In this episode, we sit down with Pennsylvania Congressman Fred Keller to discuss the election, COVID-19 vaccine developments, and Pennsylvania’s newly expanded mask mandate which requires people wear masks inside their homes under certain conditions.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Congressman Fred Keller, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Rep. Fred Keller: I’m glad to be here today.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Keller, this is news that’s hot off the presses. As we’re conducting this interview, President Trump just gave a press conference about new rules of lowering prescription drug prices for Americans. I know you’ve been looking at this. Your reaction?
Rep. Keller: I would look at what the President has done over his first three years in office. But this is just continuing on, him keeping the promises he made to the American people. Seeing lower drug prices last year for the first time in over 50 years, looking at what he can do to be effective to help the American people.
Right now, I believe the order is that states can go to Canada and shop for drugs and look for lower price medications for people that are in their states. So I look at that as a huge win for the American people. He will continue to do that with the most favored nation status. He’s looking to make sure that we have lower drug prices here in America.
Mr. Jekielek: Again, fairly recent news, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has approved now an audit of the 2020 election results. Again, your thoughts on this?
Rep. Keller: That’s actually Jesse Topper’s legislation. I served in the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania with Representative Topper. And what he wants to do isn’t something that [anyone] should be concerned about. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue; it’s an American issue. What he wants to do is he wants to take a look and have an audit of the election and see what things went right and what things maybe didn’t go right and could be improved upon. And we should all welcome that kind of scrutiny.
Particularly in a time when, just last year, Pennsylvania changed their election laws, allowing for no excuse absentee balloting, allowing for a shorter period of time before election day that you could register to vote or require an absentee ballot. There were some changes in the law. This is the first election we’ve had since those changes.
There are also some things that the Governor and the Secretary of State in Pennsylvania did with election law where they actually unilaterally made changes that were upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, that is controlled by Democrats 5 to 2, Democrat to Republican. And I think we should welcome as Americans this kind of examination on how the election went, so that we can be certain that the things that work well, we replicate; the things that we can improve on, we improve on those things.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s right. As I’ve been learning over the past weeks and so forth, it’s really the assembly that has to approve any changes to law and so forth. That didn’t seem to happen here.
Rep. Keller: Not at all. The Governor made an order where ballots could be received three days after election day. That really isn’t up for the Governor to do, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed that to happen and just sort of endorsed what he did.
Also, the Secretary of State in the Commonwealth also said that you didn’t have to match the signatures on the ballots when they were returned. So when you signed the outside of the envelope, they didn’t have to be matched. So I think there were some things in there that definitely weren’t handled properly, and changing that guidance just added confusion to the electoral process. We need to make sure that we get to the bottom of that.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you think those ballots after election day, November 3, should be counted?
Rep. Keller: The thing I would look at with the whole situation is, if a person had not gotten an absentee ballot and failed to make it from work to the polling place, could they show up Wednesday morning and vote? They can’t.
I use the example of myself about getting things done in the mail. If you’re voting, you’re at least 18 years old, and you know that when you place something in the United States Postal Service, the laws of physics don’t cease to exist, it still takes time to get it from point A to point B. I have mailed my utility bills now for, I’m 55, so about 37 years, every month. Guess what? I’ve never had one late, because I allow enough time for it to get there. So I don’t see there’s any reason why we should be taking a ballot that was put in or received by the polling place after election day.
Mr. Jekielek: Just in general, there have been numerous irregularities around the election results that have been documented. And then there was a big press conference recently about some of those irregularities. Of course, there’s been allegations of fraud and some isolated cases of fraud that have been proven. Are you concerned about this?
Rep. Keller: The thing I would look at with that is, when we go back to 2000, I’m going to compare that. Because everybody starts calling former Vice President Biden, “president-elect,” and they fail to recognize that Donald Trump is still the president. And his campaign has the right to make sure that the votes were counted properly. We want every vote that was cast within the guidelines of the election code to be followed; absolutely! And counted. That needs to happen.
But when you had elected officials and appointed officials within the administration—I’ll talk to the Wolf Administration here in Pennsylvania—putting out guidance up to election day on how to handle these ballots, I think there should be some scrutiny on that. We should know what happened. And again, that’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. That’s an American issue. And not only for this election but for elections going forward.
When you look at what’s happened there—I saw the press conference that the president’s legal team had yesterday. I didn’t see the whole thing, but I saw Mayor Giuliani was there; he made some very good points. And I think that the judges in these cases, once the case is made, need to make sure the law passed by the General Assembly is applied to those cases. And then whatever the [outcome]—I’m not rooting for an outcome in this case, one way or the other. I want to make sure that we find out what went well, what didn’t go well, to make sure we can have confidence in every election going forward.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of media, not this media, but a number of media have announced that former Vice President Biden is the president-elect. And a growing number of Americans, based on some polls that have happened, seem to agree. What do you make of that?
Rep. Keller: The only person that’s called the election has been the press. And that’s not really their job, because the election results have not been certified. That’s how things work in our electoral process. So I think it’s a little premature to be doing that before we’ve heard the merits of the cases that are before the courts in the various states and before the state election results have been certified.
At that point in time, once that has all been done, we can then determine whether President Trump will be serving another four years or whether it will be a President-elect Joe Biden. But until those things take place as it’s supposed to, prescribed by the laws of our states and of our nation, I think we’re getting the cart in front of the horse, and we need to make sure that we allow this process to play out.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s switch gears a little bit. You’ve been, as I understand it, against lockdowns, against shutdowns and so forth. There’s a number of places in America that are advocating for that. I think recently, at the national level, no one seems to want to say they want to lock down or shut down. There’s also, actually in your state I believe, there’s an in-home mask wearing mandate. I just wanted to get your sense of what you think about these things and what you’ve learned from your team?
Rep. Keller: Dr. Levine, who is the Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania, did put out new guidance. Dr. Levine is not an elected official to make law or have it enforceable. The Department of Health is for guidelines for guidance, but it’s up to the General Assembly to pass laws and the governor to enforce those laws. Now the governor can veto of course—or not—any law.
I did see those regulations come forward. It says that if there’s somebody in your house that is not a member of the household, whether it’s family or somebody is living with you, and somebody comes into your house, you’re supposed to wear masks. Last time I checked, this is the United States of America, and we have the right to assemble.
And I don’t think we want the government peeking in the windows of our homes, determining whether or not this person that came to visit me is wearing their mask. There’s a certain amount of personal responsibility. If you’re sick, if you have symptoms, then I think you’re not going to want to go to your grandparents’ house or an elderly person’s house, or somebody that might be susceptible. I think the American people are smart enough to evaluate that and make those decisions without having the government micromanaging what goes on inside our homes.
Mr. Jekielek: So what about lockdowns, which, I guess, are both inside and outside our homes?
Rep. Keller: I did see Governor Newsom in California has a curfew that runs overnight from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. I’m not sure I have the hours right on that. I just happened to catch that. I’m not sure what not being out overnight [does]; does the virus spread differently after dark, between those hours, than it does differently? Some of these things seem to me to be a little bit more about control, rather than trust and faith that the American people will look out for one another, their family members, their communities.
And in Pennsylvania is a perfect example of that. We had our governor, all through this pandemic, not consulting the members of the Pennsylvania House and Pennsylvania Senate, the General Assembly, or the county commissioners. He was doing it all by himself. And I think there’s a responsibility there to make sure that you don’t have one person just saying this is how it should be done.
There are people that can give us recommendations and how we should be safe and do things. But we are still in the United States of America. And I don’t think that we need to be getting into people’s homes and telling them how to live their lives inside their homes.
Mr. Jekielek: Is there any scenario where you think a lockdown might be a good idea?
Rep. Keller: I think the President said it very well early on: the cure can’t be worse than the disease. And we all need interaction with other human beings. That’s just who we are. To be isolated and not be able to make those decisions, I think has other implications.
I believe that people are thoughtful, intelligent, and they care. So they’ll be able to make sure that they keep themselves and their community safe. It is a virus, and we need to make sure that people are kept safe, if they can. But we’re also a free society where I can make a determination on whether or not I want to go to a sporting event.
I look at what Governor Wolf has done and look at some of the things, some of the players, if they’re playing college sports, they’re going to have to wear masks while they’re playing. And people coming into venues are not. There’s a certain amount of personal responsibility. If I think I’m going to get sick and don’t want to get sick, then I don’t get in my car or walk down the street to the venue where the game is going to be played and pay to go in and watch it.
There’s some inherent risks in living our daily lives. I’m not trying to minimize the importance of keeping our vulnerable population safe. But there’s a certain amount of things we’d like to do in our life, and freedoms that we have. And I want to make sure that our constitution isn’t thrown aside, and our rights are not suspended during a pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: From what I understand, now, we have at least two vaccines that are looking very promising, that they might even be ready for distribution by the end of the year. And you’ve been someone that, you’ve been talking a lot about advocating for Operation Warp Speed. So, tell me about what’s going to happen with these vaccines?
Rep. Keller: The first thing with Operation Warp Speed, and I think what the President did, in getting private industry together with government resources to produce vaccines that are this effective in such a short period of time, it shows his leadership.
When we elected the President the first time in 2016, we elected somebody that wasn’t the established. That meant that he would look at things differently and get the government moving in the right direction and be responsive. And that’s exactly what Operation Warp Speed did. He got these companies together and challenged them, as we’ve done a lot of times throughout our history when we had to defeat whatever threat it is, but challenge these companies to come up with vaccines and give them help. They got help from the government as far as making sure some of the red tape was gone and so on.
They did that, and we got these vaccines. I got asked a while ago about the competition. Do you think it was good that Pfizer said theirs was 90 percent, Moderna came out with 94 point whatever it was [percent], and now Pfizer is saying theirs is 95 percent? That competition is good. That’s what built our country, the fact that we could compete, we could do better.
We can deliver a quality product that will help benefit not just us, but all of humanity, and that’s what’s happened under Operation Warp Speed. We’ve got a vaccine, which people said never could be done. And under the President’s leadership and guidance, we’re at a point now where, if people need the vaccine or want the vaccine, [they] will soon be able to have a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you at all concerned about the safety? This was developed at an unprecedented speed, hence the name of the operation. Are you at all concerned that it might not be ready for mass deployment?
Rep. Keller: That’s where we have to take a look at what has been done and the trials that have been done, and the approval of the FDA. I think the FDA with everything they’re doing can evaluate that, the companies can evaluate it, and make sure it’s safe. We would not be putting—companies wouldn’t be, because if they’re putting something out that they think isn’t safe or they know isn’t safe, they can be in a heck of a lot of trouble later on. And the FDA is going to make sure that it’s safe. So the safety aspect of it might be something that some people are concerned about, but personally myself, I would not be concerned about that.
Mr. Jekielek: You trust the process?
Rep. Keller: Yes, absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: Again, let’s switch gears a little further. We are seeing these increased cases of coronavirus—or CCP virus, actually, as we call it here at the Epoch Times—across numerous states. People are worried that there will be more shutdowns or basically the economy will stay in this kind of very reduced state that it’s at. And there’s a stimulus bill that’s being discussed and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at the moment. Your thoughts?
Rep. Keller: Talking about what we need to do to recover economically from coronavirus, we did the CARES Act [The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act], which was about $3 trillion. And when you think of the scope of $3 trillion, that’s almost three quarters of the national budget on an annual basis. Our budgets are a little over $4 trillion—$4.4, $4.3 trillion. This was $3 trillion in one spending package!
What we need to do and we need to look at is the most severely impacted businesses and people that were impacted by this in America, through no fault of their own. It’s not because they ran their business poorly; it’s because they were told they couldn’t do what Americans do best, and that’s go to work. We said, “You can’t do that,” so we have a responsibility.
But what we do should be narrowly targeted to addressing those effects, and should not be a wish list of items like the Speaker [Pelosi] and Leader [Chuck] Schumer has in the Heroes Act. Because when you look at this, and you look at what needs to happen, the Speaker said before, that she’d be ready to talk when Republicans come up with $2 trillion. I don’t know if you remember that? That’s a couple of months ago.
And, she needs to be reminded that it’s not the Republicans $2 trillion. It’s not the Democrats $2 trillion. It’s $2 trillion that the United States Government is going to borrow. And the Speaker is 80 years old. And I’m 55. Who do we think is going to repay that debt?
When we look at helping and getting through coronavirus, we have a responsibility. But we have a responsibility to make sure that the actions we take and the financial resources we put toward that deal with that issue and not issues that were policy positions that the Democrats have not been able to get done for years and are trying to take advantage of this crisis to get done. That’s what we need to make sure we do.
Mr. Jekielek: So what are some specific provisions in the Heroes Act that concern you?
Rep. Keller: Let me go back to what we can already do. The Speaker is talking about all these things. But the first thing that you can do is, you can go ahead and you can—we have a discharge petition for H.R.8265, which is Steve Chabot’s bill, that would take money that’s already been appropriated for the Paycheck Protection Program to help our businesses and liability protection. She can already run that bill now, and we’ve signed a discharge petition. We’ve tried almost 40 times to get that bill run, and every time, the Democrats have defeated it.
In the Heroes Act, they have things that deal with voting and a whole bunch of other things that have nothing to do with the economic recovery of the coronavirus.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Keller, any thoughts before we finish up?
Rep. Keller: The thing I’d like to talk about is a little bit about what happened this week in Congress. It was the apprenticeship reauthorization for a program that was started during the New Deal era, back during the Depression, about setting up apprenticeships for people to learn skills for jobs. It had ratios in it, where you had to have so many journeymen to one apprentice. And that was set up about 80 years ago or so.
We have a different, more diverse workforce than we had before. So when you look at the needs of our workforce today, nobody knows those needs, to help us expand our economy and our jobs, better than America’s small businesses and job creators and the people that work in those jobs. What we want to do is we wanted to make sure that smaller businesses could register for apprenticeship programs and get funding under Title II, which would allow them to build and help our workforce and our economy.
We talk about kids and how much debt they’re getting when they come out of college. But these apprenticeship programs, not just the ones that are run by labor organizations, but ones that might be run by small businesses or small business associations, have the same rules. So the kids can get good paying jobs, whether it be with carpentry, electricians; you name it, there’s apprenticeships for it.
What we need to do is we need to make sure the rules are different. And the small businesses, America’s small businesses, aren’t cut out from being able to offer these apprenticeship programs, because the ratios are different for them, higher for them than they would be for organized labor.
To me that’s a huge issue. If we want to talk about being able to help the next generations of Americans to be ready with the skills, I think this is an important step. And small businesses are basically being cut out of participation in these apprenticeship programs.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems particularly relevant under this crazy coronavirus situation that we find ourselves in.
Rep. Keller: It absolutely is. And the point I would like to make in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 70 percent of the companies operating in Pennsylvania are not C-Corps or large corporations. They’re Subchapter S, they’re sole proprietorships, they’re partnerships, they’re small businesses. And those are the people that are the backbone of our economy. We need to make sure they have the resources to have a skilled workforce to come in and work in their businesses and provide the services that are so vital to keeping our economy going.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Keller, such a pleasure to have you on.
Rep. Keller: Good to be here today. Thank you so much.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.