The Ticket: Risking Exposure in Congress

Representative Grace Meng of New York shares the view from the floor of Congress—and from the epicenter of the pandemic.

Grace Meng
Mike Segar / Reuters

Grace Meng represents New York in Congress. Her Queens district is at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, as hospitals there face an “apocalyptic” situation. She flew to and from Washington yesterday to pass the $2 trillion stimulus package.

After landing back home, she spoke with staff writer Isaac Dovere about fighting against the coronavirus, having to risk exposure going to Washington for the vote, and how President Donald Trump and other Republicans using the phrase “Chinese virus” has affected the people she represents.

The full interview can be heard on the latest episode of The Ticket: Politics From The Atlantic:

Subscribe to The Ticket: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher (How to Listen)

Selections from Representative Meng’s interview with Isaac Dovere:

People have heard about the situation at Elmhurst Hospital. What's going on? I think that for the people who have seen some of the news coverage, they may understand some of it, but not like what you're saying.

Today was a really difficult day emotionally for me because literally as we were passing this legislation on the House floor, I got some calls from doctors and nurses who were at Elmhurst.

I had someone start to break down and cry on the phone with me. And it was just really heartbreaking because, he was saying, “We’re scared every single day … We know we’re going to die.”

The president and others have used the term Chinese virus in referring to the coronavirus. What do you make of that?

My first experience with this term was when Kevin McCarthy [the House minority leader] tweeted about it and I tweeted back at him. But more important to me was not the tweet, it was when I approached him on the House floor and I said, “Look, I just want to talk about my tweet. We’re colleagues, I don’t want to just tweet at you.” And he just was not in the mood to listen to me.

I mean, at best he was too busy, but, he just kept trying to walk away. And this was when we were doing elbow bumps and I didn’t feel like I could grab him. [laughs] So it was kind of awkward.

You represent a very diverse district. You yourself are of Chinese descent. There has been some question about how use of the term Chinese virus by the president and by others has maybe threatened an uptick of racism toward Asian people. Have you seen that?

I have heard a lot of stories. My constituents, the ones that I’ve heard from, are really terrified. They are having conversations with me about: “What do our hate-crime laws look like?” “What do we need to fix?” “Should I buy a gun?"

And what’s heartbreaking is that these people, whether they are new in this country or second- and third-generation, they don’t feel like America can protect them.