Election 2020: Inequities in health care discussion turns to voting
AFSCME President Lee Saunders | AFSCME

WASHINGTON—What began as a discussion of unequal U.S. health care for Blacks, between AFSCME President Lee Saunders and two Black congresswomen, quickly turned to a potential solution: Voting, especially voting into office Democratic lawmakers and presidential nominee Joe Biden, who will tackle that problem and others, while voting out the Republicans, who refuse.

And a big refuser, Saunders says, is GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, who not only ignores unequal health care–or anything else–harming people of color, but also the immediate disaster they suffer from the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting depression.

“You know what’s frightening?” Saunders, a Black native of Cleveland who now lives in New York City, asked during the Oct. 19 Zoom briefing, organized by the Congressional Black Caucus. “He’s continued to ignore the signs” of the pandemic.

Thought he’d have an epiphany

“I thought he’d have an epiphany after he caught it and after coming out of Walter Reed,” the military’s top medical center in the D.C. suburbs where high officials go for care. Trump spent three days there, getting oxygen and strong anti-viral drugs.

But when Trump came out, he “denies” the pandemic “is happening” with renewed force nationwide. “We’ll be OK because he’s OK. That’s B.S,” Saunders said. Trump has told rallies since leaving Walter Reed that he’s cured. Medical experts say that’s a lie.

The combination of GOP refusal to confront the pandemic, or to help its victims, makes the election even more crucial, Saunders and the other speakers, Reps. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said.

“We’ve got to not only win the presidency but hold the House, flip the Senate” to pro-worker Democratic control “and make gains in state legislatures, too,” said Saunders, who also chairs the AFL-CIO’s Political Committee.

And Trump’s attitude is especially false, the union leader said, for first responders, including nurses, sanitation workers and other members of his 1.4 million-worker union.

“In the public sector, we have a large percentage of our members as sanitation workers and health care workers and workers handling unemployment claims,” all of whom suffer higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, Saunders explained.

“But they don’t have masks. They don’t have gowns. And yet they still come to work” both because it’s their jobs and out of a sense of duty to helping others, he declared.

They don’t have the masks

And the reason they don’t have those masks, gowns and other protective personal equipment, said Saunders and Reps. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., is politics—and specifically Republican opposition to helping pandemic victims.

Saunders and the two lawmakers tackled health care inequities, and lack of PPE, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and GOP Trump regime Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued negotiating contours of a final pre-election economic aid measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the key roadblock to any aid, including the two House-passed versions of the Heroes Act, which includes PPE money. He refuses to let lawmakers consider, much less debate or vote on, either of them.

Which left Saunders and the two lawmakers pounding away at getting out the vote in a landslide that would sweep Trump, McConnell, and other anti-worker Republicans out of office.  “McConnell still talks about” letting states “go bankrupt,” not giving them aid, Saunders said.

The Heroes Act would send funds to the hard-pressed states and cities, which would let those governments keep workers on, he added. McConnell’s bill wouldn’t.

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“We have to keep pushing and expose people who don’t care about people,” declared Kelly, whose Illinois district stretches from Chicago’s South Side through its southern suburbs downstate to Kankakee. “And we have to be loud about it,” the Matteson resident added.

“McConnell wants to do little things, like aid the airlines,” added Moore, a community activist and former Vista volunteer from center-city Milwaukee. “Don’t get me wrong. I favor that. But he’s going to leave families behind and leave children behind.”

She also ascribed naked political motives to McConnell and his fellow GOPers: “They don’t want to help AFSCME employees because that would be helping blue states and cities.”

Can’t have people starving

“But you cannot have people starving in the states through no fault of their own” due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing depression which has sent 26 million U.S. workers into collecting state or federal unemployment checks.

An authoritative pandemic tracker, at Johns Hopkins University, reports that as of 8:30 am on Oct. 20, 8.218 million people have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic was proclaimed on March 13. That’s 109,000 fewer people than the entire population of New York City—which has successfully, so far, battled the virus.

And 220,185 have died. That’s as if everyone, including Louisiana’s governor and legislature, in the state capital of Baton Rouge, was wiped out. It’s also almost as many as the combined 226,000 initial dead from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kelly extended the blame to Trump, a point her own state’s coronavirus numbers also are making. States throughout the Midwest, including Illinois and Wisconsin, are seeing renewed rises in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, often attributed to relaxation—under Trumpite and GOP pressure—of social distancing and other anti-virus preventive measures, such as mandatory mask-wearing.

“This was ‘a hoax’ and ‘fake news’ and wasn’t taken seriously” by Trump, even after a Jan. 28 briefing on the danger of the virus, which he subsequently covered up, she said.

“If we had started a lot earlier, a lot of lives,” many of them Black and brown, “could have been saved. Instead, you had governors and states fighting each other for PPE, when the federal government” under Trump “should have had a national plan for providing it” and did not.

“We have to win big,” Kelly added, urging voters even in safe blue states and districts, such as Chicago’s South Side, to turn out in droves. “Otherwise, he’ll yell ‘fraud’ and claim that he was cheated,” she said of Trump.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.