Amid talk of reopening the U.S. economy, the White House confirmed on Tuesday that its coronavirus task force would soon disband, with Vice President Mike Pence suggesting they could call it quits as soon as Memorial Day, The Washington Post reported. But in an apparent reversal on Wednesday, President Donald Trump changed course.
Trump clarified in a series of tweets Wednesday that his team of doctors and public health officials will keep working “indefinitely,” but with a new focus on safely guiding the country back to normal in the wake of COVID-19, The Hill reported.
Trump shifts his mission
Since the task force formed, members like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have become fixtures in Americans’ lives — for better or worse. For the most part, those in the media have portrayed the task force as a bastion of truth under siege by an ignorant president who has “blood on his hands,” and who is desperate to selfishly open the economy, and jeopardize lives, to save his presidency.
The experts have faced pushback as well, with more than 30 million Americans now out of work, according to ABC News, thanks to lockdowns that some say have gone too far — and that seem in some places to have no ending in sight. But on Tuesday, comments from Pence seemed to suggest that the Trump administration was getting ready to aggressively dial down its coronavirus response and focus on the economy.
The news sparked a backlash from Democrats, who crowed that Trump was preparing to sideline his experts for good — and put lives at risk. But the president pushed back on the idea that the task force was being completely disbanded Wednesday, tweeting that the group would keep working “indefinitely,” but with a new mission: the task force will focus on keeping Americans safe through the re-opening, and vaccines and cures will be an emphasis.
“The last four Governors teleconference calls have been conclusively strong,” Trump tweeted. “Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY [and] OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people…to it, as appropriate.”
Controversy over the task force
While President Trump is eager to get the economy started again, health experts and many governors and municipal officials say it’s not safe yet and that more testing is needed. More than 70,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, and at least 1 million have been infected, The Washington Post notes.
Trump visited a mask factory in Arizona on Tuesday, Fox News reported, where he confirmed that he wants to change direction, saying he would look to form a “different group” to tackle opening the economy, according to The Hill. The president said that easing restrictions will probably lead to a second spike, but that “we can’t keep the country closed for five more years.”
As many critics of lockdowns have noticed, the initial rationale for locking down society was flattening the curve, not eliminating the possibility of death completely — but the goalposts for ending lockdowns seem to have shifted.
With Trump under fire, the task force has been dogged by its fair share of controversy and speculation of palace intrigue. Dr. Fauci has addressed calls for his firing from protesters angry with the economic meltdown caused by the lockdown — as well as rumors that Trump actually wanted to fire him — and Dr. Birx has withstood hostile questioning from the press about whether her defenses of Trump have endangered her reputation.
Trump, for his part, has said that the doctors will remain part of the task force. “They will be, and so will other doctors and so will other experts in the field,” the president said Tuesday, according to The Hill.