WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says his top issue for 2021 is getting everyone vaccinated against COVID-19.
Speaking ahead of being sworn in for his third term in Congress, the McAllen Democrat said he wants to see venues established that can do mass inoculations.
“Making sure there is an abundance of access to vaccinations in our district, that is my No. 1 issue because once everybody gets vaccinated our economy begins to open up again. Kids go back to face-to-face instruction,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is optimistic that will happen because he believes the incoming Biden administration will be “laser focused” on getting the vaccine out to everyone that wants one.
“I think we will start to see some normalcy by mid-2021,” Gonzalez said, confidently.
Gonzalez acknowledged the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine hit a few snags in the middle of December. However, he said $35 billion has been allocated for this very purpose in the latest stimulus package.
“I think right now, more than having the vaccine, it is about having a venue to mass vaccinate. I think that is going to become more of an issue. I heard there were like 100 million vaccines right now in the country, which would vaccinate one out of three, plus we have had 20 million who have already had the virus so they probably are carrying antibodies. I think the issue now may be administering these millions of vaccines to the people. And making sure people have the confidence to come and get it.”
Gonzalez said persuading the vast majority of the people in the United States to receive the vaccine is the best way of getting the economy back on track.
“When you look at the number of vaccines that are in storage within our country right now, you would think, if we could just push a button and vaccinate 100 million people we would do it. So, it is not that there are not the vaccines,” Gonzalez said.
“Even in the Rio Grande Valley, I am noticing that we seem to have an abundance of vaccines for those first folks who need it, first responders, the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions. And, from what I understand, there are people who didn’t fall in those categories who were able to get vaccinated.”
Gonzalez said he feels sure President Biden will take more of a hands-on approach on the issue of COVID-19.
“I think they will be laser focused and with that we are going to see the opening of the economy. We will start seeing the unemployment go down and stock market go up. I think we could have three or four good years ahead of us. Once we get past the next six months,” Gonzalez said.
“I think if we resolve the COVID pandemic issue, we resolve issues with the economy, education and everything down the line and get back to normal. It has been a brutal year.”
Gonzalez said he expects to be reappointed to the House Committee on Financial Services.
“I have have been on this committee throughout my time in Congress. It oversees Wall Street, insurance, banking, and is very influential on trade. For example, we were able to fund NADBank, which funds a lot of projects across our border region.”
Gonzalez noted that the Rio Grande Valley had, before the pandemic, a healthy banking sector.
“When the borders are open the small town of McAllen gets about a billion dollars a year in Mexican deposits. With the bridges closed, that has taken a big hit. Especially right now, they (potential investors) are flying right over us. That is money that gets reinvested in developments, other industries around our region, and it is not available right now.”
Foreign affairs, with a particular focus on Latin America, has been another top issue for Gonzalez throughout his time in Congress. During the 117th Congress he plans to encourage American firms to move some of their factories in China and southeast Asia to the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“I want to give the U.S. corporations that are manufacturing goods in China and Southeast Asia tax incentives if they can come closer to home. I am working with Congressman Matt Gates, a Republican from Florida. We do not agree on much but we do agree on bringing some of those industries from China and Southeast Asia to Latin America.”
Gonzalez said such a move is important for national security.
“We had supply chains in China and Southeast Asia that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. It really put our national security at some threat. I think there is a lot of opportunity, simple things like PPE, that could be produced closer to home.”
Gonzalez said he was encouraged to see ventilators being manufactured just across the border in Mexico.
“That was very helpful for us. We still had a shortage of face masks and other equipment. Certain medications were being manufactured in China. Everything that can be done closer to home, by our allies, is an opportunity we should take,” Gonzalez said.
“COVID-19 has been learning experience which brings with it opportunity, especially for the Northern Triangle. Imagine if we could bring manufacturing of those goods to folks that need the work, that are allies, and are a two-hour flight away from our country.”
Gonzalez did not shy away from politics in his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, just before being sworn in for the 117th Congress.
Asked what he thought of plans by a dozen or so Republican senators to challenge the certification of President-elect Biden’s win, Gonzalez said: “It is unbelievable and they are doing it for very selfish purposes. These are folks that are trying to run for president. They are trying to pander to Trump’s political base. You’ve got Crazy Cruz and a handful of others. It is such a shame and disservice to the American people. It is shocking to the world. Those of us here are starting to get sensitized to the craziness but when the Europeans look at us, and Japan and China and Latin America, they must be going, wow, what is happening in America?”
Gonzalez was referring to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the above quote. Cruz wants to create an Electoral Commission to conduct an emergency audit of the Presidential election returns.
“President Trump and his legal team have had plenty of opportunities to present their allegations of voter fraud to the courts and they have not done so. They have not done so because their has not been widespread abuse,” Gonzalez said. “Even my crazy opponent was saying that.”
Asked why evidence of voter fraud was not presented to the courts, Gonzalez said: “Because there is none. I am against any irregularities in the polls. I said, if anybody has any evidence of any illegality, they should take it to the district attorney’s office or take it to the proper authorities. But, there is no evidence. Not in South Texas and not anywhere in the country. We have had what, 64 out of 70 federal cases dismissed?”
Gonzalez said it was perfectly legal for election departments to send out mail-in ballot applications to those qualifying for them.
“In Hidalgo County they sent ballot applications. I could send ballot applications to people 65 and older, or people with ailing conditions. They are allowed to vote by mail. You are not sending them the ballot you are sending them the ballot application. It is completely legal. But the crazies are trying to push this rhetoric of voter fraud to the uninformed. Some do not know what the law is. The crazies have succeeded in creating this doubt.”
Asked whether Sen. Cruz was the ringleader of the crazies in the Senate, Gonzalez said: “It is embarrassing he represents Texas. It is shameful. The funny thing is, he is very intelligent.”
Gonzalez won re-election by 6,500 votes, a much closer margin than election pundits expected. Asked what lessons were learned, Gonzalez said:
“I think there was a lot of distraction and confusion. Whether you like him or not, President Trump brought out a big vote. He brought in people that voted straight down ballot. We had a 21.5 percent increase in voter population.”
Asked if the country should expect to see big changes once President-elect Biden is sworn into office, Gonzalez said: “I think we will see a completely different tone and an aggressive response to the distribution of the vaccine. So, you will see the number of infections go down. Hopefully, we will get a good immigration bill passed. I think you will see the Dreamers issue get an early resolution, probably passed within the first 100 days.”
Working with Trump
Asked for a wrap-up remark about the Trump presidency, Gonzalez said: “I had dinner with the president in May 2017. It was my first meeting with him. I walked out of there thinking Trump was going to be my buddy. That is how great of a two and half hour dinner we had. I think he thought he could deal with Democrats. I thought he could pass a major infrastructure bill. He was looking at things from a businessman’s point of view. But, then he got squeezed by the radical right. And those rallies are pretty intoxicating.”
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