At the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, we sit down with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who argues that it’s “absurd” to insist vaccinated Americans continue to socially distance, wear masks, and avoid restaurants.
We discuss mask mandates, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, and the recall petition filed against California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Jan Jekielek: We’re here with Congressman Darrell Issa from California, of all places.
Rep. Darrell Issa: A California conservative, go figure.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s been an increasing number of them, at least in this last election. There was growth there, right?
Rep. Issa: Absolutely. We were as low as six Republican congressmen; we’re now back to eleven. And we have hopes of picking up two or three more in 2022. We’re quite frankly, looking at picking up a Republican governor later this summer with the recall of Gavin Newsom.
Mr. Jekielek: It strikes me as really interesting that you came from California, and we’re here in Florida. California might be the most locked down state. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but at least it has been at times. Florida, I think is certainly one of the most open. And you’ve certainly been very, very vocal about mask mandates, looking at vaccine distribution and so forth. You had a very thoughtful way of looking at this idea of the mask mandate. Why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking?
Rep. Issa: For 100 years almost, since we’ve been developing immunity capability, people have always known if you survive smallpox, you don’t get it again. You get chickenpox, you don’t get it again. You get a vaccine; you stop worrying about polio, etc. For the first time ever here is a series of vaccines, safe and effective, 95 plus percent effective and what’s happening? They’re telling us to leave our masks on, to continue social distancing. That’s absurd.
The reality is that the benefit of taking this safe and effective vaccine is so you can get about your life, go back to doing things as usual. As a result, we should be celebrating, mask-free. Instead, Dr. Fauci is telling us to put a second one on. The president of the United States was immunized back in December, and yet he’s still pretending that the mask serves a purpose. It doesn’t.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s think about this. Perhaps the president is thinking that he should be modeling for the rest of Americans.
Rep. Issa: Perhaps he should. But if that’s the case, then don’t take it off at all. Don’t take it off when you speak, don’t do all these other things. The reason I’m not wearing a mask right now is I’ve had my two shots; I am immune.
I want everyone to know about the amazing work done under the Trump administration, paid for by Congress. The fact was we ran through not one, not two, but now three drugs that were safe and effective according to the FDA, effective enough that you should be able to remove your mask and get back to your life.
Mr. Jekielek: By that you mean vaccines, right?
Rep. Issa: Vaccines.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. You’ve also been critical of the means of vaccine distribution in your state.
Rep. Issa: I always say that our Founding Fathers for a reason had multiple states and wanted them to compete. In this case, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Dakota, put all kinds of states all over, including even ones like Connecticut, and here in Florida—they all perform dramatically better than California, and the reason is very simple.
California decided to build a new group bureaucracy of these drive-up massive immunization centers that have never been able to keep up with the vaccines that are coming into California. We have more than two and a half million vaccines that have not gotten into people’s arms that have been in California for more than a week. That kind of backlog is terrible.
In West Virginia, for example, they had a very simple question. Who is it that puts vaccines into people’s arms now? The answer was every corner drugstore. So they said anyone that wants to sign up that is already doing vaccines, which includes your pharmacist, sign up. And of course, as a result, they had plenty of places to do it and do it quickly, and they’ve stayed up. As soon as they get another batch of vaccine, they get it into people. They’ve done their seniors.
My 88-year-old mother is still trying to get her vaccine in California, not because they didn’t have enough vaccines, but because the system is so messed up. She just simply doesn’t want to stand in a line for hours and hours. So she’s staying at home, waiting until they get their act together.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re basically proposing that they just follow the model that exists in other states.
Rep. Issa: Follow the model where it works. Look, I never thought I was the smartest guy. I still don’t. But smart people in business and in government look for what works and duplicate it—look for what doesn’t work and stop doing it. We’ve been digging a hole of inefficiency in California. We need to start looking to at least use the best practices of other states. And again, when West Virginia shows you how to do it right, and California shows you how to do it wrong, we’ve come a long way from the stereotype.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting. What are your goals in your new role as congressman, 50th district, in the San Diego area? What is it that you’re really trying to accomplish? I’ll add one more piece. Does it have anything to do with the theme of the conference, America Uncanceled?
Rep. Issa: When I came back to Congress, having left to join the Trump administration, that two years of being out gave me a real perspective on just how bad Congress has gotten, how dysfunctional they’ve gotten. Although I have plenty of legislative initiatives, I have to be candid, my greatest goal is to work to get us into the majority, and then to make us operate and function again.
The cancel culture, certainly, we need to lead against that. We need to continue putting America and Americans at the top of our priority. But at the same time, we also have to have Congress work. Congress simply doesn’t function right now. They don’t do their oversight properly. They can’t get their bills done on time. They throw out vast amounts of money, as we speak $1.9 trillion dollars, and less than a third of it has anything to do with the COVID crisis.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s very interesting. A lot of people have been critical of Congress, saying that it’s almost like lawmaking is coming from the executive and the judicial branches now, which is really not where it’s supposed to be.
Rep. Issa: If Congress does not act, others will. There’s no way to get around that. Do I blame the executive branch for too many executive orders? Absolutely. But if you cannot act and give them the guidance they need, they in fact will do what they can for the American people. Now, I watched President Trump do a great many things for the American people, and I saw most of them be clear with the intent of Congress.
I now see a new president who the courts are pushing back as we speak, because President Biden is doing things that are clearly different than the legislation. And when Congress gets back in Republican hands, we’ve got to push back and hold him accountable for doing things that are clearly counter to the intended law.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned earlier that there is going to be an election, most likely. Is that certain at this point? I have people tell me different things.
Rep. Issa: Over a quarter of a million signatures more than were needed to qualify this have been gathered. A month, six weeks from now, when they’ve all been compared and counted, I expect that we’ll be at 200,000 to 300,000, maybe 400,000 more than are needed. So the answer is yes. We will have a recall.
Exactly when, whether it’s in August or September, is not yet set. But before the end of the year, Governor Gavin Newsom will have to face the voters and the question will be, “Do you approve or disapprove of his job?” I believe they’re going to turn him out as a complete disapproval and take whoever is the best candidate to replace him.
Mr. Jekielek: In your mind who are the candidates that are contenders?
Rep. Issa: There are a myriad of California—
Mr. Jekielek: That’s how it works in California, right? You can have unlimited people on the slate?
Rep. Issa: We had a 135 more or less when Arnold Schwarzenegger won. But no matter how many people you have on the ballot, there won’t be more than four or five that will be household words. The former mayor of San Diego is already announced. John Cox, who ran two years ago, has already announced. There’s a number of others.
President Trump’s former ambassador to Germany, Rick Grenell, I believe is going to announce. He’s certainly doing an exploratory. These are all very qualified, very talented people, each with their own skill set. Being a San Diegan of course, I know my Mayor very, very well, and the great work he did. Every one of them would take the state in a different direction, one toward openness, and one toward a production that would bring people back and businesses back to California instead of driving them away.
Mr. Jekielek: With Rick Grinnell, about a week ago or so I actually asked him this question directly, because we keep hearing about it. He said, “No, absolutely not. These are rumors. Don’t listen to them.” I don’t know, maybe that’s changed now.
Rep. Issa: Look, I’ve known Rick since he was on the staff of the mayor of San Diego a generation ago, Susan Golding. We go back a long way. He’s a smart guy. He served the Trump administration extremely well, and he’s pretty fearless. So it’s up to him to decide if it’s the right time.
The one thing I will say is, these people are all going to take California, if they can, back in the direction that you see here in Florida, to openness and pro-business that’s making this the envy of many, many other states including California.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Issa, any final thoughts?
Rep. Issa: Just that it’s great to be here at CPAC. This is such a celebration of freedom and of the desire to be free in a state that is proving you can be free even in a pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Rep. Issa: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.