BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — We don’t hear a lot these days from retired Congressman Bill Thomas, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and former longtime mentor to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
But when we do hear from him, it’s usually memorable. That was the case last week when Thomas and a local physician friend of his sat down for an exclusive two-on-one with KGET to talk about COVID-19 vaccination efforts and a potentially troublesome trend regarding first responders.
Thomas has seen the headlines out of Los Angeles, where the city council last month passed an ordinance requiring that L.A. city employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than Oct. 5 unless they’re granted a religious or medical exemption.
As of last week 11 percent of L.A. city employees had indicated they would seek an exemption, but 2,000 LAPD employees — roughly a quarter of the police department — said they would seek an exemption.
Bakersfield city employees face no such vaccination mandates, and a police union representative told KGET they weren’t going to speculate on when or if such a requirement — be it federal, state or local ordinance — might come along.
But Thomas, who represented parts of Southern California and the southern San Joaquin Valley for 18 years in Congress, has an opinion on that.
“I just was amazed watching the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and first responders running through that dust and smoke not knowing what was on the other side,” he said, “because first responders, by name, are first responders. They’re the ones who run to the problem, not away from the problem.
“And then I open up the newspaper, and I watch on television, police unions, fire unions, people who are first responders, arguing that the most tested, safe vaccine is not something they’re willing to take.
“And I find out that the county of Los Angeles is now requiring some form of authentication that you’ve been vaccinated to even get inside a bar. So I’m envisioning this situation of two people inside the bar, both who’ve been vaccinated, and the police cruiser out at the curb is told to respond to a problem in the bar. It’s entirely likely both of the police haven’t been vaccinated.
“How do you deal with a situation in which over 90 percent of the people who haven’t been vaccinated are now catching the D-variant, the most powerful version of the virus, and they’re dying. And how do you tell a member of the police or the fire department, ‘Doing your job doesn’t require you to be vaccinated.'”
Dr. Brijesh Bhambi, who’s affiliated with Bakersfield Heart Hospital, says he would have assumed we’d all pull together in this fight, as we’ve done in other times of national crisis.
“The typical response to adversity is cohesiveness and union,” he said. “We did that in World War II. We did that after 9/11. The inverted logic about this threat has been amazingly disappointing.”
Thomas says he’s astounded. And not in a good way.
“The solution to saving your life, your life, your life,” Thomas said, pointing one by one to each person in the room, “is to get a free vaccination. How in the world is the number of people yet to be vaccinated as high as it is?”
This isn’t the first time the independent-minded Thomas has gone against prevalent attitudes in his Republican Party. And, judging by the volatile nature of today’s America, it probably won’t be the last.