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Virginia Governor On Inauguration Security

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On a typical workday, thousands of people commute from Virginia over the Potomac River into Washington, D.C. Well, today and tomorrow, most of those bridges are closed for the inauguration. Virginia National Guard members are among the tens of thousands of troops guarding the district right now. And the state was among the first to send forces on January 6 during the assault on Congress. Ralph Northam is Virginia's governor. He's a Democrat.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

RALPH NORTHAM: Ari, thanks for having me today. And I hope your listeners are staying safe and healthy.

SHAPIRO: Well, thank you very much. I'd like to begin with your state capital, Richmond. Many states have been preparing for the threat of violence tomorrow. And I know you had a gun rights protest yesterday that was peaceful. Tell us what you're expecting in Richmond on Inauguration Day.

NORTHAM: Well, Ari, unfortunately, we have experience in Virginia dating back to August of '17 in Charlottesville. And then last January, we had a lot of armed protesters. So we take this very seriously. And yesterday was no exception. We have had to board up our Capitol. Our windows are covered by plywood. There's fencing around the Capitol.

It's unfortunate, Ari, for a couple reasons - one in that we're having to defend against other Americans. We should all find that is unacceptable. And it's also difficult because, right now, we're in the middle of a pandemic. You know, our reserves and our guardsmen and women have been very helpful in testing and distributing the vaccinations. And so now, we're using those resources in other ways. And so we're looking forward to our resources, whether they be our police officers or our guardsmen, to being home and doing other things for the commonwealth of Virginia.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about what's happening here in Washington. When decisions are made, like whether to close bridges connecting Virginia to Washington, tell us more about how that communication works between you, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, not to mention the federal leaders who also have a lot at stake here.

NORTHAM: Yes. We have a great relationship with our neighbors, and I have worked with Mayor Bowser and Governor Hogan on a number of issues. And we worked very closely on this as well. So you know, this started back on January 6 when we all witnessed the armed insurrection of our Capitol. I was called by the mayor at that time, as well as some other congressional leaders. They needed help. Virginia was one of the first states to be there not only with our state police, but we also activated our guard.

So we've had close coordination and collaboration with Washington, D.C., with the state of Maryland, with the Secret Service, with our state police, with our guardsmembers (ph). Everybody has really worked together. This has been a team effort. And it's really to make sure that we do have a peaceful transition of power tomorrow and also that we protect our democracy.

SHAPIRO: Now, as we said, Virginia sent troops to the Capitol during the January 6 mob attack and sent personnel again this week to guard the inauguration. And FEMA has denied Virginia's request for an emergency declaration that would allow federal reimbursement for those costs. Is that a decision that you think could be reversed under the Biden administration?

NORTHAM: I anticipate that it will be reversed, Ari. But it's a tremendous slap in the face. Here's a president who's told continuous lies. He's created a tinderbox, along with his enablers. He threw a match on that on January the 6. And now we as the commonwealth of Virginia are using our resources - our state police, our National Guard - to protect our democracy. So it is a slap in the face. We regret that President Trump's administration has denied us a reimbursement, but we will appeal that. We have a new president taking over tomorrow at noon, and I anticipate that they will give us the support that we need.

SHAPIRO: And of course, this is all happening while COVID numbers continue to climb. And I want to ask you about the vaccination effort. Now, according to Virginia's Department of Health, the state has only administered about a third of the vaccine doses it was given. That puts it in the bottom five of all states in the U.S. What's the problem?

NORTHAM: Well, we got off to a fairly good start, Ari. We've administered over 340,000 doses now. Obviously, collecting the data has been a challenge. There are only 13 states that have given more vaccinations than Virginia, and most of those are larger states. So we're making...

SHAPIRO: Well, but that 300,000-some number is out of almost a million doses the state was provided.

NORTHAM: Yes. And you know, there's no question, Ari, that we can do this more expeditiously and better. And so we've made adjustments. We brought in a - what I call a field general to head up our vaccination program. He's been on the ground now for about 10 days. We have brought in the National Guard that will be helping. And again, we'll be glad when they're home from Washington so that they can concentrate on the vaccination process. And our goal in Virginia is to make sure that we have all of our Virginians vaccinated by early to mid-summer and finally put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to our near-normal lives.

SHAPIRO: Although the federal government is considering the rate that states are administering vaccines as it determines how many doses states should get in the next rollout, do you fear that Virginia's inability to administer all the doses it got in the first round might mean it gets fewer doses in the next cycle?

NORTHAM: I don't think so, Ari. We've got a new administration coming in. We're looking forward to working with them. And another point I would make regarding the distribution of this, Ari, is we want to do it equitably. We want to make sure that lesser-served communities have access to the vaccination. And so it just hasn't been an approach that, you know, everybody come in and have your vaccination. We want to do this in a controlled, organized way. And that's the way we'll move forward. And all Virginians will be vaccinated, and we will do it as equitably and expeditiously as we can.

SHAPIRO: Finally, in ordinary times, I imagine you would typically attend a presidential inauguration like the one tomorrow in person. Given the security concerns and the pandemic, how are you planning on taking in the ceremony?

NORTHAM: Well, that's a great question. And you know, as a governor, I think it's important for us to be present. It's important for Americans to participate. But because of the security issues, because of COVID-19, I will watch virtually tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: That's Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat.

Thank you for joining us.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOL HAMMOND AND DUNCAN FORBES' "DAYS WITHOUT END") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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