to support state efforts, rather than forcing states to compete with each other for critical resources. This is especially critical as we brace for a second wave of this virus during the summer and will almost certainly experience another surge in the Fall. 


If we have not taken these crucial steps by the time I am elected to serve in Congress, I will work to build bipartisan coalitions and pressure leadership to make sure we are taking these important measures. 


Everyone wants to see the American economy running again. We are all eager to return to work, to socialize again, and to proceed with our lives before this unimaginable interruption. But we remain at high risk of second and even third waves of a resurgent virus. It is only by following advice of public health experts and supporting the efforts of our heroic frontline workers that we can begin to emerge from this crisis.

Frontline workers are literally risking their lives so that the rest of us can stay safe and healthy. The CDC reports that more than 9,000 healthcare workers have contracted Coronavirus. Nurses, grocery store workers, and restaurant workers remain at high risk of exposure. Yet, many work at minimum or low wages, receive minimal or no benefits, and are still working right now without critical protective equipment. 


That’s why I support hazard pay for front workers. I support emergency paid sick leave so that no worker has to go to work when ill and potentially risk spreading this virus. And I support robust and free child care options for workers, so that they have the coverage and security they need to be able to continue to work.


I also endorse Senator Elizabth Warren’s “Essential Workers Bill of Rights.” As a member of Congress, I will join those advocating to support and protect our frontline workers, including by enacting. The Essential Workers Bill of Rights includes:


  1. Health and safety standards and protections for employees. 
  2. Robust premium compensation to ensure every essential worker is paid a livable wage. 
  3. Protections for collective bargaining agreements. 
  4. Truly universal paid sick leave and family and medical leave. 
  5. Protections for workers who act as whistleblowers when they witness and report unsafe conditions on the job or know about workplace coronavirus exposure.
  6. An end to worker misclassification which denies essential workers basic employment protections.
  7. Health care security for all essential workers. 
  8. Support for child care.
  9. Treat workers as experts, giving essential workers and their unions and organizations a seat at the table in developing responses to coronavirus.
  10. Hold corporations accountable for meeting their responsibilities. 

Please read more about Senator Warren’s Essential Workers Bill of Rights and make sure your member of Congress endorses this plan.

Congress must continue to provide funding to help people, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and other critical institutions survive. As a member of Congress, I will focus on providing funding to support those in need while imposing new restrictions and accountability on any large corporations that accept federal funding. I will work to ensure that funding priorities support people’s basic needs so that we can come out of this crisis ready to rebuild our economy. 

In addition to supporting individuals and families, the federal government must take action to support cities and towns. State and municipal budgets have been hit hard, and the potential for downgrading municipal credit ratings can lead to increased financial problems, municipal layoffs and disruption of services. That means fewer police, teachers, sanitation workers, and firefighters serving our communities. The federal government must play a role to provide additional, targeted stimulus as well as federal guarantees to help protect municipal credit ratings.

We are all impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it does not impact all communities equally. This public health crisis has amplified the deep social inequities in our society. The Black community has been hit particularly hard, with infection and fatality rates that far exceed their representation in the population. This isn’t an accident; it’s a result of policy choices we have made over generations that have led to higher rates of poverty, chronic illnesses, stress, and structural racism. 


We must commit to investing in these communities, ending health disparities, and facing our history of structural racism that continues today. As a member of Congress, I won’t ignore these inequities; I’ll work every day to address them and to end them.

We cannot ask Americans to choose between their safety and their right to vote. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis will not likely be over by early November when we choose our next president. It certainly will not be over for the many local and state elections set to take place over the coming months, including in my primary on September 1. If we want to protect our right to vote and safeguard our system of government, we need action right now.


To see the potential consequences of inaction, we need to look no further than the state elections in Wisconsin in April. The chaos and confusion of those elections -- forced to be conducted by a Republican state Supreme Court that hoped to gain electoral advantage -- served as a warning to the country.


The scary truth is that the largely unseen infrastructure of our democracy could crumble under the weight of this crisis. Here in the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts with signature deadlines fast approaching to appear on the primary ballot, clerks’ offices are backed up because of mail quarantining policies and skeleton crews. And in our cities and towns, in-person voting is still set to take place at vulnerable locations like senior care homes. We’ve seen the horrifying destruction that COVID-19 has taken on senior centers. Now imagine having hundreds of strangers line up at an elder care facility to vote in close quarters.


Reforms are desperately needed and long overdue. We know that efforts in recent years to pass strict voter ID laws and poll taxes on new voters are just tactics to purge likely Democratic voters from the rolls. What we need are laws that make it easier to vote for all Americans.


These fights are not new for me. I spent years fighting these tactics in the State House, in the White House with President Obama, and in the Attorney General’s Office alongside Attorney General Maura Healey. Now we are facing an emergency.


Here is how we tackle this issue:


First, invest in and expand voting by mail. The Massachusetts Legislature has just approved a bill to allow for vote by mail in the September 1 primary and the November 3 general election. We must make sure that our mail system and our clerks’ offices have the resources they need to handle this influx of mail.


Second, for those who choose to vote in-person, we must expand poll hours and options to ensure that polling places do not become overcrowded. I propose expanding hours from 6am until midnight and making sure that poll workers have protective equipment and hazard pay. We should consider outdoor polling locations in tents, parks, or other open-air venues to make sure that people are voting in fresh air and not overcrowded indoor environments.


Third, we must enact automatic voter registration, same day voter registration, and election day voter registration. We needed to enact automatic voter registration, same day registration, and election day registration before this. Now we have no choice. New voter registrations have declined dramatically as more people stay at home and socially distance. Everyone must be able to register to vote safely, without arbitrary and confusing voter registration deadlines. 

And fourth, we should enact reforms that would give everyone more confidence in our electoral system and ensure that voters are picking their elected officials, instead of elected officials picking their voters.

As the COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on the jobs, bills continue to pile up. Many households are struggling to make ends meet and will continue to struggle as we walk the long pathway of recovery. Congress must pass legislation to support individuals and families and to protect those already on the edge of insolvency from losing what they have. 


Congress must enact broader consumer protection laws and direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take more aggressive action to protect people from predatory debt collectors. Congress should work with the states to establish federal funds to incentivize state programs that will keep people in their homes, through both eviction and foreclosure protection in the short term. As the crisis lifts, Congress can continue to support state programs to help people catch up on rent and modify mortgages. Congress can also provide debt relief and loan forgiveness for federal debts while also establishing programs to help people renegotiate private debts.

In the midst of the crisis, states like Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma have declared abortion services “non-essential,” effectively banning all abortion services in their respective states. Congress must protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare. 


As a member of Congress, I will draft or sponsor legislation to amend the Affordable Care Act and any other federal healthcare law to make clear that abortion services are healthcare services and cannot be deemed “non-essential” during a crisis.

The federal government is spending trillions of dollars allocated by Congress in an incredibly short amount of time. We’ve already seen reports of large corporations accessing money intended for small businesses and President Trump’s cronies jumping to the front of the line for funds. It is the responsibility of Congress to provide robust oversight to protect taxpayer dollars and thwart corruption. 


Congress made sure to include in the CARES Act responsibility and funding for inspectors general offices to investigate and examine the $2 trillion spent under the CARES Act. However, the Trump Administration has already signaled that it will not cooperate with necessary oversight. President Trump issued a signing statement along with his signature enacting the CARES Act, stating that he may decide not to allow inspectors general to consult with Congress about their investigations into the Trump Administration's handling of CARES Act funds. This is unacceptable. As a co-equal branch of government, Congress must do its job to exercise proper oversight of the administration's handling of taxpayer money. Congress must push to enforce the oversight measures passed by law and be prepared to take the administration to court if it refuses to allow proper oversight. 


While Congress established a Congressional Oversight Commission to provide direct oversight, partisan maneuvers may very well interfere with the Commission’s ability to take necessary action. Even where the Commission approves investigative subpoenas, the Trump Administration has shown time and time again its willingness to ignore subpoenas and force Congress into lengthy court battles. 


Members of Congress must use every tool available to shine a light on any interference with their oversight obligations. Congress must be prepared to take this battle to the media and directly to the American people. As a former assistant attorney general and White House aide, I will draw upon my experience fighting for government accountability to prevent the administration from dodging accountability and oversight.

Colleges and universities are facing an unprecedented challenge as they’ve been forced to shut down their campuses without any certainty about when they can reopen. Revenue streams and fundraising are drying up, and many schools are projecting budget shortfalls in the millions of dollars. As non-profit or public institutions, many schools may not survive this crisis. Congress must provide targeted relief and support to protect America’s college and university students and work to help guide the institutions themselves through this crisis. 


The result of the coming wave of school closures will be that inequities in higher education will grow wider than ever. Students from low income families, first-generation college students, and students of color are going to find it harder to enroll in colleges that can serve their needs and help them succeed. 


Saving higher education requires more than federal funding. States must also invest in saving their higher education institutions, and in Congress, I will work closely with the States to make sure that they are keeping their education budgets at reasonable levels.

One lesson coming out of this crisis is the importance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other government and non-governmental institutions. We have spent decades building up our military capacity and ballooning our military budget to face foreign foes while losing to enemies such as Covid-19, cancer, Alzeihmers, diabetes, and other diseases. We must mobilize our national and world resources to fight these inflictions. While we must continue to fund a strong military and be prepared to defend our nation from foreign enemies, we must shift funding priorities to attack the threats that take more American lives every year. 

As a member of Congress, I will advocate for bold funding of public health and disease research. We must shoot for the Moon. We must dedicate the resources necessary to protect Americans from future outbreaks. We must find the cures for terrible diseases that claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

Even in the midst of a public health crisis, tens of millions of Americans have lost not just their jobs but their health care as well. That is a tragedy that has led to additional infections and heartbreaking decisions for families between paying the rent and getting coverage. Meanwhile, Republicans are still trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and rip away coverage for millions of Americans. The ACA, though not perfect, has been successful in expanding health coverage for millions of additional Americans, including those mitigating health costs, and protecting millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions. President Trump has withheld critical funds allocated by Congress to support ACA programs and starved advertising for open enrollment. He also refused to relaunch open enrollment for the federal ACA marketplace during the crisis to allow more people to enroll in health coverage. Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the law in its entirety. Yet President Trump and the Republicans in Congress have offered no plan to provide healthcare for Americans, lower costs, and protect those with pre-existing conditions. 


I endorsed Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic Presidential primary this year because I thought her Medicare-for-All plan offered a pathway to quality, affordable health coverage for every American. But as the only person in my race who was at the center of the largest expansions in health care coverage in our modern history -- with Governor Patrick when Massachusetts was the first state to have universal coverage and in the Obama White House when we were expanding the ACA -- I know that there are many paths to our shared goal: quality health care that every American can afford. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to guarantee every American free testing, affordable care, and equitable treatment. 


As a member of Congress, I will fight to end the disparities and barriers in our system. These disparities have made millions of Americans more vulnerable to Covid-19. For too long we have been content with a “sick care” system--a system in which we care for acute illness--rather than focusing on a true health care system in which prescription drugs are affordable, mental health care is routine, and families with health insurance are not a single diagnosis from bankruptcy. I will protect the ACA and strengthen its provisions to shield it from Republican attacks in the courts or by presidential interference, even as we seek to transition to a healthcare-for-all system.


We must also make sure that we are funding policies and institutions that can help prevent these crises in the first place. Congress must bolster funding for primary care practices, community-based health services, and community hospitals, all of which are coming under huge strain from the current crisis. Without these institutions, inequity in healthcare will only increase. We must also revisit issues like emergency paid sick leave and universal, affordable childcare so that those who become ill have the resources they need to stay home and stop the spread.

Like many of you, I was both infuriated and saddened when I saw pictures of armed militia men storming state capitol buildings and shouting at police and healthcare workers, demanding governors reopen their states. No one wants to keep businesses and schools shut down and people out of work. But we know from public health experts that this is the only way to prevent further death on a cataclysmic scale. 


Yet now is a time when we need leadership driven by compassion and understanding. I feel deeply for people who live paycheck to paycheck and are out of work. I understand the frustration many small business owners must feel as their businesses are deemed non-essential and they see their life’s work placed in jeopardy, and I know it must be scary to have your personal liberties restricted by the government. 


It’s easy to give way to anger and hate and to turn on each other. But this is a moment that requires understanding. This is a moment that requires leadership. As a candidate for Congress and hopefully, later, a member of Congress, I am not looking to define my fellow Americans as the enemy. Our enemy is this virus. Our enemy is poverty. Our enemy is structural inequities and the neglect of our healthcare infrastructure. 


Leadership now requires acknowledging the deep and difficult impact this moment has had on everyone. It requires speaking to a brighter future together. As a speechwriter for President Obama, I worked hard to frame our challenges as a common struggle, one that we can overcome together. I will take this outlook to Congress, and work every day to build understanding and connection between the deeply divided parts of America.