Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose wife Callista is the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Tuesday live from Rome–where he like everyone else in Italy is in a nationwide lockdown quarantine–that the coronavirus crisis will force major societal changes as the world confronts it and in its aftermath.
Regarding President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, Gingrich told Breitbart News that the president has done a solid job dealing with “pretty remarkable” challenges that are “essentially” unprecedented.
“Well I think he’s doing basically the right thing,” Gingrich told Breitbart News. “He’s worked very hard at developing a program for public health. He’s also working on developing a program for the economy. I think that’s essentially what he’s got to work on. I give him reasonably high marks for essentially an unusual situation. But I think that it is still unfolding, but if you think about the challenges he’s had, they’re pretty remarkable.”
Asked about the travel bans President Trump has implemented on foreign travelers from China and now from Europe, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, Gingrich praised the president’s decision to lock down the country from outsiders to prevent the further spread of the virus. He pointed to public health professionals like the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has said the travel bans have helped protect Americans from the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think that was exactly the right thing to do, and if you notice everybody that’s in the public health sector like Dr. Fauci all think he did the right thing,” Gingrich said of the travel bans. “So I think, again, you always have a very simple question—do you want to overreact and it turns out later you didn’t have to do it and you wasted some time and money but saved lives or underreact and after it gets out of control it becomes more expensive both in terms of lives and the economy? As Dr. Fauci said on four different shows on Sunday, you are always better off to overreact. You are always better off to have people decide that we did more than we had to because if you don’t then you face a real problem.”
Gingrich, who just published an op-ed in Newsweek detailing his recommendations for President Trump from his perspective– someone who’s on the front lines of the crisis in locked down Italy, said that pandemics have hit the world before but that this one is “brand new.” He pointed back to lessons learned from the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak, but also noted that the coronavirus is new and different to the world, which is part of why it is terrifying society so much.
“I think first of all it’s both something we’ve been through a lot and it’s brand new,” Gingrich said. “We’ve had, since 1890, a whole series of viral waves that were epidemics, of which the biggest was 1918. So in that sense it’s not unusual. We’ve lost more people to common flu than we’re probably going to lose to this virus. But the difference is this is the first time this particular virus has been with humans—it apparently was with bats and snakes before that. So we don’t have any natural ability to stop it. In the period it’s going to take us to get used to it, and develop immunities et cetera, you want to minimize the number of deaths, so you want to drag out infection rates as far as you can and keep them under control. You also don’t want to have so many people sick simultaneously that you crash the medical system. That’s been a serious concern in Italy for example. That was a serious concern in China.”
While Italy has had to resort to drastic measures to get the virus’s spread under control, as did China where the virus originated, Gingrich said that the United States can learn from other nations—particularly Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore—where the virus has been much more under control than in China or Italy or even Iran, where outbreaks have gotten much worse.
“But we do know from looking at Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, that you can have a very practical and realistic program and dramatically reduce the danger and gradually crowd out the virus,” Gingrich said. “That gives you enough time, over the next year or two we think, both to develop a vaccine but also to develop much better treatments. So that’s part of what we’re working on.”
Gingrich said the social distancing measures that President Trump and American health officials have pushed for here in the United States are likely to work to help contain the spread of the disease, and even said that the full quarantine lockdown in Italy has helped Italians start to turn a corner.
“I think yeah, but it’s going to take a little while,” Gingrich said when asked if these draconian measures are having an impact in slowing the disease’s spread. “For the last two days, for the first time, the rate of increase in Italy has begun to slow down. Clearly, they have gotten it under control in the countries I mentioned earlier and although I don’t totally trust Chinese data, it’s possible now that they’ve actually gotten it under control in China. That would tell me that, particularly where you have a strong public health service, we can get this under control. We have to worry in part if it breaks into places like Nigeria, with a weak public health service.”
On the economic front, Gingrich also said that the administration needs to keep pushing the payroll tax holiday which would stop the collection of Social Security taxes on Americans—amounting to a significant immediate raise in people’s paychecks—and look at other ways to get cash directly into the hands of the American people.
“They’ve passed a bill that I think will allow them to get unemployment compensation,” Gingrich said. “There needs to be substantial[ly] more help to them as we deal with this over the next six to eight weeks. I think first of all some kind of FICA tax holiday is probably a better idea because you want to, I think it’s good to attach receiving money to working. I think every time we order these stimulus things and we increase the ability for people to get money without doing anything, we’re setting a dangerous precedent for dependence. I’d much prefer things like a FICA tax holiday. But I think it’s important we have an economic growth package, not just a stimulus package. Ideally this won’t just be like an adrenaline shot to get through the next three months. Can we invest this—they’re saying it’s $850 billion, that’s almost one fourth of the whole federal budget—can we invest that intelligently so that we improve the nation’s infrastructure and we improve the economy and we increase our manufacturing base? I’m very concerned that we get sucked into this idea where Washington likes to run around in circles and promote dumb ideas.”
The thing that President Trump can learn from Italy—and the rest of the world—Gingrich said, is that the quicker lockdowns happen the faster the virus is contained and the spread of it slows and eventually stops. The United States has an opportunity, he said, to avoid a full-scale forced quarantine by snuffing it out now and taking it seriously before it hits the levels here it did in Italy.
“We’ve learned the key to this is you’ve got to lock down early, get ahead of the virus and try to isolate it so it’s starved out,” Gingrich said. “The Italians, once they got rolling—they were slower to believe—but once they got rolling, they have been very disciplined and very committed and the Italian people have shown a level of practicality that we don’t associate normally with Italy. It’s very impressive to watch.”
In Italy, Gingrich said, there is wide scale cooperation from the public with the quarantine measures.
“People are genuinely isolated right now,” Gingrich said. “They’re in their homes. Restaurants are closed. Churches are closed. Schools are closed. The only things that are open right now are grocery stores—which have far more food in them than they do in the U.S.—grocery stores, pharmacies, and they have gas stations. That’s it. Everything else is closed. They’re pretty serious about people invading physical space and not crowding together. I think people are worried enough because of the scale of the number of people in northern Italy who have contracted the virus that you’re getting a very high number of compliance, frankly. That’s not a trivial thing. The way I would put it, I’m trying to find the right phrase because I want to give you a sense of the scale of what’s been going on.”
Gingrich added that the United States has time to get this under control—but not too much time.
“When you look at these numbers and you realize how many thousands of people are involved—and I think it’s up to around 27,000 to 29,000 right now—it’s pretty sobering,” Gingrich said. “Multiple that by 5.5 to get the equivalent number for the United States because we’re so much bigger in population. Imagine if we had 150,000 cases right this minute. Then you’d understand what the Italian experience has been.”
When asked about many in media and politics who attack Trump for accurately describing the virus by its origins in Wuhan, China, Gingrich noted that those dismissing China’s role as the origination point of the virus are much like open borders activists trying to keep the borders open despite risks of the virus’ spread worsening endangering more lives.
“It’s like the people who say they would still keep the border open even though we now know if you keep the border open you increase the number of Americans who are going to die,” Gingrich said. “Their ideology is more important than the lives of their fellow Americans.”
Gingrich also said the coronavirus should be a “wake up call” to the world on the threat of the Communist Party of China’s government in Beijing.
“I just published a book called ‘Trump Goes to China,’ so I have a big bias,” Gingrich said. “So yeah, I think this is a wake up call. When the Chinese are producing 80 percent of the medicines and some of the Chinese newspapers are saying ‘maybe we should cut off the Americans,’ I think we should take that seriously. We should—part of our economic package should be to bring back manufacturing from China.”
What’s more, Italy’s forced quarantine now comes almost exactly a year after the Italian government decided to cozy up to Beijing by joining the Chinese regime’s global expansion project the Belt and Road Initiative. Italy’s decision to become the first G-7 nation to join Belt and Road was sharply criticized around the world, and now there seem to be dire consequences for developing such a close relationship with the Communist regime in Beijing. Gingrich noted, too, that in northern Italy—where the coronavirus outbreak in the country has been most intense—there are tens of thousands of Chinese workers many from Wuhan, China, and the former U.S. House Speaker said that “it is almost certain” that the first people in Italy to have and spread the virus were from China.
“I think people will be shocked—it is almost certain that the first people to have the virus in Italy were Chinese,” Gingrich said. “There was one report that there are 100,000 Chinese in Northern Italy. They came over to do manufacturing, and a bunch of them came over from Wuhan. It’s pretty wild.”
Asked if the United States and other nations around the world should, in the wake of the spread of the Chinese coronavirus and its accompanying public health and economic and other crises, reconsider their relations with China he said that the world will be “rethinking lots of things” when this is finally over.
“I think the world is going to be in such turmoil for a while that people are going to be rethinking lots of things,” Gingrich said. “The question is going to be whether we’ll be too exhausted to do anything intelligent.”